A Beginners Guide to Blackjack Rules

If you’re a beginner who wants to learn the rules of blackjack, this page is a good place to start. Below, you’ll find explanations for all the basic blackjack rules, blackjack etiquette, popular blackjack variations, and more.

Basic rules of blackjack

Blackjack is a card game that uses one to eight 52-card decks on a table that can usually accommodate up to seven players. Before the dealer deals the cards, you place a bet according to the table limits.

Once all players place their bets, the dealer deals two cards face-up to each player and one face-up, and one face-down to themselves.

The goal is to reach a hand value of 21 or have a higher hand value than the dealer. If you go over 21, you’ve busted, and you lose your bet. Here are the card values:

  • Cards 2 through 10 each have their face value.
  • Face cards (J, Q, and K) have a value of 10.
  • An ace can have a value of either 1 or 11.

After you check your cards, you choose your move. If you have a natural blackjack (an ace plus a card with a value of 10), you win immediately and receive a payout of 3:2 or 6:5, depending on the table rules. All other card combinations mean you can do one of the following things:

  • Hit — Ask for an additional card.
  • Stand — Choose not to receive any more cards.
  • Split — If the cards are a pair, you can split them into two hands and receive an additional card for each. This move doubles your bet.
  • Double down — Double the initial bet and receive one more card only.
  • Insurance — If the dealer’s face-up card shows an ace, you can take a side bet that protects you if the dealer has a natural blackjack. The insurance bet increases your total stake by half and pays 2:1.
  • Surrender — Give up on your hand after the initial cards and receive half of your stake back.

As for payouts, blackjack pays 3:2, insurance pays 2:1 and all other wins pay even money. If the dealer and the player end up having the same total, the bet is a push, and no money exchanges hands. As mentioned, some tables pay 6:5 for blackjack, but this lower payout results in a higher house edge, so you should avoid 6:5 tables whenever possible.

Note that all these rules are typically associated with American blackjack, a variant you’ll find in most land-based and online casinos in the US. We will discuss the differences between American and other blackjack variants later.

Now, let’s go over a few examples of blackjack rounds:

  • Scenario 1:
    • You receive a 10 and a 5 (a total of 15), and the dealer has a 2 showing.
    • You hit and receive a 4, raising your total to 19, and you stand.
    • The dealer’s face-down card is a 3, and the dealer then draws a jack and a 9, for a total of 24.
    • The dealer has busted, and you receive a payout of 1:1.
  • Scenario 2:
    • You receive a jack and an ace, getting a natural blackjack.
    • You get a payout of 3:2 or 6:5, depending on the table rules.
  • Scenario 3:
    • You receive an 8 and a 4, while the dealer has an ace showing.
    • You place an insurance bet for if the dealer gets a blackjack.
    • Then you hit and receive a 7, standing with a total of 19.
    • The dealer’s face-down card is a 9, for a total of 20.
    • You lose both the main bet and the insurance bet since the dealer has a higher total without getting a blackjack.

Blackjack rules for the dealer

In blackjack, you have various choices for how you can play your hand. However, the dealer doesn’t have such freedom and generally must hit up to a certain number and stand after exceeding that total.

In most American blackjack games, the dealer will stand after reaching 17, but in some cases, the dealer will still hit on a “soft 17,” which is a total of 17 that includes an ace. An ace can count as both 1 and 11, so in this particular scenario, the dealer has both 7 and 17.

Generally speaking, the game in which the dealer hits on a soft 17 is less beneficial to the player. With this rule, dealers have a higher chance of busting, but even more so of improving their hand.

Live blackjack rules to know

When playing blackjack online, you’ll simply click on the corresponding button in the interface to declare your next move, but things work a bit differently when playing in a brick-and-mortar casino.

During an in-person game, you have to signal the dealer how you wish to proceed, using the following blackjack hand gestures:

  • Hit — Gently tap the table with your finger.
  • Stand — Wave your hand over your cards.
  • Split — Place additional chips outside the betting box and make a V shape with your fingers when splitting in blackjack.
  • Double down — Place additional chips outside the betting box and point with a single finger.
  • Insurance and surrender — There are no standard hand signals for these two moves. Instead, you verbally announce them to the dealer.

If you forget these signals or are unsure about the blackjack game rules, it’s perfectly fine to ask the dealer for help.

Blackjack etiquette

Blackjack has a certain etiquette, a set of silent rituals for all players to abide by, regardless of their experience level. The next time you visit a land-based casino, keep these guidelines in mind.

For instance, you should not be betting with cash. Instead, go to the cashier and exchange your money for chips. Once at a table, don’t hand or throw your chips to the dealer but instead place them in the appointed area. Also, once you place your chips, you’re not allowed to move or touch them until the hand is over and the dealer completes the payouts.

If the dealer deals your cards face-up, which happens in games that contain four or more decks, do not touch them. If the cards are face-down, you can pick them up, but only with one hand, not both. The cards must always be in full view of the dealer and the cameras, so don’t put them on your lap or under the table.

Other players and the dealer will appreciate it if you stack your chips correctly. For instance, if you make a $15 wager with a $10 and a $5 chip, place the $10 chip on the bottom. Although you are not obligated to, you can always tip the dealer.

When to hit or stand

There are plenty of hand combinations you and the dealer can get. Over the years, people have developed various strategies and found an optimal move for every situation.

When to hit or stand depends on what the dealer holds. The worst-case scenario is when the dealer is showing an ace. In this case, you should generally hit until you reach 17 or more. The same logic applies if the dealer shows a 10-value card, as that is likely to result in a strong hand.

If the dealer has a 7 to 9 showing, you should hit if your total is nine or less or anywhere between 12 and 16. When the dealer shows a 4 to 6, it’s better to hit when on a total of eight or less and stand on anything higher than 11.

When the dealer has a 3, you should hit on a 12 and anything below nine and stands on 13 or higher. Finally, when the dealer has a 2, the strategy is to hit on nine or less and stand on 13 or higher.

Of course, remember that blackjack also has additional moves like splitting, doubling down, and surrendering, so it’s best to browse through some blackjack strategy sheets to learn when to use these options.

European blackjack rules

Although they use the same basic casino blackjack rules, there are several key differences between European and American blackjack.

Hole card

In the American version of the game, the dealer receives two cards right from the start, one of them face-down. This allows them to peek at their face-down card in case the other card is an ace and see whether they got a blackjack. If they did, all the bets immediately go to the dealer.

In European blackjack, the dealer only receives one face-up card and draws the second card only once the players’ hands are over.

Doubling down

You can double down on any total in American blackjack, while you can only do so in the European version of the game if you have nine, 10, or 11. Another rule specific to American blackjack is that you’re allowed to double down even after splitting.

Splitting

In European blackjack, you can only split once, and you can’t split 10-value cards unless they are the same (for example, you can split two queens but not a queen and a king), while American blackjack allows you to split up to three times on any pair. Still, you can only split aces once and take one additional card for each ace.

Number of decks

European blackjack usually uses two decks, while American blackjack often uses six to eight. This raises the house edge of American blackjack, as more decks make the game more resistant to specific strategies.

Spanish blackjack rules

Spanish blackjack, or Spanish 21, is another popular blackjack variant with some specific rules. Here’s how it differs from American blackjack.

No 10s

The most noticeable difference between Spanish 21 and American blackjack is that the former doesn’t contain any 10s in its deck (picture cards remain and are still worth 10 points each). This makes it less likely for anyone to hit a blackjack.

Late surrender

Spanish 21 also implements the surrender rule, which is not always there in the American version of the game. However, Spanish 21 only has late surrender, meaning you can surrender only after the dealer has checked for a blackjack. If the dealer has a natural blackjack, you can’t surrender, and you lose your whole bet.

Player wins on 21 or blackjack

The biggest benefit of Spanish blackjack is that when both you and the dealer get 21, you win. In most other variants, this would be a push.

Doubling down

You can double down in any major blackjack game, but the difference with Spanish 21 is that it allows doubling down even after hitting to receive your third or any subsequent card.

Payouts

In American blackjack, you receive a payout of 1:1 on any win other than natural blackjack and insurance. However, Spanish 21 has different payouts for specific scenarios:

  • 3:2 on a five-card total of 21.
  • 2:1 on a six-card total of 21.
  • 3:1 on a seven-card total of 21.
  • 3:2 on 6-7-8 (2:1 when suited and 3:1 when all in spades).
  • 3:2 on three sevens (2:1 when suited and 3:1 when all in spades).
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