Blackjack Frequently Asked Questions

What is Blackjack?

blackjack imageBlackjack is one of the most popular casino card games in the world. When played correctly, it has a very low house edge and offers players hours of fun without burning through their bankroll.

Blackjack is also commonly referred to as 21 because that is the best possible total to make with the cards that you hold. Although there are several variations the game, in its most basic form both the dealer and players will draw cards in order to make the best hand. They do this while trying not to go over 21, which is called busting.

How Do You Play Blackjack?

Blackjack is an extremely simple game to play. Use our guide below to learn the basic steps to play blackjack.

#1

In its classic form, you take a seat at the table and place a bet. Once all other players have done the same, the dealer will give each player one card.

All of these cards are dealt face up. The dealer will then give each player a second card face up, with their own second card being dealt face down (unless it is European blackjack).

#2

After all of the cards are dealt, players can hit, stand, double down, split, or surrender. Generally, a player will hit or stand in order to get to a value as close to 21 as possible. If the player hits and goes over 21, then they bust and are out of the hand and will lose their bet. Once the player is satisfied with their hand they stand.

#3

The dealer will eventually reveal their second card, or draw it in the European version, and either hit or stand based on the table rules. Most dealers hit on a 16 and under and will stand on a hard 17. We will give you more details on soft and hard hands later.

#4

The player wins when the player beats the dealer’s hand value or the dealer busts. The player loses their bet when the dealer beats the player’s hand value, or the player’s hand busts.

It’s very simple, but mastering blackjack and using strategy flawlessly can take quite some time to learn.

What does 6:5 and 3:2 Blackjack Payouts Mean?

I’ve also seen them written 6 to 5 and 3 to 2. A 6 to 5 payout on a natural blackjack instead of the traditional 3 to 2 drastically increases the house edge. To explain the different payouts let’s look at the following example:

  • On a 3:2 table, a $10 bet will earn a $15 return on a natural blackjack.
  • On a 6:5 table, a $10 bet will earn a $12 return on a natural blackjack.

As you can see, you win $3 less on a 6:5 table. This is a huge difference because the higher payout for a natural blackjack is one of the few places the player has an edge over the casino. This is how you make money playing blackjack.

3:2 tables are a dying breed, while 6:5 tables are growing in popular. This is because casinos usually offer the lower limit games ($10 and under) with 6:5 odds. If you are aiming for a low-limit game, consider sitting down at a slightly higher limit with 3:2 payouts as your odds are much better.

Another thing the casinos do is offer better rules to make the game seem better than it really is. For example, a single deck game is more favorable to the player than a six or eight-deck shoe, so the casino might offer a single deck game with a 6 to 5 payout. The players see a single deck game and want to jump into the action – the casino hopes most of them will ignore the lower payouts on natural blackjacks.

What is a Split?

Split iconIf you are dealt a pair of cards, such as two eights, you can play each card as a separate hand. This allows you two opportunities to win. It requires two wagers, but under the right circumstances a split can be very beneficial.

Tip: You should almost always split aces and eights, and never split fours, fives, or tens.

What is a Double Down?

Double down iconDoubling down is a powerful move in blackjack in which you double your bet and receive one more card. Once you receive the extra card, you automatically stand on whatever you have.

You should double down whenever your first two cards equal eleven. In fact, casinos often allow doubling down only in certain circumstances. Blackjack games almost always use one of the following four rules variations when it comes to doubling down.

  • The player can double on any two cards.
  • The layer can double only on totals of 11, 10, or 9.
  • The player can double only on totals of 11 or 10.
  • The player can double only on a total of 11.

What is a Push?

Push iconA push occurs in blackjack when the player and dealer have the same hand total. Your bet remains in place and you can either retrieve it or leave it in place for the next hand.

In some variations of blackjack, a push can occur at other times. For example, in Free Bet blackjack if the dealer ends on a hand total of 22, it’s an automatic push for all the players still in the game, regardless of the hand that they hold.

Though it’s rare, if you find a blackjack table that awards the dealer a win for any ties, you should avoid the game. This increases the overall house edge by a large amount.

What is Insurance and What Should You Do?

Players are offered insurance when the dealer has an ace face up. The player can choose to make an insurance side bet that pays 2 to 1 if the dealer hits a blackjack. If the dealer does not hit a blackjack, which is statistically more likely than the 2 to 1 payout, the player loses the side bet.

You should never take insurance in blackjack. It is what insiders refer to as a sucker bet. The math behind why insurance is a bad bet is fairly simple. You win when the dealer’s face down card is a ten-valued card and lose when it isn’t. Nine cards are not worth 10 in a normal suit of cars and four of them are worth 10. This means the odds are 9 to 4. The payout is 2 to 1, which is the same as 8 to 4. 9 to 4 is worse than 8 to 4, so you should not take insurance.

What is a Hard or Soft Hand in Blackjack?

Dealer Soft 17Aces can be counted either as eleven or one. A hard hand is a hand with no aces or an ace that counts as one. On the other hand, a soft hand has an ace and you can count it as a one or eleven. When you hold an ace and a six, it would be called a soft 17 meaning you can hit again – if you go over 21, you can count the ace as a one. High-value soft hands, such as 16, 17, or 18, are particularly useful, especially if you want to double down. At most tables, the dealer will stand on a hard 17 and hit a soft 17.

What is Blackjack Strategy and How Do You Learn It?

Number of Blackjack DecksThe basic blackjack strategy will show you what action to take in every possible situation. The strategy is a table which has the player’s initial two card total on the y-axis and the dealer’s exposed card total on the x-axis. It then indicates whether the player should stand, hit, split, double down, or surrender.

You can find an excellent basic strategy chart at Wizard of Odds, which gives you instructions on what to do on every hand. You can also find basic strategy cards online or in casino gift shops.

It’s always good etiquette to ask the dealer first if it is acceptable to use a strategy card in that particular casino. Rarely will the casino have an issue with it, but occasionally another player will complain if they think you’re taking too long.

What are Blackjack Systems and Do They Work?

You can find a huge number of blackjack systems online and in books. Unfortunately, most systems are useless. You might win initially, but systems don’t work in the long term.

The best strategy is to follow the basic strategy based on the particular rules for the table where you’re playing. This requires patience and hard work, but it is the best way to consistently win.

What is Counting Cards in Blackjack?

Counting Cards at BlackjackCounting cards in blackjack is a seriously complicated undertaking and should only be attempted if you first have a solid understanding of basic strategy. In the very long run you can actually have a slight edge over the house, which means you’ll be a winning player.

A quick overview: When you count cards, you increase your bet when the deck is filled with tens and aces. When there are many low-value cards, you reduce your bet. To keep track of totals, card counters assign a number to each card. A common counting system works this way:

  • 2,3,4,5,6 = +1
  • 7,8,9 = 0
  • 10, J, Q, K, A = -1

You keep adding and subtracting numbers based on the cards dealt on each hand. When you have a high positive count, the deck is rich in aces and tens and you should then make larger bets.

There are some good guides out there on card counting, and some training materials, including at Casino Top 10.

Although card counting is not illegal, if you do get caught you’ll most likely be asked to leave the casino. Counting cards does not work online because the software shuffles the deck or shoe between every hand.

How Do You Avoid Common Blackjack Mistakes?

We have already covered basic blackjack strategy, but here is a list of common mistakes to avoid when you play:

  • Splitting tens: NEVER split tens.
  • Standing on 16 versus a dealer 10: You should always hit in this situation as the odds are slightly better in the long run.
  • Splitting fives: Never split fives. Instead, count this hand as a ten and hit.
  • Hit on a ten vs a dealer 2 through 9: You should always double in this situation.
  • Not splitting 8s: You should always split 8s, no matter what the dealer has. A hard 16 is the worst possible hand in blackjack, so if it’s created by two eights you have the chance to split them.
  • Take insurance or even money: These are sucker bets.
  • Never busting: It’s important to always hit if basic strategy calls for If you take the “never bust” approach you’ll be far worse off in the long run.
  • Mimic the dealer: The dealer has specific rules to follow. On any total of less than 17, she must hit and on any total of 18 or over she must stand. If you play the same way and ignore basic strategy you give the casino a large advantage.

You can avoid all of the common and advanced mistakes by simply sticking to the basic strategy chart.

How Do You Choose the Best Blackjack Casino Table?

It’s important to pick a good table when playing blackjack; or the best blackjack casino when playing online. This will increase your chances of winning and having fun. Look at our other rule variations for blackjack to learn what else to expect.

When selecting a table, here are a few basic rules:

  • Always play on a table that has a 3:2 payout for hitting a natural blackjack. As we mentioned earlier, this has a big impact on the house edge.
  • The fewer decks, the better. The more decks the dealer is using, the better the odds for the house.
  • Avoid continuous shuffling machines. These should be avoided, particularly if you’re interested in trying to track aces in the shuffle.
  • Find tables that allow double after splitting. This allows you to maximize your odds and when dealt a good hand.
  • Try to sit in the last position to act. This is good for card counting and also good because you will have more time to assess the hand before acting.

The Wizard of Odds has a full breakdown of different blackjack rules and their impact on the house edge.

What is Shuffle Tracking and How Can I Use it to Get an Edge?

Number of Blackjack DecksShuffle tracking is an advanced method in which blackjack players track sections of the discards as they’re shuffled back into the deck. If you know there is a section with a high percentage of tens, face cards, and aces, you can raise your bets when that section is getting ready to be dealt.

The only way most players have a chance to learn shuffle tracking is in hand shuffled games. Most casinos are using automatic shuffling machines, so this is a dying art. A few players claim they can track a shuffle through a machine, but this has never been proven.

While shuffle tracking may sound like a great idea, it is quite difficult and you shouldn’t consider trying it until you can play perfect strategy and count cards well enough to win.

What About Hole Carding? Best Way to Win at Blackjack?

Blackjack hole cardsHole carding is when a dealer gets sloppy or has a functional issue with her dealing that allows players to see the value of her down card. If you can see the value of down cards it can help you beat a wide number of table games other than blackjack as well.

This is another thing that sounds great, but the truth is dealers who have flaws like this are rare. As soon as the casino discovers a dealer is giving away information, the casino either replaces her or fixes her dealing flaw.

Even when you find a dealer revealing the hole card, you have to be careful that you don’t make plays so strange that it makes the casino suspicious.

You can gain a large advantage by making small adjustments to your play based on the down card information without letting the casinos know you have extra information.

About the Author
Neil White

Neil White - Editor in Chief

His drive and passion for casinos and the most popular games keep him in touch with the latest news and interests to provide the best for his readers.