Simple Guide to Blackjack Rules

This Blackjack guide will take you through the most popular casino card game. The simplicity of the rules and the fact that some skill is required are perhaps the main reasons for its popularity. Find out how to play blackjack below.

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If you are a complete beginner, don’t worry, I’ll take you through everything you need to know before you start playing. From the basic rules to the various side bets on offer and how to pick the best table for you, it’s all here. So, grab your notepad and read on!

How to Play Blackjack

In standard blackjack casino rules, all players face off against the dealer. Two cards are dealt to each player and two to the dealer. Each player can then choose to receive extra cards or accept the hand as it is. In order to win a hand, players must finish with a higher total than the dealer, without exceeding 21 – or “busting”. Another way for the player to win is to have a hand of 21 or less, while the dealer busts. A perfect hand, combining an ace with a 10, Jack, Queen or King, scores 21 and is known as blackjack.

It’s as simple of that. Of course, there are numerous variants possible, optional side bets as well as more advanced playing options. But don’t worry. Just keep reading and you’ll find out about all of the blackjack card game rules that you need to know before you begin playing.

Card Values

It is easy to understand the value of the cards in the game. All number cards score the value (two-10) indicated on them, and the face cards – Jack, Queen and King – always count as 10. The only special card value is the Ace. This can count as either one or 11. The value of the Ace is always in favour of the player.

Card Values
The different cards used in a standard 52-card deck for blackjack. The cards 2-10 are valued with the number shown; Jack, Queen and King value 10 while an Ace is 1 or 11.

Hard and Soft Hands

As mentioned, an Ace can score as 1 or 11. It will always have a value of 11 unless this would cause the hand to bust. A hand including an Ace is known as a “soft” hand, as it has two possible scores, while a “hard” hand has no aces, and therefore only one possible total. It is important to understand how this affects the basic blackjack strategy as it is advisable to hit on certain soft values when you would not normally hit on the same number with a hard hand.

The Blackjack Table Explained

At the table, you will find the dealer, who plays opposite up to seven players, depending on the specific game. For each seat, there is an outlined space where the player can place their bet. The cards are dealt directly above this. The table limits and payouts are usually displayed in the space between player and dealer so there is no confusion for anyone.

The various parts of the blackjack table. The player's wager and hand, the dealer's hand, table limits, card shoe and payout information are all labelled.
Cards:

The number of cards used in a game depends on the game, but usually, there will be a large stack of cards made up of more than one 52-card deck.

Chips:

Bets are made using counters known as chips. Different colours denote different values, which will usually be shown clearly at the bottom the screen in online games.

Shoe:

The dealer usually will draw the cards from a device known as a shoe. This allows for quicker and easier dealing and removes any doubts about card manipulation. While multiple decks may be placed in a shoe (often 6 or 8 decks are used in a game), most casinos will use a cut card in order to indicate that it is time for a shoe change when there is a certain number of cards left. This is done to reduce the efficacy of card counting.

Cut Card:

A card that is easily distinguishable from the rest of the playing cards, which is placed at a specific location in the deck in order to control when shoe changes are needed.

Discard Tray:

Cards that have been used are not placed back into the shoe. Instead, they form a discard pile in a tray on the other side of the table, so as to avoid confusion.

Blackjack casino rules are pleasingly simple. To begin with, you are dealt two cards. You may then choose to receive any number of extra cards you like, taken one-by-one. The aim is to achieve a higher score than the dealer with your hand. However, any hands over “21”, will bust and so automatically lose.

Place Bets

A player placing casino chips on a table as a wager for a hand of blackjack.

Before a hand is dealt, each player must decide how much to wager within the table limit range. Each table will have different minimum and maximum bets accepted, commonly referred to as the “table limits”. These bets must be placed in the box in front of the player’s seat.

Cards Dealt

The hand of a croupier dealing out a hand of blackjack.

The cards will be dealt starting with the player on the dealer’s left-hand side. Each player will get one card in turn (as will the dealer) until all hands have two cards. All players’ cards are dealt face up so that everyone can see all values. The dealer’s first card is also an “up card”, though their second is usually dealt face down, or a “hole card”.

Hit/Stand

Starting from the player on the dealer’s left, each will have the chance to receive more cards. If a player is happy with their hand then they indicate to the dealer that they wish to “stand”. To receive another card, they must “hit”. There is no maximum number of cards allowed (see advanced rules for exceptions to this).

Result

After each player has busted or stood, the dealer will take more cards as necessary. If they bust, then all players with a hand of 21 or less will win. If they have a valid hand, then each player’s hand will be compared to the dealer’s. The higher score wins. If there are any ties, this results in a “push”, and the original bet is returned to the player.

Once the cards are dealt, each player decides whether to hit or stand. This decision must be made without seeing the dealer’s full hand, as their second card is normally dealt face-down. Once all players at the table have as many cards as they want, or have busted, it is the dealer’s turn to play. They will play following rules set by the casino, regarding when to hit and when to stand. All hands are then compared to the dealer’s hand and any winnings are paid out.

Options Available to the Player During a Hand

Although the steps above are all of the basic blackjack rules UK players need to know in order to get playing, there are a few other options that are available to players in certain situations. Keep reading to get a more in-depth understanding of the game. The various variants employ these different rules in combinations, meaning you should always make sure to be aware of all the ins and outs of a game before playing.

Downloadable sheet detailing all of the basic rules of blackjack covered in the previous sections of this page.

Knowing the basic blackjack rules is essential to playing. In order to play well, and to know what to do in every situation, you also need to understand insurance, splitting and doubling down. You can download a PDF guide to all of these rules below.

PDF Download

Insurance

If, once the initial cards have been dealt, the dealer’s up-card is an ace, the players will often be offered the option of taking out insurance. This will usually mean placing a new bet equal to half the original wager against the dealer having blackjack. If the dealer does, then the insurance bet is won, usually paying 2:1, thus cutting the losses of the player. If not, then the insurance bet is lost, and the hand continues as normal. You should be aware that insurance bets work heavily in the house’s favour, and there are no situations where it is statistically advisable to take this bet. For more advice on how to lower the house’s edge, check out my strategy page.

Surrender

This rule, also known as ‘late surrender’ lets players forfeit their hand before receiving extra cards. This is typically only done in the case of the dealer’s up-card being an Ace or 10-value card. A late surrender is allowed only after the dealer has checked for blackjack. This differs to the far more uncommon early surrender which is possible before the check is made.

Split

Players are generally allowed to split their first two cards if they are a pair, thus creating two hands instead of the normal one per seat. This requires a second bet of equal value to fund a second hand. There are various permutations of what is allowed after splitting, which can all be employed by the casino or developer in order to control the return to player (RTP) rate of a game.

Double Down

Often, after receiving their first two cards, players are allowed to double their bet while hitting. This tends to be possible only on certain scores, and regularly means they will not be able to hit again on this hand. As such, it is a risky move, but one that can often be very lucrative.

Bet Behind

In land-based casinos or at live casinos, you may find that a table is full. In this instance, you are often still able to place bets and get involved in the action. You may place a bet “behind” a player, wagering that they will win the hand. You will not have any say over the actions they choose to take, which makes this style of betting much more passive.

Basic Blackjack Rules

It is imperative that you understand how the game works if you are going to play for real money. This video will take you through each stage of a round, or ‘hand’, so that nothing will pop up during play that you are unfamiliar with, causing you unnecessary stress when your money is on the line. If you have a grasp of the basics, you can skip down to read about the various playing options that you may come across during hands. These instructions are based on classic blackjack rules. However, different variants and rule alterations in different games can alter how the game works.

Blackjack Side Bets

Depending on the game, there can be a variety of side bet options. These often require a relatively low minimum bet, which makes them appealing to a lot of players. Before you make a side bet, it’s worth considering that the payout rates are lower than regular bets. Therefore, they should be viewed as a fun optional extra, rather than a route to increased takings. Here are some of the optional bets you’re likely to find in blackjack games, some of which are common than others.

Downloadable sheet with details of the most popular side bets: 21 + 3, Suit'em Up, Perfect Pairs, Buster Blackjack, Lucky Ladies and Lucky Lucky.

Interested in adding a little bit of excitement on the side of the main game, but unsure which options to go with? Feel free to download the sheet below as a guide to the most common side bets, typical payouts and RTPs.

PDF Download

21 + 3

21+3 is one of the most common side bets you’re likely to come across. In this side bet, the player’s hand and the dealer’s up-card are played like a hand of Three Card Poker. The player wins in the event of a flush, straight, straight flush or three of a kind. The RTP based on six decks sits at 96.77% and payouts can range from 5:1 on a flush to 100:1 on suited trips.

Perfect Pairs

Perfect Pairs is another common and popular side bet, thanks in large part to its simplicity. In order to win, players simply have to be dealt a pair. Payout rates differ depending on the nature of the pair. Mixed colour and suits will yield a 5:1 payout, same colour and mixed suits will yield 10:1, and the eponymous perfect pair with the same colour and suit will yield 30:1. Just be aware that the RTP on this bet is 94.21%.

Lucky Ladies

Lucky Ladies has a much lower RTP at just 86.66% but is favoured by many players due to its high payout opportunities. The goal is to have your first two cards total 20, with the best hand being two queens. Having two queens of hearts yields a payout of 200:1, but two queens in addition to the dealer having blackjack boosts the payout to 1,000:1. A matched 20, meaning two cards of the same rank and suit, pays 25:1, whereas a suited 20 pays 10:1. Any unsuited pair totalling 20 yields a payout of 4:1.

Suit’em Up

In Suit’em Up the player’s first two cards win if they’re the same suit. Payouts will differ depending on the cards themselves. For instance, suited aces can yield 60:1, suited blackjack will pay 10:1, a suited pair will get you 5:1, suited 11 pays 3:1, and any other suited pair will pay 2:1. The typical return to player in this side bet is 96.59% on six decks.

Lucky Lucky

Lucky Lucky is a side bet that combines the player’s first two cards with the dealer’s up-card. In this side bet the winning hands total 19, 20, or 21, with bonuses awarded for hands of 6-7-8 and 7-7-7, both suited and unsuited. Due to this, payouts vary a great deal. A suited hand of 7-7-7 will yield a payout of 200:1, suited 6-7-8 will pay 100:1, and their unsuited counterparts will pay 50:1 and 30:1 respectively. A suited total of 21 pays 15:1, unsuited pays 3:1. Totals of 20 and 19 both pay 2:1. Players can expect a rate of return of 97.34% across six decks.

Buster Blackjack

Buster Blackjack differs from all other side bets in that the player wins when the dealer busts, even if the player themselves has already busted. The more cards taken by the dealer in order to bust, the higher the payout. If the player gets blackjack, this dramatically raises the payout. For instance, if the dealer busts with 8+ cards and the player has blackjack, you’re looking at a 2,000:1 payout. Typical RTP for this side bet is 93.79% over six decks.

There are numerous different games, focussing around one or two of these bets, with 21 + 3 and Perfect Pairs being the most common. If you would like to see all of these bets in action, all within one product, check out 6 in 1 Blackjack.

Blackjack Variants

You will find many games online with standard blackjack rules. However, you will also find a great number of so-called ‘variants’; these are games with changes to the basic rules, allowing for a different experience for the players. Because of these innovations, the game has remained fresh over the years. However, a word of caution: many variants exchange interesting changes for a lower RTP rate. That being said, here are the specific blackjack card game rules.

Downloadable sheet detailing the most popular blackjack variants: Single Deck, Double Exposure, Switch, Spanish 21, Match Play 21, Double Attack, Super Fun 21, Caribbean 21, Free Bet, Surrender, Vegas Style, Pontoon, Multiple Action.

Many blackjack games will differ from the classic rules. You can check out this sheet for a handy guide to blackjack variants and their respective RTPs.

PDF Download

Single Deck

To many players, this is the “holy grail” of all casino card games. The theoretical return rate can be as high as 99.85%, and card counting is easiest with only one deck. However, in online and casino versions of this setup, there will almost always be other rule changes that re-increase the house edge so that it works out the same (or worse) than a six or eight deck game.

Double Exposure

Here, both of the dealer’s initial cards are dealt face up. This gives players a better chance of making the right decision regarding their own hand as it is clear whether or not the dealer has a good or bad hand. In order to balance out this advantage, blackjack usually only pays even money. Also, all ties result in a dealer win except for a natural blackjack (21 with the initial two dealt cards), which results in a push against a dealer 21.

Switch

Players are dealt two hands instead of one. They are then able to exchange, or “switch”, the top cards between the two decks, increasing the chance of blackjacks or favourable hands. However, blackjack only pays even money. Also, if the dealer scores 22, all hands are pushed except for a natural blackjack (21 with the first two cards, and not on splits).

Spanish 21

This variant really shakes up the classic blackjack rules. Six decks are used, although all 10s are taken out, making 48-card decks (known as “Spanish decks”). Numerous rules work in favour of the player, such as doubling down after a split, and a player 21 always winning, even against a dealer blackjack. However, even with these rules, the RTP is often lower than traditional games.

Match Play 21

This variant is essentially the same as Spanish 21, simply with a specific payout structure for certain winning hands. Five-card-tricks pay 3:2, and special combinations of three card hands can pay between 2:1 and an enticing 40:1.

Double Attack

After the dealer’s second card has been revealed, players have the option to double their bet without receiving any additional cards. A Spanish deck is used, and split Aces only receive one card. However, players are allowed to double or surrender at any time, making this a slightly complicated but fun alternative to the classic. Just make sure that you fully understand how to play Blackjack Double Attack before giving it a whirl.

Super Fun 21

Played using regular 52-card decks, this game allows more ways for a player to win a hand. If they achieve a score of 20 with six or more cards, they automatically win, even against a dealer blackjack. A player blackjack also wins in all scenarios. If a player has 21 with five or more cards, they automatically double their money. Blackjacks, however, only pay 6:5.

Caribbean 21

This variant usually sees the use of a large number of standard decks. In this instance, however, Aces always count as one. The player may double at any time, including redoubling and doubling after splits. Splitting is allowed on any cards. The play may also surrender at any time. The best hand possible is a “Caribbean 21”, which consists of two 10-value cards and an Ace. This supersedes all other hands, even if it is achieved after a split.

Free Bet

There are only two changes to standard blackjack rules here: the player does not have to pay extra in order to double down or to split a hand; if the dealer gets 22, all player’s valid hands are pushed. This results in a lower RTP, despite the seeming generosity of the game’s rules.

Surrender

The ability to surrender a hand is not that common, but it is a feature of blackjack rules UK players often look for in a game. Certain games of this variant even allow an early surrender, which can be done before the dealer checks for blackjack, reducing the house edge even further than usual.

Vegas Style

In this variant, a player does not necessarily lose the hand if they bust. If the dealer also busts, then the hand is pushed. Sometimes this requires the dealer to bust with a higher total than the player.

Pontoon

This can refer to two different blackjack variants. However, in the UK it almost exclusively relates to a game that varies very little from the classic blackjack casino rules. The most noticeable difference is the term “twist” is used in the place of “hit” and “stick” instead of “stand”. The dealer wins on all ties. However, a five-card-trick (scoring 21 with five cards) automatically wins unless the dealer has a Pontoon (the game’s name for a natural 21).

Multiple Action

This seems a complicated variant at first, but the main thing to remember is that almost all standard blackjack rules apply here. The difference is that on a bet, the player may elect to play three rounds with the same hand. Their wager will be split across the three rounds, and the dealer will keep their up-card for all. However, a different second card will be drawn by the dealer in all three rounds.

There are multiple ways in which a game can differ from the classic set up. Side bets offer a fun add-on, while there are dozens of ways in which to alter the gameplay. Knowing how to play is essential to making sure you get the most of the game, but it is equally important to understand specific blackjack card game rules.

Choose the Perfect Table for You

Now that you have heard about the various different options for playing blackjack games, you are probably wondering how to find the right game for you. Which table you choose to play at really depends on what you want from the game. Use the table below to find out what variant is best for you. Alternatively, head to my general blackjack page to find a series of free game demos.

For Beginners For Fun For Real Money For Something Different
In-game action from Perfect Blackjack by Playtech.
In-game action from 6 in 1 Blackjack by FELT.
In-game action from Blackjack Switch by Playtech.
In-game action from Spanish 21 by Microgaming.

In order to create interesting versions of the game, developers and casinos utilise different blackjack card game rules. This also allows them to keep the RTP of distinct games roughly the same, keeping both their bank managers and the players happy. Understanding the effects of each rule is essential when you are playing for real money when every little difference is key.

Things to Consider When Picking a Game

If you are happy with any of the games above, then there’s nothing more to say. However, if you are looking for something else, or are planning a trip to a land-based casino, there are a few things that you need to consider when choosing a table. These small changes to the standard blackjack rules can significantly affect the outcome of a betting session.

Different Deck Numbers

Playing with a single deck is the original setup for the game. However, due to the small house edge that is given by this system, blackjack casino rules tend to favour the use of several decks instead. Most commonly, you will find games with six or eight decks in play. Be aware that the house edge increases with every extra deck used.

Doubling After Splitting

As I previously mentioned, once a player splits a hand, there are different possible rules about hitting on each hand possible. One such rule is that a player may be allowed to double down on a split hand. This rule is advantageous to an experienced player as they can take a risk on a favourable hand.

Re-Splitting Aces

After a player has split a pair of Aces, it is possible that one of the hands will again be a pair of Aces. At this point, some blackjack card game rules allow for this hand to be re-split. This variation also shifts the advantage to the player, who is then able to employ best practice unhindered by restrictions on their playing choices. Because of this, many games restrict the options for splitting aces, but most allow more liberal splitting with other cards.

6 to 5 Blackjack & Even Money Blackjack

One of the ways in which the developer of a game may increase the house edge in a variant is by changing the payout for a player’s blackjack. While in standard blackjack casino rules a blackjack will pay 3:2, this can be reduced to 6:5 or even money. This is usually done in order to balance out more favourable rules for players and maintain the casino’s profit. However, you should be aware that this can be done simply to increase the house edge.

Continuous Shuffling Machines

The use of continuous shuffling machines makes certain advanced blackjack strategies, such as card counting, impossible. Because the cards are not dealt from a static deck but shuffled between rounds, the ability to predict the probability of the next card is negated. Online, automated games all use this strategy, as do certain land-based and live blackjack games also use these machines to protect the casinos against card counters.

Shoe Penetration

Also commonly known as “Deck Penetration”, this refers to the number of cards that are cut off in the shoe by the cut card. Once the cut card is reached, the shoe will be changed, without dealing all remaining cards. The more cards left in the shoe at the time of a change, the harder it is to benefit from card counting practices. As such, the odds swing away from the player as the shoe penetration decreases. This is, of course, irrelevant for games that use continuous shuffling machines.

Helpful Resources

In the next few sections, you will find other useful things to help you on your journey from beginner to card-counting expert. There is a glossary of important terms, guides to rules, side bets and variants, as well as the latest news in the industry and some other interesting points.

Downloadable Charts and Guide Sheets

Throughout the page, I have included a few downloadable sheets that you can save, print out and peruse to your heart’s content. To make things even easier for you, you can find them all collected below.

Rules Downloadable chart detailing the basic rules of blackjack. PDF Download
Side Bets Downloadable chart detailing the most popular blackjack side bets. PDF Download
Variants Downloadable chart detailing the most popular blackjack variants. PDF Download

Though you are, of course, free to come back to this page for a refresher course at any time, these sheets will also look great printed off and hung up on your wall! All of the information that you might need about the basic rules and most popular blackjack side bets and variants is covered.

Blackjack Rules Glossary

Glossary
    • Blackjack The best hand in the game; an Ace and a 10-value card (10, Jack, Queen or King) dealt with the initial two cards.
    • Burn Card A card removed from the deck by the dealer, typically from the top, after shuffling or changing decks.
    • Bust When a hand exceeds 21, resulting in an immediate loss.
    • Cut Card A plastic card in the deck used for cutting after shuffling. When the dealer reaches the cut of a deck, they will reshuffle.
    • Deck Penetration See “Shoe Penetration”.
    • Double Down A move which requires the player to wager double their initial bet, whereupon the dealer will deal them an additional card.
    • Early Surrender When a player forfeits before the dealer checks for blackjack, thus losing half of their bet.
    • Even Money This occurs when the player has blackjack and the dealer has an ace up-card. The dealer can offer the player a pay-off equal to the bet before checking their down-card.
    • First Base The seat to the left of the dealer, which is dealt first.
    • Hard Hand A hand where the ace counts as one, or where no ace is present.
    • Hit 17 A rule where the dealer must hit on all totals of 17, even soft 17.
    • Hole Card The dealer’s card which is dealt face down.
    • Insurance A bet for the event of the dealer having blackjack. The bet can amount to half of the original wager and can only be made when the dealer’s up-card is an ace.
    • Late surrender When the player forfeits their hand after the dealer checks to see if they have blackjack, thus losing half of their original wager.
    • Natural Often used as another name for blackjack.
    • Pontoon Another name for blackjack, chiefly used in the UK.
    • Shoe Penetration The percentage of cards dealt and/or played before the deck is reshuffled. Is often also referred to as “pen”. Synonym: Deck Penetration.
    • Soft Hand Any hand consisting of an ace that can be played as either 1 or 11.
    • Stand 17 A rule where the dealer must stand on all totals of 17, including soft 17.

A Note on the History of Blackjack

Blackjack has one of the longest and most storied histories of any casino game. Though much of the game’s history goes back many years, in the 1990s and 2000s, there have been many attempts to create twists on the classic. These variants can be fun to play and certainly good for a change.

However, along with side bets, the changes to blackjack rules are often designed to increase the house edge, while allowing the game to remain attractive to players. An example of this is Super Fun 21 that advertises itself as an excellent game designed for the players, popping up in bright colours all across 90s America. However, the inclusion of certain rule shifts means that this game is actually statistically worse for the player and so should not be confused with the classic game. Knowing the history of a specific set of rules and judging the motivation behind them is a good practice for any player who takes their gambling seriously.

Etiquette

 Now that you know how to play blackjack, you’re more or less ready to dive right in and start playing. Just remember that whether you’re playing at a live casino or land-based casino, it’s important to adhere to betting etiquette. Online anonymity is no excuse for bad behaviour in a casino. Be polite and courteous to your dealer and treat your fellow players with the same level of respect you would like to receive. You will, in turn, have a far more enjoyable experience.

Blackjack News

If you like to keep up to date on all the latest and most important related news, you’ll find everything you need below. My team of writers work tirelessly to bring you the freshest news from the world of online gambling, so you can expect frequent updates right here on this page. Check back regularly to get your fix of blackjack news!

News

You can also head over to the main news page by clicking on “NEWS”, if you’re interested in finding out about all of the biggest updates in the wider casino world. From game releases to new regulations and major legal shifts, you’ll find everything there.

Frequently Asked Questions

I get a lot of messages from readers asking all sorts of questions. Many of those queries come up repeatedly. So, I’ve answered some of the most common blackjack rules questions that I get asked; hopefully, you’ll be able to find the answer that you are looking for.

What is blackjack basic strategy?

Blackjack basic strategy comprises of surrender, split, double down, and hit or stand. Mastering when to make each action can greatly improve your winning edge when playing. To delve into the strategy, check out my dedicated strategy guide.

Does the blackjack dealer hit on 17?

According to regular blackjack casino rules, the dealer always stands on 17. This happens regardless of the dealer’s up-card. This can be altered in the rules of a specific title and will usually say so on the table itself.

What is a surrender in blackjack?

A surrender is a move offered in a select few blackjack variants that allow the player to fold and lose just half their bet, instead of the full amount. It can only be used on the first two cards dealt to the player.

Are you allowed to count cards in blackjack

There is nothing in blackjack casino rules that prohibit you from counting cards. Just be aware that a dealer can ask you to stop playing if they suspect you of counting cards, both online and offline.

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Written bySimon RoseFirst published: 15/12/2015Last update: 12/02/2019
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