The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Blackjack

Blackjack is one of the most popular games in the casino as it's the simplest card game to learn. It's easy to play and the rules are simple to pick up. On top of that, it's incredibly fun with a lot of fast-paced action, so it's no surprise it's so popular.

We're guessing that if you're reading this, you probably aren't that familiar with the game. Don't worry, we'll give you the lowdown on everything you need to know about blackjack before you hit the tables.

Table of contents

The rules of blackjack

Blackjack is a card game that can be played at the casino or online. It can be played with anywhere from 1 to 8 decks of cards (minus the jokers and the rules card), though the games you're most likely to come across will use at least 6 decks of cards.

As a standard practice, all of the decks are shuffled together and a cutting card is then inserted into the deck at a specific position—usually between ½ and ⅚ of its total length—to ensure randomness and fairness in the dealing process. The cards are then placed into a "shoe" which allows the dealer to easily deal the cards.

Dealing the cards

Before the game begins, players are required to make their bets if they wish to play. When playing blackjack, you place your bets before you get any information on the cards you'll receive. In the casino, you make your wagers with physical chips, but if you're playing online, this is replaced by digital representations of chips.

Once all bets have been made, the dealer will deal two cards to each player who has wagered, and to themselves. Both of the cards the player receives will be dealt face up, and the dealer will deal themself one card face up (called the up-card) and one card face down.

Scoring in blackjack

The cards are scored based on their rank, with a couple of exceptions. The aim of the game is to beat the dealer's hand by getting as close to 21 as possible without going over. If your score is over 21, you have "gone bust" and you automatically lose your bet. If you get closer to 21 than the dealer or the dealer goes over 21, you win!

Hard and soft hands

Hands can be described as either "soft" or "hard" depending on whether or not they contain an Ace. A soft hand is a hand that contains an Ace and could be considered one of two values.

For example, if a player is dealt an Ace and an 8, the hand could be considered either 9 or 19 depending on whether you count the Ace as a 1 or an 11. In this example, the hand would be called a "soft 19". If the player takes another card that would take their total over 21 (such as a 10 in this example), then the ace is counted as a 1 and the hand value is no longer soft.

A hard hand is a hand that does not have an Ace, and as such, can never go down in value. If you are dealt an Ace and a card worth 10 with your first two cards, this is a blackjack and you automatically win the hand, unless the dealer also has blackjack.

Order of play

Play begins with the player in the rightmost seat and moves clockwise around the table, the action moving from one player to the next after they've finished their turn. Once you've been dealt your initial two cards and it is your turn, you can request more cards from the dealer until you decide to stick with your hand, or you go over 21.

Once all the active players at the table have made their decisions, it's the dealer's turn to play their hand. Unlike the player, the dealer is subject to certain rules. They must continue to hit until they have at least 17, at which point they must stand. For example, if there is one active player in the hand who has 20 and the dealer has 18, the dealer cannot continue to hit to try and beat the player, they must stand on 18.


If you win a hand of blackjack, you will win double the amount that you bet. For example, if you bet $10 on a blackjack hand and win, you will receive $20, which means you will make a $10 profit.

If you make a blackjack, you get a bonus on your win! The exact amount will vary from casino to casino, but the most common payout you'll see is 3:2 on a blackjack. If both you and the dealer have a blackjack, the hand is considered a push and you take your money back. If, at the end of the hand, both you and the dealer have the same score, the hand is also considered a push and you get your bet back.


In some casinos, if the dealer has an Ace or a 10 as their up-card, they will "peek" to see if they have a blackjack before players make their actions. If they have made a blackjack, then it is immediately turned over, and anyone who doesn't also have a blackjack loses their bet.

Betting limits

When playing at a blackjack table, almost all casinos (live or online) will have mandatory betting limits. There will be a minimum amount you have to bet on each hand and there will also be a maximum amount that you can bet on each hand.

How to play blackjack

We've covered the rules of the game, so let's talk about how to play – what would you need to know if you were going to sit at a table and play in 30 minutes?

Basic actions

There are two actions you need to know if you want to be able to play blackjack at the casino – hit and stand. While there are other options you can take (and we'll talk about those shortly), you are able to play the game only using these two options:


Hitting in blackjack is when you take another card on top of those you already have. By taking another card, you can get your score closer to 21, though you also may put yourself at risk of going bust. Players will often take another card when they've been dealt two low cards and they need to get closer to 21.


Standing in blackjack is the decision to not take any more cards and end your turn. When you stand, you do not put yourself at risk of going bust, but you cannot further increase your score. Players will often stand when they have a high total, such as 19 or 20, and don't want to risk taking any more cards, or when the dealer has a bad up-card and is at risk of going bust.

Advanced actions

So, hitting and standing are what you need to know to get yourself in the door and start playing, but if you want to play blackjack well and decrease the house edge that the casino has, you need to learn the more advanced actions:


If you're dealt two cards of the same rank (two 8s, two 2s, two Aces, etc.), you have the option to "split" those cards into two separate blackjack hands. When you split a hand of blackjack, each new hand must be played with the same wager that was originally placed, meaning that your total wager for the hand will be doubled.

Once you've done so, the cards will be split apart and a second card will be dealt to each of them. You will then be able to play both of these hands like standard blackjack hands, with some possible exceptions. In some casinos, you are able to split again if you're dealt another pair, though this will vary from site to site.

Double down

Once your first two cards have been dealt, you have the option to "double down" on a hand. This is where you double the bet you made before the start of the hand, and you are dealt one additional card. It's advisable to only do this when you have a strong hand compared to the dealer, otherwise it's a losing play. You cannot double down after hitting, and you cannot get more than one additional card.


Surrendering in blackjack is not available in every casino due to the edge it gives to the players. There are two different types of surrendering that may be available depending on the casino:

  • Early surrender is a rule that allows players to forfeit half of their bet if the dealer has an Ace or a 10 as their up-card and before the dealer has peeked to see if they have a blackjack.
  • Late surrender is a rule that allows players to forfeit half of their bet, but only after the dealer has peeked for a blackjack.


Insurance is a similar action to surrender in that it revolves around whether or not the dealer has made a blackjack. If the dealer has an Ace as their up-card, some casinos will offer insurance against a blackjack to the players. If the dealer does have a blackjack, you lose the hand but win the insurance bet, but if the dealer does not have a blackjack, you lose the insurance bet, and the hand plays out as normal. The maximum amount of insurance you can take is often capped at half of your initial bet, and if you win, the payout is generally 2:1.

Blackjack basic strategy

If you want to give yourself the best chance of walking away as a winner from the blackjack table, you need to follow basic strategy. Basic strategy in blackjack takes into account your hand as well as the dealer's up-card and allows you to play your hand in the optimal way.


If the dealer is showing a strong up-card (A, T, 9, 8, or 7), a player should continue until they've reached a total of 17 or more. This is because when a dealer has a strong up-card, it's likely they will make a strong hand, so it's not optimal to stand on a weak hand and hope they go bust.

Similarly, if the dealer is showing a weak up-card (6, 5, 4, 3, or 2), a player should stop hitting as soon as they reach a total of 12 or higher. This is because the dealer will likely bust when holding one of these weaker up-cards, so the player wants to avoid going bust before the dealer.

This is just an overview of general strategy, there are lots more rules on the best times to hit, stand, split, and double down. For more information, check out our in-depth article on basic strategy in blackjack to see how it works.

Rule variations in blackjack

While these are the standard rules of blackjack, casinos can choose to alter them slightly depending on how much of a house edge they want to have. Changes of rules will generally limit the number of options you have at the table – the more options you are able to make that pertain to how you play your hand, the worse it is for the casino. Here's a list of the common rule changes that you will find from casino to casino:

  • Dealer must hit/stand on soft 17
  • Players can only double on a 9, 10, or 11
  • Players cannot double after splitting
  • Number of decks in play
  • Dealer can/cannot peek for blackjack
  • Players cannot split more than once in one game round
  • Only one card is allowed after splitting Aces
  • Blackjack payouts at 2:1 / 3:2 / 6:5
  • Player 21 vs. dealer blackjack is a push

While we can't list them all here, there are dozens of different rule changes that casinos can make to their blackjack game. Read the full rules of the game if you're playing in an online casino, or ask the pit boss for a rundown of the house rules before you sit down and play.

Most common game varieties

Some of the most common sets of rules have their own name that the casinos will advertise, so you can know at a glance exactly what the rules are before you sit down and play. Here are the top 3 most common blackjack varieties with a rundown of their rules:

Vegas Strip blackjack

Despite its name, Vegas Strip Blackjack is played all over the world, although its origins are in that 4-mile stretch of road in the middle of Sin City. The rules of Vegas Strip Blackjack are some of the best you'll find, especially in Vegas, as the house edge is only 0.26% (assuming you follow basic strategy):

  • 4 deck shoe
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Players can double on any hand, even after splitting
  • Only one card on split Aces
  • Aces can only be split once
  • Players can split a maximum of 4 times in one hand
  • 21 on split Aces is not a blackjack
  • Dealer peeks for blackjack
  • Players can split different 10 value cards (i.e. Q and J)
  • Blackjack pays 3:2

The standout rules from this game variant are the generous 3:2 payout on a blackjack and the use of only 4 decks in the shoe.

Atlantic City blackjack

Like its West Coast cousin, Atlantic City Blackjack isn't just found in its namesake city, it's played all over the world and is in fact the blackjack variant most commonly found in online casinos. The rules are similar but slightly less forgiving than Vegas Strip Blackjack as its house edge is around 0.35% (assuming you follow basic strategy):

  • 8 deck shoe
  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Players can double on any hand, even after splitting
  • Only one card on split Aces
  • Aces can only be split once
  • Dealer peeks for blackjack
  • Players can split a maximum of 3 times in one hand
  • Insurance is offered to players
  • Players have the option to late surrender

The option to late surrender is the big addition to this game over Vegas Strip Blackjack, which is beneficial to players.

European blackjack

European Blackjack isn't a game that's commonly found in America but is very popular in Europe and other territories. It is the most restrictive of the three games on our list and its house edge is the highest at 0.65% (assuming you follow basic strategy):

  • Dealer stands on soft 17
  • Dealer does not peek for blackjack
  • Players can only double down on 9, 10, or 11
  • Players can only split once
  • Players can only split the same rank face cards (i.e. J and J)

One major difference between European blackjack and other games is that the dealer does not deal their second card until all other players have made their action. The big limitations related to doubling down and splitting make this a much worse game than Vegas Strip or Atlantic City blackjack. Nevertheless, it's still a popular format.

Live etiquette in blackjack

If you're playing in a brick-and-mortar casino, there are some etiquette rules that you should follow in order to make the game run as smoothly as possible and make sure that everyone has a good time.

When you're in the middle of a hand, you should not touch your cards at all. Most casinos ban this as a policy, and you will be warned by the dealer and could be ejected from the game if you continue to do so. The same goes for chips you've wagered – in the middle of a hand, you must not touch your bet until the dealer has paid out your winnings. This is to prevent players from taking away/adding chips depending on what's beneficial to them.

There are certain hand actions that you can make when playing in a casino to make it clear to the dealer what action you'd like to take. Casinos can be noisy sometimes, so hand signals are a clear way to show the dealer and the casino cameras what action you'd like to take. Here's a rundown of the actions/hand signals you can make:

  • Hitting – Tap the table with one finger.
  • Standing – Wave your hand over your cards from side to side.
  • Double Down – Place the correct number of chips behind your initial bet and point with one finger.
  • Splitting – Place the correct number of chips next to your initial bet and point with two fingers in a "V" shape.

If in doubt, there's nothing wrong with verbalizing your actions as long as you speak in a clear voice and at an appropriate volume.

Finally, the most important thing you can do at a blackjack table is to enjoy yourself! Blackjack is a very fun game to play as long as you play within your limits, so make sure that the aim of the game is always to have fun.


We've covered a lot in this article, from the rules of blackjack to how to play, as well as all the popular variants you're likely to see. If you were a blackjack beginner before you read this, you should now have all the knowledge you need to start playing yourself! If you want more information on the more advanced areas of blackjack like card counting or basic strategy, why not check out some of our other articles?

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