Blackjack is a very popular table game —it’s an enticing blend of simplicity and complexity. It's easy to learn, but there are many intricacies. Chance is a major factor in how well you do, but if you study up on probabilities and strategy, you can improve your odds.
The goal of blackjack is to create a hand with a higher total than the dealer’s, without going over 21.
- Numbered cards count as their face value.
- Face cards—jack, queen and king—are worth 10.
- Aces count as either one or 11.
If you get blackjack, you’re paid 1.5 to 1 on your bet. So, if you bet $10, you’re paid $15. But if the dealer also has blackjack, it’s a push. For all pushes, you keep your original bet. No gain, no loss.
All other winning hands pay even money. If you bet $10, you win $10.
Blackjack has among the best odds of any form of gambling. The house advantage, if you know the ideal move in every scenario, is around 0.5 percent, meaning the return to player is 99.5. By comparison, the house advantage for roulette is around 5 to 6 percent, and for the lottery it’s around 50 percent.
But to play with such a favourable return to player, you must use an approach called “basic strategy.” Basic strategy involves understanding the ideal move to make in every scenario—based on your cards and what the dealer is showing—to have the highest probability of winning. Many casinos distribute basic strategy cards that you can use while you are playing. If you don’t know blackjack basic strategy, your expected return to player is much lower.
And remember, blackjack is a skill-based casino game, which means your actions and approach can improve your odds of winning, but randomness and chance still play a big role in the outcome.
Double Down: To double your original bet and commit to standing after taking one more card.
Split: If your first two cards are of equal value, you can split them into two separate hands. You must place an additional bet, equal to your original wager, for your second hand. If you split aces, you get only one additional card for each ace.
Surrender: If you don’t like your first two cards, you can surrender. The dealer takes half of your original bet and your hand is discarded. You can surrender on any original two-card hand, except when the dealer has blackjack.
Insurance: If the dealer’s first card is an ace, you can insure your bet against the dealer getting blackjack. You can wager a sum equal to one-half of your original bet. If the dealer draws blackjack, the insurance bet pays 2 to 1. If the dealer does not get blackjack, you lose your insurance bet.
Blackjack variations: Many casinos offer variations on regular blackjack which offer different odds, play with different number of decks than the standard six, or provide various side bets that pay bonuses in certain situations. In each case, it’s generally a good idea to learn the fundamentals of the regular game before diving into variations.
|Game||House advantage, with optimal play|
|Fortune pai gow poker||0.5 to 2.5%|
|Poker||2 to 3.5%|
|Slot machines||8% (average)|
How to play
Place your bet.
The dealer deals you two cards face up, and takes one card, also face up. If your two cards total 21, it’s known as blackjack.
You win, unless the dealer also has blackjack, in which case it’s a push (a tie). You have to wait to see what the dealer gets for his second card to find out.
If you didn’t get blackjack, you can hit, or take additional cards, until you’re satisfied with your hand, at which point you stand, or stop receiving additional cards. If you bust—that’s when your cards total more than 21—you’re done.
After all players have played, the dealer deals himself more cards to get as close to 21 as possible without busting.
Compare your cards to the dealer’s. Here are the possible outcomes:
- If the dealer’s hand exceeds 21, all players with 21 or less win.
- If your hand is higher than the dealer’s, without exceeding 21, you win.
- If you have the same total as the dealer, it’s a push, unless you got blackjack and the dealer got 21 on more than two cards, in which case you win.