Blackjack for Beginners – Hit or Stand?
When you say casino, one of the first things that crosses your mind is blackjack. Blackjack is extremely popular in both land-based and online casinos, and it’s simple – it can be played by anyone who knows how to count to 21.
Before embarking on a blackjack adventure, you should learn the basics of the game, however. The purpose of this page is to give you a detailed and comprehensible introduction to blackjack.
Our blackjack guide brings you the history of the game, the key features, and the essence of the game, along with useful information relating to gameplay, appropriate strategies for getting the best odds, and some tips on how to beat the house edge.
The History of Blackjack
The game we call blackjack may have evolved from a game played by the ancient Romans, who were known for their love of gambling. Romans used wooden blocks instead of cards to play this game. Numbers were painted on the sides of the blocks – like dice.
Quinze, a game with blackjack basics, was popular in France at the time of Louis XV (1710-74). In this simple two-player game, the player tries to beat the dealer by taking as many cards as possible without exceeding a total value of 15.
Blackjack was apparently derived from quinze. It was popular in French casinos, where it was known as “vingt-un” (French for “twenty-one”).
Vingt-un crossed the Atlantic and began to appear in North America with 18th century French colonists. It was at about this time that most of the modern rules of blackjack emerged.
Blackjack – then known as 21 – was played as early as 1820 in the legalized gambling halls of New Orleans. The rules continued to evolve. For example, in the New Orleans version, only the dealer was allowed to double down.
From New Orleans, the game spread to the gambling parlors of Mississippi riverboats, and from there, across the continent.
The game was still called 21 when it appeared in the first generation of Las Vegas casinos in the 1940s. The simple game helped establish the casinos, which capitalized on its popularity by promoting bonus payouts of 10:1 or more. It seemed for a while as if everyone was learning blackjack.
Blackjack was changed forever by four mathematicians who were stationed at the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland during the 1950s. Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, James McDermott, and Roger Baldwin enjoyed playing cards, and they were intrigued by blackjack. Their rigorous mathematical analysis – “The Optimum Strategy in Blackjack” – appeared in the Journal of the American Statistical Association in 1956. The article demonstrated that players would have the best odds of winning if they took specific actions in specific situations. The four friends may not be world-famous, but their work was recognized in 2008 when they were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
Today, basic strategy for blackjack guides are based on the foursome’s groundbreaking work. Their original article is a little dated today. When they wrote, blackjack was played with a single deck. Dealers didn’t have to hit a soft 17, and players couldn’t resplit pairs. But the basics are still the same.
Rules of Blackjack
Blackjack is played with one or more standard decks of cards: 52 cards, four suits, 13 ranks. Suits generally have no importance in blackjack, though in some variations it plays a part in determining bonus payouts.
The number of decks varies from one casino to another, typically from two to eight. Generally speaking, the more decks in play, the higher the house advantage.
Blackjack rules require the dealer to sit on one side of the blackjack table. There’s room for five to seven players on the other side. Each table should have a card or sign listing house rules such as betting limits, whether the dealer hits a soft 17, and the payout for a blackjack. Although some casinos accept cash, they typically require gamblers to play with poker chips. There is a circle on the table in front of each seat. Place one or more chips there and you’re playing blackjack. The chips you put down? That’s your bet.
The most complicated ultimate guide to blackjack isn’t all that complicated, because the game itself is so simple. No matter what you do, the house has an advantage. Mostly, you’ll find yourself doing just what the four mathematicians recommended.
This is one of the main reasons for the enduring popularity of this game. All you really need to know is how to count to 21.
Your goal is to have a hand whose value is 21 or as close as you can get without going over. If your hand’s value is higher than the dealer’s (or if the value of the dealer’s hand exceeds 21), you win the hand.
If you want to know how to win at blackjack, it’s simple. First, ignore the other players at the blackjack table. Your job is to beat the dealer.
The game starts when you’re dealt two cards. The first is face down and the second is face up. The dealer gets the same: one down and one up.
Your hand’s value is the sum of the index values on the cards:
- 2: 2
- 3: 3
- 4: 4
- 5: 5
- 6: 6
- 7: 7
- 8: 8
- 9: 9
- T: 10
- J: 10
- Q: 10
- K: 10
- A: 1 or 11
If your face-up card is a 6 and the face-down card is a 7, your hand’s value is 13.
You are well on your way to understanding blackjack.
After you have two cards, you must decide whether to augment your hand with more. In our example, you start with 13. If you accept another card, it could be a 9, 10, or face card. Any of those will take your hand’s value over 21. You will lose the hand and your bet. Ignoring the other cards showing on the table, there are 20 cards in the deck that could make you go bust.
You’ll stay under 21 if you’re dealt a 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8. There are four of each in the deck, minus the 6 and 7 you already have: 26 safe cards.
Now you are seeing how to play blackjack.
There are also four Aces in the deck, each of which can have the value of 11 or 1. You can safely accept an Ace. So the deck contains 30 safe cards and 20 cards that will bust you. You say “Hit,” indicating to the dealer that you want another card.
After you receive your third card, the dealer will offer you a fourth, and so on until you say “Stand” instead of “Hit.”
The dealer may take more cards too. A key part of the game is that the dealer isn’t allowed to play hunches. Each casino has strict rules of blackjack regarding what the dealer must do, given the value of the cards in the dealer’s hand.
Remember to keep the value of your hand at 21 or below to avoid going bust. You win if your hand’s value is higher than the dealer’s or the dealer’s hand exceeds 21.
If you and the dealer end the round with hands of equal value, it’s called a “standoff.” You neither win nor lose chips.
Because the dealer’s actions are constrained by rules, the dealer doesn’t make any different choices based on the cards you have. In fact, every guide to blackjack will tell you that it is fine for the dealer to see your cards. In fact, at some casinos your cards are all dealt face-up. You can let other players see your hands too. They may help you out with advice.
Let’s take a quick look at the rules governing what the dealer must do and how those actions vary at different casinos.
Dealer stands on all 17s. This is the most common convention in casino blackjack. According to this version of blackjack rules, if the dealer’s hand has a value of 16 or less, the dealer must take another card. If the dealer’s hand has a value of 17 or more, the dealer must “stand” – that is, not take any more cards.
Dealer hits soft 17. This variation kicks in when the dealer has a “soft” 17. A hand’s value is soft if it includes an Ace that has a value of 11. It’s always safe to take a card in such a situation, because if you bust, you can change the value of the Ace to one. According to the blackjack hand guide, at “soft 17” casinos the dealer stands on 17 or higher unless the 17 comes from an Ace and a 6. In that case, the dealer must take another card. This rule increases the house advantage.
A Quick Guide to Blackjack Strategy
With these simple rules, you can learn enough blackjack in an hour to enjoy playing the game at a casino or with friends. You can also spend a lifetime exploring edge conditions and exceptions and the role of hunches and luck. It’s no wonder the game is so popular.
One thing you must accept is that there is no way basic strategy blackjack can beat the house edge. But you can minimize your losses, and if you have a series of good hands you can end the session with more money in your pocket than you started with.
Like any blackjack guide, this article will show you when you should take different actions.
Hitting means you want an additional card in your hand to increase the hand’s value. There’s a calculated risk to this strategy, because if you total 22 or higher, you lose your bet.
Stand when you are satisfied with the value of the hand and want to stand with the hand as it is. Our quick guide to blackjack strategy notes that there is also a calculated risk in standing because the dealer might have a better hand or hit until it’s better than yours.
Hitting and standing are the basic moves in blackjack. The rest are slightly more complicated.
If you get two numerically equal cards at the beginning of a hand, you can split them into two separate hands and place another wager, equal to the original wager, on the second hand. You might take advantage of this strategy and split your hand, even in blackjack for beginners, if you are dealt a 10 and a Jack, for instance. They are equal in value, so you can split. The dealer would respond by dealing a card to go with the 10 and another to go with the Jack – and you’re now playing two hands at once.
After you receive your first two cards, you may decide to double your initial bet – unless your hand is a 21. This playing option allows you to double your initial bet and therefore your winnings – but you may hit just once.
Whether you are a pro or play blackjack for dummies, this option is essential. You forfeit the hand instantly, automatically losing half the original bet. Depending on the casino, you may be offered either an early or a late surrender. In early surrender, you are allowed to drop out before the dealer checks his hole card to see if they have a blackjack. This means the casino is giving up a solid part of its house advantage.
Late surrender is more common. At a late surrender table, you can drop out after the dealer checks for blackjack. This means that if the dealer has a blackjack – an Ace with a card whose value is 10 – you lose. Unless, of course, you have a blackjack yourself.
Blackjack tips for beginners sometimes don’t include insurance, but it’s not that complicated. When the dealer’s up card is an Ace, you have the option to make the insurance wager – a side bet equal to half of your original bet or less. This is referred to as an insurance bet. If the dealer has blackjack you lose your original bet, but you win double the insurance bet – so you break even. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose the side bet and the original bet remains in play.
Take even money
Here’s a good blackjack tip: If you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer has an Ace showing, the dealer will ask if you want “even money.” If you accept, you’ll get an immediate 1:1 payout on your bet. The dealer won’t even check their own hand for a blackjack.
If you stand and it turns out that you and the dealer have hands of the same value, the result is a “push.” No one wins and no one loses. You don’t receive anything and the dealer doesn’t take your bet. You can either leave the same wager in place or change its amount for the next hand.
Score a blackjack
Of all your new understanding, blackjack is the most lucrative and pleasant to contemplate. It means your hand contains an Ace and one of the following: 10, Jack, Queen, or King. Your score is 21 and you instantly win the hand unless the dealer has a blackjack too. Blackjack is often referred to as natural or natural 21.
Downloading a blackjack chart and taking it to a casino could win you some money. But remember, it can’t erase the house edge. Basic strategy is smart, but it’s not a guarantee that you will win. To beat the house, you’ll need another kind of weaponry.
Should I Hit or Stand?
This article is intended to present blackjack for beginners, but the truth is, every blackjack player struggles with this question. Professionals rely on statistical frameworks, while recreational players are more likely to play hunches. Either way, all you can really hope to do is mitigate the risks. The house edge is a statistical certainty, but while statistics are good at forecasting what will happen over the course of 10,000 hands, they’re pretty bad at predicting the next three hands. For every big loser at the blackjack tables there’s a big winner who is having a good day.
The house edge starts at about 5.5%. You can reduce it if you master strategies for hitting and standing. At the risk of sounding like a blackjack for dummies guide, you need to be honest with yourself about the odds. Even without card counting, blackjack offers relatively good odds if you learn a few simple rules:
- Stand with 12-16 when the dealer has 2-6.
- Hit 12-16 when the dealer has 7-Ace.
- Always split Aces and 8s; never split 10s.
- Double 11 versus the dealer’s 2-10.
- Hit or double Ace-6.
Here are a few additional tips you should memorize to reduce potential mistakes and make you faster – print this article or find a blackjack guide chart to keep these suggested actions handy.
- 16 surrenders versus the dealer’s 9-Ace.
- 15 surrenders versus the dealer’s 10.
- A pair of 9s splits versus the dealer’s 2-9, except for 7; otherwise stand.
- A pair of 7s splits versus the dealer’s 2-7; otherwise hit.
- A pair of 6s splits versus the dealer’s 2-6; otherwise hit.
- A pair of 5s doubles versus the dealer’s 2-9; otherwise hit.
- A pair of 4s splits versus the dealer’s 5-6; otherwise hit.
- A pair of 3s splits versus the dealer’s 2-7; otherwise hit.
- A pair of 2s splits versus the dealer’s 2-7; otherwise hit
Blackjack basics suggest that before taking any action, you should check the dealer’s up card, as it affects the action you should take. In addition, experts recommend avoiding the first base chair if the dealer is rushing. Instead, you should sit further down. That will give you more time to review both the dealer’s up card and your hand.
These rules, reminders, and suggestions should help you minimize your losses at the casino – and could even help you win a big pot or two.
Blackjack is among the most popular casino games in the world. In the United States, online blackjack is legal at casinos hosted in-state for residents of Delaware, Nevada, and New Jersey, with West Virginia, Michigan, and Massachusetts looking to join the club. In other states, your blackjack options are limited to in-person gambling.
In Delaware, Nevada and New Jersey, brick-and-mortar casinos are allowed to operate online rooms where residents of the state can legally wager on blackjack. This activity requires a specific license, and wagering cannot take place across state lines. It means you have to be physically located in New Jersey if you want to play blackjack online at a casino in the Garden State.
The US blackjack situation is complicated because of state-by-state differences in laws regulating playing for real money online. A number of states have strict laws that forbid blackjack online for real money, others have arguable or non-existent laws relating to the online game, and a handful have fully regulated, detailed, legal, online blackjack games available for players within the state lines.
Each casino decides on its specific blackjack rules. There are dozens of different sets of rules across different states, but they don’t differ much.
Like professional blackjack, blackjack for beginners requires a commitment to giving up gambler’s myths. Remember that it’s you against the dealer – other players at the table have no effect on your hand. Just follow the basic strategy and set a cap for how much money you’re prepared to lose. Surveys indicate that 75% percent of players have more than their stakes at some point during play, but only 4% go home as winners.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the basic rules of blackjack?
If you intend to play casino games and would like to start with blackjack, you will probably need a blackjack strategy guide. First of all, you need to know that the goal of the game is to beat the dealer’s hand without going over 21. Both you and the dealer start with two cards, with one of the dealer’s cards hidden until the end of the hand. Among different blackjack strategies, you may opt for hitting (asking for another card) or standing (holding your total and ending your turn).
Doubling down means you double your bet and may receive only one additional card from the dealer. You also have the option to split the cards when you have two of the same rank.
Blackjack rules dictate that if you go over 21 (“bust”), you lose and the dealer wins. On the other hand, if you receive 21 at the start (an Ace and a 10 or face card), you get a blackjack and you win. At most casinos, a blackjack wins you 1.5 times the amount of your original bet.
Is blackjack hard to learn?
Blackjack is easy to learn, especially compared to other card games. You can pick up the basics in an hour. If you want to know how to play blackjack at a casino or an online room, the basic rules explained in this guide will suffice.
How much money do you start with in blackjack?
Regardless of your total bankroll, the house has an edge. Set aside the amount you can afford to lose and play until you have lost it or you are satisfied with your winnings.
Assuming that you have read this article carefully, you already know that if you buy in with $100 and you win, you get the original bet plus $100 from the house. If you draw or push, you keep the original bet. And if you get a blackjack, you get your original $100 bet back plus $150 from the dealer. That’s blackjack for beginners in a nutshell.