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Blackjack is the most played casino table in the world and a staple of most every major gambling venue on the planet. It's also a hugely popular draw at real money online casinos. Also known as '21', blackjack is a game played with a regulation pack of 52 playing cards, where the object is to beat the dealer by achieving a hand totaling closer to 21 than they can manage.
Many people first learn blackjack as children with their family at home, playing for matchsticks and improving their math along the way, as they add up the value of their cards and try to get as close to 21 as possible. It's a great entry point to table games, but it's far harder to master than it is to learn.
Aim of the game
The primary aim in blackjack is to get your hand as close to 21 as possible, without going bust along the way (any hand totaling over 21 is considered 'bust'). All numbered cards count as their face value, with jacks, queens and kings worth 10, and aces worth either one or 11 (you get to decide).
'Blackjack' is considered the perfect two-card hand, and consists of an ace (counting 11), plus a second card to the value of 10 (10, jack, queen or king). A two-card blackjack hand of 21 beats everything else.
Here's how cards are dealt in a game of blackjack:
To play a hand requires a dealer and a minimum of two players. Ideally you want somewhere between three and six, but blackjack can accommodate more if necessary. To play a blackjack hand at a real money casino or online, you need to meet the minimum stake and lay down a bet to at least that value.
The dealer deals two cards to everybody at the table. These are both delivered face up. The dealer deals himself one card face up, and one card down.
The player to the left of the dealer goes first and must then choose from a range of possible options.
Here are the options a player has when it's his or her turn to play their hand:
If a player chooses to 'stand' (or stick), it means he or she is satisfied with their hand and has no desire to add another card. What they have in their hand at that point is the score that will go against the dealer's hand.
If a player calls 'hit' it means they are requesting another card, free of charge, from the top of the deck. Players can hit as many times as they like, but their hand is dead the moment it totals greater than 21. This is known as going 'bust'.
If a player opts to 'double down', it means they are doubling their bet in exchange for one additional card from the deck. This will be their final card, so typically doubling down occurs when a player is a 10-card away from a good hand.
If a player is dealt two matching cards there may be the option to 'split'. Doing this effectively means the player will have two active hands and be asked to match his or her initial bet to get the second one going. He or she then plays out both hands.
In some versions of blackjack players are allowed to 'surrender' if they have a strong feeling the dealer is holding a stronger hand than they will manage. This requires that half their stake be paid to the house, in exchange for their early exit. Some casinos allow surrenders where the dealer has a blackjack hand of 21; some don't.
How betting works in blackjack
Each hand of blackjack betting starts with an initial stake. There will be a minimum amount and a maximum amount to adhere to. The initial player's stake can change during the hand if they 'double down', or 'split'.
Once all hands are played out the dealer reveals his or her cards to the table. The dealer must then play our their hand until it reaches a minimum value of 17 – hitting as many times as required to get to 17 or above. The following rules then apply:
If the dealer goes bust, everybody with an active hand wins a matching amount to the stake they invested.
If the dealer doesn't go bust, everybody who gets closer to 21 than the dealer's hand win a matching amount to their stake.
Those who are beaten by the dealer hand over their stake to the house
If your hand matches that of the dealer, it's classed as a 'push' and your stake is returned.
If any player achieves a perfect blackjack hand of 21 (ace plus 10-card) they will typically be paid out at a 3:2 ratio, which means $3 won for $2 staked. That's unless the dealer also gets blackjack, in which case there's a push.
If the dealer shows an ace with their face-up card, there will often be 'insurance' offered, which means a player can put a side wager on the dealer achieving a blackjack hand of 21. This is a nice back-up plan to avoid disappointment if his or her other card is a 10, and pays at 2:1.
Why do so many people love blackjack?
Blackjack's enduring popularity is owed to a game that is both simple, yet hard to master, and devilishly addictive. There are relatively few rules to learn and the betting process is straightforward when you compare blackjack to a table game such as Texas Hold'em poker.
The thrill of Blackjack has been adapted superbly for online casinos and is hugely enjoyable to play via your desktop, Mac or mobile device. We would recommend you visit a credible blackjack portal to help you choose the best site to play at.