Blackjack Rules and Strategies

The Blackjack strategy card game is an American variant of Twenty-One, which appeared in the US early in the 1800s but was called Vingt-Un back then. This makes it older than ice hockey created in Montreal (1875) and Canadian Confederation (1867)! Blackjack rules vary by variant, impacting the blackjack strategy and house edge. An understanding of the rules and strategies is the best way of beating the house!

Online Blackjack Table: Getting Started

An online blackjack card game is played against a computer dealer. The number of 52-card decks can typically vary between four and eight. The house edge increases as the number of decks increases, from 0.17% with a single deck to 0.66% using eight decks. Still, the objective remains the same. A player must defeat the dealer by coming closest to a hand of 21 without going over. Blackjack online is played on a virtual blackjack table. Players begin by choosing a bet size from amongst the chip values displayed on the screen. Typically, this is done by clicking on the chip and placing it in the corresponding table position by clicking again. The range of chip sizes will depend on the game but will be higher for VIP blackjack variants. Some versions of blackjack will allow you to play multiple hands at the same time. Either way, making a bet will be similar. Most online blackjack games have some additional functions to speed things up:
  • A 'clear' button that removes bets from the table.
  • An 'undo' button to reverse the last action.
  • A 'deal' button to start around.

Standard Rules of Blackjack Online

A player is dealt two face-down cards by the dealer, which then deals two cards to itself: a face-up and face-down card. In some variants of blackjack, both cards are face up. The value of number cards (2-10) is equivalent to the printed number on the card. Face cards (i.e. King, Queen and Jack) have a value of 10. The ace card can have a value of 1 or 11. The total value of a hand is the sum of individual cards. A hand with an ace is called a 'soft' hand because it cannot bust by taking another card. Any other hand is called a 'hard' hand. The player always takes decisions first and stands when done. If the player has a blackjack (an ace and 10 value card), they win, assuming the dealer does not also have a blackjack. If the player busts after 'hitting,' then the dealer wins. In both scenarios, the dealer does not need to make any decisions. When the player is done, the dealer reveals its face-down blackjack card where it can hit or stand. Blackjack dealer rules usually require that the dealer hit on a hand of less than 17. Often, a dealer will also need to hit on a soft 17 hand. When the dealer is done, its hand is compared to the player's hand. If both the player and the dealer have the same hand, this is called a push where no one wins (tie), and the player gets their stake back.

Blackjack Odds Payouts

There are three possible winning outcomes for a player at blackjack free online or for real money:
  • A player's blackjack card hand comes closest to 21 (compared to the dealer) without going 'bust' (going over 21). This has a 1:1 payout (even money).
  • The virtual blackjack dealer's hand goes bust. This has a 1:1 payout (even money).
  • A player's two-card hand totals 21 (called a blackjack), while the dealer's hand is less than 21. This has a 3:2 payout.
A fourth possibility of a winning outcome depends on whether the game offers 'insurance' or an 'even money bet.' Here, a player can win a 2:1 payout.

Player Blackjack Strategies

Blackjack, as with life, is a game of decisions, which we’ll briefly run you through. A player can apply a strategy that can lower the house edge and improve their blackjack odds to as low as 0.2%-0.5% for some variants. Remember that blackjack is a game of probabilities that guides an optimal blackjack betting strategy. A basic blackjack strategy may improve your odds and will perhaps make you money over the long run. Learning the decisions that are possible and when to make them is, therefore, an intelligent move. Blackjack free online is an excellent way to learn the nuances of the card game. Blackjack practice makes perfect, so don’t be shy to play blackjack free first. When you’re ready, play blackjack online for money for the excitement of putting dollars on the line for the chance to win. Keep in mind that no blackjack card strategy works 100% of the time. Imagine coming up with the perfect strategy to predict the outcome of NHL games. You’d be able to win big money bets on provincially-sold lottery tickets, such as Pro-Line in Ontario or Sports Action in BC. The government agencies wouldn’t be too happy, so you can imagine that the online casino wouldn’t be either. The point is that no strategy can consistently beat the house edge – that’s why it’s there!

Deciding when to Hit & Stand

Part of the challenge of blackjack is knowing when to hit and when to stand. When a player 'hits,' they're instructing the virtual dealer to give them another card. Just remember that the closer you are to 21, the more likely you will be to bust by hitting. Part of the fun of blackjack is knowing when to 'stand,' meaning remain with your hand.

Deciding when to Double Down

When a player is confident with their hand compared to the dealer's visible card, they may have the option to 'double down.' This allows them to double their original stake, but it comes at the price of having the opportunity to hit just one more time.

Deciding when to Surrender

The option to surrender is not available in all blackjack variants. Here, once the cards are dealt, a player has the opportunity to 'surrender ' (i.e. give up) if they believe that they will likely lose the round. Of course, nothing comes for free as surrendering comes at the price of half a player's wager. In other words, a player can quit but loses 50% of their original bet. When used properly, a surrender strategy can be an effective way to protect your bankroll.

Deciding when to use Insurance

Unlike the other decisions that we've talked about, a blackjack insurance bet is actually a side bet. Insurance is used when a player thinks that the dealer may have a blackjack hand when its face-up card is an ace. For the price of half their original bet, a player can make this side bet to win 3x their initial bet if their hunch is correct. Of course, if they are incorrect, then they lose the side bet.

Deciding when to use Pair Splitting

+A player dealt two cards of the same rank may have the option of splitting the pair into two independent hands. For example, a player may decide to split a pair of kings into two hands at the cost of the original bet. The dealer will then deal out an additional card to each hand. There are a few things to consider with this strategy:
  • Hitting after a split is usually not permitted.
  • Doubling down is usually not permitted.
  • An ace and 10 (blackjack card value) combination after splitting is no longer considered a blackjack.

Deciding when to make an Even Money Bet

An 'even money' bet is similar to insurance used in a scenario where a player has a blackjack, and the dealer's face-up card is an ace. It also comes at the cost of half of the original bet. Suppose the dealer's hand also turns out to be blackjack. In that case, the outcome is called a 'push.' Here, the player gets their initial wager back but loses the opportunity to profit. To guard against this, a player can make an even money bet. By making an even money bet, a player can win back 2x their bet if the dealer does indeed have a blackjack hand. Suppose it turns out that the dealer does not have a blackjack. In that case, the player effectively squanders the opportunity for a total profit on a 3:2 blackjack payout.

Blackjack Strategy Table

We've talked about the different decisions that a player can make. However, we have yet to talk about when to make them. Fortunately, a blackjack basic strategy chart tells a player the proper course of action based on the player's hand and the dealer's face-up card, using certain assumptions:
  • The game uses 4-8 decks of cards.
  • The player loses only their original bet on a dealer blackjack.
  • A player can double down after a split.
  • The blackjack dealer rules state that the dealer hits on a soft 17.
Playing blackjack correctly can reduce the house edge to as little as 0.1% on some variants. A blackjack strategy chart is based purely on mathematical probabilities making it objective rather than subjective.

Blackjack Card Counting

Some experienced players use card counting to try to predict the remaining cards. They use this information to determine when to increase their bet size or deviate from their primary strategy. This strategy is difficult and may not always work as casinos introduce measures to prevent this. Card counting is legal. However, try using this strategy at a Canadian provincial land-based casino, and you may be politely told that you're no longer welcome at the table. This is like wearing a Montreal Canadiens shirt in a Toronto sports bar! If you're going to do it, be discreet.

Closing Thoughts on Online Blackjack Strategy

The beauty of the rules of blackjack is that they are relatively simple. With some blackjack practice, learning the blackjack card values becomes second nature. When playing blackjack online for money, it is wise to have a blackjack cheat sheet like the one above. After all, you wouldn't bet on an ice hockey team that plays with no form or strategy! So, why would you play a blackjack game without a system? Some Canadians use a blackjack calculator online instead, which determines a player's next move based on the same mathematical probabilities using information input by a player. It's just a way of avoiding memorization or carrying a blackjack strategy chart with you. Once you've mastered basic blackjack, there are several variants with blackjack dealer rules and other rules that can make things even more exciting. It's like drinking different Canadian craft beers - you never want to stop!