If you are new to online blackjack casinos or you want a few pointers and tips, then your friends at NewCasinos.org are here to help. Please read our casino blackjack guide to take your play to the next level.
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There are probably more hands of casino blackjack played online and in the real world every day than any other card game. Poker players may claim that more hands of poker are played, but blackjack hands are a lot faster than poker hands so we would say blackjack is the winner in this regard! Blackjack is a lot easier to play, and some versions of the game have an extremely low house edge.
History of Blackjack
It is thought that blackjack may have originated in Spain. The author of Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes, wrote a short story in 1600 about players cheating at a game that was described as having rules almost identical to blackjack. In France, the game became known as ‘vingt-un’ or ‘vingt-et-un’ which is French for twenty-one. In the UK the game is known as Pontoon, although pontoon has slightly different rules to casino blackjack.
Via France the game moved to the United States to become extremely popular, but ‘when and why’ accounts differ. Some say this happened in the 1800s, others around 1900 and still others around 1930. For many years the story went that vingt-un became ‘blackjack’ because casinos would offer a bonus for a player’s hand containing an ace and a blackjack. However, this story is now disputed. During the gold rush era of the late 1890s, the mineral zincblende was known as ‘blackjack’. Zincblende was commonly found near gold and silver deposits, so finding blackjack was a sign that you might hit the jackpot. It is thought ‘blackjack’ was the name given to the ace-ten/court card combination in vingt-un, and vingt-un eventually became known as blackjack.
One final word, the name of the game is definitely ‘blackjack’ and not ‘black jack’ as some versions of the game would have you to believe.
How to Play Blackjack at Online Casinos
There are a few versions of blackjack at top online casinos, but the basic structure of the game is identical in all of them.
Online casino blackjack is a two-player game, player vs the dealer. In real-world casinos (and online live casinos and in some versions of RNG-based games) several players can play against the same dealer hand at once.
The game is played with a standard deck with no jokers. Usually, several decks are used at the same time; all shuffled together. The dealer deals two cards face up to the player, then one card face up and one card face down to themselves.
The player must then decide what to do. The object is to score a higher total than the dealer, without scoring over 21. A score over 21 is a ‘bust’, and the dealer wins. If the player is dealt 21 () in two cards then this is ‘blackjack’, and they win. In casino play, when this happens, they are usually paid a premium return. The value of the cards is as follows:
- (Deuce to nine) – face value (i.e. a deuce is worth two and so on)
- (Ten to King) = Ten
- (Ace) – one or eleven (it is the player’s choice whether their ace is worth one or eleven)
Players may ‘hit’ (also known as ‘draw’ or ‘twist’) and take another card, or ‘stand’ (also known as ‘stick’ or ‘hold’) and declare their hand to be complete. There are a few other options (not available in all versions) which are discussed below. Players can take as many cards as they want as long as they don’t bust. The maximum number of cards a player can have in a winning or pushing blackjack hand is eleven – .
Once the player has stood, the dealer plays their hand, revealing the value of their face down card. According to casino rules, the dealer MUST keep taking cards until they achieve a total of 17 or higher. They MUST do this, no matter the player’s total. For example, if the player has stood on 15 and the dealer has 16, the dealer MUST keep taking cards even though they have already won.
Similarly, a dealer cannot stop taking cards even if they have not beaten the player yet. For example, say the player has 18 and the dealer 17. The dealer must stand on 17, even though there’s the chance of the improving their hand with an or .
Most casinos will stand on a ‘soft hand’. A soft hand is one containing an ace that can therefore be interpreted in two different ways. An ace and a seven can be 8 or 18. In blackjack, the dealer will usually consider this as 18 and stand.
Once the dealer has completed play, the winner is declared. If the dealer has won, then the player loses their stake. If the player has won, they receive back double their stake. If it is a tie (known as a ‘push’), the player receives back their original stake.
Insurance is an option in some blackjack versions. If the dealer’s face-up card is an (ace), then the player is offered ‘insurance’. If the player takes insurance and the dealer has blackjack, then they will receive back a proportion of their original stake, even though they lost. Insurance is not offered if the player has a blackjack. Taking insurance is considered a bad bet.
In some versions of blackjack, a player is allowed to surrender their hand for half their stake if their first two cards are a specific total. In some versions, this total can be (13), (14) or (15), but in others, it can just be 13. Not all versions of blackjack offer the surrender option.
Double down is also known as doubling. Here, the player has the option to double their original stake with the option of drawing only one more card. Most versions of blackjack will offer to double. A few versions will allow doubling on any total, but most only on totals of (9), (10) or (11). Some will allow doubling on 11 only.
If a player is dealt with two matched cards (i.e. – two threes, or – two sevens), then they are given the option of splitting them. The cards are separated, and the players must add the same level of their original stake to one of the cards. Two new cards are then dealt, forming two different blackjack hands. The player can then play each hand separately.
Some casino versions of blackjack will allow the player to split any pair, while others will only allow eights and aces to be split. Still, more will only allow aces to be split.
Common specific rules are governing the splitting of aces. Usually, if another ace is dealt with an ace that has already been split, then that hand cannot be split again. Also, it is common for only one more card to be allowed to be dealt with any ace that has been split.
A side bet is an additional stake that can be placed in the hope of a playing landing a specific hand combination. Common side bets include being dealt with a pair of suited jacks or obtaining a hand containing three sevens.
Side bets are commonly considered as bad bets, so should be avoided.
The most commonly-played version of blackjack is the ‘straight-up’ game described above; however, there are some popular variants. Below we describe a few of the most popular ones.
This version of blackjack adds many different rules that make blackjack a more thrilling game to play while reducing the chances a player has of winning a hand. There are many different rules, such as a player blackjack winning even if the dealer also has blackjack, and bonuses for hands such as 777 or 678. If you find a version of Spanish 21 Blackjack, then make sure you are familiar with the rules before you commence play!
This is a trendy blackjack variant that can commonly be found at online casinos. The player is dealt two hands as opposed to one and has the option of switching their hands around to increase their chances of winning. For example, say a player is dealt and for totals of 12 and 15. With this variant, they can switch the cards around to and making much more beneficial totals of 17 and 10.
It is not all good news with this version though. Blackjack is only paid at odds of evens, and if the dealer scores 22 the player wins back only their original stake, not double.
With this version of blackjack, the dealer does not get the luxury of a face-down card – both their cards are dealt face-up, allowing the players to have much more information about the state of the hands before they start playing.
There is a downside to this game too! Typically, blackjack only pays evens, pushes count as losses, and there is no insurance (a good thing!) or surrendering (a bad thing).
Be the Dealer Blackjack
In this version, the player becomes the dealer! The player now plays to player rules (following perfect strategy – see below) and you – as the dealer – play to dealer rules.
This swings the casino advantage back into the player’s favour, but there is – as you might expect – a caveat. You have to pay a commission on all your winnings which swings the house edge right back to the casino.
Successful Blackjack Strategy at Online Casinos
It may surprise you to learn this, but blackjack is a lot like chess! In chess, no matter the current composition of the playing pieces on the board, there is always a ‘best move’ that can be played. In first few moves, the differences between the possible ‘best moves’ are negligible, but beyond four or five moves each board position will have a ‘best move’ – the best players are those who are good at figuring out the best move.
Blackjack is the same, but with much fewer options (basically, there are only around 400 possible ‘positions’ in blackjack – in chess, there are more possible positions than stars in the known universe). Because of this, there is a thing called ‘optimum blackjack strategy’. This was first developed in the late 1950s by four statisticians, and later became the basis of the book by Ed Thorp called ‘Beat the Dealer’, published in 1963.
Via statistical analyses, it can be calculated what the player should do in any given blackjack situation. The player usually has just two options – hit or stand – although in some situations there are other options. The analysis will work out the probability of success of both (all) options, and then recommend the action the player takes based on those probabilities.
Optimal or ‘perfect’ blackjack strategy removes cognitive bias from the game. You may think it foolish to ‘stand’ if your total is 15, but in some cases that is the best option to take – for example, when the dealer’s face-up card is a six.
Sadly, using perfect strategy in blackjack will not make you a winner – it simply means you will narrow the house edge so that it is as tiny as it can be.
There are countless strategy charts available on the internet for all manner of blackjack variants. If you want to optimise your blackjack strategy at online casinos, then find, download and print out the chart for your game, then refer to it as you play.
Blackjack is possibly the most entertaining card game available at online casinos. They are elements of luck, and elements of skill as well, as you need to know what to do depending upon the state of your cards, and the state of the dealer’s cards.
Make sure you enjoy your blackjack play by managing your bankroll, and never play with money that you cannot afford to lose.
Why is there no section on card counting? Surely that’s the perfect blackjack strategy?
Is it true that some blackjack variants offer games with a negative house edge?
What’s the worst ‘common play’ in blackjack you can make?
I grew up playing ‘pontoon’ in the UK. What is the difference between Pontoon and Blackjack?