BlackjackExpert was created by a team of enthusiastic and passionate blackjack players who believe that the knowledge acquired over years of experience should be shared. Focusing on providing readers with in-depth knowledge about the game of blackjack, BlackjackExpert offers detailed information and advice on how to be successful in one of the most complicated and intriguing casino games ever conceived.
Along with the theoretical understanding of blackjack, readers of this website should be able to learn some of the intricacies and specific aspects of real-money play such as blackjack strategies, discipline and money management. We have included guides on how to play, complete with an explanation of the rules and strategy charts. There are also detailed reviews of online casinos and blackjack games, released by some of the world’s leading casino software providers. In them, we have tried to show both the strong points and shortcomings of each blackjack variation and release, as we believe players should have all the facts before they can become proficient in what they do. Last, but not least, this website advocates for fair play and responsible gaming, which is essential to being an expert blackjack player.
Overview and History of Blackjack
Blackjack, one of the most loved card games around the world, is the casino version of the game once known as Twenty-One and today, it can be found in every good land-based casino. The origin of blackjack has eluded historians because, as with most casino games, it was not conceived by any one individual. It was not conceived at any one definite point of time. Rather, blackjack has evolved over centuries and it continues to change even today, offering casino players dozens of variations and styles, all incredibly interesting and profitable.
Indeed, this is one of the very few casino games with a low house edge, which is why it is preferred by many gambling enthusiasts. But before explaining in detail what the house edge is or how blackjack is played, let us delve more into its history. One theory that is widely agreed upon by researchers says that blackjack evolved from the French game called Vingt-et-un. Translated as Twenty-One, it enjoyed great popularity in the early 1700s in France and even in King Louis XV’s royal court. This French game may have originated from an earlier version, the first written source of which is found in a Miguel de Cervantes book from the XVII century. The Spanish game in it is called Veintiuna (Spanish for twenty-one) and the fact that Cervantes wrote the book in 1601 or 1602 suggests that the game of Twenty-One was actually played even earlier in the Castile.
In the XVIII century, French colonists brought the game to America where it flourished and evolved even further. Eventually, it was legalized in gaming parlours in New Orleans and by 1830, it gained massive popularity. Over the years, some of the rules changed and gambling houses began offering bonus payouts in order to attract more players. One such bonus payout was a ten-to-one payout to a player who held an Ace of spades and a black Jack (a Jack of spades or clubs). Although the exceptionally high payout was removed, people continued to call this hand blackjack, which ultimately gave the game its current name.
Today, with the arrival of the Internet, blackjack grew even more, with countless versions being constantly developed by the online casino industry.
Over the years, the rules of Twenty-One have changed and shaped the game but nowadays, blackjack follows the standardized rules defined by the Nevada Gaming Commission. Before looking at its basic rules, there is one essential aspect of the game all players should take into consideration – unlike most casino games, where you rely solely on luck, blackjack is a game of skill. Players need to make a series of decisions throughout the game and each decision influences the result, so a skilled player who uses basic strategy is more likely to win.
Blackjack is played against a dealer and the aim of the game is to get as close to 21 as possible with your cards without busting. In other words, you should try not exceeding 21 with the cards you are dealt. In order to win, the player needs to beat the dealer’s hand – winning gives a certain payout, while busting means the player immediately loses the bet.
The game uses between one and eight standard 52-card decks which are shuffled together and at the beginning of each round, the player or players (up to three at a time) place their bets in the betting box in front of them. In some variations of the game, players are allowed to play on several positions each. Then, the player is dealt an initial hand of two cards, visible to anyone on the table, while the dealer receives one face-up card and a second, face-down card, called a hole card. Not all blackjack versions have hole cards but those that do allow the dealer to peek at this card without revealing it unless it makes the hand a blackjack.
As mentioned above, a blackjack is a hand consisting of an Ace and a Jack which counts as 21. All face cards (Jack, Queen and King) count 10, while the value of cards from 2 to 10 corresponds to their numerical value. The Ace counts as either 1 or 11, depending on the holder’s preference, and a score with an Ace valued as 11 is called a soft hand. But let us get back to the aim and gameplay of blackjack – to win, the player needs to beat the dealer.
Once the initial hands are being dealt, the player has several choices – to hit (to take another card), to stand (to end their turn), or to double (to double the bet, take one card and finish). There are two more additional actions players may take and one of them is to surrender, giving up half of the bet and retiring from the game. The other choice is to split – this move is possible when the two cards have the same value. In this case, the player separates or splits them to make two hands of one card each. Then the dealer draws another card to each of these hands.
After players end their turn, the dealer draws cards into his or her hand until 17 or higher is achieved or until the hand busts. If the dealer busts, the player wins and if the player has a higher hand, he or she wins again. When the dealer’s hand achieves 17 with an Ace, this is called a soft 17 and in many versions of the game, the dealer is required to stand. In other games, the dealer has to continue drawing cards. This rule is almost always shown on the blackjack table – the dealer may stand on soft 17 or on all 17s.
There is an interesting additional rule in many blackjack variations called insurance. This is a side bet, which the player can place independently from the main bet if the dealer’s upcard is an Ace. This way, the player wins two-to-one payout if the dealer makes a blackjack, or in other words, the player takes an insurance against a dealer blackjack.
Online Blackjack Variations
As a card game that involves playing with real money, blackjack can be quite profitable and intimidating at the same time. This is the reason why players should make themselves familiar with the most popular variations of the game, each giving the player a different advantage over the house. In their essence, the various blackjack games follow the same basic rules as explained above, but little subtleties in them add a unique twist. There are more than a hundred variations of online blackjack and some of them are limited to a certain software provider, but in the section below, we will describe very shortly the most popular games of 21.
Each of the following games also has a different house edge, depending on whether it has rules that are more favourable to the player or the dealer. Players should know that every casino game, including blackjack, has a built-in house edge, represented in a percentage. This edge depends on two things – the number of decks used in the game and the specific set of rules. While players cannot change the number of decks, they can reduce the house edge by taking advantage of the rules or, in other words, by using the best strategy.
Vegas Strip Blackjack
This version of the game is common for Las Vegas casinos but it can also be found in many online casinos. It is traditionally played with four decks of cards and the dealer stands on soft 17. This version is generally considered a player-friendly game of blackjack for several other reasons – the dealer peeks at the hole card only when the up card is a 10-value card or an Ace; blackjack is paid 3:2; and insurance is allowed when the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace. In addition, players can double down on any two cards and often, they are allowed to double down after a split. Players can also split up to three times to make four hands.
There are also several drawbacks in this version of the game, including the fact that is played with 4 decks. Surrender is not allowed and according to another rule, Aces can be split just once. When players split a pair of Aces, they receive only one card – if the player makes a blackjack, it is counted only as 21. The house edge in most Vegas Strip games is 0.35%.
Depending on the software provider, European blackjack can be played with 4 to 6 decks of cards. The rules follow closely the standard rules, but there is one significant difference between this variation of the game and all American versions. This is the concept of the hole card – in European blackjack, the dealer receives only one card. The second card is being dealt after players have already made their decisions, including doubling and splitting.
Pontoon is a widely popular variation of blackjack, commonly played in Australian casinos. It is often considered the Australian version of Spanish 21, yet another game of blackjack. In this game, a hand consisting of a face card and an Ace is called pontoon and pays out extra. Between 6 and 8 Spanish decks are used (regular 52-card decks, minus the ten-spot cards) and this a no hole card game, meaning the dealer does not receive a second hand until the players end their turns. There are many more specific rules that separate it from classic blackjack and even more rules exist in the different versions of pontoon.
Whether American or European, most blackjack games can be progressive, which means that players are given the option to place a side bet and win a jackpot. Usually, there are several jackpots, different in size, depending on the number of Aces players can collect in one hand. As this is the most substantial difference of Progressive Blackjack from other versions, it can have various sets of rules.
In most cases, however, this version does not include a surrender option and the player can participate with several hands or place several side bets. The game is called progressive because the jackpots are progressive, i.e. they increase with every side bet placed in them. As you can imagine, this version of blackjack is usually found in online casinos because many players load the same game simultaneously, which makes the jackpot increase quickly.
As explained above, blackjack is a game of skill and the outcome of each round rarely depends on luck but rather, on player’s decisions. That is why good casual gamblers who use perfect strategy can play this game with a disadvantage of only 0.3% to 0.8%, depending on the blackjack variation they have chosen. In many other casino games, the house edge exceeds 5% or can sometimes reach 25%, which means players would lose a quarter of the money they have wagered.
For some blackjack fans, however, using strategy is not enough and they prefer employing advantage play methods in order to push the odds into their favour. These methods include two main things – using perfect strategy for every single hand that is being played, and counting the cards. The latter, however, is never welcomed by casinos and can easily lead to the player being banned from stepping in land-based gambling houses.
Basic Blackjack Strategy
Using strategy is essential to winning in blackjack but even experienced players rarely make only the right decisions. We would be looking into the basic and most universal blackjack strategy in detail in another article on this website, but for now, let us point out several key moments. The first thing players can do is find strategy charts – colour-coded basic strategy charts are even better. They would be effective if they show when to hit, stand, split, and surrender in all scenarios, and if allowed when to double.
In order to play a hand correctly, players should base their decision on two things – what their cards are and what the dealer’s exposed card is. It is relatively easy to decide what to do with a strong (10-Queen, for instance) or a weak (2-4) hand, but it is extremely important to assess the situation when you have a marginal hand such as 7-8.
The next important step to see the dealer’s up card – if it is an Ace or 10, it is possible that the dealer achieves a natural blackjack and beat you unless you also hold a blackjack. This is when the surrender and insurance rules can be exploited. In European blackjack, players may want to be more conservative, as they would not know the dealer’s second card before they made their decisions. It is also very important to know when to double, split and surrender.
Most players who want to be good at blackjack would simply memorize the strategy charts for the main variations of the game. This way, they would play with no mistakes and increase their odds of winning. Even with the perfect strategy, however, it is impossible to turn the odds in your favour- unless you are an advantage player.
Card counters are exceptionally skilful or even professional players whose objective is to profit by beating the house. They keep track of the cards dealt and adjust their playing and betting strategy based on the remaining cards in the shoe. While many people would easily do that in single-deck games, an exceptionally small percentage of skilled players can keep track of the cards when multiple decks of 52 cards are used. This is why most blackjack games use at least 4 decks and in some cases, the game can be played with up to 8 or even 9 decks.
Many people believe that card counting is illegal, but in reality, it is perfectly legal as it is just a skill some people can learn. If noticed by casinos, on the other hand, this practice can easily ban the player from even stepping inside.
There are many variations of blackjack offered in land-based casinos, but it is online casinos that offer the greatest variety of games developed by different software studios. Each software provider releases its own take on the classic types of the game and while in some cases, the versions differ only in its design and look, often, they come with their own rules.
Microgaming is one of the leading casino software development companies in the world and it is hardly a surprise that it has the largest portfolio of online games. It also offers a large number of blackjack variations available both in its downloadable platform and in-browser. The provider has an impeccable reputation for supplying online casinos with safe, fair and reliable software that is certified by the internationally approved testing agency eCOGRA.
The design of Microgaming’s blackjack games resembles the look and feel of physical blackjack tables but players have various personalization options. One of the most popular blackjack variations on the company’s platform is Atlantic City Blackjack, a game that is played with 8 standard decks of cards and its multi-hand version, it allows players to bet on up to five hands at a time. The dealer stands on all 17s and players can split up to four times and use late surrender.
Microgaming has several European-style games, including the single-deck Classic Blackjack where the dealer stands on soft 17s or the Big 5 Blackjack, a 5-deck game where surrender is allowed only in the beginning. Another popular game is Double Exposure, which is played with 8 decks of cards and all cards are dealt face up.
Another reputable software provider with a good selection of blackjack games is Playtech. Most of its games come with exceptional graphics and plenty of personalization options. They are played with 6 decks and one of the most popular ones is the Live Blackjack where players can play on the same table and communicate via Live Chat.
Among Playtech’s most commonly played versions of 21 is its Classic Blackjack, where the dealer has to draw to 16 and stand on all 17s. Blackjack Surrender is an American type of blackjack, in which players can surrender after the dealer checks the hole card for blackjack. The dealer stands on all 17s and insurance is available with a payout of 2:1. Playtech also has Pontoon and Perfect Pair Blackjack, but Blackjack Switch is probably more popular. It is certainly quite unique because, as its name suggests, it allows players to switch the second card they are dealt. There is a side bet and the payout for blackjack is 1:1 instead of the typical 3:2.
The award-winning Scandinavian casino software developer NetEnt (formerly known as Net Entertainment) is certainly one of the most innovative and reliable companies in the world of online gambling. Just like its biggest rival, Microgaming, it offers hundreds of games and among them, top-notch variations of blackjack.
Several of these games, including Single Deck Blackjack or Blackjack Professional Series, feature incredible 3D graphics. As it is played with just one deck of cards, the first variation is rather simple and can be enjoyed by even less experienced players. Blackjack professional series, on the other hand, allows gamblers to play with up to 3 hands and place a side bet, called Double Jack bet. It is placed on the initial two cards and pays out a hundred times your original bet.
Mobile casino games have existed for the past 15 years and more but it was not until just a few years back when casino software developers started creating mobile-exclusive versions of some of the most popular online slots, roulette, poker and blackjack games. Technologies and innovations have pushed the limits of casino play so far that today, it is hard to imagine not being able to gamble on your phone or tablet. Indeed, while online casinos brought in convenience and accessibility, mobile casinos and mobile games are a step further in that direction.
One of the most popular ways to play blackjack on your phone is by accessing an online casino directly in the web browser of your device. Modern phones and tablets can load almost any blackjack game in an instant and they allow players to make real-money deposits or withdraw their winnings directly from the phone. Also, most of the large and reputable casinos on the web are fully mobile compatible, which means they come with all features of the desktop version.
Some players, however, prefer to download an app, specifically designed for their phone. They can opt for a casino app or an application that consists of a single blackjack game. In some cases, apps can be played for free with casino credits that do not require a real-money deposit. Of course, this way, players would not win real money, but they can use such games to practice their knowledge and skills of playing blackjack.
There is a great variety of mobile blackjack games available for iOS and Android devices, but players should know that the number of Twenty-One versions is limited in most mobile casinos. Still, there are several variations made specifically with touch screens in mind such as NetEnt’s Blackjack, which is part of the company’s Touch series. The latest addition to this portfolio is NetEnt Live Mobile Standard Blackjack, which has an impressive HTML5 gameplay, impressive graphics, and most importantly, live dealer play.
Frequently Asked Questions
Online blackjack follows the same rules as the blackjack games that can be played in brick-and-mortar casinos. There are some essential differences, however, such as the considerably more variations of the game that you can find online and the fact that you play in practice mode, where you do not need to gamble your own money.
Yes, online casinos offer a large number of high-quality blackjack games which can be played for real money. In order to access real-money blackjack games, players need to register an account with the casino of their choosing and make a deposit via their preferred banking method. Most casinos offer a variety of options, including credit and debit cards, digital wallets, pre-paid vouchers, bank transfer, and more.
All reputable online casinos use encryption and other security technologies to protect users’ and their own data. This means that any personal information you share with the casino remains private, while financial transfers are just as well secured as transfers processed by banks, some of the most guarded institutions in the world.