On the surface, blackjack may look like a simple card game. That’s partially true, and accessibility is a big reason for blackjack’s widespread popularity. But beneath the baseline rules of the game, learning how to play blackjack is important. It is a nuanced and complex gaming experience that both welcomes beginners and challenges skilled players to continuously improve.
You can play blackjack online for free almost anywhere, for real money online in some jurisdictions, and at casinos and card rooms. No matter where you play, it’s incredibly helpful to have a firm grasp on how blackjack works.
How To Play Blackjack
When you play blackjack, your overarching goal is to beat the dealer. Even though you aren’t trying to beat the other players at your table (whether virtual or real), it’s important to watch what they do. Your decisions can affect their game and vice versa.
To beat the dealer, you want to get a hand worth 21 points or as close to it as possible without going over. If your hand totals more than 21, that’s called a bust and you automatically lose your bet.
Playing Blackjack Step By Step
In blackjack, one round of play is considered a hand. You place a bet on each hand and attempt to beat the dealer. Here’s how a hand plays out.
Step 1: Bets Are Placed Cards Are Dealt
First, each player places bets. The main bet in blackjack is on yourself to beat the dealer. Sometimes side bets are available, but the chances of winning are very low and give more advantage to the house.
Next, the dealer will hand out two cards to each player at the table. All player cards will be face-up, but the dealer will have one card face up and one face down. This gives the casino an edge in the game.
Once you have your cards, add up the points based on each card’s value (we have a table for this below). This will help you determine what action you should take on your turn.
Step 2: Player Action
Once hands are dealt, each player takes a turn deciding what to do next based on the value of their cards. Your options are usually: hit, stand, double down, split, or surrender. We’ll define each of these actions below.
Hit and stand are the two most common actions. If you hit, it means you receive another card in an attempt to get closer to 21. If you stand, it means you keep your hand as is.
Step 3: Dealer Action And Wins Paid
For the final step, the dealer flips his face down card and either hits or stands based on the rules of that specific table. Some tables, for example, require a dealer to draw another card if their hand totals less than 16. These rules vary slightly depending on where you’re playing.
Bets are then paid based on each player’s hand in relation to the dealer’s total. If you’re closer to 21 than the dealer, you win. If you tie, it’s a push, and if you lose, you forfeit your bet.
Blackjack Card Values
In blackjack, each card has a specific point value that you use to calculate the value of your hand. This table lays out the value of each individual card. Suits and colors don’t make a difference; blackjack is purely about the numeric value of each card.
|Card||Blackjack Point Value|
|Ace||1 or 11|
As you can see, card values are pretty straightforward. 2s through 10s are worth face value, face cards are all worth 10, and aces can be either 1 or 11. When you’re dealt an ace, you choose which value to use, and it can change mid-hand based on new cards you receive.
A blackjack occurs when you hit 21 points with the two cards the dealer first gave you (one card worth 10 points plus an ace). When you hit blackjack, you automatically get paid the amount of your bet plus a bonus (unless the dealer also hits blackjack, which then results in a push).
Blackjack typically pays 3 to 2, which means that you’ll get paid the amount of your bet plus half, or 1.5 times your bet. As an example, if you bet $10 and get blackjack, you’ll win $15.
Some casinos and sites offer tables that pay 6 to 5 when you hit blackjack. Essentially, this means you get paid less for every blackjack you hit. On a $10 bet where you hit blackjack, you’d receive $12 instead of the $15 a 3:2 table would give you.
To maximize your potential wins, steer clear of 6:5 tables. They feature the exact same game rules but pay you less on a blackjack.
Important Blackjack Terms
|Term||What It Means|
|Hand||Can refer to your specific cards as a set or one “round” of play in blackjack.|
|Stand||Keep your hand as is and receive no additional card.|
|Hit||Receive another card.|
|Split||If you are dealt two cards of the same value, you can split them into two separate hands (placing an additional bet in the process) and play them as though you were dealt two hands.|
|Double down||Double your bet to receive exactly one extra card from the dealer.|
|Even money||Offered to a player with blackjack when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. An even money bet means the player is guaranteed a 1:1 payout on blackjack instead of a push (if the dealer has blackjack) or a full payout (if the dealer doesn’t have blackjack).|
|Bust||A bust occurs when a hand totals more than 21 points. The dealer or any blackjack player can bust.|
|Upcard||The dealer’s face-up card.|
|Hole card||The dealer’s face-down card.|
|Surrender||Give up your hand after the initial cards are dealt and receive half of your bet back. This is a rare option offered by few blackjack tables.|
|Insurance||Offered to a player without blackjack when the dealer’s upcard is an ace. Insurance is a side bet that pays 2:1 if the dealer has blackjack. If the dealer does not have blackjack, the player loses the side bet.|
Five Options When Playing Hands Of Blackjack
When it’s your turn to take action in blackjack, you usually have up to five options, depending on your hand.
If you hit, it means you’re asking the dealer for another card. Typically this means your two initial cards are fairly low in value and you want to get closer to 21. If your initial hand totals lower than 17, you’ll often want to hit. It’s usually advisable to hit until you have a hand totaling 17-21 to give yourself a chance to beat the dealer. However, there are some scenarios where standing on a total of 12 can be beneficial.
You can hit as many times as you’d like until you’re happy with your hand or you bust.
When you stand, you keep your hand as is without taking any new cards or additional actions. Standing is usually best when your initial hand totals 17 through 21, especially if the dealer’s upcard is a 2, 3, 4, or 5. Many strategic players like to assume the dealer’s face-down card is a 10 and make choices based on that assumption. If the dealer’s upcard is a low-value card, there’s a higher chance they’ll draw a 10 and bust.
If your initial hand totals 9, 10, or 11, then you may choose to Double Down. This means you double your wager (place another bet equal to your first one) to receive exactly one card. You won’t be able to hit again after receiving the extra card.
If you win on a double down hand, you win both bets. If you lose the hand, you lose both bets. It’s a high-risk high reward strategy that’s best used when the dealer’s upcard gives them a chance to bust.
If you receive two cards with the same value (two 8s, two 9s, etc.), you may choose to split. This separates each card into the beginning of a new hand, and you must place another bet equal to your first. You then play each hand one at a time as you normally would, hitting or standing as you see fit. If you hit and receive another card of the same value, you’re allowed to split again.
Each hand is paid individually based on whether or not it beats the dealer’s total.
Surrender is a rare option in blackjack. If your table has a surrender option, it means you can sacrifice your initial hand and receive half of your bet back, with the other half going to the casino. Think of it as “folding” your hand.
Because there are so many possible outcomes in a game of blackjack, there are various scenarios in which a player can win, lose, or push.
You, the player, win if:
- You hit blackjack and the dealer does not
- Your final hand is closer to 21 than the dealer’s
- The dealer busts and you do not
You and the dealer push if:
- Your final hands total the same point value
- You both hit blackjack
You lose if:
- The dealer hits blackjack and you do not
- The dealer’s final hand is closer to 21 than yours
- You bust
Naturally, blackjack players use a lot of intricate strategies. But there is some conventional wisdom for newcomers or beginning players on what to do and when.
When To Hit Or Stand
Most players like to assume the dealer’s face-down card is always a 10 and work from there. For example, if the dealer’s upcard is an 8, you would assume they have a total of 18. Most blackjack tables require the dealer to hit on anything below a 16, but the dealer doesn’t take action until every player has taken their turn, so assuming a total is necessary for strategic gameplay.
It’s usually smart to hit if:
- The dealer’s upcard is a 7-10 or an ace and your hand totals lower than 15
- Your hand total is lower than 17
Your goal is to reach 21 or as close to it as possible, so hit with that in mind.
It’s typically good to stand if:
- Your initial hand totals 17 or higher
- The dealer has a solid chance to bust (upcard of 2-5)
In some cases, it makes sense to stand on a low-value hand and hope for the dealer to bust.
For a more detailed strategy overview, head to our Blackjack Strategy guide.
Where To Play Blackjack Online
There are a number of different ways you can play blackjack online.
Free To Play Blackjack
Free blackjack is accessible anywhere you can get an internet connection and is legal across the US. There’s no real money involved in any capacity, and it’s a great way to get more familiar with the game.
Our free blackjack guide has two games right here on our website. The first one is single-player and allows you to play up to three hands at once. You can get a feel for the game and how one player’s choice can affect other players’ hands.
The second game allows you in play with up to two friends, adding a social element to the mix.
You can play sweepstakes blackjack at any state in the US except for Washington. At sweepstakes sites, you purchase in-game currency and use that to play casino games. Chumba Casino is the most popular sweepstakes casino, and it has a blackjack game. Sweepstakes sites also give you a chance to win cash prizes.
Real Money Casino Blackjack
New Jersey, Delaware, and Pennsylvania currently have legal and live real money online blackjack. You can place bets and play against real players. You bet with real money and have a chance to win, too. Real money online blackjack brings the casino experience to the digital space.
Some online casinos even have live dealer blackjack games, where a real dealer doles out cards via live stream and the computer settles hands and bets. Check out the liver dealer games at DraftKings Casino or BetMGM depending on what state you are in. They offer real money online blackjack and live dealer games.
Types Of Blackjack Games
Thanks to its popularity, blackjack has spawned a number of spin-off games and variants that bring fresh concepts into the mix.
Atlantic City Blackjack
In Atlantic City Blackjack, players can double down on any two cards. Plus, the dealer always checks for blackjack if their upcard is an ace. That way, players don’t risk doubling down on a dealer blackjack.
In standard blackjack, the dealer is dealt two cards: one face-up (upcard) and one face-down (hole card). European blackjack changes that rule; the dealer does not receive a hole card. Instead, the dealer receives a second card only after all players have taken their turns. This is a risky variant because players have a chance to up their bet (by splitting or doubling down) before knowing whether the dealer hits a blackjack.
In Blackjack Switch, each player is dealt two hands instead of one. Players can switch the top card between the hands if they wish. Because of this player advantage, if the dealer hits a 22, all hands push except a natural blackjack (a blackjack dealt before a switch). The switch element adds new strategic layers to the game, making it a great choice for experienced players.
How To Play Blackjack – Common Questions
To play blackjack for real money, either at a legal online site or at a land-based casino, you need to be 21 or older. At some tribal casinos in the US, it is possible to find 18+ casinos. If you’re 18 or above, you can play sweepstakes blackjack. Anyone can play free blackjack because there’s no real money involved.
We have a full page dedicated to free online blackjack. One game is single-player and lets you hone your skills by playing up to three hands at once. The other is multi-player, so you can face off against friends to learn the game.
This depends on where you’re located. Only Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have legal online real money blackjack.
Every state except Washington allows sweepstakes blackjack, which is completely legal. You can play sweepstakes blackjack online at Chumba Casino.
Free blackjack is accessible to anyone, but you can’t play for real money or win any cash prizes.
You can play at legal online casinos in New Jersey, Delaware, or Pennsylvania. A few other states have legislation in the works to allow online blackjack for real money, but they’re not live yet. Check out the online blackjack offerings at DraftKings Online Casino.
To win cash prizes, you can play at a sweepstakes casino.
In blackjack, an ace is worth either 1 point or 11 points. You assign the value based on whichever number is more advantageous to you. For example, if you have a queen and an ace, the ace would be worth 11 to give you a blackjack. If you have an ace and a 6, your hand is worth either 7 or 17 points, and you could stand with the 17 or hit for a chance at a higher total.
Face cards are all worth 10 points in blackjack. This includes jacks, queens, and kings.
If you receive two face cards, they’re both valued at 10 points, so you could split them for a chance at two winning hands. This is risky, though, because your two face cards are worth 20 points–a solid hand especially if the dealer’s upcard is a 9 or lower.
If the dealer’s upcard is an ace, players have the option of placing an insurance bet. Insurance is a way to mitigate losses if a dealer has blackjack. If you take insurance by placing the side bet and the dealer reveals that they have blackjack, you win 2:1 on the insurance bet. If the dealer doesn’t have blackjack, you lose the side bet.