Blackjack

Blackjack is a classic game that is played in both land-based and online casinos all over the world. Its popularity stems from the fact that it’s a game of chance (you can’t predict or affect what card is going to be dealt next) where you can nevertheless adopt a strategic approach to wagering that increases your chances of success.

Online blackjack is particularly popular because you play alone and so the cards you are dealt are not impacted by the decisions other players around you make –  a common frustration in land-based casinos. You also have as much time as you need to make the right decisions, even though when you play online it’s generally at a faster pace, with less waiting time between cards and hands. Another advantage is you have access to different versions of the game in the one place, something which isn’t usually possible in bricks and mortar casinos.

Playing online can also give you the best of both worlds, and our recommended casinos offer live blackjack, where the game is streamed, takes place in real time and is dealt by a real dealer, but still played from the comfort of your home or on a mobile device.

The online casinos below that we recommend all offer a variety of online blackjack games, most of which can be sampled for free:

Online blackjack rules

Online blackjack is largely played according to the same rules as are used in land-based casinos across the world (although there are always local variations). The aim is to create a hand that is worth 21 or less but which is better than the dealer’s hand. Blackjack is when either the player or the dealer hits exactly 21 in two cards (an ace + 10/picture card). Winning hands pay even money, while blackjack pays out at 3-2 (unless the dealer also hits it, in which case the hand is a push).

The cards have the same value in blackjack online as they do in a land-based casino: Aces are worth either 1 or 11; picture cards are worth 10; all other cards are worth their face value. Cards are dealt by a random number generator (RNG) and each hand starts anew, with the cards dealt in previous hands having no effect on subsequent ones.

When a hand begins, the players and the dealer each receive a single face up card. The player then gets a second face up card and has one of two options: receive no more cards (‘stick’), or receive another card (‘hit’). Players can continue to hit until their cards total 21, they make the decision to stick, or they ‘bust’ (when their cards total more than 21), at which time the hand is over.

After the player sticks or hits exactly 21, the dealer then receives another face up card; they then continue to receive cards until they reach 17 or more (at which point they must stick) or they bust. If the dealer busts, the player wins the hand; if the dealer’s hand is closer to 21 than the player’s, then the dealer wins. If both hands are equal, it is a ‘push’ and the player keeps their bet but wins nothing.

During a hand, players have two other options, depending on the cards they’re dealt. Two cards of equal value can be ‘split’, which means each card forms a separate hand, so the player now has two hands and two wagers in play. Another option is to ‘double’ – the conditions in which this can be done vary, but doubling is usually offered when a player is dealt two cards totalling 9, 10 or 11. If a player doubles, they multiply their bet 2x in exchange for only receiving one more card.

The odds in online blackjack

The House Edge in blackjack (the advantage the casino has over the player over time owing to the laws of probability) is one of the lowest among online casino games. Although it varies from site to site, and between different versions of the game, the House Edge will generally be in the range 0.25% – 1%.

This compares favourably with most other games to be found in online casinos – the only games where you can find a lower House Edge are some craps bets, some video poker games, and when you play the gamble feature on an online pokie.

Using Blackjack Basic Strategy

Although blackjack strategy doesn’t help you to predict which card is going to be dealt next, it does nevertheless help you to make informed decisions about how to play a hand, based on the outcome that is most likely. Basic Strategy, as it’s known, is based on the probability of a player winning a hand from any given position, and suggests whether hitting, sticking, doubling down or splitting is the right move.

Basic Strategy is laid out as a chart that shows various players’ hands in different combinations set against the dealer’s card, and outlines what you should do in each situation, e.g., you have A-7, and the dealer is showing 7; basic strategy dictates that you should stick.

It should be remembered, however, that Basic Strategy is a not a ‘system’ to beat the casino – it’s based on sound principles and probability, and so understanding it is crucial if you want to have any sort of success playing the game over an extended period of time. Click here to read more about Basic Strategy and how to put it into action.

Top 5 online blackjack tips

Avoid ‘systems’

Except for Basic Strategy, players should avoid ‘systems’ as there is no evidence that they work beyond a hand or two. There are a multitude out there, and their advocates will passionately promote them, but approaches such as ‘Mimic the Dealer’ (where you never split or double, like the House) are based on false premises and not on probability. Instead, if you want to become a halfway decent player, use Basic Strategy, which is the most robust and logic-based approach. 

Choose the right blackjack table

Anyone who wants to enjoy and play the game for any length of time needs to have a realistic approach to wagering; in blackjack online, therefore, it’s important to choose a table with the right size stakes. A good approach is to set yourself a limit as to how much you are prepared to lose in a session e.g., $200 and then select a table with a stake that would let you play 20 losing hands; this would mean playing at a table with a minimum bet of no more than $10. Of course, central to any effective wagering strategy is knowing when to walk away, so if you hit your loss limit, log out and try again tomorrow.

Know when to split and double

Knowing when to split and when to double are keys to playing effectively, as it’s not advisable to do so at every opportunity. There are, however, some hands where splitting and doubling are definitely the right thing to do.

Split when:

  • you show A-A or 8-8
  • you show 6-6, 7-7 or 9-9 and the dealer shows 6 or less

Double when:

  • you show 5-5 and the dealer shows less than 10
  • you show A with 4, 5 or 6 and the dealer shows 6 or lower
  • you show 10 and the dealer shows less 

Forget insurance

Insurance is a side bet that pays 2-1 (you can bet half of your original wager), and is offered when the dealer shows A as ‘insurance’ against their hitting blackjack. However, the probability of the dealer consistently hitting blackjack means that, over the long term, this is not a bet worth taking.

Learn to play blackjack online for free

Our recommended casinos all offer free online blackjack games which can be played in demo mode, and at many you don’t even need to have an account to play. This is the best way to learn, consolidate and use Basic Strategy so that you have greater confidence when you come to play for real money, but it’s also a chance to get to know the different variations of the game without it costing you anything to learn.

Online blackjack variations

Irrespective of the variation of the game, the principles when you play blackjack are essentially always the same – try to get as close to 21 as you can with a better hand than the dealer. This is the case whether you’re playing the Classic, European, American or Atlantic City versions, the main difference between these being when you’re able to split and double.

Online blackjack also enables you to play some less well-known variations, with the added advantage that you can try them out for free. Our recommended casinos offer interesting versions that you can sample as free online blackjack games, such as Spanish, HiLo 13, Surrender and Pontoon. Alternatively, you can also check out the live dealer versions of the game, streamed either from a land-based casino or a studio and dealt by real dealers.

Bottom Line

Online blackjack is the best way to really get to know the game, improve your use of Basic Strategy and refine your approach to wagering. Although there is less waiting time between cards and hands and so the overall pace is quicker, at the same time there is no pressure from other players and so you can take your time when deciding whether to hit or stick. You can also play all of the different versions of the game in the one place or, if you prefer, play live dealer games as well.