How To Play Black Jack

Despite its origins in the 1760’s, blackjack remains an enduring favorite among casino-goers, equally beloved as poker and other popular card games. Also known as Twenty-One, it’s a staple in virtually all casinos today, although rules can vary from place to place. 

So, what makes the game so attractive? The answer is straightforward:

  • The rules are simple
  • The face pace is exhilarating
  • The strategic play is stimulating

For expert mathematical players who can count cards, the odds can be in your favor. Even for casual players who put their mind to it, the odds are generally less. To win blackjack, you are only competing with one player: The dealer.

To learn how to beat the odds, read on for the ins and outs of how to play black jack.

How to play black jack

Casino blackjack is usually held at a semi-circular table for 2 to 7 players. Most commonly, 6 standard decks of 52 cards (312 cards) are dealt using a card dispenser box (shoe). 

casino blackjack

The house is the dealer (as a permanent bank) responsible for shuffling, dealing, and handling bets, while players may not touch any cards and must indicate their play using hand signals.


Cards are assigned values regardless of suits, as below:

  • Number cards (2-10) are valued based on their pips
  • Face cards (Jack, Queen, King) are valued as 10
  • An Ace can be valued as 1 or 11

Players attempt to get a higher total than the dealer without going over 21. The perfect hand (blackjack) is an Ace with a 10, Jack, Queen or King. 

You win over the dealer when:

  • Your hand is higher than the dealer’s
  • The dealer’s hand exceeds 21 (bust)
  • Your first two cards equal to 21 and the dealer’s do not

You lose to the dealer when:

  • Your hand exceeds 21 (bust)
  • The dealer’s hand is higher than yours


This is typically how a black jack game plays out:

1. Players wager

Each player places a bet of chips in the designated area according to the minimum and maximum limits. This commonly ranges from $2 to $500. 

2. Dealer deals

The dealer shuffles the deck, appoints a player to cut it, and inserts a plastic card to block off the last 60-75 cards, at which point the deck must be reshuffled. This is to subvert professional card counters.

Clockwise from the dealer, 1 card is dealt face-up to each player and to the dealer. Then, this is repeated except the dealer’s second card is dealt face-down (hole card).

3. Check for naturals

Starting with the player to the left of the dealer (first base), add up your card values which can reach from 4 to 21.

If the first two cards are Ace and 10, adding up to 21, this is a “natural”. Only if the dealer’s face-up card is Ace or 10 will they look at their hole card to check for a natural.

  • If a player has a natural and the dealer does not:

The player immediately wins 1.5x their bet

  • If the dealer has a natural:

They immediately collect the bets of all players without a natural

  • If the dealer and any players have naturals:

The bet becomes a “stand-off” or a “push” (a tie) and the player takes their wager back

4. Player plays

Depending on your cards, there are some options for your next play. You must signal with your hands for the cameras. 

  • Stand: Not ask for another card.

Hand signal: Wave your hand sideways palm down or open your palm over the felt.

  • Hit: Ask for another card one at a time to get closer to 21 until finally standing on the total. You can hit as many times as you want but if you go bust, you lose your bet.

If you have a “soft hand” (which is an Ace with a number card other than 10), you can continue hitting and count your Ace as 1 even after busting with your Ace as 11.

Hand signal: Tap the felt with your finger.

  • Split pairs: If your first two cards are the same denomination, you can split them into two separate hands by adding an equal wager for the second hand. First play the hand to your left, then play the hand to your right.

If you split a pair of Aces, you will be dealt one more card for each Ace and may not draw again. If one of these Aces becomes a natural, the payoff is equal to the bet (not 1.5x).

Hand signal: Put in another equal wager and show a “peace sign”.

  • Double down: If your first two cards total 9, 10, or 11, you may double your bet. You will be dealt only one card which will be face-down until the end of the hand. 

Hand signal: Put in another equal wager to the left of your original bet.

  • Insurance / even money: If the dealer’s face-up card is an Ace, the players may be offered insurance against the dealer having a blackjack. Players may make a side bet up to half their original wager that the hole card is a 10. Then, the dealer looks at their hole card. A 10 card will be turned up and insured players win 2x their insurance bet. Otherwise, the insurance will be taken and the game will proceed normally.

Insurance is not recommended if you are not a professional card counter.

  • Surrender: If you don’t like your initial hand, you may give it up for half your original bet back. 

Hand signal: Draw a line across the felt behind your bet. To be safe, verbalise the words “surrender” at the same time.

5. Dealer plays

After serving every player, the dealer opens the hole card. The dealer’s decisions are automatic.

  • At 17 or more with an Ace, the Ace must be counted as 11 (some casinos make exceptions for “soft 17”)
  • At 17 or more, they must stand
  • At 16 or under, they must hit
  • The dealer cannot split, double down, or surrender

6. Payout / Settlement


Based on the outcomes of the play, the dealer pays out.

  • If the dealer busts:

Players still in play will win even money 1x their wager

  • If the dealer has the higher hand:

You lose your bet

  • If you have the higher hand:

You win 1x your wager

  • If you and the dealer tie:

You win nothing and your bet remains on the table

7. Reshuffle for the next play

After settling all bets, all played cards are gathered to the side face-up. The dealer continues dealing from the shoe until the plastic insert card, indicating time to reshuffle. After that play, all cards are shuffled back into the shoe for the next play.


If you’re just getting into blackjack, here are some basic strategies to help optimize your decisions:

  • Stand on 17 and above (except soft 17)
  • Stand on 13 to 16 if the dealer has 2 to 6
  • Stand on 12 if the dealer has 4, 5, or 6
  • Surrender on 16 if the dealer has 9, 10, or Ace
  • Hit on 11 or under
  • Hit on Ace-7 if the dealer has 9, 10, or Ace
  • Split 8s and Aces. With 9s, stand if the dealer has 9, 10, or Ace
  • Split 6s if the dealer’s card is 2 to 6
  • Never split 4s, 5s, and 10 value cards
  • Double down on 11
  • Double-down on 10 if the dealer has 2 and 9
  • Double-down on 9 if the dealer has 2 to 6
  • Never double down below 8

Where to play black jack

Armed with the knowledge of how to play black jack, do you have what it takes to win? Any good casino will offer classic card games like blackjack, baccarat, and poker. Do your due diligence, pick the right one, and put your know-how to the test!

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