One of the most popular casino games of all time is blackjack and for good reason. Online blackjack is one game that doesn’t just rely on chance, but on how fast you think on your feet and your skill as a player. The house edge on the game of 21 is the lowest house edge of any casino game – which is another great reason for its popularity.
New online casinos bring the thrill of beating the dealer to your PC, in your very own home! You can play online blackjack anytime you want, at your personal convenience and no longer have to travel to get to a casino.
Contrary to popular belief, Blackjack didn’t originate in America – but is as French as French fries and croissants! Originally known as Vingt-et-un (French for the number 21), it was brought to Canada and America by French settlers in the 18th century. The English name Blackjack came from a special bonus of Vingt-et-un, which the player received when hitting 21.
The Basics of Online Blackjack
For those who are not familiar with the game, in Blackjack, you play against the dealer. Your objective is to get 21 points without going over, called “busting”. You are dealt two cards, and you have to add up the points and make a quick decision whether to take another card, called a “hit”, or to stay where you are, called “stand”. Points are determined by the face value of the card, with face cards counting as ten, and aces counting as either ten or one.
If the dealer has fewer points than you do and no one has gone over 21, you win. If you have less than the dealer, you lose. If both of you have the same thing, it is called a “push” and you don’t make or lose anything.
If either of you hit 21 in two cards (an Ace and any ten point card), this is a Blackjack and some casinos pay a premium for it. If the dealer busts, you win. Sounds simple? If you take into account all the strategies that you can play, it becomes complex, and more interesting.
A basic strategy to follow if you prefer not to learn more complex ones is this: if the dealer has small cards (a 2 through a 6) showing, then stand even if you are at 13. Chances are the dealer will bust, and you will win even with a low hand.
Otherwise, conventional wisdom holds that you should stand at 17. This is an easy way to start the game, but it becomes more challenging and fun when you start to play with more advanced methods and a more thorough understanding of the rules.
The first rule worthy of note is called “Surrender”. Not all games offer a surrender, but the ones that do allow you to fold your hand and only lose half your bet if you think you have no chance against the dealer. There are two types of surrender – early and late.
Early surrender is when the dealer allows you to fold your hand before he checks his cards for a Blackjack, and late surrender occurs when he has already made sure he does not have a Blackjack. For obvious reasons, this is tough to do in the online version of the game.
Another rule and player option that can be quite profitable is called “Doubling Down”. Considered the ultimate “money” maneuver in the game of online blackjack, doubling down allows you to place another bet up to the value of your original bet before a third card is drawn.
With one flick of your wrist, you can make twice as much profit if you double down – and you can just as easily lose twice as much if your risky bet doesn't turn out favorably. Your best probability is to double down when the dealer has a low value “up” card; a 2 through a 6 in which he busts anywhere from 35%-42% of the time.
If you are a beginning player, it is best to stick to this basic rule – but if you want to try a higher risk strategy, try doubling down with a ten showing against a dealer’s nine, or an eleven against a dealer’s ten.
Many players are afraid of doubling down as they are afraid of losing more than their original bet, but statistics have shown that players who use this strategy come out ahead. Sure, you will lose sometimes, but that is the nature of the game!
One of the best times to double down is when you are Splitting Pairs, although some casinos do not allow this. If you get two of a kind cards, you can split them and play them as two hands. Pair splitting is one of the best ways to reduce the odds that favor the house and actually was introduced for just that reason. It is also one of the most misunderstood rules and strategies in the game.
The rules dictate that you cannot split a hand without placing an amount equal to your original bet on the second hand, so this doubles your losses if played incorrectly, but can double your wins as well. If you double down on top of splitting pairs, you have the opportunity to come up very fast.
One drawback to splitting pairs is that you cannot get a Blackjack bonus on your second hand, as only the first hand counts towards a Blackjack. Many online casinos also do not allow Ace splitting – there is nothing worse than splitting Aces and drawing another Ace!
Basic Strategy Table
If you've spent any amount of time playing 21 at traditional casinos, you may have noticed other gamblers checking their basic strategy cards before making their next move.
These pocket-sized reference charts tell players what to do in a variety of circumstances and are based on mathematical probabilities, estimated win rates, rule variations and the strength of your hand. The recommended bets for pair splitting, derived from basic bj strategy are as follows:
There are riskier strategies to use, but these are the basics that will get you through many a hand successfully. Aces are one of the trickier cards to be dealt in Online blackjack. An Ace can count as one point, called a “Soft” card or as 11 points, called a “Hard” card.
A Blackjack is always one face card and an Ace, but it can get tricky deciding when to hit or stand when one of your cards is an Ace. Taking a look at a typical hand, imagine you drew an Ace and a 2. In Blackjack ‘lingo,” it's said that you either have a Hard 13 or a Soft 3. These are called soft and hard hands. Should you draw another card? This depends entirely on the dealer’s “up” card.
Aces are one of the trickier cards to be dealt in Blackjack. An Ace can count as one point, called a “Soft” card or as 11 points, called a “Hard” card. A Blackjack is always one face card and an Ace, but it can get tricky deciding when to hit or stand when one of your cards is an Ace.
Taking a look at a typical hand, imagine you drew an Ace and a 2. In Blackjack ‘lingo”, it is said that you either have a Hard 13 or a Soft 3. These are called soft and hard hands. Should you draw another card? This depends entirely on the dealer’s “up” card.
Some of the basic strategies dictate that you should always hit if you have a hard 8 or less, and stand if you have a hard 17 or higher, or a soft 19 or 20. If you have a hard 16 or less and the dealer is showing a 7,8,9,10 or Ace, you should hit. This is also true if you have a hard 11 or less and the dealer has a 4,5, or 6.
Variations of Classic 21
- Las Vegas-style blackjack
- Multi-hand blackjack
- Hi-Lo blackjack
- Spanish blackjack
- Atlantic City blackjack
- European blackjack
Hit or Stand?
When it gets challenging is when you have a soft 18 as this falls right in the gray area. Take a good look at the dealer’s hand. Some studies have shown that you should hit only if the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or Ace – but others advise you to stand in all instances. Here is where your intuition comes into play – use it wisely. Many professional players claim that their intuition, not the rules, is the key secret to their success!
An oft-maligned rule in Blackjack is “Insurance”. If the dealer draws an Ace, all players can take out “insurance”, an additional bet that the dealer will have a Blackjack. Players can bet up to ½ their original bet, and get paid 2-to-1 if indeed, the dealer had a ten in the “hole.”
Insurance clearly favors the house so most strategy books advise against it. However, there are times when a player should take insurance. If upon looking around the table (if playing a multiplayer online game) you see no tens and haven’t seen any for a while, then you should suspect that there is a ten lurking around there somewhere. This is a good time to take insurance!
Another key part of the game to understand is how the dealer plays. Every online casino (and all of the “brick and mortar” ones too) have specific rules that the dealer must play by. As online casinos are played by computers, these rules are programmed into the engine.
Rules are clearly printed on the table or above the playing screen so that all players can see them and understand them. In most online casinos, dealers must stand on 17 – regardless or whether it is hard or soft. Some casinos do allow the dealer to hit on a soft 17 – which increases the house odds.
A more advanced strategy involves Card Counting – this tests your memory as you count every card that is played at the table and try to memorize what has already been played, and what is still in play. Card Counting is illegal at most casinos, and if dealers see that you are trying to use this technique, they simply speed up play. Online casino play moves too fast most of the time for effective use of this strategy.
Practice for Free with Online Blackjack Trainers & Simulator Software
Casinos have an additional advantage for beginning online blackjack players – online practice games that allow you to bet “funny” money until you learn the ropes! These practice games help you test the above strategies until you are comfortable with a fast paced game, and want to move to real money. Many online casinos also allow you to play for lower dollar amounts until you get your feet wet and offer bonuses for signing up.
Some also offer multi-hand online blackjack – which increases your potential payout, is more challenging, and steps up the pace of the game. The online casinos also offer colorful, interactive screens that are fun to play and capture the excitement of the “brick and mortar” casino too. With recent technical and software advances, we can all look forward to 3D online gaming rooms with realistic sound effects and ambiance!
How to Choose the Best Online Casino
To choose your online gaming company – pay careful attention to news stories, blog articles and forums to stay ahead of online gambling scams and blacklisted casinos. Some offshore casinos do not pay –so it makes sense to choose an online casino with a good reputation.
The forums and blogs also will provide a good indication as to how long it takes each casino to actually pay you. Read each casino’s background page, and once again, use your intuition when choosing a good online gambling provider. Also read the Terms and Conditions very carefully, especially when it comes to promotions and bonuses.
A new variety of Blackjack that has emerged primarily online is called Blackjack Switch. Here, you play two hands at a time, and each hand places its own bets. You win bonuses when your four cards have two or more matching cards – odds and bonuses vary by casino. Other key differences in this game is that the dealer can hit on a soft 17, and if the dealer draws 22, it is considered a “push” and all bets are returned. This is fast paced, and a very exciting way to spend a rainy day.
Some things to remember when you do start playing for “real” is that all casinos make most of their money by players going “bust”. Do everything you can to avoid busting! In the same spirit, don’t play it so safe that you are always under the dealer’s game. This is where practice makes perfect.
If you want to make online blackjack your game, try to practice using an online practice game every day. Keep a notebook that details your percentages, and the strategies you used. If you have a high percentage of wins, try to identify what led you there.
Did you double down frequently? Did you play some great splits? Or did you simply stand when you knew you should? Keeping a careful record will turn your creative play into a serious hobby – one that can be both lucrative and enjoyable in the long run. It will also help you refine your personal strategy, and in the end – each of us has our own special style and flair!