Stepping into an online casino, or logging in to an online casino site, a lot of players are drawn to the roulette wheel and blackjack tables.
These are both considered the easiest games to get in to, due to what appears to be an easy learning curve, but there’s a lot more to Blackjack than meets the eye.
Unfortunately, many players lose when playing Blackjack because it looks so easy to play – and not learning the rules to Blackjack in the UK can cost a player a lot of money!
The goal is to reach 21 with your hand, preferably with Blackjack, but there are different ways to get there and with the use of features such as splitting, surrender and insurance whilst playing perfect hand strategy and counting cards can improve your chances by 400% against the house.
Many players don’t use the features available simply because they don’t know them.
They see a lot of hand waiting and finger gestures without realising the player is getting better leverage and an increased chance of success than simply playing what’s in front of them against the dealer.
In this article we will look in-depth at the Blackjack rules in the UK, as well as strategies to take advantage of and things to avoid that are designed to give even more advantage back to the house.
What is Blackjack
The card game of Blackjack has been around for over 300 years and originated in France in the 1700s.
It involves a dealer and a number of players, up to six, to be dealt two cards each.
The goal for each player is for the total value of the cards to equal 21 or be as close to 21 as possible without going above.
If a player scores 21 with their two cards they have Blackjack and will win the hand and the bet unless the dealer also scores Blackjack.
A player can opt to be dealt more cards if they believe it will help them reach or get closer to 21 without going above.
For example, if a player is dealt a 5 and a 4 – and therefore has a total of 9 – then it is in the players best interest to be dealt another card.
On the other hand, if a player has been dealt a 10 and a 9 – and therefore has a total of 19 – the best option is to keep their hand as only an Ace or 2 can be drawn.
If the value of any players cards is equal to 22 or more, the player instantly loses the game and their wager.
Games generally last for less than a couple of minutes. It is a game easily picked up using just the basics but can take a while to master and learn the best playing strategies which will give any player an advantage.
The advantage is not so much an advantage over the house, as the house has devised the game of Blackjack so that it will always be statistically in their favour, but these strategies will give a player an advantage against a player not using them.
A 400% advantage in fact.
We will look at some of those strategies later in this guide, but for now let’s look at the rules and game play of Blackjack.
The Rules of Blackjack in the UK
The rules of UK Blackjack and the version played in the U.S. may be a little different, but the concept and goals are the same.
Let us start with how card values are assigned, and how to use this to sum the value of your Blackjack hand.
The value assigned to cards 2 to 10 are the same as the face value.
Jack, Queen, and King are also assigned a value of 10. Ace can have either a value of 1 or 11, depending on which value benefits the players hand more.
Here is a helpful table to show at-a-glance the values assigned to each card:
|Card (Any Suit)||Value|
|Ace||1 or 11|
The dealer will begin by cutting and shuffling the playing deck.
In order for casinos to try to prevent card counting, which is one of the best strategies for playing Blackjack, they often use a number of decks.
They begin by dealing each player one card each, face up so each player sees each other cards.
This is because, unlike Poker, each player is playing against the dealer not each other, so hiding cards from other players is unnecessary.
After each player has been dealt a card, the dealer is dealt a card which is placed face down, so not visible by any player.
Each player is then dealt a second card each, also face up.
The dealer is dealt a second card, but this time face up so all players can see at least part of the dealer’s hand.
At this stage each player has been dealt both cards, will now have a total value, will see part of the dealer’s hand and at this point decide on the next course of action.
It doesn’t matter the hands of the other players as each player is going up against the dealer. If all six players beat the dealer, then all six players will win their bet.
It isn’t a winner takes all.
With two cards now in front of the player they can make their next move.
Blackjack or 21
A player that is dealt an Ace along with a King, Queen, Jack or Ten has been dealt Blackjack.
This hand cannot be beat.
If though the dealer also lands Blackjack, then the game is a draw, the bets are taken back and the next game starts.
If the dealer has not landed Blackjack the player wins instantly and is paid out.
A player can reach 21 by being dealt more than two cards, but only Blackjack carries the accolade of an instant win.
If a player hasn’t been dealt Blackjack a decision needs to be made.
The decision is mainly based on the two cards in front of the player, but the partial visible dealer’s hand can be used as a determining factor too.
Hit or Stand
Trying to reach 21 is the goal but landing 21 each game is impossible, so a player needs to get as close to 21 without going above.
The player can choose to be dealt another card (Hit) or stick with the cards they have been dealt (Hold or Stick, as its affectionately known in the UK).
The value of the next card dealt is added to the players current total, and the player can be dealt as many cards as they want.
If a player at any point goes above a total of 21, they instantly lose the game, regardless of the dealer’s hand.
This small but very key feature of Blackjack is how the house makes the majority of its money and gains the biggest leverage over a player.
The player plays out their hand in full before the dealer’s hand is shown, therefore the player takes the risk and gamble of exceeding 21 before the dealer makes a move.
The game, how we’ve looked at it so far is how 99% of players play Blackjack.
There are though some hidden options of Blackjack that professionals and keen amateurs use all the time.
It is worth noting that some of the options below are not used in every casino, and some UK casinos and online casino sites, do not allow them.
We will cover them anyway in case you have the option and want to take advantage of them.
A player can make a split if they are dealt two of the same cards, for example two 10’s.
By making a split, which is signalled to the dealer by placing a hand-out in front of you with palms down with an index finger and second finger in the shape of a ‘V’, the player is telling the dealer they wish to split the hand in to two and play two hands against the dealer.
The player will also need to double their bet to cover both hands.
The dealer will then deal two additional cards, one against each 10, and the player will continue the game and play two hands against the dealer.
Both hands act independently so one hand can win whilst the other loses, both hands can win and both hands can lose.
This is often played if two 10s are dealt.
A player does not have to split two 10’s. They could simply play the hand with a value of 20 and hope this is enough to beat the dealer’s hand.
Say you have a good hand in front of you, and the dealer has a 4,5 or 6 visible, and the players hand is just crying out for one extra card to create a great hand.
Doubling down allows the player to double the existing bet of the hand during a game. The player will then be dealt one additional card. This hand will be used to play against the dealer. This Blackjack doubling down option is perfectly suited for players with a strong hand compared to a weak dealer hand.
It is a risky strategy that doubles the bet exposure so should only be played with a particularly strong advantage against the dealer based on the cards shown.
Not every casino will allow a player to surrender during a game of Blackjack, but if this option is available, it allows the player to surrender the game and lose only half of the bet they placed.
The dealer, before allowing the surrender, will check to see if they have been dealt Blackjack – which provides an automatic win to the house – but if the dealer does not have a 10, J, Q, K or A on show then the dealer can allow the player to surrender.
It’s not generally played but can be after multiple cards have been dealt and the conditions of a poor player hand and strong leading dealer card are showing.
You may see emblazoned on a Blackjack table a black streak with the words ‘Insurance Pays 2:1’ and many players often wonder what this means.
Some casinos allow a player to insure a hand against a dealer’s potential Blackjack draw.
Simply put, if a dealer’s visible card is an Ace there is a chance that they have Blackjack. A player could insure themselves against this by placing a side bet of up to 50% of their stake that the dealer has Blackjack.
For example, let’s say the player wagered £10 on the game and the dealer draws an Ace.
The player could insure themselves by placing a second bet of up to £5 on the dealer having either a 10, Jack, Queen King, or Ace as their second card.
If the dealer has Blackjack, then the £5 side bet wins £10 and although they lose £10 on the game, they win £10 on the side bet so break even.
If the dealer does not have Blackjack, and the player wins the game, then although the player loses the £5 side bet, they will win £10 on the hand.
There is a third potential outcome and that is the dealer does not have Blackjack, but the player loses the hand. In this case the player loses the £10 game and also another £5 on the side bet.
So, should a player choose to play with insurance?
Mathematically the casino has odds of 33% of being dealt Blackjack. This is because there are 12 possible cards the dealer could have, but only four of those will result in a Blackjack.
Statistically the house will benefit longer term for an insurance bet, which is exactly why casinos offer it.
Whether the player chooses to cover their bet with an insurance bet is down to them, but mathematically speaking it doesn’t make sense – unless the player is card counting and has determined that the house has a greater than average chance of having a high card.
The dealer’s play does not begin until all players have either held their hands to play against the dealer or have gone above 21 and lost.
It’s important to note that at this point onwards the player cannot change their hand.
The dealer will reveal the second card of their hand and will attempt to beat the player’s hand.
The dealer must reach a minimum total of 17. If the dealer reaches 16 or less, they must hit.
If their hand is higher than all player’s hands, then the dealer has won all bets.
If the dealer goes above 21 at any time, then all remaining players instantly win.
It is worth noting that if the player goes over 21 and busts during their hand play, and then the dealer goes on to bust too, the player still loses their bet.
The Best Strategies for Success at Blackjack
Although the game of Blackjack, and reaching 21, seems fairly straight forward it hasn’t stopped statisticians and mathematicians for the past 300 years or so looking for an advantage.
Due to the straight-forward nature of the game there aren’t as many strategies as other casino games, like roulette for example, but nonetheless there are still tips and tricks professional Blackjack players use to try and gain an advantage.
Basic Strategic Play for Each Hand
Mathematicians have created a perfect strategy for playing Blackjack and have devised a playing method for every single possible hand.
Of course, it doesn’t make much sense, and not look good, if you stroll up to a Blackjack table and pull out your playing guide!
Professional players memorise the strategy, so they know how to play every hand.
Memorising the strategy can take a couple of weeks but once remembered it can be used indefinitely, as long as the player keeps playing and doesn’t forget because they aren’t using.
How many years did we spend learning foreign languages at school to only in later life to just remember hello, goodbye and how to count from 1-10!
We have found the best way to memorise the Blackjack basic strategy is with a printed card that can always be carried with you – this cheap one from Amazon works great!
‘But card counting is illegal!’ – I hear you shout.
Well card counting isn’t illegal, but the casinos of course do not like it. The casinos do not like any strategy which gives the players an above average advantage.
Many professional players who do card count have been thrown out of casinos or banned from them for life.
Card counting at Blackjack isn’t as difficult as it sounds, and certainly doesn’t require someone to memorise every card in the deck.
A card counting professional player is trying to determine the average of high or low cards that are left to be played from the deck based on the cards played so far.
If, for example, half-way through the game more lower numbers have been dealt that higher numbers, meaning more higher numbers are left in the deck than lower numbers, then this is good news for the player.
If though there are more low cards left than high cards, this isn’t so good, and a player may decide to walk away from the table.
High cards are good, whereas low cards are bad.
Blackjack Card Counting Method
Most Blackjack professionals carry out a simple counting method for determining whether the remaining deck has mostly high value cards or mostly low value cards.
To do this a player will need to watch every card being dealt.
The player starts with a value of 0 in their head and:
- For every card dealt between 2 and 6 the player subtracts 1
- For every card dealt between 7 and 9 the value stays the same
- For every card dealt between 10 and Ace, the player adds 1
For example, if the first card drawn is a 3 and the second card drawn is a 8 then the total in the players head is -1.
This is because, starting at 0, the player subtracted 1 when the 3 was dealt and kept the value the same when the 8 was dealt.
If the third card is a Queen, the value becomes 0, whereas if the third card dealt is a 5 then the value becomes -2.
This counting must continue throughout the deck being played and dealt by the dealer.
Whenever the total is a negative value it’s a good sign for the player as higher numbers remain, whereas a positive value means more lower cards are left.
Knowing whether there is an increased chance of the next dealt card being high, or knowing the dealer’s non-visible card, could be high allows a better leverage during the betting process.
What to Avoid at the Blackjack Table or Online
There’s lots of things to avoid at the Blackjack table like touching other players or the dealer’s cards, making too much unnecessary noise and not following the etiquette of the table, but here are some others a player would be best to avoid.
Many novice players make a very common misconception when playing 12.
It is incredibly tempting to hit and be dealt another card to get closer to 21 BUT the player should take into consideration the card the dealer is exposing.
The player should hit and be dealt again unless the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6 card.
If the dealer is showing a 4, 5 or 6 then the player should stand or stick, as these cards mean a 40% chance of bust by the dealer.
Blackjack hands, like other casino games, are based on probabilities so understanding which cards are an advantage and also a disadvantage for the dealer can help make the best decision for the hand at play.
16 Against 7
This hand is notoriously troublesome for the player.
A hand of 16 feels to far from 21 for a winning hand but too higher considering any card of 6 or above will result in a loss.
In fact, 16 is one of the worst hands to have and will see a loss more times than a win than any other hard hand.
Playing this hand is all based on the card the dealer is showing.
If the dealer is showing a 7 (or higher) the player should hit and be dealt another card.
The chance of being dealt a 5 or below is only 39% but the chance of a winning against the dealer when they are showing a 7 is 26% – so although the odds are not in the players favour, they should still hit.
Heat from Casino
Unfortunately, casinos do not like Blackjack players who look to be gaining an advantage, especially those who count cards.
Although it is no illegal, it is prohibited in casinos, and they can – and will – ask you to leave the premises if they suspect you of it.
They can also ban you from playing Blackjack, ban you temporarily or ban you altogether.
Card counting is just a way of the player trying to use the information being supplied in a way to help then decide on the strategy to play for the remainder of the game, but of course casinos love their margin and will do all they can to retain it.
If you are experiencing heat from the casino, as in the pit manager is constantly watching or you are questioned by security, then simply remain calm and leave if you feel uncomfortable or are asked to.
You could always change tactics for a while and play in a less than perfect strategic manner – which is a sure sign to a casino you know your stuff and are likely card counting.
Almost every professional Blackjack player has been asked to leave and escorted from many a casino, in which they feel is simply an occupational hazard.
Playing Blackjack is a fun way to enjoy a casino night and hopefully using these rules and strategies in this guide will help increase your odds of success.