Blackjack has been a mainstay at landbased gambling venues for decades and has captured the hearts of millions of players with the promise of beating the casino at its own game. The classic status it continues to enjoy to this day can be attributed to the fact it is a combination of luck, skill and strategy, which is not the case with the majority of other games to be found on the casino floors.
The game is now an important addition to the collections of hundreds of online casinos. There is a wealth of online blackjack variations to choose from and many of those allow multiple hands to be played per round. If you, too, are interested in playing the game of 21 from the convenience of your home, keep on reading as we introduce you to the rules of play, the basic strategy, and some of the most common blackjack variants to be found online. We finish off with five of the best online casinos where blackjack can be played for real money.
Objective and Rules in Blackjack
Blackjack is played with one to eight full decks of 52 cards each. In this game, the players are not competing against each other but against the dealer. When four or more decks are in play, these are typically placed in a box, called a shoe, allowing the dealer to remove one card at a time without actually having to hold all the packs.
The objective of the game is quite simple as each player aims at obtaining a hand total that is higher than that of the dealer but without exceeding 21. All face cards along with the 10s are assigned a value of 10, while the Aces can be counted either as 1 or as 11. The remaining cards are assigned their face value. A hand total that exceeds 21 is called a “bust” and results in a loss. Whenever the dealer and the player have the same hand totals, they push – in other words no money changes hands as the player gets his wager back. If the dealer busts, the player wins the round provided they do not exceed 21.
Meanwhile, the dealer is abiding by fixed rules which differ depending on the blackjack variation one plays. In many variants of 21, the dealer is required to draw additional cards if they hold a hand total of 16 or less and stand on totals of 17 or 18.
A starting hand consisting of an Ace and a ten-value card is called a “natural”, or blackjack, and offers a payout of 3 to 2, at least in most variations of the game. A hand that contains an Ace, which can be counted as 11 without the player going bust, is called a “soft hand”. A hand which does not contain an Ace or contains an Ace that can be counted as 1 only is called a “hard” or “stiff” hand, because there is a greater chance of the player going bust by drawing an additional card.
At the beginning of a round in multiple-deck games, the player is dealt two cards face up while the dealer receives one face-up card and one hole card. The player then evaluates the strength of their hand’s total and has to choose between several actions. One of the options is to “hit” or request an additional card from the dealer to potentially improve the hand’s total. If the player decides their two-card hand bears no improvement, they can choose to “stand” or “stay”, which is to decline additional cards from the dealer.
The player can also choose to “double down” but this action involves a side bet, equal in size to their initial bet. A player who doubles down is entitled to receive only one additional card and is not allowed more draws. In some variations of blackjack, doubling down is allowed only on hand totals of 11 or 10.
When one’s starting hand consists of two cards that are of equal face value, for instance two Aces, the players are allowed to split the pair, which also involves an additional side bet. The two hands are then played separately one after the other, and as usual, players can choose to hit, stand or double down. At some casinos, re-splitting pairs is also allowed. At others, splitting is allowed only on specific pairs.
Whenever the dealer shows an Ace, they are required to ask whether the player would like Insurance, which also involves placing a side bet before the draw. This side bet normally amounts to half of the initial bet. Once the player has declined or accepted Insurance, the dealer checks his hole card for a natural. If he or she indeed reveals a ten-value card, the Insurance bet returns 2 to 1 but the player loses the original wager. However, if the dealer does not have a natural, the side bet loses, the game continues as usual, and the bets are settled as they normally would.
Some online casino variants of the game offer the Surrender option, which means the player is allowed to fold their hand if it is impossible to improve, but only at the cost of a half of their original bet.
The great thing about online blackjack games is that there are plenty of variations in terms of rules and some actually work to the advantage of the players. For instance, you may come across games, such as Playtech’s Blackjack Surrender, where the Seven-Card Charlie rule applies. Thus, if a player draws seven cards without going bust, their hand is an automatic winner regardless of what total the dealer holds.
Reducing the House Edge with Basic Strategy
The game of blackjack is entirely beatable especially if a given player is skilled enough to incorporate advantage play techniques into their gaming sessions, such as card counting, shuffle tracking, Ace sequencing, exploiting loss rebates, hole carding, and edge sorting. And no, this is not the same as cheating.
However, the majority of these techniques are impossible to use in virtual blackjack games due to the fact the discards are returned back to the shoe and are re-shuffled after each round. There is, however, a way to tip the scales in your favour and reduce the house edge. It is called basic strategy and blackjack players have mathematician Edward O. Thorp to thank for that.
Most advantage players have adopted total-dependent basic strategy, where they take into account only the value of the dealer’s up card and the total of their own hands to make their decisions. There is also composition-dependent basic strategy where decisions are made on the basis of the dealer’s up card and the exact cards that constitute the player’s hand.
The idea behind basic strategy is the following – this is a set of rules players need to follow which are normally presented in a table format. The basic strategy table contains advice on all decisions players can potentially make depending on their hand’s total and the value of the card the dealer is showing. Each row of the table corresponds to a different total of the player’s hand. Each column of the table corresponds to a card the dealer is showing. The intersections of a column and a row contain the optimal decision the player needs to make.
For instance, if the dealer is showing a 6 and the player has a total of 9 on the initial deal, the optimal thing to do according to basic strategy is to double down. Similarly, if the player’s total is 12 against the dealer’s 10, the right decision to make is to hit the 12. The chart is easy to use and the great thing is that when playing online, you will not even have to learn it by heart.
That being said, basic strategy is game-specific and there may be discrepancies in the decisions listed in the chart, depending on the particulars of blackjack variants. These include the number of decks in play, whether re-splits are allowed, whether the player can double down on all cards or on specific cards only, and so on. The fixed rules the dealer abides by also affect optimal strategy for a given game. That is to say the strategy should be adapted so that it fits the specifics of the blackjack game one plays.
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|Players’ Hand||Dealer’s Up Card|
Blackjack Games with Progressive Jackpots
Progressive blackjack games are in high demand among players as such variations have a jackpot pool attached to them that grows in increments each time anyone plays the game. Unlike progressive slots, however, where the players’ contribution to the pools is built into the payout percentages, progressive blackjack requires them to place a side bet in order to qualify for the huge prize.
The side bet is made before a round starts and is not mandatory. A small percentage of each player’s side bet is subtracted and is added to the jackpot pools which are linked across all online casinos using one and the same software. Therefore, the more side bets are made, the larger the pot gets. How the jackpot is won largely depends on which software developer has created the blackjack game.
In most cases, progressive blackjack is played with multiple decks so the pot is awarded to the player, who manages to draw four Aces of the same suit in a row. Please note the draw of the four Aces needs to start from the very first card in the player’s hand. If the player is dealt a Queen and then draws the four consecutive Aces, they will not qualify for the progressive prize. Also, those who succeed to draw two or three Aces in a row are also awarded extra payouts. In other variants, the jackpot is granted for three consecutive sevens of diamonds.
The additional side bet for the jackpot increases the house edge for progressive blackjack with about 5%, which is considerably higher than that in the main game. Still, considering there is the possibility of collecting a hefty jackpot, progressive games can further add to the entertainment value and excitement of playing blackjack.
Best Real-Money Blackjack Variations to Play Online
The biggest positive of online casinos results from the fact players have a massive selection of premium games right at their fingertips. The same applies in full force to blackjack since there are plenty of variants to choose from online, so there are options for all fans of the game of 21. The betting range is rather flexible so it is possible to stake as little as £0.50 per hand but there are variants with much higher limits to accommodate high-rollers. Below, we take a look at eight of the most common blackjack variants to be found at premium online casinos.
Blackjack Surrender is one of the most popular blackjack variants to be played online and borrows its name from the Surrender option players are allowed. Other than that the game follows the standard rules of play since players can hit, stand, double down on any card total they wish, and split all pairs they like. In Playtech’s variation, in particular, the dealer checks for a natural on both Aces and ten-value cards.
Minimum and maximum table limits vary from one casino to another, but the chip denominations you can use are generally the following – 0.50, 1.00, 5.00, 10.00, 25.00, 100.00, and 500.000. Another great thing about Playtech’s variation is that it features the Seven-Card Charlie rule where players win over any dealer total (including a natural) whenever they draw seven cards without exceeding 21.
Imagine how great it would be if you are sitting at the blackjack table staring at two rather weak hands but are allowed to switch their second cards and improve both totals. This is precisely what players are allowed to do in a game of Blackjack Switch. Other than that, the traditional blackjack rules apply.
What is unique about this blackjack variant is that players are required to make two bets that are equal in size at the start of each round, because each wager is associated with one of their two hands.
When the two stakes are made, the player is dealt two hands facing up as usual. If the dealer shows an Ace, they check for blackjack and if they indeed have a natural, the player loses their two hands. If the dealer does not have a natural, the player is allowed to switch the second cards of each of the two hands they have. Once the cards are switched, the two hands are played as normal, with the option to choose from hit, stand, double down, or split.
Another difference can be noticed in how winning hands pay out. In Blackjack Switch, all winning hands, blackjack included, pay even money. Also, if the dealer’s hand totals 22, it will push against all hands of the players, the only exception being the natural.
The name of this popular blackjack variation pretty much implies what the game is about. In Double Exposure, the dealer’s two cards are dealt facing up so that players can see them before they play their own hands. Other than that, the game utilises the standard blackjack rules, with players being allowed to hit, stand, double down, and split pairs.
In some variants such as NetEnt’s Double Exposure Pro, the dealer wins all ties with the exception of blackjacks. That being said, naturals offer an even-money payout, which slightly reduces the game’s long-term profitability. Another rule deviation concerns the double down option which can be used only on initial hand totals of 9, 10, and 11. Note that these totals need to be part of stiff hands if you wish to qualify for a double down, which is to say your hands should not contain any Aces that can be counted as 11. Doubling down is also allowed after splitting pairs. In that vein, it is worth mentioning that when splitting pairs of Aces, players receive no more than one additional card per Ace.
Blackjack fans looking to diversify their gaming sessions a tiny notch should definitely go for Duel Blackjack. At the start of each round, players receive one face-up and one hole card while both dealer cards are facing down. Two community cards are dealt on the table to be used by both the player and the dealer.
The player is allowed to combine one or two of their own cards with one or two of the community cards in order to improve their hand’s total. Meanwhile, the dealer’s hand qualifies only if it totals 13 or above. It is possible for the player to fold their hand altogether but this action is not to be mistaken for surrendering – when folding, the player forfeits their entire bet.
The additional side bet is yet another interesting feature of Duel Blackjack. Players are allowed to make a side wager as to whether or not their hand and the community cards will make a Three-of-a-Kind or a pair. All pairs return at a rate of 3 to 1 while Three-of-a-Kind offers the highest payout in Duel Blackjack which is 20 to 1. Naturals pay even money.
Perfect Pairs is yet another enticing blackjack variation, available at some of the most reputable online casinos. What is unique about this game is that it offers a side bet which can potentially increase the profits of the players. This side wager is optional and is made before the round starts. It ranges between £1 and £5, depending on the online casino you play at. If you make the side bet and receive two cards of the same value, i.e. a pair, on the initial deal, you will collect an additional payout.
While all pairs reward players with additional payouts, having a pair of the same colour will earn you a return of 12 to 1. Pairs consisting of cards of different colours pay at a rate of 6 to 1 but it is the eponymous “perfect pairs” that offer the highest payout in the game – 25 to 1. A “perfect” pair constitutes two cards that are both of the same value and of the same suit, for instance, two Queens of Spades. Please note that the game allows for side bets to be made on the dealer’s hand as well.
Vegas Strip Blackjack
The game borrows its name from the rules it follows since they are typically enforced at blackjack tables at the casinos on the glamorous Vegas Strip. Therefore, the dealer stands on soft 17, naturals pay at a rate of 3 to 2, and doubling down is allowed on any hand total after the initial deal. All pairs can be re-split up to four hands, with the pair of Aces being the only exception. Additionally, the dealer peeks for naturals whenever they are showing an Ace or any card with a value of ten. Unfortunately, surrendering is not an option in Vegas Strip Blackjack. The game utilises four standard decks, of 52 cards each.
Atlantic City Blackjack
Atlantic City Blackjack is one of the most commonly played variations of the game of 21 and as such, is to be found at a great number of online casinos. This version of the game hardly offers players any big surprises since it predominantly follows the standard rules of play. Microgaming’s is among the most popular variants you can play online.
In Microgaming’s take on Atlantic City Blackjack, the virtual shoe contains a total of eight decks, each one comprising 52 cards. Players adjust the size of their bets, place their chips in the corresponding box on the layout, and are dealt two face-up cards. The dealer receives two cards in turn – one is dealt face-up, the other one is dealt face-down. The dealer checks for naturals on both Aces and ten-value cards. Naturals pay at a rate of 3 to 2 and the Insurance bet offers a return of 2 to 1.
The great thing about the Atlantic City variation is that players can double down on all hand totals and can split any pair they like up to four hands. The only exception to this rule is when you split Aces, in which case re-splitting is prohibited. Additionally, doubling down is allowed after splitting a pair. A late Surrender option is also available, with half of the player’s bet being forfeited.
This variation follows most of the rules common to standard blackjack games but there is a twist. Instead of using full decks of cards, Spanish 21 utilises eight decks, of 48 cards each, which are re-shuffled after every round. All tens are removed from the decks which explains the reduction in the cards’ number.
Since the tens and the face cards work to the advantage of the player, the removal of the tens tips the scales in favour of the house. Thus, adjustments are made to some of the rules in order to fix this and make the game appealing to players. For instance, when the player and the dealer both have blackjack instead of pushing, this results in a win for the player. All players’ hands with a total of 21 are automatic winners, regardless of what the dealer is having.
Additionally, players can collect extra payouts whenever they form certain rare hands. Totals of 21 that consist of five cards return at a rate of 3 to 2, while a six-card 21 will earn you a 2 to 1 payout. Meanwhile, totals of 21 which contain seven or more cards pay out 3 to 1. Bonus payouts are also awarded to players when they have three 7s of the same suit and the dealer shows an up card that is also a 7.
Top Online Casinos to Play Blackjack at
Since there are literally hundreds of online casinos you can play blackjack at, we have taken the time to sift out five of the best ones where players will be able to enjoy a wider range of variations of the game of 21. Check the brief overviews below to see which online casino corresponds to your criteria.
Betway is a reputable online gambling operator which impresses with a sleek, well-organised website that is easy to navigate. The website is also home to an impressive number of video slots, live dealer games, authentic virtual table classics, and video poker variations. Most of these are provided by Microgaming, a brand name all online casino fans are well familiar with. Betway has a number of benefits to offer to its players, including friendly and efficient customer support via live chat, mobile compatibility, and a comprehensive range of secure payment solutions.
The blackjack collection of Betway is staggering, to say the least. With over 30 bespoke blackjack games to pick from, fans of the game of 21 will have something to keep them at the edge of their seats for quite some time. From European to Vegas Strip Blackjack, each game stuns with superior graphics, clear sound effects and simplified, user-friendly interface. Many of the options are available in multi-hand mode as well.
Royal Panda is a fun online casino which immediately grabs the attention thanks to its mascot, the panda in question, urging players to register and try out their luck at one of the hundreds of games available at the website. The software is provided by major developers, the likes of NetEnt, Microgaming, and NextGen so you are guaranteed to enjoy phenomenal graphics and enticing animations.
Royal Panda has everything one would expect from a good online casino, including a wealth of advanced slots and video poker variants, a live dealer offering, and an extensive table games selection. The games are available for both desktop and mobile play. Blackjack aficionados would benefit from a wide range of bespoke variants like Single-Deck Blackjack, Double Exposure, Blackjack Classic, and Blackjack Party, among others.
Casinoland is a renowned interactive gambling provider which is entirely committed to satisfying its player base. The operator boasts over a decade of experience in the online casino industry and it truly shows in the quality of the service it provides. The available games are courtesy of top software developers, the likes of Betsoft, Play’n GO, NetEnt, and Microgaming, which can only mean one thing – players should brace themselves for an online gaming experience like no other.
There are video slots and video poker games aplenty but many fans of casino mainstays like roulette, baccarat, and craps are attracted by the extensive table games section of the website. Those, who are interested in playing blackjack specifically will be able to make a pick from over ten variants of the game, including several Live Dealer options.
Apart from the huge array of online games, Casinoland boasts a superb mobile offering and provides players with an outstanding customer support at all times, thanks to the convenient live chat functionality at its website.
Being one of the premier online casinos to welcome players from the United Kingdom, 32Red knows very well what it takes to meets its customers’ high expectations. The operator has set the bar exceptionally high as it offers adequate customer service around the clock, a plethora of secure payment methods, quick and hassle-free withdrawals, and a wealth of premium-quality games, which run swiftly on both desktop and mobile devices.
The gaming collection on the website will truly impress even the most demanding players with its diversity. Apart from the wide range of superb slots, including various progressives, and video poker games, players will be able to enjoy an authentic experience with Vegas Strip Blackjack, High-Limit European Blackjack, High-Streak, and Atlantic City Blackjack, among other enticing titles.
Guts Casino went online in 2014 with the sole purpose of delivering an online gambling experience like no other. It suffices to say this objective was achieved as today Guts is the preferred interactive gaming destination of millions of players around the world, who truly appreciate the adequate customer service, the easy-to-navigate website, and the impeccable catalogue of games. These are all Microgaming, Betsoft, and NetEnt creations which means they are tough to match in terms of quality, interface and gameplay.
There is a nice selection of video slots, which spans various classic, multi-line and progressive titles but the video poker collection of Guts is also quite satisfactory. The needs of table and card game fans are also taken into account, with numerous roulette, baccarat, and poker variants to choose from. Fans of the game of 21 can try and beat the dealer in Classic, American, European or Double Exposure Blackjack, but Pontoon is also an option.