Now you know the basics, it’s time to brush up on some of the more specific blackjack rules. It’s a good idea to get your head around all these different facets before playing with any real money involved. In fact, once you know all the ins and outs, you can use these features to your advantage in your quest to beat the dealer, so long as you get your timing right.
Number of Decks
Online and land-based blackjack casinos may use a varying number of decks for their games. Six to eight decks are generally used, but there are plenty of single-deck blackjack games available too. On the face of it there’s little difference for the player — there’s still two cards dealt at the beginning of each round — but the number of decks does influence the gameplay to some extent.
Since a single-deck game only uses 52 cards, this increases the likelihood of hitting a blackjack and decreases the likelihood of a blackjack–blackjack push. The house edge is therefore lower — 0.15% compared to between 0.46% and 0.65% in multi-deck games. However, some casinos will reduce payouts in single-deck games, bringing the house edge back in line with other multi-deck variants.
In addition to increasing the house edge, blackjack casinos use multiple decks to prevent players from card counting. So, generally speaking it’s beneficial for players to opt for blackjack games with fewer decks involved, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.
Soft 17 vs Hard 17
Soft 17 vs hard 17 is another important rule for blackjack strategy. Since aces can count as 11 or 1, this creates the distinction between hard and soft hands. The hand is soft if the player can’t go bust when they take another card — for example, A–6 would leave you on 17, but if you then drew a 6, the ace would revert to a 1, e.g. Ace–6–6 would now equal 13. A hard 17, conversely, is a hand without an ace, or one that includes an ace but could go over 21 when the next card is taken.
Therefore, while you should always stand on a hard 17 due to the chances of going over 21 and bust if you take another card, in many situations players should hit or double down on soft 17s, depending on what the dealer’s face up card is.
Another aspect of soft 17 vs hard 17 players should be aware of is the table rules regarding what the dealer must do when they reach this value. In some versions of the game, the dealer must stand on 17, while in others they must hit if it’s a soft 17. Stand on 17 is the better rule from the player’s point of view, as hitting on soft 17 gives the dealer a better chance of improving their hand.
In some blackjack variations, the dealer peek rule comes into effect if the dealer has an ace or a card valuing 10 — that’s the 10 itself and the royal cards. In this scenario, the dealer will then check if they have blackjack. If they do, the player loses on the spot.
This is actually a better deal for the player, as it saves them the trouble of potentially doubling down during the round and losing more than just their original stake.
Speaking of, what is doubling down exactly? Players have the option to make this bet immediately after their first two cards are dealt. Doubling down essentially means doubling your bet — in practice, an identical bet is placed equal to your initial one. When you double down, you’ll receive one more card — and then that’s it, no more additional cards.
So, when should you double down? Well, with any basic strategy we’d recommend having a good look at a blackjack strategy chart to get a comprehensive view of the best tactics. But one example of when it’s the right time to double down is if the dealer’s card is a 5 or a 6 and you have a 9, 10 or 11, as you’ve got a great chance at landing another 10 to complete a strong hand — the dealer, meanwhile, will be left floundering on a tricky 15 or 16 if they land a 10.
Blackjack casinos offer players the chance to split if their initial two cards are the same value. The two cards are then split into separate hands and play out one by one. In order to split, the player has to bet the same amount again on the new hand, effectively doubling their original bet to pursue two hands at the same time.
It’s important to know when to split, as you’ll give yourself the greatest chance of winning if you only use this option at the right time. Generally, aces and eights should always be split. Tens, fours and fives, meanwhile, should always be left as a pair to have the best hope of success.
With early surrender blackjack, players are able to surrender at their first call after receiving their first two upcards. In doing so, the player gives up half of their stake to the house but keeps the other half. It’s a tactic some players use if they don’t think they’ve got much chance of beating the dealer.
There’s also late surrender blackjack — here you can do the same thing after the dealer checks for blackjack, but you’ll only want to do this if you have 14, 15 or 16.