This space is obviously oriented towards casino gambling regulars who have been around the proverbial block. But millions of Americans have never even placed a bet in the casino setting, and all they need is a little instruction and motivation. That’s where the regulars come into play, as gambling veterans have the experience and know-how to help beginners learn the ropes.
If you’ve always wanted to enjoy the thrill of gambling in top-tier casino destination like Atlantic City, check out the info below to find out why blackjack is the best easy to learn, and potentially lucrative, game for novices.
Learning the Basic Rules and Game Play of Blackjack
The ultimate in classic casino card games, real money blackjack is at once simple to learn and difficult to master.
But before you start diving into the detailed charts and memorization needed to wield basic strategy like a pro, blackjack offers the best entry point for new gamblers. All you need to know are the card rankings and values, which break down as follows:
Blackjack Card Values
- Two = 2
- Three = 3
- Four = 4
- Five = 5
- Six = 6
- Seven = 7
- Eight = 8
- Nine = 9
- Ten = 10
- Jack = 10
- Queen = 10
- King = 10
- Ace = 1 or 11*
*Aces can be used as either a 1 or 11 based on how those numbers help your hand. If you draw an Ace on a 10 total, you’d use it as an 11 to make 21, but drawing the same Ace on a 16 total brings you up to 17 by using it as a 1. Starting hands with an Ace in them are known as “soft” totals because of their flexibility, while Ace-free starting hands are known as “hard” totals.
As you can see, blackjack is a game built on numbers, and in this game, the most meaningful number of all is 21. In fact, many people get their first taste of playing card games by learning “21” as kids around the kitchen table.
The objective of blackjack is to take your two-card starting hand and arrive at a total of 21, or closest to it, without going over. Exceeding the 21 threshold is known as “busting” or “going bust,” and when you do, the house claims your wager on the spot.
On the other hand, when you’re lucky enough to get dealt a 21 right off the bat – using any 10-value card coupled with an Ace (11) – you’ll earn a premium payout on your bet for making a “blackjack.” That premium used to be 3 to 2 on your money, meaning a bet of $10 would bring back $15 in return, and many Atlantic City casinos still offer that rate on their higher limit games.
Over the last few decades, however, corporate casino owners watered down the blackjack payout by making it 6 to 5 instead. At that diluted rate, your $10 wager only brings back $12 when you score a pat blackjack. Most of the lower limit ($5 minimum) blackjack tables on the Boardwalk or the Borgata use the 6 to 5 payout rate – but be sure to ask the dealer or read the table placard to learn how blackjacks are rewarded.
Hitting blackjack on the deal is always fun, and thanks to the deck’s construction – 16 cards from the 52-card deck are valued at 10 – you’ll enjoy that top line winner a lot more often than competing gambling games.
But when you don’t find a blackjack on the deal, the real game begins as you go to battle against the dealer.
The dealer also takes a two-card starting hand – with one card shown face up to provide players with the partial information needed to make strategic decisions – and they’re trying to get 21 or close to it without going bust. Players act on their hand first, however, leaving the dealer to sit back and watch before making a move.
As for those all-important player actions, you can “hit” to draw another card at random in hopes of improving your hand. For example, if you were dealt something like an 8 or 9 to start the hand, hitting is a risk free proposition in that no card can come which will make you go bust. In this scenario, your dream cards would be any 10-value or an Ace to bring your hand’s total up to 18, 19, or 20.
Conversely, if you were dealt something like an 18 or 19 to begin with, you’d simply opt to “stand” and keep your hand’s total intact ahead of the dealer’s showdown. Sure, you might get extremely lucky and hit to find a deuce (2) or trey (3), but any other card in the deck would cause you to go bust.
At this point, you need to assume that the dealer is sitting on an 18 thanks to all of those 10-value cards in the deck. With this in mind, the probabilities dictate that hitting here is the correct course of action. Obviously, hitting on a 15 will result in you going bust more often than not, thanks to the higher density of high-value cards waiting to be dealt.
Nonetheless, the number crunchers have proven that hitting here and risking a bust is the best way to beat the dealer. That’s because standing and watching them turn over the expected 18 leaves you with no chance to win, while hitting at least offers a small window of opportunity to catch a lucky low card like 3, 4, 5, or 6.
But what happens when the dealer is showing a relatively weak hand with an up card like 4 or 5?
In this scenario, assuming the dealer’s down card is a 10 leaves them at 14 or 15. You still only have a 15 to work with, but now you have another way to win the hand – standing and hoping the dealer goes bust.
Blackjack requires the dealer to hit on any total of 16 or lower until they either a) reach a 17 through 21 total or b) go bust. For this reason, basic strategy advises players holding a 15 against low dealer up card (2, 3, 4, 5, or 6) to stand pat. The best outcome here is for the dealer to turn over a 10-value down card, take their forced hit, and go bust when another high-value card shows up.
Another player action available to you is “splitting” – or paying an extra bet to separate two identical cards and create two playable hands. Say you catch an 8-8 for a 16 total, which is one of the trickiest hands in the game to play. Rather than stick yourself with a likely loser in 16, you can always split the 8s up by paying an extra bet equal to your first one. Doing so separates the 8s and creates two new hands, at which point the dealer will deliver second cards to each.
The best-case scenario here is to draw two 10-value cards, or better yet Aces, to turn your single 16 into a pair of 18s or 19s.
Finally, players can always “double down” when they feel like increasing their risk / reward ratio.
The typical double down hands are 10 and 11 totals, and you’ll need to place a second bet equal to your first. When you do, the dealer will slide a single card in your direction, at which point your hand is complete. The goal when doubling down is to find a 10-value card to make 20 or 21, or an Ace on 10 totals to make 21. When you do, you’ll earn twice the payout for taking the extra risk.
Taking the Next Step by Embracing Basic Strategy
Now that you know the basic rules and game play, check out the simple breakdowns below to give yourself a firm grasp on basic strategy guidelines:
Hit or Stand Decisions
- Always HIT on hard totals of 4 through 11
- STAND on hard 12 vs. dealer 4 through 6; HIT on hard 12 vs. anything else
- STAND on hard 13 through 16 vs. dealer 2 through 6; Hit vs. anything else
- Always STAND on hard 17 or higher
- Always HIT on soft 17 or lower
- STAND on soft 18 vs. dealer’s 2 through 8; HIT vs. dealer 9, 10, or Ace
- Always STAND on soft 19 or higher
- Always SPLIT a pair of Aces or 8s
- Never SPLIT a pair of 5s or 10s
- SPLIT 2s or 3s vs. dealer 4 through 7
- SPLIT 4s only when “doubling after split” is permitted vs. dealer 5 or 6
- SPLIT 6s vs. dealer 3 through 6, and vs. 2 if “doubling after split is permitted
- SPLIT 7s vs. dealer 2 through 7.
- SPLIT 9s vs. dealer 2 through 6 or 8 and 9
Double Down Decisions
- DOUBLE hard 9 vs. dealer 3 through 6.
- DOUBLE hard 10 vs. any dealer total except 10 or Ace
- DOUBLE hard 11 vs. any dealer total except Ace
- DOUBLE soft 13 or 14 vs. dealer 5 through 6
- DOUBLE soft 15 or 16 vs. dealer 4 through 6
- DOUBLE soft 17 or 18 vs. dealer 3 through 6.
Blackjack makes the perfect casino gambling game for beginners in more ways than one. You only need to watch a few hands go down before learning the basics, and the low $5 minimum limits in Atlantic City won’t break the bank.
The game also moves at a brisk pace, allowing players to experience the ups and downs relatively quickly compared to games like roulette. But the real draw for blackjack students is the blend of luck and skill that the game offers. By learning blackjack strategy, and catching a few fortunate cards, even raw rookies can consistently beat the dealer.