Blackjack combines simple rules, strategic depth, and a low house edge in a single, elegant package, making it popular among casino enthusiasts all around the globe. In some specific circumstances, it’s possible for blackjack players to gain a theoretical advantage over the house; unfortunately, this isn’t feasible in online play. Blackjack’s only downside is the impact mistakes can have on your overall returns – a seemingly inconsequential hole in your strategy can increase the house edge by a few percentage points.
Trusted Real Money Online Blackjack Sites
Blackjack is available in most online casinos, so if you want to focus on this game, you’ll have plenty of platforms to choose from. Your first instinct might be to go for a platform that offers the biggest welcome bonus, but we strongly recommend focusing on trustworthiness instead.
Choosing a trusted online casino to play real money blackjack is your most important decision. Most international casino sites operate under licenses issued in tax havens, such as Curacao, Gibraltar, Malta, or the Isle of Man. The market is currently so saturated that operators facing higher taxes aren’t capable of competing with industry giants. Unfortunately, the biggest blackjack sites aren’t legally available to players residing in countries with protectionist gambling regulations.
If you live in France or Italy, you’ll have to stick to platforms operating under locally-issued licenses, which offer considerably smaller bonuses. The same holds true for players in Delaware and New Jersey. If gambling laws in your area are strict on operators but permissive towards players, your only option might be to play on a “rogue” offshore site. Keep in mind that making a deposit with an offshore site is inherently risky, so make sure you stick to well-known operators, such as Bovada or BetOnline.
Casinos with blackjack bonuses
Casino bonuses are awarded as a percentage of your initial real money deposit. Usually, your payment will be matched dollar for dollar, but some operators allow you to get more value by offering a 150% or even 200% match. Welcome bonuses are usually capped at a few hundred or a couple of thousand dollars, but if you’re forced to join a low-traffic casino, you may have to settle for less.
This might sound like an excellent deal, but unfortunately, casino bonuses come with wagering requirements. In most cases, you’ll be required to play through the entire bonus or the bonus and deposit combined between 15 and 30 times before the casino allows you to cash out. For example, if you deposit $100 to a site that offers a 100% bonus with a 20x playthrough, you’ll have to wager at least $2,000 to clear your promotional cash.
In addition, blackjack is a high-RTP game, so it doesn’t contribute 100% towards bonus clearing. In most cases, only 10%-20% of your wagers will count, which means that most casino bonuses will be very difficult to withdraw unless you follow optimal blackjack strategies to a tee.
How real money online blackjack works
Blackjack is a hand comparison game played with one or more 52-card decks. Online blackjack is usually played solo, while live games can be played by more than one player. The objective is always to beat the dealer. This can be achieved by scoring more points without going bust, hitting a blackjack (21 points), or making the dealer go bust. The general rules of blackjack are as follows:
– The value of a blackjack hand is derived from the sum of individual cards’ point values. There is only one exception to this rule – the blackjack is the strongest possible hand and consists of an ace and any 10-point card.
– Aces count for 1 or 11 points depending on which option is more beneficial. Tens and face cards are worth 10 points each. The value of number cards depends on their pip value.
– The game begins with players placing their bets. All winning bets pay even money, except for blackjack, which typically pays 3 to 2. Some casinos offer short-paying blackjack games, in which a blackjack pays 7 to 5, 6 to 5, or even 1 to 1.
– Once bets are placed, the dealer gives each player two cards and draws two cards for himself. Player cards are always placed face up. One of the dealer cards is dealt face up, while the other is dealt face down. This face-down card is referred to as the hole card.
– If the face-up card dealt to the dealer is an ace, players are offered an insurance side bet. This wager pays 2 to 1 and wins if the dealer is holding a blackjack. The wager size cannot exceed 50% of the original bet. Taking insurance is always optional.
– If the dealer has a blackjack, all player hands except blackjack automatically lose. If the player also has a blackjack, the game results in a push.
– Players take action before the dealer, which gives the house an advantage as the players can bust before the dealer. Available actions are:
– Stand – don’t draw any cards and stand on your point value.
– Hit – draw one additional card.
– Double – double your bet, draw one and only one additional card, then stand.
– Split – if the player has a pair or any two ten-point cards, he can double his bet and split his hand into two hands, which are then played our separately. Each new hand will automatically receive a second card. From then on, the player may hit, stand, or double. The only exception is splitting aces, where hitting is not allowed. What’s more, an ace with a ten-point card counts as 21 points; not a blackjack. In some games, doubling after splitting is forbidden.
– Surrender – the player can surrender his hand and receive half of his initial wager. This option is usually only available on the first two cards. In some games, it’s not available at all.
– When players complete their actions, the dealer turns over his hole card. If he has 16 points or fewer, he draws another card; if he has 17 points or more, he stands. In some games, the dealer also hits if he has an ace and his remaining cards are worth 6 points. This is referred to as “hitting on soft 17”.
– Both the players and the dealer play out their hands until the game is resolved. Players that exceed 21 points bust and lose their wagers. The same holds true for the dealer – if he goes over 21 points, all players who haven’t busted win. If the dealer doesn’t bust and everyone stands, the higher point total between the player and dealer wins. If the number of points is equal, the outcome is a push.
– If the game results in a push, the money is returned to the player.
How to beat online blackjack
Blackjack rules give the house an edge over the player, so beating online blackjack is mathematically impossible in the long run. Even in games that allow card counting, the rules are designed to prevent the player from gaining a theoretical advantage. If this weren’t the case, advanced blackjack players would begin exploiting such games, forcing the casino to shut them down or go out of business. That being said, you can turn a profit in the short run due to blackjack’s inherent variance. If that is your goal, you should maximize your chances by following proper blackjack strategy and choosing the most advantageous blackjack variant available.
The house edge in blackjack is derived from the rules, and every small variation has a certain impact on the casino’s advantage over the player.
Standard US blackjack rules are as follows:
- 8 decks.
- Dealer stands on soft 17.
- Doubling down after splitting is allowed.
- The player can double down on any first two cards.
- The player can re-split to 4 hands.
- Re-splitting aces and hitting on split aces is not allowed.
- No surrender.
- Blackjack pays 3 to 2.
Assuming the deck is shuffled after each hand, the house has a 0.43% advantage if the player doesn’t make any mistakes.
Games offered by online casinos tend to deviate from the standard rules in a number of ways.
Here’s an overview of rules that benefit the player and the way they modify the house edge:
- One deck: -0.48%
- Two decks: -0.19%
- Four decks: -0.06%
- Five decks: -0.03%
- Six decks: -0.02%
- Doubling down is allowed on any number of cards: -0.23%
- Hitting more than once on split aces is allowed: -0.19%
- Re-splitting aces is allowed: -0.08%
- Surrender is allowed: -0.08%
- Early surrender against ten is allowed: -0.24%
Here’s a similar list of rules that benefit the casino:
- Doubling down is allowed only on 9-11: +0.09%
- No re-splitting: +0.10%
- Doubling down after splitting is not allowed: +0.14%
- Doubling down is allowed only on 10 and 11: +0.18%
- Dealer hits on soft 17: +0.22%
- Blackjack pays 7 to 5: +0.45%
- Blackjack pays 6 to 5: +1.39%
- Blackjack pays 1 to 1: +2.27%
To avoid making bad decisions, you need to follow a basic strategy chart designed for your specific blackjack variants. Because there are 6,912 possible rule combinations in blackjack, listing every correct strategy is beyond the scope of this article.
If you can’t find a strategy chart for the blackjack variants offered by your casino, you should follow a simplified strategy – the cost is a minor 0.13% house edge increase for standard US rules, which is still significantly better than following a bad strategy or relying on your instincts.
If you don’t have an ace (hard hand):
- If your hand is worth between 4 and 8 points, always take an additional card.
- If your hand is worth 9 points, double down if the dealer’s up card is worth between 2 and 6 points, and hit if it’s worth 7 points or more.
- If your hand is worth 10 or 11 points, double down.
- If your hand is worth between 12 and 16 points, stand if the dealer’s up card is worth between 2 and 6 points, and hit if it’s worth 7 points or more.
- If your hand is worth between 17 and 21 points, you should always stand.
If you do have an ace (soft hand):
- Always hit if you hand is worth between 13 and 15 points.
- If your hand is worth between 16 and 18 points, double down if the dealer’s up card is worth between 2 and 6 points and hit if the dealer’s hand is worth 7 points or more.
- If your hand is worth between 19 and 21 points, you should always stand.
Additional rules for splitting:
- If you’re holding a 22, 33, 66, 77, or 99, split if the dealer’s up card is worth between 2 and 6 points, and don’t split if it’s worth 7 points or more.
- If you’re holding 88 or AA, you should always split.
- If you’re holding 44, 55, or TT, you should never split.
Card counting is an advanced technique based on the observation that high-value cards benefit the player more than they benefit the dealer. If the cards aren’t shuffled after every hand, the player can gain a temporary advantage over the casino by counting the remaining cards in the deck and increasing their bets when many high-value cards are left in the deck. In a game with a typical 0.4%-1% house edge, card counting can give the player a 2% advantage when the deck penetration (i.e., the number of cards already dealt) is sufficient.
In most online blackjack games, the deck is automatically shuffled upon completion of every hand, which prevents achieving any deck penetration and makes card counting impossible. Some games simulate deck penetration and shuffle only from time to time. This information may be included in the game description to attract more players. The problem is that this is usually an elaborate newbie trap, as most games of this kind come with no visible or audible shuffle indicators. This means that if you start counting cards, you may be led to believe you’ve achieved deep deck penetration, prompting you to increase your bet without realizing the deck has already been shuffled.
In order for card counting to work, you need a game that simulates deck penetration and informs you of every shuffle. Those games are very rare, and because casinos are well aware of the power of card counting, they tend to impose tough restrictions that negate any edge you could gain by using a card counting system.
House edge and the grind in online blackjack
Since the house always has an edge in online blackjack, the player is mathematically guaranteed to go bust during an infinitely long gambling session. This means that as your sessions get longer, the probability of losing your bankroll nears 100%. In most cases, you won’t lose your bankroll over a single downswing. Instead, your bankroll will start shrinking over time as your losses start outweighing your wins due to probability. This phenomenon is known as the grind and is the bane of casino players all over the world. The only way to avoid the grind is to get lucky during a short gambling session and stop playing as soon as you turn a satisfying profit.
Online blackjack tips
Following these rules won’t give you an advantage over the house, but it should improve your overall online blackjack experience. It will also help you avoid approaching this game with unrealistic expectations.
1. Don’t deposit more than you can afford to lose
Online blackjack is an EV-negative game, so treat depositing money to an online casino like spending it on entertainment. Don’t expect to win – if you only care about turning a profit, choose a different game, such as competitive poker. Never assume you’ll come out ahead – it’s the less probable outcome, even for a low-house edge game. If you ever notice you’re spending too much money on blackjack, you can ask your casino operator to set a weekly or monthly deposit limit on your account.
2. Don’t get angry if you lose
Blackjack is mostly played for entertainment; don’t get annoyed if you fail to turn a profit. Single-player blackjack is an EV-negative game, so accept the fact that you’re going to lose some money in the long run. If you enjoy the thrill of winning and don’t care about the bigger picture, your best bet is to select the right blackjack game.
3. Choose the blackjack game with the best odds
Once you join a casino site, find out which blackjack variant comes with the most advantageous rules. This will allow you to enjoy the game even more as you’ll be winning more often. It will also improve your odds of turning a profit if you keep your sessions reasonably short.
4. Stick to the proper strategy
You don’t have to learn your blackjack game’s basic strategy game by heart. Following the simplified version outlined in this article should be enough if your primary goal is to have fun. Whatever you do, don’t rely on strategies that have been proven counter-productive, such as avoiding busting at all cost or trying to hit 21 points in every hand. Remember that your goal is to beat the dealer, not to achieve some arbitrary goal.
5. Try to avoid the grind if you want to turn a profit
If for some reason you want to turn a profit by playing an EV-negative game like most online blackjack variants, make sure to keep your gambling sessions short and sweet. Don’t try to get even if you fail, and accept the fact that you won’t be getting a fair game. Once you reach your goal, stop playing – if you keep at it, you’re more likely to donate some of your winnings back to the casino than to come out even further ahead.
Online blackjack FAQ
Is land-based blackjack different from online blackjack?
Single-player online blackjack does not differ from land-based blackjack in terms of rules.
Online blackjack is automated, and the outcome of each round is generated by RNG software, allowing the player to play many more hands per hour. Some blackjack games simulate deck penetration and shuffle only from time to time, but in most cases, the cards are shuffled after every game.
Some large internet casinos also offer live dealer blackjack, which uses live streaming technology to allow you to participate in a live game with a real dealer, authentic casino equipment, and real cards.
Q: Can I really win money playing online blackjack?
A: Yes. You can turn a profit if you keep your gambling sessions reasonably short. However, once you’ve played enough hands, you will notice the results reflecting the house edge with nearly perfect mathematical accuracy. This is because the volume of hands eventually starts negating the impact of variance – anything can happen if you flip a coin 10 times, but if you flip it 10,000 times, the distribution is guaranteed to be close to 50/50.
Q: Which blackjack games are the most profitable?
A: If you care about turning a profit, you should focus on the games with the most advantageous rules. A complete breakdown of the impact specific rules have on your expected return is available in the “How to beat online blackjack?” section.
Q: Why does the number of blackjack decks matter?
A: The number of decks matters mainly because having fewer decks increases the likelihood of player blackjack. If the player draws a 10-value card, the odds of drawing an ace are higher with fewer decks in play. Having more decks in play also increases the likelihood of a blackjack-on-blackjack push – such pushes are always beneficial for the casino unless a blackjack pays 1 to 1.
Q: Can I learn proper strategy by playing blackjack for free?
A: Absolutely. The dealer has to follow precise rules, so you’ll never have to adapt your strategy to an unpredictable opponent that may behave differently when there is money on the line. If you’re completely new to blackjack, learning the game’s basics in free play mode is highly recommended.
Q: Can I use card counting techniques to gain an advantage in an online blackjack game?
A: No. Card counting techniques require deck penetration, which is impossible in most online blackjack games. You might be able to find a few casinos that offer games which simulate deck penetration, but their rules are invariably so disadvantageous to the player that any edge you might gain from counting cards is essentially negated.
Q: How do I deposit money with an online blackjack site?
A: Most casino sites offer a wide range of deposit methods. In most cases, their availability will depend on your area of residence – usually, you’ll get to choose between Visa/MasterCard, Neteller/Skrill, and local payment processing services. PayPal isn’t all that popular in the online gambling world because eBay is very picky when it comes to cooperating with casino sites.
Note: If you live in the United States, you shouldn’t deposit using a credit card. American financial institutions tend to block 25%-40% of all gambling-related Visa/MasterCard transfers due to federal-level regulations. Unfortunately, this also applies to payments to legal casinos operating under locally-issued licenses.
Q: If I win at online blackjack, how will the casino pay me?
A: In most cases, supported withdrawal methods overlap with available deposit methods. For example, if your casino supports Skrill deposits, you should be able to use this e-wallet to cash out.
Q: What about cryptocurrencies? Can I use Bitcoin to play blackjack online?
A: Most legitimate casino platforms don’t support cryptocurrency deposits. If you live in the United States, your only options are Bovada and BetOnline, while European players are stuck with Bodog.
Blackjack terms glossary
- Blackjack – the best possible hand in blackjack, composed of an ace and a 10-value card.
- Basic strategy – a strategy that results in the lowest possible house edge without counting cards.
- Card counting – a technique that involves counting the carts left in the deck to negate the house edge.
- Hard hand – a hand that doesn’t contain an ace and can bust over a single draw.
- Hole card – the face-down card that belongs to the dealer.
- Hitting – drawing another card.
- Standing – refusing to draw another card.
- Splitting – splitting a hand into two separate hands.
- Re-splitting – splitting a hand that has already been split.
- Doubling down – doubling your bet and taking another card.
- Insurance – a side wager that wins if the dealer is holding a blackjack.
- Soft hand – a hand that contains an ace and can’t bust over a single draw.
- Surrender – an action that involves abandoning your hand and recovering half of your initial bet.
- Push – a situation in which both the dealer and the player hold equally strong hands.
- Player advantage – a situation in which the player has a mathematical edge over the house.
- Expected Value – the mathematically expected value of a player’s decision, abbreviated as EV. Decisions that benefit the player are EV-positive (EV+), while decisions that benefit the casino are EV-negative (EV-).
- Grind – slowly losing your bankroll during long gambling sessions in EV-negative games.
- RTP (return-to-player) – a percentage of the wagered money that’s mathematically expected to return to the player’s bankroll.
Blackjack is based on a game called twenty-one, which was likely designed in 16th century Europe. The first written reference to this game can be found in Miguel de Cervantes’ “Rinconete y Cortadillo.” When twenty-one was introduced to the United States, gambling establishments started offering bonus cash payouts to attract more players. One of these promotions involved a 10 to 1 payout if the gambler’s hand was composed of an ace of spades or jack of a black suit. The bonus was relatively short-lived, but the new name stuck to the game.
Blackjack isn’t an entirely luck-based game, and the first serious attempts at analyzing it date back to 1950s. The first paper on optimal blackjack strategy was revealed in 1956 by Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel, and James McDermott. In the 1960s, American mathematician Edward O. Thorp devised the first card counting technique that allowed the player to beat the dealer in the long run.
By that point, blackjack was already too popular for casinos to drop. Gambling venues started introducing countermeasures against card counting techniques, such as auto-shuffling shoes. The war between card counters and casinos continues to this day, even though it never really expanded to the online gambling world due to online blackjack’s automated nature.