Play Blackjack Professionally

If you don’t have much Blackjack experience, it can be daunting stepping up to the tables for a game. You can, however, hide the fact of your inexperience very simply by remembering these straightforward rules. (Note – the rules of BlackJack will differ from area to area and from casino to casino, but the general principles are the same. When in doubt, ask!). A typical BlackJack table seats a dealer and up to 7 players. Starting with the dealer, the first seat on his left is ‘1st Base’, while the first seat on his right is referred to as 3rd Base. In front of each player’s seat is a betting square, printed on the felt. Right in front of the dealer is the chip tray, while on his left is the deck (a.k.a. shoe) and next to that is the’ minimum bet sign’, which tells you how ‘expensive’ the table is. As a beginner, you will want to stick to the low bet tables to keep any losses under control. On the dealer’s right is a money drop slot. This is a security feature – casinos don’t really trust their employees, and all cash and chips are deposited here to prevent ‘leakage’.

Next to the drop slot is what’s known as the ‘discard tray’. Play starts after the dealer shuffles the cards, the deck is ‘cut’ by a player using a ‘marker card’ (NOT the bare hand), and finally the dealer ‘burns’ a card (or throws it away in order to ensure randomness). Before the cards are dealt, you make your bet by placing chips or cash into the betting box. Be aware that you can sit out a hand or 2 if you like – maybe you need a break, or the dealer is just on a lucky streak. Note that if the casino is busy, you may be asked to give up your seat so another punter can take your place (or alternatively resume the game yourself). If you really don’t want to play, just get up and vacate the seat – you can always come back later!

When all players who want to play in this round have placed a bet, 2cards will be dealt to each player going from left to right. Some casinos deal the cards face down. Elsewhere the cards are dealt face up, in which case NEVER touch them – the assumption if you do is that you are cheating! The dealer deals himself 2 cards – 1 down and 1 up. Card values are, as everyone knows, 10 Jack Queen and King are worth 10, an Ace is worth 1 or 11, all other cards are worth their face values. In noisy casinos, be prepared to use hand signals to indicate whether you want to hit or stand.

How do you indicate ‘hit’? If the cards are dealt face down, flick the cards gently across the felt 2 times. If the cards were dealt face up, point at the cards with your finger in a jabbing style. You can nod your head to emphasize the desire for a hit. If you’d prefer to stand, move your hand horizontally from left to right (palm down) to indicate ‘no’. Always keep your hands a few inches off the table to avoid suspicion. If you like, you can emphasize the stand by shaking your head ‘no’ at the same time.

Should you play single or multiple deck games? Only in Vegas do they still play single deck, and the tables are usually full – it is much easier for amateurs to ‘count’ in a single game, and keep the odds pretty fair, which explains their popularity. Multiple deck games will usually be based on even number of decks (up to 8 decks in the shoe at a time). Multiple decks allow the dealer to deal more hands per hour (less shuffling etc), which makes them more profitable for the casino, and they reduce the chances of a player ‘counting’. Dealers HAVE to follow straightforward rules, and must hit if they have 16 or less. On the other hand, if the dealer has 17 or more, he MUST stand, except in some smaller casinos, where he can hit on a ‘soft 17’.

You as the player can do anything you like, standing or hitting as it suits you. If you get a BlackJack (an Ace and a ten right off) you win 1 and a half times your bet. You can only double down on 2 card hands totaling 9, 10, or 11 (a very few casinos allow doubling on any 2 card hand). If your cards were dealt face down and you want to double, turn them over and put them on the dealer’s side of the betting square. Otherwise point to them and say ‘double’ when it’s your turn. You will have to put an equal amount of chips next to those already in the betting box (NEVER put new chips on top of old chips – it looks like cheating!). You will get one new card.

Splitting is kind of similar – cards dealt face down need to be turned over and placed them a little apart. Otherwise point at them and say ‘split’ when it’s your turn. Place an equal amount of chips in the betting box near the other card (remember, NEVER on top). You are now playing 2 hands exactly as normal (unless you just split two aces in which case you only get one card – a 10 would be good!. If it is a 10 the hand isn’t a BlackJack, meaning you only get the standard odds of 1/1 and not 1/1.5 as you would for a ‘natural’ BlackJack. Be careful how you split – it is possible to end up with 4 or 5 hands simultaneously! Likewise, it’s probably not good to split two 5s – you will be replacing a hand that is great for drawing on or doubling down on with (probably) 2 poor hands. Insurance only happens when the dealer’s face up card is an Ace, when the dealer will ask the players if they want insurance (he won’t know what his face down card or ‘hole’ card is at this point, so you won’t be able to read his expression for clues). Insurance means that half the player’s bet is placed on the ‘insurance’ semicircle printed on the felt. If the dealer gets a BlackJack the player wins the the insurance bet but loses the original bet meaning a zero hand because insurance pays 2 to 1. If the dealer does not get BlackJack, the insurance bet is lost and the hand is played normally with the remaining half bet. Don’t bother with insurance unless you are trying to card count (take it when the number of non ’10’ cards to 10s drops below the 2 to 1 margin). You may also come across ‘Surrender’ – it’s not widely used, but there are 2 versions you may find, ‘early surrender’ and ‘late surrender’.

Early surrender means quitting on 2 card hands if you don’t like the dealer’s up card (e.g. a ten or court card). Surrendering in this way will give you a small extra advantage whcih is why casinos don’t like it. Late surrender means waiting until the dealer checks for BlackJack, at which point if he doesn’t, you may decide to surrender. As we say, not very common, so ask before joining the table whether you can or not. And that’s it! Stay cool, and don’t panic, and nobody will guess you are a casino newbie!

Five Worst BlackJack Rules

Quick, can you tell me what are the five worst playing rules for blackjack? If you don’t know them then the next time you play blackjack you might just be bucking higher than normal odds. So let’s review these bummers to be sure you never play in a game that has them.
Blackjacks pay Even Money

This one stinks. Normally the casino pays 3 to 2 when a player gets a blackjack hand (and the dealer doesn’t also have blackjack). Getting paid 1 to 1 may not seem like a big deal but it is because the casino’s edge goes up by 2.3% (ouch).

Normally blackjack games that offer an even money payoff also have several other player favorable rules as a come on. A good example is SuperFun 21, which is offered in many casinos in Las Vegas. The game uses only a single deck of cards with liberal rules such as surrendering anytime including after hitting, doubling, or splitting. But the liberal rules do not come close to negating the 2.3% edge the house enjoys when it pays even money on blackjack hands. The bottom line is be very cautious when a casino only offers even money on a blackjack.
Blackjack pays 6 to 5

Oh come on, no casino would pay 6 to 5 for a blackjack hand you say? Well guess what? Walk up and down the strip in Las Vegas and you’ll find this game all over the place. The come on is that it’s advertised as a single deck game, which usually implies a good game for the player. But getting paid 6 to 5 on a blackjack is a much worse deal than getting paid the normal 3 to 2. How much less? For every $10 you bet and get a blackjack you’ll get paid $3 less. This increases the house edge by 1.2%.

What’s ironic is that these same casinos that offer this 6 to 5 abomination game also offer plenty of multiple deck games with a much lower house edge (partly because blackjacks are paid at the standard 3 to 2). Yet the last time I visited Las Vegas I observed all the 6 to 5 single deck tables packed with players while the multiple deck tables where much less crowded. I finally asked one player who had quit playing the 6 to 5 single deck payoff game why he choose to play it rather than the better multiple deck game. His response was that he thought 6 to 5 was a better payoff than 3 to 2. So much for the math skills of the average blackjack player (which is probably why the casinos in Las Vegas are blazingly getting away with offering this game to clueless tourists).
Doubling Down only on 11 or 10 or just 11

Often you’ll see this rule in single deck games where a player is restricted to doubling on a two card 10 and 11 (or just 11). This means you can’t double down on 9 or any soft hand (that’s not good). The house edge goes up by about 0.7% when you can only double on 11 and by 0.25% when you are restricted to just doubling on only 10 and 11.
Using 8 decks of Cards

Compared to a single deck game, the casino’s edge increases by 0.61% when 8 decks of cards are used. You would need several liberal rules to offset the 0.61% edge to make the game playable. At the minimum make sure the dealer stands on soft 17 and doubling after pair splitting is offered (ideally also late surrender).
Dealer Hits Soft 17

Many casinos (especially on the Las Vegas strip) have changed the dealer rule regarding soft 17. It used to be pretty standard that dealers must stand on all 17 hands (which includes a soft 17 hand). Nowadays, however, more casinos are changing to hit soft 17. That’s not a good change for the player because the casino edge increases by 0.20%. Given a choice you are better off playing where the rules require that dealers must stand on soft 17.

Probably the worse blackjack rule that I ever saw was dealer winning all ties. Yes, I know that’s the way you play it with your buddies when you get together for a friendly game of blackjack and poker. But in a casino, you should never play any blackjack game where the dealer wins ties. The standard casino rule is when your hand totals 21 or less and the dealer ends up with the same total, it’s a tie or push and you don’t lose or win your bet (but remember that a dealer blackjack hand beats a player’s three or more cards 21 hand). By winning tied hands the casino edge zooms by about 9%.

There are two things to keep in mind when you play blackjack. First, there has never been a game with exotic rules that has a lower house edge than the standard game. So before you decide to try a SuperFun 21 or other ‘new’; game you better check the rules.

Secondly, you should always try to pick your games carefully so that the overall mix of rules leads to a casino edge that’s as low as possible for the game you are playing (this of course assumes you know the basic playing strategy – if not, learn it!).

Dan Pronovost showed the effect of each rule on the house edge in his excellent article, Picking the Right Game, that appeared in issue #35 of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter ( This article is a good starting point to be sure you understand the impact a rule has on the house edge.

Often casinos will introduce new rules or games in their blackjack pits. An example is the new game Blackjack Switch, which recently had a trial run in Atlantic City and will soon be launched in casinos there and in Las Vegas (it’s also offered on the Internet). In this game you must play two hands and you are allowed to switch the two top cards. That very favorable player rule is offset by this new rule – when the dealer has 22, all player hands of 21 or less push (instead of win). So is the favorable switch rule offset by the very unfavorable push 22 rule? The answer is I don’t know at the moment but I’ve got several blackjack mathematicians working on this as we speak to determine the overall impact on the player (we hope to have it all unraveled in the next issue of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter).

That’s it for now. Stay positive and make sure you know the rules before you play.

By Henry Tamburin

Don?t Make These Mistakes

All blackjack players make mistakes, even experienced card-counters. But there are some innocent mistakes that rookies seem to make on a regular basis that it’s better not to make, especially if you’re playing for the first time at an actual land-based casino.

The blackjack mistake I’m most guilty of is sitting down and trying to play at a higher limit table than I have a bankroll for. It probably happens consistently all night long that players sit down and try to make $5 or $20 bets at a $100 minimum table. The dealers and other players get understandably frustrated when this happens. The solution to preventing this mistake? Just have a look at the little sign on each table stating the table limits, and make sure it’s the right stakes table before you sit down.

Another common mistake is throwing chips haphazardly into the betting circle. Your chips should always be in a single stack, so the dealer doesn’t have to get confused about whether or not you’ve doubled down. Related to this mistake is handling your bet after you’ve placed it. Dealers will snap at you over touching your bet, because they need to make sure you’re not adding chips to your bet when you have a good hand, or removing bets when you’ve got a bad hand.

Don’t touch the cards in a face up blackjack game. Cheaters will often try to mark the cards with a sharp fingernail, and the rule for not touching the cards prevents this. Be careful when handling the cards in a face down game too, because if you’re careless with the cards, you can expect correction from the dealer rather quickly.

Playing live blackjack is a lot of fun, but it’s a lot more fun when you avoid these common and sometimes embarrassing rookie blackjack mistakes.

Randy Ray

Blackjack Player Options

The player elects to “stand” with the current total and not to draw any additional cards. If you are in a game where the cards are dealt face-down, you slip your cards under your chips. The dealer will understand the message. If you are in a face-up game, wave your hand back and forth in a wiping motion just above your cards, which is the signal for standing. All casinos insist on some form of hand signal; verbal statements are not accepted. Casinos can get rather noisy, and it is easy for a dealer to mishear a player. Also, the cameras hidden in the casino’s ceilings can be used to resolve disputes only if hand signals are used, since they do not have an audio component.
The player elects to draw an additional card or cards. If you are in a face-down game, draw your cards toward you with a quick scratching motion against the felt once or twice. In a face-up game, make a similar motion with your fingertips or , preferably, point to your cards with your index finger.
If your first two cards are of the same value, you may split them and play each as a separate hand. To indicate a desire to split your cards, place an additional wager equivalent to the original one to the side of it. If you are playing in a face-down game, you must expose your cards. After splitting a pair, various other options become available. You can re-split if a third like-valued card appears. Or you can double down on the split hands should an appropriate card be drawn. For example, if you have split 8’s and catch a 3 on the first 8, you may now double down on this total of 11. Both re-splitting and doubling and doubling down after a split are to the player’s advantage.
Doubling Down
The player may double the size of the original bet and elect to draw only one additional card. The typical doubling situation is where you have a hand that stands a chance of becoming a _very_ good hand with one additional card; for example, your first two cards total 10 or 11. To indicate a double down bet, slide a second wager to the side of the original bet. This wager may be as much as but no more than your original bet. If you are playing in a face-down game, you must expose your cards. Virtually all casinos permit doubling on 11 and 10; most on 11, 10, and 9, and many will allow it on any two cards. The latter rule is the most advantageous to the player.

How to Play Blackjack

The game itself is simple. You, the player, attempt to accumulate cards with a numerical total closer to (but not more than) twenty-one than those accumulated by the dealer. If you do so, you win. If the dealers’ total is closer to twenty-one than yours, you lose. Winning hands are paid off at even odds. If you and the dealer both arrive at the same total, the hand is a “push,” and nobody wins. All bets must be made before any cards are dealt, and no bet may be changed once the first card has been dealt.
Each player is initially dealt two cards; they may be face-down or face-up, depending on the rules of the casino. The dealer gets two cards, one face-up and one face-down. The value of the cards is given by their face value except that the ace (A) counts as either 1 or 11 and the 10, jack (J), queen (Q), and king (K) all count as 10.
The combination of an A and any 10 on the first two cards is a blackjack and is an automatic winner (unless both dealer and player have it, in which case it’s a push). A player blackjack is paid at 3 to 2. When the house has a blackjack the player merely loses his bet and not one and a half times that bet. Any combination of cards that exceeds 21 is a bust and a loser. The player always goes first, so if the player’s total exceeds 21 the hand is lost — even if the dealer also busts later. If the dealer busts, all remaining players are winners. The dealer has no options; play is fixed by the rules.
After the first two cards are dealt, the player must decide whether or not to take additional cards based on two pieces of information: the cards held and the dealer’s upcard. This is where the game begins to get interesting. A wide variety of options offer themselves, and unless the player understands the principles of the game there are numerous ways to go wrong. Let’s review the options first; correct play will be discussed later.

History of Blackjack

It is generally believed that playing cards was invented in China in about 900 AD. Chinese people began to shuffle paper money into various combinations and in China today the term for playing cards means paper tickets.

The 52 card deck as we know it was originally called the French Pack. The origin of Blackjack is somewhat unclear. Some people believe that Blackjack originated in French casinos in the early 1700s where it was known as “vingt-et-un” (“20 and 1”).
The game became known as Blackjack because if a player held a Jack of Spades and an Ace of Spades as the 1st two cards, the player was paid out extra. So with a Jack being a vital card and Spades being black, the game was called Blackjack.

This game has been played in the United States since the 1800’s. Gambling was legal out West from the 1850’s to 1910, at which time Nevada made it a felony to operate a gambling game. In 1931, Nevada re-legalized casino gambling where BlackJack became one of the primary games of chance offered to gamblers. In 1978, New Jersey became the second state to legalize gambling and since then casinos have sprouted up in about 20 other states.

Blackjack remains one of the most popular card games in the world.