Learning How to Play Blackjack at a Casino
December 16, 2012 11:06 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to a casino in a few days, and I want to play blackjack. However, I've never played any of the card games at a casino, and I'm pretty ignorant about the strategy to use for blackjack, as well as any etiquette I need to be aware of.

I've been to casinos many times, but haven't ever played any of the card games. I want to change that this time, and I was thinking about trying blackjack because my understanding is that the rules are simple and I'm playing against the dealer rather than other players (is that true?).

I understand the very basics of the rules, but any game strategy tips would be greatly appreciated. I'm also completely unsure as to how the etiquette works--for example, how do I join a game? Is it always acceptable to leave once a hand ends, or is it more polite to wait for a certain point to leave? And how much should I tip the dealer, and when should that happen?

Thanks for the help all--I don't have any optimism about winning it big when I'm so clueless, but I think if I understand what I'm doing I can at least have some fun with it. Also, if there are any other card games with a low barrier of entry, I'd be happy to hear other suggestions, as well.
posted by DMan to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Earlier relevant questions: 1, 2.
posted by rjs at 11:29 AM on December 16, 2012

The way you tip the dealer is to put a chip in front of your bet. It's treated as part of your bet. If you double, you double that chip, too. If you lose, it gets lost with the rest of your bet. If you win, it wins, too and the dealer will then take the result and put it in the tip box.

$5 once or twice an hour is a good rate for tipping.

Some other points: If the dealer shows a 5 or a 6, then be very cautious about hitting your hand. If the dealer shows an Ace, be very aggressive. (Also, if the dealer shows an Ace, never buy "insurance". It's a poor bet.)

Always split aces and 8's. Never split face cards.

Always double down on an 11.

Finally, this: you are going to lose money. Just accept that; you're not there to make money, you're there because gambling is fun. If it stops being fun, walk away.

You can leave the table any time, but it's polite to wait until a hand ends. You shove all your chips towards the dealer and say "Count me out".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:44 AM on December 16, 2012

Below is my strategy. I started playing Blackjack in Las Vegas, Biloxi, and casino boats at age 21. This is the strategy I've always used. I've had fun and pretty good success with it. I look at gambling as entertainment. I don't expect to win or win big. I try to get the most time, fun, and entertainment out of 100 dollars. I don't know if there are five dollar tables any more. If you can find one, sit there and try to find tables that stand on all 17s. Here is an image of my strategy that was written on an index card 19 years ago. Make yourself something like this and bring it to the table. Practice at home with friends. Good luck.

***Basic Strategy***

Dealer's Up Card, Hit Until

2 or 3 Hard 13
4-5-6 Hard 12
7-8-9-10-Ace Hard 17

Always Double Down 11 unless dealer Has Ace Up

Double Down on 10 if dealer's Up card is 2 thru 9

Always Split Aces and 8s

Never Take Insurance

Stand on All 19s and 20s


Double Down On, if Dearler's Up Card:

11 - 2 thru 10
10 - 2-9
9 - 3-6

A-7 - 3-6
A-6 -3-6
A-5 -4-5-6
A-4 -4-5-6
A-3 -5-6
A-2 - 5-6


Split, Unless Dealers Up Card

Ace-Ace - Any Card
8-8 - Any Card
9-9 -2 thru 9, but not 7
7-7 - 2 thru 7
6-6 -3 thru 6
3-3 - 4 thru 7
2-2 -4 thru 7


Hit Until, Dealers Up Card

Soft 19 -9-10-Ace
Soft 18 -2 thru 8

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 11:51 AM on December 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't know where you're going, but in Vegas (at least the casinos I played in), the dealer can give you advice and tell you what they think you should do. So you can ask them "What do you think I should do here?" and they'll give you an answer.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:24 PM on December 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've played a lot of blackjack in my time. I don't go to the casinos much these days but when I do, I really like blackjack. If played correctly it has decent odds - house edge is less than 0.5%. Also there is an element if skill involved in that to have to memorize all the correct decisions ( hit or stay) in various situations to maximize your odds but once you've done that, it's very mechanical. There is only one right move in any situation. Some casinos let you use a small card that gives you the right move and some will let you ask the dealer. My advice is to read about the strategy and play a buch of hands of
blackjack in a free online game to get used to it. Some of it is counterintuitive. Ie if you have a 6 and dealer has a 7 you always hit. You will probably bust but it's still the right move odds wise.
The one etiquette advice I'd give is to play correctly. People who play blackjack a lot often get pissed off when someone doesn't play right and messes up the cards and the dealer ends up winning when they would have otherwise busted. Its irrational but so is gambling against a house edge. Have fun, know your limits!
posted by banishedimmortal at 12:51 PM on December 16, 2012

How to have fun as a beginning blackjack player:

1. Tip the waitress $5 as soon as you sit down, tell her to "Keep em coming." Drink up!
2. Always bet the table minimum. Play as low as possible. Be aware you are probably going to lose around 4 bets every hour or so on average so be ready to spend that much.
3. Bring a print out of basic strategy with you. Look at it whenever you want and don't be ashamed or scared. The house doesn't care. Note that some of the strategy advice given in this thread differs from commonly understood basic strategy. Wizard of Odds is a good site to read about that.
4. By all means ask the dealer and other players what to do. If they tell you, take their advice.
5. If the players are giving you any shit about a mistake you made or something, they are assholes. Switch tables.
6. Don't play Spanish 21, Single Deck Blackjack, Follow the Queen or whatever other game they've got other than regular multi-deck BJ--those have worse odds.
7. Tip 1 dollar every time you win 3 in a row or if you double your money.
8. If you do double your money, or book a big win otherwise, consider getting up and walking around after the shoe is done. It's a win! You beat the system! It's OK to quit while you're ahead.
9. Don't chase your losses, don't make wild decisions like hitting when you should stay on a whim, and don't forget to drink up!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2012

Stroll through the casino and pick a blackjack table with friendly looking people (stay away from the ones that are silent and grim). Nthing that you can refer to a basic strategy card at the table, but try to be somewhat familiar with it so that you don't hold up the game. If you are going to Las Vegas, you can buy basic strategy cards in any gift shop. Also, in Las Vegas, some casinos have "learn how to play blackjack" tables in the morning. In terms of other games, craps is super fun and exciting. If you stick to playing the pass line and take odds, the house edge is minimal. (You can Google for how to do this -- it's very easy and takes less skill than blackjack.) If you do well in craps (and you might well win on the first few rolls), don't be deceived. Take your money and walk away! If you keep going, you will lose it again.
posted by Wordwoman at 1:13 PM on December 16, 2012

The single best strategy decision you can make is to not sit at a table where blackjack pays 6-to-5 (normally 3-to-2). These tables are cropping up all over, especially at low-limit and handheld games and put you at a huge disadvantage.

Avoid sitting at "third base," the seat on the dealer's immediate right. This player acts last before the dealer and if you do make a strategy error that affects whether or not the dealer busts, you may get some (undeserved) flack for it.

Handheld games (single and double deck) are dealt face down. Pick up your cards to see them, "scratch" to indicate a hit, slide them under your chips to stand and verbally announce double down and split. For a split, turn your cards face up. For a double down, leave them face down. The dealer will help you with this.

Shoe games (four, six and eight decks) are dealt face up. Do not touch your cards. Scratch or tap on the felt to indicate a hit, wave to indicate stand, verbally announce double down and split.
posted by zanni at 2:23 PM on December 16, 2012

My advice is to look for a friendly table. Ask them if they are a friendly table before you sit down. There are lots of people - both dealers and other players - who are happy to help out. The last time I played blackjack in Vegas, it was like a team sport. Everyone at the table gave advice to everyone else. So, yes, you should know the basics, but don't be afraid to just ask.
posted by CathyG at 3:07 PM on December 16, 2012

Yeah lower bet tables are more likely to have players that are also new, and/or just having some fun. And as Zanni said, try to avoid the last seat. And don't spill your drink on the table. If you cant or don't want to remember specific strategies, just always assume the next card's going to be a ten.
posted by Diag at 5:54 PM on December 16, 2012

Do not touch your cards. Scratch or tap on the felt to indicate a hit, wave to indicate stand, verbally announce double down and split.

These hand signals, by the way, are more than just etiquette; when I was first learning, occasionally I would forget and announce my decision verbally, and every time my dealer would ask me to perform the signal. When I asked her why, she said because of the cameras on the table - if she continually dealt me another card (or not) without my signal, it would look fishy to the floor manager.
posted by solotoro at 3:44 AM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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