Blackjack seems like an easy and profitable game to play, especially the way they depict it in Hollywood productions like 21 and The Hangover. What many novices tend to forget, however, is they are expected to comply with certain procedures and rules of conduct at the table, which helps preserve the game’s integrity and prevents altercations between players and casino personnel.
And contrary to what some poker players seem to think, blackjack is also a game of skill, one that requires a good amount of patience, practice, strategy, and competence to beat. Intuition, hunches, and gut feelings will get you nowhere if you are serious about blackjack. Approaching the game strategically is the only way to emerge a winner.
Below, we outline some of the most common mistakes rookie players make at the blackjack tables. Read carefully so that you can enjoy a pleasant and hassle-free experience during your first visits to the blackjack tables. Avoiding some of these mistakes will even save you money in the long run.
Not Using Hand Signals
The integrity of blackjack is preserved by the requirement of using hand signals to indicate the decisions you make. Players should not tell the dealer they want to hit, stand, split or double down verbally. The dealer will not react unless your verbal announcement is accompanied by the corresponding hand gesture.
You have a choice from several moves only, so the least you can do is invest a little effort into learning the hand signal that corresponds to each. These signals benefit both players and the members of the casino personnel because they help prevent misunderstandings. They serve as concrete evidence of how you wanted to play your hand.
In the event of misunderstandings and dealer errors, the casino personnel can consult with the surveillance cameras above the table and confirm your hand was misplayed. This would be impossible if you only express your intentions verbally. Here it is important to mention that the hand gestures differ depending on whether you are playing shoe blackjack or pitch games. Be sure to check our article on rules and table etiquette for further information on the correct hand signals for each type of blackjack game.
Relying on Hunches
This is the most stupid thing one can possibly do in a card game which relies heavily on mathematics. Be prepared to read the next piece of advice on multiple occasions if you decide to read this guide in full. We have said it many times but it bears repeating – all blackjack players should take the time to learn basic strategy.
If you struggle with memorizing all the plays, the least you can do is equip yourself with a basic strategy chart that corresponds to the rules and table conditions of the game you are playing. Skip on this piece of advice and you are doomed to failure.
Unlike skill-based games like poker, the human element is entirely absent from blackjack because the dealers play their hands according to the fixed rules of the house. All the information you need to make a mathematically optimal decision is right in front of your eyes, on the table.
And please, do not use the fact you play recreationally as an excuse not to use basic strategy. This has nothing to do with your frequency of play or your experience level. Visiting the casino only once every couple of months does not mean you should not play smartly, especially in a game where the house edge can gradually grind down your bankroll to nothing.
Joining a Table in the Middle of the Shoe
Whether or not you can join a table mid-shoe largely depends on the politics of the casino you are visiting. Some establishments prohibit players from joining blackjack tables where the game is already in progress. The main reason for this prohibition is to prevent card counters from joining the action only when they have the advantage during ten-rich shoes.
Before you plop down at the table, be sure to check for a small plaque that reads “No mid-shoe entry”. If you see it, you will have no other option but to wait for the dealer to reach the cut card and reshuffle. And one more thing – jumping mid-shoe, even if allowed, is in poor taste if you forget to ask for permission first.
Some players prefer to play heads-up against the dealer so do show some courtesy and ask whether they mind you joining the game in the middle of the shoe. Keep in mind that sometimes the casino would restrict your bets size and ask you to flat bet at the table minimum if they allow you to join a game that is already in progress.
Misplacing the Cut Card
It is common for dealers at the multiple-deck tables to ask one of the patrons to cut the shoe. They give you a colored plastic card that is of the same size as regular playing cards and you need to insert it somewhere in the shoe to mark the point where the dealer must reshuffle. Make sure you do not insert it in the very beginning or toward the very end of the shoe.
It is common practice to insert the card toward the end of the shoe but in a position so as to “cut” a deck or a half-deck of cards. If you insert it toward the very end or beginning, the dealer will reprimand you and ask you to cut again. Such mistakes slow down the game and are unpleasant both for the dealers and your fellow players.
Playing at the 6-to-5 Tables
Some blackjack games, particularly those where the cards are dealt face-down, offer payouts of 6 to 5 for naturals instead of the standard 3-to-2 payout. These are absolutely terrible games and you should avoid them like the plague. The same goes for tables where you get even money on your untied naturals.
The 6-to-5 reduction in the payout is extremely detrimental for players because it increases the house edge by nearly 1.40%. Can you afford to play against this edge? We think not. The payouts for insurance and blackjacks are usually available in plain sight. You can see them printed on the table’s felt. If they are not, you can ask the dealer and leave the table if the answer is anything other than “3 to 2”.
Doubling Down for Less
Blackjack players are generally allowed to double down for any amount they deem fit as long as it does not exceed their initial stake. Some recreational players take advantage of the option to double down for less than their original wager because they are either underbanked or reluctant to risk the full amount. Little do they know they are giving up on some of their expected value.
The whole purpose of doubling down is to help you win more money by increasing your action during advantageous situations when the dealer is more likely to bust. Otherwise, you are only wasting money. You should always double down for the full amount of your starting wager. If interested to learn further details on this subject, we suggest you take a peek at our article on doubling down in blackjack.
The only reason to decline playing rated is if you count cards. Basic strategy players should always allow the dealer or the floor supervisor to rate their play. This way, you can take advantage of comps which helps you reduce the house edge. You can ask a member of the casino personnel to give you a player card.
Give it to the dealer or the pit boss each time you sit down to play blackjack. This gives them the chance to track your action and reward you with freebies like meals, tickets for shows, accommodations, and even plane tickets. Just avoid being arrogant about it. You cannot expect to receive free stuff after half an hour of play at a given casino.
Playing against the CSMs
This is a major no-no even if you are a basic strategy player. Card counters dread Continuous Shuffling Machines (CSMs) for obvious reasons – they prevent them from tracking down the cards because the dealer reinserts the discards into the machine after each round of play.
The result is a game that runs at a nauseating pace because the dealer never makes a pause to reshuffle the cards. The machine does it for them which is bad news for both basic strategy and advantage players.
Since the game basically never stops, you end up playing more hands per hour and do it at a disadvantage. Let’s not forget that basic strategy cannot eliminate the house edge entirely. All it does is reduce it, which means you will suffer larger theoretical losses per hour when you play against the CSM.
Following Betting Progressions
This is one of the worst things a casino player can do in general. Stay away from systems like the Martingale and the Fibonacci. These are based on betting progressions which require you to vary the size of your bets on the basis of previous results.
But your odds of winning the next hand are not affected by whether you have won or lost during the previous round. You are better off flat betting with perfect basic strategy if you play recreationally. If you have the ambition to become a professional player, you should learn to count cards.
You again increase or decrease your bets but do it on the basis of the ratio of high to low cards that remain to be dealt. You can start by mastering one of the simpler counting systems like the Speed Count before you gain enough experience to upgrade to a more difficult (and more effective) system like the Hi-Lo.