Most rookies feel intimidated when they approach a blackjack table for the very first time. To their consternation, everyone else appears to know what they are doing, not to mention most first-timers cannot keep up with the fast pace of the game.
Blackjack certainly can be confusing at first because it is not as simple as most of the other games available on the casino floor. Unlike them, it requires a good amount of skill, knowledge, and strategy. In addition, there is a certain comportment one needs to comply with while at the table, which further adds to the confusion of novices.
If you are new to the game, we recommend you go through the few tips and tricks we have provided below. They can help you improve your game, save some money, and feel at ease until you settle into the routine of playing regularly.
Always Use Basic Strategy
Blackjack is not a game you can play with the help of intuition or hunches. There is a set of correct playing decisions for all situations you can possibly find yourself in and by “correct”, we mean mathematically optimal decisions.
This set of optimal plays is called basic strategy and it helps you achieve two main things – generate more profits during advantageous situations and cut down on your losses when you are the underdog. In other words, it tells you when it is the right time to hit, stand, split, double down, or surrender.
Following perfect basic strategy leads to a significant decrease in the house edge which drops to half a percent. You are playing an almost break-even game with basic strategy. However, what is correct and what is not is closely related to the rules of the blackjack variation you are playing which leads us to tip number two – know your game.
Know Your Game
One of the biggest issues with blackjack is the absence of a unified system of rules. The rules of the game are different depending on which casino you play in. This leads to differences in the optimal strategy for the game. The worse thing you can do is memorize the first basic strategy chart you come across and use it at all blackjack tables regardless of the rule variations.
The strategy is affected not only by the number of decks a given blackjack game uses but also by the dealer’s drawing rules and other playing conditions. You need to learn to adjust your plays in accordance with these variables. Otherwise, you will inevitably end up making playing mistakes which, in turn, costs you money and decreases your EV.
Also, some blackjack variants offer more favorable playing conditions than others. For example, many single-deck games pay at a rate of 6 to 5 for blackjacks and require the dealer to hit soft 17. Both rules are detrimental to the player, especially the reduced blackjack payout, which significantly increases the house advantage. Never settle for anything less than the standard 3-to-2 payout for your blackjacks.
Never Accept Insurance
Every casino game has its sucker bet and in blackjack, this “honor” goes to the insurance bet. This is a proposition bet offered to players at the start of a round when the dealer’s exposed card is an Ace. If you accept insurance, you must make a side bet that amounts to half of your initial stake.
If the dealer does not have a blackjack, you lose the insurance bet and continue playing your hand as usual. Insurance pays at a rate of 2 to 1 when the dealer indeed has a blackjack. This misleads players into believing they are protecting their hands against a potential dealer blackjack.
In reality, insurance has nothing to do with your starting hand. You are simply betting the dealer has a ten-value card in the hole. The only thing insurance does is giving the casino a bigger edge so you should never “take advantage” of this option if you are a basic strategy player.
Try Not to Slow Down the Game
The pit crew and experienced players generally show understanding toward blackjack rookies but you should do your best not to slow down the game. This will invoke unpleasant reactions from everyone at the table. The members of the casino personnel hate this because it decreases the number of hands played per hour. In turn, this causes the house’s hourly revenue from the table to drop. Skilled players also hate a slow-paced game because it decreases the profits they generate per hour.
If you have not conquered basic strategy yet and cannot recall the correct plays for certain hands, it would be wise to take the third-base seat, if available. This is the last seat at the table which gives you plenty of time to recall the correct move for your hand or check your strategy chart while the players before you make their decisions.
Tip the Dealer Occasionally
You should not feel pressured into tipping the dealers because this practice is not mandatory. However, it would be a nice gesture to give your dealer a toke (i.e. a tip) every once in a while, particularly if you are on a winning streak. Approach toking the dealer the same way you approach tipping the waitresses at classy restaurants. If you like the service, do it. If not, pay your bill and leave.
Just make sure you do not overdo it with the tips because extreme generosity significantly decreases your expected value. Let’s suppose you are betting $25 per hand but you also post a $5 bet for the dealer at the start of each round of play.
Assuming the game runs at an average pace at a full table and you go through sixty hands per hour, you will end up spending $300 each hour of play on dealer tokes only. As ridiculous as this hypothetical situation does sound, some blackjack players are indeed willing to sacrifice such huge amounts on dealer tips.
Watch Out for Dealer Mistakes
Nobody is immune to making mistakes, including dealers, no matter how experienced they are. Sometimes these mistakes manifest themselves in the form of miscalculating a player’s hand total or involuntarily misplaying a hand.
More often than not, they have to do with the dealer mispaying you on blackjacks. Such payout mistakes tend to occur more often when a player is betting in increments of odd amounts like $5 and $25. As you know, blackjacks earn you a 3-to-2 payout which is equal to 1.5x your initial bet. Respectively, the correct net payouts are $7.50 for a $5 bet and $37.50 for a $25 bet.
This is not to say you should always avoid betting with chips that do not return payouts in whole-dollar amounts. However, you should always address an incorrect payout if you happen to notice one. The proper way to approach one such inaccuracy is to turn the dealer’s attention to their mistake.
Additional Dealer MistakesYou must not touch any of the chips, though, because some players intentionally try to cheat the house by secretly removing chips from the stack in their betting circle. There are cameras above the table but sometimes, it is not clearly visible what you do when you touch your chips depending on the angle.
If the dealer continues to insist they are paying you correctly when they are not, you can always take the issue to the pit boss or another member of the floor personnel. The casino staff can take the issue to surveillance in the worst-case scenario and verify your payout was indeed incorrect.
The bottom line is whoever is mistaken, good upbringing requires you to approach the situation with a healthy dose of politeness and class. You should never raise your voice. Sometimes it may turn out you yourself have miscalculated the payout.
Every now and then, you will play against dealers who make a mistake that actually works to your benefit. The members of the blackjack community are of varied opinions on this subject. Some suggest you should keep it quiet in such situations and collect the extra money. At the end of the day, it is up to you to decide whether to address such “beneficial” mistakes or not. We are of the opinion that it is the casinos’ responsibility to train their dealers well enough to prevent them from making such mistakes.
Do Not Attempt to Count Cards when Playing against the RNG
If you decide to take your blackjack game to the next level and master the more advanced technique of card counting, you should be aware that it is useless in online blackjack. This does not work in virtual variations of the game where the outcome is determined by a Random Number Generator (RNG).
Card counting is basically keeping track of the cards that have already been dealt. This gives you knowledge about the ratio of low to high cards in the remaining shoe or deck. You vary your bet size and deviate from the basic strategy plays with the help of this knowledge.
The trouble is the RNG software reshuffles the cards after each round of play. The discards are automatically reintroduced into the deck or shoe, which basically means you start afresh after every round. This renders it impossible to count cards effectively. You can reduce the house edge for the game you are playing to the absolute minimum through perfect basic strategy only.
Playing against the RNG Additional TipsIn this vein, it is worth mentioning you can count cards when you play online against live dealers. Live-dealer blackjack games are dealt and streamed online in real time. They closely mimic playing in an actual landbased casino.
The idea of being able to beat the house from the comfort of your own home is rather appealing, we must admit, but live-dealer casino operators are very proactive when it comes to hindering advantage players. In order to be able to count cards effectively in an online live-dealer game, the latter needs to meet several criteria.
First of all, you need favorable table rules but more importantly, you need deep enough deck/shoe penetration. This means they must deal you enough cards before the reshuffle. Last but not least, you need to be able to play at a faster pace and go through enough hands per hour to generate some EV.
The harsh reality is that live-dealer games offer average rules at best and poor deck penetration, with most dealers being instructed to reshuffle halfway through the shoe. So if you are playing an eight-deck game, the dealer will give you only 50% pen at best and reshuffle toward the end of the fourth deck. This completely ruins your chances of generating enough EV to make counting at the table worthwhile.
Moreover, the live-dealer tables at trusted online casinos are often overcrowded. When you end up at a full table, the game will move at a snail’s pace. This significantly reduces the number of hands you can play per hour. You end up playing 50 or 60 rounds per hour at best, which causes you to generate meager hourly EV.
On top of it all, they take measures against card counting. If caught, you might even end up getting “barred” from the online casino and have your account permanently closed and your winnings confiscated. The bottom line is these poor conditions render card counting ineffective against the online casinos’ live dealers.
Avoid Purchasing Strategy Cards from Casino Gift Shops
When playing at a larger casino, you normally have the option to purchase a basic strategy card directly from the venue’s gift shop. The dealer might also offer you one such card while you are at the table. We advise you not to accept.
Some casino gift shops offer cards that are accurate for single-deck blackjack only so some of the suggested plays there are incorrect in a shoe game. These inaccuracies may be small but they still have an impact on your long-term expected value.
You must ensure you have an accurate strategy chart on you before you take a seat at a given table. If you are playing only multiple-deck blackjack, for example, it would be best to print out the charts for both S17 and H17 shoe blackjack and use the one that is accurate for the table you are playing. This saves you money in the long run.
Do Not Take Advice from Dealers and Fellow Players
Sometimes, either the dealer or a fellow player may offer you advice on how to play out a specific hand. This usually happens with non-intuitive decisions where it is not immediately clear what the correct play is. Such is the case with splitting a pair of 6s against a dealer with a deuce in shoe games.
You have learned basic strategy before you attack the table and know the optimal decision is to split the 6s if doubling afterward is allowed. If not, you must take a hit. However, a fellow player at the table is apparently convinced you must stand on your hard 12. They seem bent on convincing you they are correct and you are wrong, so you take a peek at your strategy chart and confirm splitting is indeed the optimal decision here.
Do what basic strategy tells you to do. The intentions of such players or dealers are rarely malicious but you should never take advice that is contrary to basic strategy. Such mistakes are costly in the long term.
Do Not Take Advice from Dealers and Fellow Players – Additional TipsWe mentioned earlier you should sit at third base if you need more time to make your decisions. The trouble with taking this seat is sometimes it leads to altercations between players, especially if they are clueless about blackjack probability.
You might end up getting accused of “taking the dealer’s bust card” when you are the last player to act despite the fact you played out your hand in accordance with perfect basic strategy. This is absolute bosh, however. If you do not feel like putting up with other players’ antics or grumbles, just change tables or ignore their remarks.
Do Not Chastise Fellow Players
This tip is somewhat of a continuation of the previous one. It is important to remember that the way other patrons play out their hands has no bearing on your chances of winning or losing yours. The decisions of others could be just as beneficial to you as they can be detrimental.
You should refrain from chastising your fellow players when they end up making an incorrect or a downright stupid move. In the long run, their decisions have to effect on your expected results when you play perfect basic strategy. Sometimes it may seem somebody’s stupid play ruined things for the entire table but this is only a delusion.
The minds of us human beings are wired in such a way so that we remember only the negative and forget the positive at times. If you keep a record of your plays, you will inevitably notice the stupid decisions of others have “caused” you to win some hands and lose others, so make sure you do not scold anyone the next time they misplay a hand.
Take Advantage of Comps and Promotions
Our final tip has to do with maximizing your expected value by taking advantage of comps and other casino promotions. Comp points you collect when you play online for real money. Some casinos will allow you to exchange them for cash, while others will give you only free credits to play with.
There is a cornucopia of promotions at online casinos, with most operators offering players percentage-match bonuses on their first deposits. Participating in such offers gives you the opportunity to expand your blackjack bankroll if you are playing with a limited budget. Just make sure you read the bonus terms before you opt in because some of these promotions are not valid for tables games like blackjack.