10 rules and rituals to play like the pros
Blackjack, also known as twenty one, is one of the most popular games in the casino. The rules are simple, the play is thrilling and if played with basic strategy it comes with a nice, low house edge. In fact, for the expert player who mathematically plays a perfect game and is able to count cards, the odds are sometimes in the player’s favor to win.
But even for the casual player, blackjack is one of the best bets in the casino. If you take the time to learn basic strategy, it can narrow the house advantage to less than one percent. Beyond the rules for hitting, standing, doubling down and splitting pairs, the game can seem intimidating with strange hand motions, the prohibition on touching the cards, and the process of exchanging cash for chips. There seems to be a number of unwritten laws that can come across very intimidating to the novice. So with this in mind, here are some basic gambling etiquette to help you play with the confidence of a pro.
- Don’t hold your cards with two hands.
In blackjack games where the cards are “pitched” to you and dealt face down (usually single- and two-deck games), you must pick the cards up with one hand, not with both. This rule is designed to prevent players from tampering with—or switching—their cards.
- When the cards are dealt face up, don’t touch them.
In games that use four or more decks of cards, your cards are dealt face up. There is no reason for you to pick up or handle the cards, so just leave them alone. Which brings us to our next rule…
- Never touch your chips once the cards are being dealt.
Once you’ve placed your bet and the dealer begins to deal the cards, you are not allowed to touch your chips until the hand is played out. If you win or tie the hand, you are free to collect your chips or change your bet. If the dealer wins, he’s going to take your chips. Just remember, once the cards start being dealt, you cannot touch your wager until your hand is played out. (This prevents cheaters from changing their bet while the cards are in play.)
- Signal your decision, don’t say it.
For the security cameras, you must use hand signals to indicate to the dealer whether you want to hit or stand. Saying “hit” or “stand” isn’t enough. They need to see you make the signal. The dealer will show you the required signal if you’re new to the game. Or, just watch a hand as it’s being played out. A hit is a simple gesture that looks like “come here.” If you don’t want a hit, simply wave your hand, palm down, over your cards. To split or double down, place the required number of chips next to your original bet, and the dealer will do the rest.
- Stack your chips correctly.
When you make a wager that includes two or more different denomination chips (for example, a $25 chip and two $5 chips), always place the higher denomination chip on the bottom of the stack and the lower ones on top. Otherwise, the dealer is going to have to stop and rearrange them for you before he starts dealing the cards. It’s OK if you forget to do this once or twice, but some people can be downright annoying about it.
- Don’t tell your fellow players how to play.
If the guy sitting next to you asks for your advice, feel free to tell him what you think. But it’s pretty bad form to tell other players what you think if they don’t ask Sometimes you’ll find yourself playing alongside people who have no idea what they’re doing or make boneheaded decisions, such as splitting 10s. Resist the urge to groan. If it bothers you, either move to another table or remind yourself that the skill levels of your fellow players has no bearing on whether you ultimately win or lose. When the guy next to you keeps making dumb plays, it may seem like he’s “stealing” the cards you need and screwing up your hands, but in reality, there’s just as good a chance that his bad plays will wind up helping you.
- Cut the deck properly.
In six-deck games, after the dealer has finished shuffling the cards, he will ask one of the players to “cut” the deck. Insert the “cut card” at least a half-deck from either end of the stack. (In other words, aim near the middle of the deck.) If you try to cut the deck too dose from either end, the dealer will ask you to cut it again, which holds the game up.
- Check before you try to bet in the middle of a shoe.
Some casinos forbid you from sitting down and placing a wager when the game is midway through the shoe; you’re supposed to wait until the entire shoe is played out before you join the action. Check to see if the table has a sign that says, “No Mid-Shoe Entry.” If it does, and the shoe is in progress, you can go ahead and sit down, but don’t try to wager until the shoe is finished and the dealer starts reshuffling.
- Use basic strategy.
This should probably be the number one rule. And while it might not fall under the category of “etiquette,” it will distinguish seasoned players from suckers. In blackjack, there is a mathematically correct way to play every possible hand. This playing strategy is readily available in books, on the Internet, and on strategy cards, which you can take with you when you play. (They are legal to use in a casino).Watch an expert play blackjack, and very rarely will you see them pause to contemplate a move — it’s an automatic response. Memorize basic strategy, and you eliminate the guesswork occasionally, you might be tempted to deviate from it, and hit or stand because you’ve got a hunch, but basic strategy teaches the mathematically correct play in every situation. Hit that 16 against the dealer’s 10, as much as it may scare you, and, more often than not, you will win the hand.
- Never play 6:5 games.
Veteran blackjack players despise this sneaky rule change that some casinos have instituted. Instead of paying the traditional 3:2 on untied blackjacks (when your first two cards total 21), you get paid 6:5. This means, on a $10 bet, you’d receive $12 instead of $15. This might not sound like a major difference, but it is. On average, you’ll receive a blackjack about four times per hour, and the diminished payout will cut significantly into your odds of walking away with a profit. The traditional 3:2 payout is one of the rules that make the game fair for players. You really shouldn’t play otherwise.