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Unveiling the Top 10 Mistakes Players Make at the Blackjack Table

By Al O’Grady


To be perfectly blunt, there are so many mistakes that players make I cannot list them all in the space provided for me. So, this is the first of three articles on the subject.

As a blackjack dealer for a number of years, I can honestly say that nothing would surprise me at the tables. While I don’t claim to have witnessed every possible scenario—no one could make such a claim—I have observed frequent mistakes among players that can be neatly summarized in this top 10 list.Give yourself a self-assessment and look at these important points and ask yourself if one or more of these applies to you. The good news is that it can be corrected. If I could be your personal blackjack coach, I would have you focus on this list. There are no guarantees in life, but if you get to the point where none of these items applies to you, you will definitely be a force to be reckoned with at the casino. These points are in no particular order as they can each have a negative impact in their own way.


  1. Not having a plan; not having a goal

Ask yourself one question, why do you go to a casino? If it’s a night out with friends to have some fun, well God bless you. If it’s to try to win some money, what is your plan? There’s an old saying, “Fail to plan, plan to fail.” If you don’t have a plan, then you are a rudderless ship and you are at the mercy of the elements surrounding you. Formulate a plan that will include basic strategy, money management and most importantly, a goal. If you don’t have a goal, how do you know when you get there? One of my favorite books is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. In this book is a great quote: “Vague goals produce vague results.” If your goals are wishy-washy your results will reflect that. Use the SMART technique for goal setting. Your goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely. After reaching your goal, this leads us to the next point.


  1. Lack of self-discipline—win or lose

This is one of the hardest things for people to do. When you reach your goal, LEAVE. Get out of the casino, NOW!!! I wish I had a penny for every time a player was up a few hundred dollars, but they kept playing thinking this was easy; they were on a winning streak; they just ordered a drink; etc. They kept playing and not only did they lose their winnings, but they also lost their initial buy-in. If you have a modest, realistic goal and you reach it, you must have the self-discipline to walk away, regardless of how long you have been there. I love going to a casino for only 5-10 minutes, reaching my goal and getting out. I have the mindset that I am there to win money, not to play blackjack. Casinos make millions every year banking on people’s greed. Not only should you have a specific goal for winning, but you also have to have a loss limit as well. You will have days where nothing is going your way. It will happen.

When it happens, have the self-discipline to walk away. Do not chase your losses.


  1. Not having a proper bankroll

I just shake my head when a player comes to a $25 table with $50 or $100. Trust me, you are just squandering your money. Losing streaks of three or four hands in a row are inevitable. You have to have a bankroll to account for the variance. As a minimum, you should have a buy-in of 20x the minimum bet. So, at a $25 table you should be buying in for $500. A buy-in of 30x the minimum bet gives you a healthy cushion. If this is beyond what you can afford, find a lower table limit or don’t play at all.


  1. Playing scared

You cannot play this game scared. You may have been doing everything right. You may have been doubling down and splitting only to have the dealer outdraw you. Not only have you lost five double downs in a row, but you have also lost twice the minimum five times in a row. This is the same as losing 10 in a row at the table minimum. If you have done a 20x buy-in, that’s losing half your stack in just five hands. It can be easy to shrivel up and play defensively but you have to overcome this. After this scenario, if you have been presented with another double-down situation, take it. If you find that fear is preventing you from playing basic strategy, walk away. You may also find that if you are in a situation where there are multiple splits and double downs and this is making you very uncomfortable, it is time to go to a game with lower table limits. Fear can be a clear signal that you are in over your head.


  1. Sense of entitlement

Life is not fair. The world does not owe you a thing. You can play boldly in a very favorable situation. You may be dealt a 7-4 and the dealer could be showing a 6. This is a clear double down and you could be feeling very good about this, and you should. You double your bet, and the dealer gives you a 2. You have a 13 but there is still a good chance that the dealer busts. The dealer turns over a 10, showing 16. You still feel pretty good about your bet, but the dealer then turns over a 5 for a 21 and you lose twice your bet. You then lose it. You feel it was “owed” to you. This is gambling babe. The only guarantees in life are death and taxes. If you are a 70% favorite to win, you have to realize that you have a 30% chance of losing. If you can’t accept this fact, do not play. You simply do not have the mental fortitude for this game. Poker players are not the only ones that go “on tilt.” You have to be in control of your emotions, or they will be in control of you and will cloud your judgment, causing you to make mistakes going forward. If you find yourself in this situation, take a break to clear your head.

As mentioned earlier, the constraints of this space prevent me from listing all player mistakes. Therefore, I’ll be covering another set of common blunders in next month’s column. If none of these resonate with you, rest assured that some will likely be addressed in my upcoming article.


Al O’Grady has been a blackjack dealer for over seven years. He is a freelance writer with an economics degree and is currently pursuing a degree in mathematics.

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