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21 Things You Should Never Say or Do When You Play Blackjack

1 May 2009

By Henry Tamburin

The casino game of blackjack has its procedures, codes of conduct, and playing strategies. The procedures are essential to ensure the security and integrity of the game. The codes of conduct encompass the playing etiquette so you don't attract the ire of your fellow players, or the dealer. The playing strategies help you win. When you don't follow any of the above, you are not going to play your best game. So avoid making these 21 faux pas.

  1. Handing money directly to the dealer. All cash transactions must be visible to the security cameras, so always place your cash on the layout outside of your betting spot, and then tell the dealer what denomination chips you want.
  2. Touching the cards when they are dealt face up. When four or more decks of cards are used, they are dealt face up to each player from a dealing shoe. The reason the cards are dealt face up is two-fold. First, it eliminates the potential for player cheating (by either marking or switching the cards), and secondly, it speeds up the game, because the dealer can quickly announce the total of each player's hand. There is no reason to touch the cards, so don't do it.
  3. Holding the cards with two hands. In games where the cards are dealt face down (usually single- and two-deck games), pick the cards up with one hand please, not two.
  4. Removing the cards from the table. Your cards must always be in full view of the dealer and the security cameras. Therefore, you should never, for example, hold them in your lap.
  5. Placing objects on the table. Purses, wallets, bags, and other items should be placed on your person or next to you (except ladies' purses, which should be held in the lap). It's OK to have a drink on the table, but use the drink holders provided by the casino to avoid spilling anything on the layout.
  6. Telling the dealer that you want a "hit." Saying, "Hit me" might be OK when you play blackjack with friends back home, but in the casinos, it won't fly. For security reasons, you must always use hand signals to signify whether you want to hit or stand.
  7. Touching your chips after you've made your bet and the cards are dealt. Your original bet must stay on the layout untouched until it either wins, loses, or ties. Once the dealer starts dealing the cards, that's your cue to not touch your wager.
  8. Placing a higher denomination chip on top of a lower denomination chip in your betting spot. If you are wagering two or more different denomination chips, always place the higher denomination chip on the bottom of the stack.
  9. Not betting double the table minimum if you decide to play two (or more) spots. If it's a $5 minimum table and you decide to spread to two hands, most casinos require that you wager $10 on each spot. If you are not sure, ask the dealer. Also, if the cards are dealt face-down, do not look at the second hand until after you have completed playing your first hand.
  10. Taking your bad luck out on the dealer or fellow players. They are not the reason why you are losing; most likely it's just a bad run of cards, which happens to all blackjack players.
  11. Telling your fellow players how to play their hands. It's their money and they have the right to play their hand any way they want to. However, if a fellow player asks you for advice, then it's OK to offer it.
  12. Inserting the cut card a few cards from either end of the shuffled deck(s) of cards. On six-deck games, most casinos require that players place the cut card at least a half-deck from either end of the stack (some require a full-deck). If you place it less than that, you'll get a rebuke from the dealer and a request to cut again.
  13. Sitting down and making a bet in the middle of a shoe. In some casinos, this is forbidden and there will be a "No Mid-Shoe Entry" sign posted on the table. If you are not sure, ask the dealer.
  14. Not using the basic playing strategy. The basic playing strategy is the mathematically correct way to play every hand dealt to you. 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). Even if you are a regular player, there really is no reason to guess how to play a hand when you can have the answers at your fingertips by using a strategy card.
  15. Playing a 6 to 5 game. Some blackjack tables will pay only 6 to 5 when you get an untied blackjack, rather than the traditional 3 to 2 payoff. Getting paid 6 to 5 is bad. How bad? The house edge in a single-deck, 6 to 5 game is increased as much as seven-fold! Usually there will be a sign on the table stating that blackjacks pay 6 to 5. Some casinos have it imprinted on the layout. If you are not sure, ask the dealer. By avoiding these awful 6 to 5 games, you'll take a big step to improving your bottom line.
  16. Playing on a table that uses a Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM). Don't confuse a CSM with a traditional automatic shuffling machine. A CSM is a device that randomly shuffles the discards after every round has been played. The net result is the game plays faster (no downtime for reshuffling) and you will play about 20% more hands per hour. Since the house has the edge on every hand, playing more hands dealt per hour will increase your theoretical loss by 20%. For average players, playing on a table that uses a CSM is bad news and should be avoided.
  17. Never getting rated when you play. The casinos give away a lot of comps to players in the hopes that they become loyal players. You won't get your fair share of these comps unless you ask to be rated when you play blackjack. If you don't know how to go about this, get the details at the Player's Club or ask a casino host (VIP or Marketing Department).
  18. Asking arrogantly for a comp. While playing recently, I overheard a fellow player, after less than 30 minutes of play, say to the floor supervisor, "Can you gimme a comp for four to the buffet." This isn't the way to ask for a comp. First off, comps are not a God-given right to players. You must earn a comp by meeting a casino's play requirements (average bet and time of play). Check with a casino host or the Marketing Department to obtain this information, and then only after you've met their play requirements, ask the floor supervisor, "Have I played enough for a dinner comp?" You'll be surprised how often you'll receive a no-hassle comp when you politely ask for one.
  19. Using a progressive betting system. I know, I know, many players use them and swear they work. But trust me, they don't. Never have, and never will, because your chance of winning the next hand is completely independent of whether or not you won (or lost) the previous hand. The secret to winning at blackjack (actually the secret has been known for 45 or so years) is to bet more money only when the unplayed cards are rich in tens and aces. So if you want to increase your bet, you'd be wise to watch the cards as they are played and bet more only after you've seen a fair number of small vs. high cards played in previous rounds. Better yet, learn a simple card counting system, like Speed Count, which will tell you when it's the right time to increase your bet.
  20. Never using a casino host. This is a big mistake if you are a regular player. Casino hosts can do a lot for you and you don't necessarily have to be a high roller to use one. Read Jean Scott's book, More Frugal Gambling, for the low-down.
  21. Never tipping the dealer. You tip a waiter or waitress for good service, don't you? You should consider doing the same for a blackjack dealer. It's not mandatory to tip a dealer; however, if the dealer has been pleasant and helpful, it's customary to tip to show your appreciation for a job well done. Of course, tipping won't miraculously change the cards in your favor, but think of this - it might put you in a favorable light with the floor supervisor, who is the person that has some leeway in approving your comp and the amount (get the picture?).

If you avoid making these 21 mistakes, you'll find that you will enjoy the game better, play better, get more comps, and wind up with fewer losses and more wins. Now, aren't those the reasons that you play blackjack?

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

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