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Best of Henry Tamburin
Crash course in blackjack, part II24 August 2013
When you ask the dealer to give you another card, it's known as hitting. Hand signals are used in casinos to signify that you want a hit. In face-up games, make a beckoning motion with your finger or tap your finger on the table to signify you want a hit. In face-down games, scratch the edge of the cards that are in your hand lightly on the felt.
When you are satisfied with the total of your hand, you should stand. You indicate that you want to stand in face-up games by waving your hand (palm down) over the cards. In face-down games, tuck the cards under the chips that you wagered on the hand.
This playing option allows you to double your bet in return for receiving one additional card. You can only double down after you receive your initial two cards (i.e., once you draw a third card, the double down option is no longer available).
To signal the dealer that you want to double down, just place your chip(s) next to the original chip(s) wagered on the hand. In face-down games, you should also toss your cards on the layout face-up and then make the double down wager.
Most casinos allow you to double for less than the original wager, although this is not a recommended play.
If you have two like cards, such as a pair of 6s, you can split the 6s and play two hands, each hand starting with a count of 6. You signify pair splitting by placing an equal amount of chips next to your original wager (just like doubling; however, you may not split for less). In face-up games, you should also toss your pair face-up on the layout. In most casinos, you are also allowed to split again (called resplitting) if the second card to one or both split hands results in another pair. Most casinos will also allow you to double down on one or both split hands if you wish to do so. Rules vary; however, you are often permitted to split to a total of four hands. If you split Aces, most casinos will only give you one card to each Ace.
Some, but not all, casinos allow this option. Surrender allows a player to forfeit his hand before playing it, with an automatic loss of half the original wager. If the dealer has an Ace upcard, you can surrender only after the dealer checks for a blackjack (if he has a blackjack, you automatically lose). Once you draw a third card, the surrender option is no longer available. In some casinos, you can verbally tell the dealer that you want to “surrender.” In others, you must use a hand signal, which is to put your finger on the layout and then move it from left to right, behind your cards.
When the dealer shows an Ace upcard, players have the option to make an insurance wager equal to one-half of the amount bet on the hand. If the dealer has a 10-value card in the hole, the insurance bet pays 2-1.
If you are dealt a blackjack and the dealer shows an Ace upcard, the dealer will ask you if you want even money. Taking even money when you have a natural is identical to taking insurance. It’s just another way of saying the same thing. If you accept even money, the dealer will immediately pay you even money on your wager before she checks her hole card to see if she has a blackjack.
Once you understand the playing rules, you need to learn how to play your hands. What follows is a Beginner’s Playing Strategy that you can master in five minutes or less, and it will make you a better player than most folks who play blackjack.
Beginner’s Playing Strategy
Hard Hands: Always stand on 17 or more, and hit 12 through 16 if the dealer shows a 7 through Ace.
Doubling Down: Double down on 10 or 11 if the dealer shows 9 or less.
Pair Splitting: Always split a pair of Aces or 8s.
Soft Hands: Hit soft 17 or less, and stand on soft 18 or more.
Never take insurance or even money.
Let’s try a few hands so you see how easy the above strategy is.
10-6 against dealer’s 7. You have a hard 16, and against the 7, you should hit.
10-7 against dealer’s 8. With hard 17, you always stand.
7-4 against dealer’s 8. You should double down.
8-2 against dealer’s 10. You should hit (you wouldn’t double because the dealer’s face card is not 9 or less).
Ace-4 against dealer’s 2. You should hit your soft 15.
Ace-4-3 against dealer’s 7. Always stand on soft 18 (or more).
I would suggest you get a pack of playing cards and deal out hands referring to the above simplified strategy (a little practice will build up your confidence). I also recommend you jot the above strategy on an index card and take it with you when you play (casinos allow players to use strategy cards).
Let’s talk a moment about the fear factor that often prevents players from playing blackjack. Most new players are afraid to make a playing mistake that will cause their fellow players to lose their hands. Worse, they are afraid that their fellow players will chastise them when they make a “wrong” play. The reality is that the vast majority of blackjack players do not go out of their way to criticize the play of their fellow players. The few who do usually don’t have a clue about how the game should be played, anyway. What I tell all beginning players is this: If another player makes a comment about your play, just ignore him and trust me, he will leave.
Another way you can build up your confidence is to take a free blackjack lesson that most casinos offer their customers. Just ask the personnel in the blackjack pit if they offer beginner classes and, if so, go ahead and attend one. These classes probably won’t go over playing strategy, but they will review the casino protocols.
There are some blackjack games that you should definitely avoid playing. Don’t play any game if a blackjack is paid at 6-5 instead of 3-2. Usually there is a sign somewhere on the table that lists the playing rules, and if the game pays 6-5 on blackjacks it will say so. If you are not sure, ask the dealer before you sit down. You also should avoid playing any modified blackjack games such as Super Fun 21 or Spanish 21. In addition, if your table happens to offer side bets (like Royal Match), don’t bet them.
As a beginner, I would suggest you stick to betting the table minimum on every hand. Don’t use any kind of betting progression because they don’t work. If you want to bet a little more, do so if you haven’t seen a lot of Aces dealt in previous rounds (if there is an abundance of Aces in the unplayed cards, your chance of getting a blackjack increases).
Once you finally get the nerve to sit down and play (and I hope you will), you’ll see how easy and how much fun blackjack really is. After you have a little playing experience, I’d suggest you learn the complete basic playing strategy, which is readily available in books, on the Internet and on strategy cards. You should also consider learning Speed Count, which is a very simple playing and betting technique that is easy to learn and will allow you to play with a slight edge over the house.
Playing blackjack for the first time is like learning how to ride a bicycle. It looks scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be off and running. I wish you good cards and much fun!
Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He hosts the smartgaming.com website and is the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter.
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