No matter where in the world you’re playing, you’ll find blackjack as one of the most popular games on the casino floor.
We’ve got Hollywood movies to thank for part of the popularity of the game with blockbuster movies including ‘21’,
‘The Hangover’ and ‘Rain Man’ all highlighting the big money you can win at the table of your choice. Granted, counting cards isn’t the best thing to be caught doing – but if you can be sly about it – power to you!
But high-earning film stars aren’t the only reason we love the game and thanks to its easy-to-pick-up rules, exciting atmosphere and stature in popular-culture, you’ll find plenty of players at the blackjack table.
It may be one of the most popular games, but you’ll be forgiven for failing to rank as an expert of the game – after all – not all of us have had the opportunity to visit Vegas and try out our luck against the house.
We may have played online or dabbled in the odd strategy video – but there’s more to the game than the numbers…
So, how exactly do we play and what blackjack etiquette do we need to take with us on our journey through the gaming room doors?
How to play blackjack
First thing’s first, if you’re not clued up on how to play blackjack, you’re not going to be doing all that much in terms of etiquette, so it’s important to get to grips with the game early on.
Blackjack starts with players around the table making bets before any of the other action gets going. The dealer then deals 2 cards to the players and 2 to himself, one face-up and a second face-down.
Players must then decide and inform the dealer whether to stand, hit, surrender, double down or split in an effort to make the total, but not exceed the value of 21.
Players will win their hand when their cards total higher than the dealers or lower than a total of 21 if the dealer busts (exceeds the magic 21 value).
This is done by totaling the face value of all cards with the ace counting as either a 1 or 11, depending on the casino.
What are your options when playing blackjack?
You’ve got the basics down, you need to make 21, you can’t go over and you’re playing against the dealer. If they go bust, you win if you’re under 21. If they’re closer to 21 after you’ve stopped adding cards, you lose – simple right?
That’s all well and good, but what are your options when playing blackjack? So how exactly do we define the stand, hit, surrender, double down and split?
If you’re going to stand on your turn, it signals that you’re satisfied with your current hand and want to ‘stand’ with the cards you’re currently holding.
If you’re playing in a shoe-dealt game, simply wave your hand over the cards with your palm facing down to convey the message to the dealer.
In a hand-held game, simply tuck your cards beneath your chips present in the bet.
If you’re wanting another card to add to your hand, you’re going to want to hit.
There’s no violence involved, but simply making a beckoning motion with your finger or tapping the table in front of you will signal to the dealer in shoe-dealt games.
If you’re playing a hand-held game, scratch the edge of the cards lightly on the felt.
If you’re going to surrender your hand, permitting it’s allowed in the game you’re playing, it’s exactly what it says on the tin – you’ll be forfeiting the hand immediately.
For your early opt-out, you’ll receive half of your bet back and in most venues, players can surrender their initial two-card hand after and only after the dealer checks their cards and ascertained that they don’t have blackjack.
Once a player draws a card, surrendering is no longer an option. If the dealer has blackjack, the same stands, surrendering is no longer an option.
To signal, simply announce to the dealer ‘surrender’, or use the hand signal drawing from left to right on the table with your finger.
This playing option allows you, the player, to double your original bet in return for receiving a single drawcard.
In the majority of casinos, you’ll only be able to double down once receiving your first two cards and before drawing another card.
To signal that you’re wanting to double down (in a shoe-dealt game), it’s common practice to place your chip(s) next to the original chip(s) bet on a hand.
If you’re playing in a hand-held game, simply throw your cards face-up on the table and make the secondary bet.
If you’ve got two equally ranked cards in your hand e.g. a pair of 4’s, you have the option to split them.
When splitting, you must make another equal wager to the original for the round by placing your chip(s) next to the original on the hand.
When splitting, you’re able to play each card as a separate hand, essentially playing two rounds in one.
Most casinos will allow you to split any pair, including aces, but the latter will only be permitted to have a single card drawn after. You’ll be free to split any other hand, although it’s not often recommended in terms of a playing strategy.
So we’ve covered the rules and we know exactly what we’re trying to achieve and the ways and means of getting there – you’re good to go, right?
Well, not exactly. The most confusing part of blackjack isn’t the rules, but rather the etiquette that goes with the game that put many off.
It may seem a little over the top, but with so many players out to dupe the casino, it’s essential to ensure the security and integrity of the game.
So what should you and what shouldn’t you do when playing blackjack?
Never hand money to the dealer
Every casino relies on their eye in the sky for security so it’s imperative that they can see all the cash transactions throughout the day.
It’s this reason that you’re required to slide those chips over, not hand them. If you’re handing over money, lay it on the surface of the table so the casino can see. The dealer will spread the notes and slide you your chips.
Only hold your cards with one hand
When playing blackjack, it’s important to keep your cards in one hand in games that are dealt face-down. It’s a simple rule, but it’s in place to prevent players from tampering with or switching up their cards with any tricks that may be up their sleeves.
Never take your cards away from the table
It goes without saying that if you’re taking your cards away from the table, you’re going to become an instant target for casino security.
They have the rules for a reason and if you’re wandering around the immediate area with the cards in your hand, don’t expect to be playing much longer.
Never touch your chips once the hand’s underway
Once the hand is underway, that’s it, you’ve lost your chance to touch the chips until the hand plays out.
Of course, if you’re looking to double down or split, you’re able to add extra chips next to those already wagered, but start playing with those already in the betting square and you’ll raise some eyebrows.
Remember, casinos are all about signaling exactly what you’re doing clearly so that your dealer and the casino’s eye in the sky can see clearly.
Never touch the cards when they’re face-up
If you can see your cards clearly, there’s no real reason to pick them up, right?
If there’s a chance you could tamper with the cards, the casino’s aren’t going to like it.
Never place objects on the table
This isn’t the coffee table at your parent’s house, that means purses, wallets, bags and whatever else you’ve got on your person should stay off it,
It’s okay to have a drink at the table, but it’s important to use the holders provided, otherwise, it should remain off the felt.
Don’t speak, just signal
It all boils down to the security of the casino once again, it’s important to signal, not speak.
Loudly exclaiming ‘hit me’ in a game with your friends might not be out of the ordinary, but as soon as you’re on the gaming floor, it’s no longer the best idea.
If you’re new to the game or are struggling to remember the signals, it’s okay to ask.
It’s pretty simple to pick up with only 5 major motions to master (see above) but if you’re watching a hand or two play out you’ll be able to pick it up quick.
Stack your chips correctly
If there’s one thing that drives dealers and players alike crazy when playing the game, it’s those of us that fail to stack our chips correctly on a regular basis.
It might be okay to slip it up once or twice, but if you’re frequently throwing bets down with no stacking order the dealers going get frustrated with having to rearrange your bets each time.
To avoid, make sure that you’re putting the largest denominator chips on the bottom and the lowest on the top.
Cut the deck correctly if asked
When you’re playing six-deck games, once the dealer has finished shuffling the cards they’ll ask for one of the players to ‘cut’ the deck.
If you’re selected, make sure that you’re cutting correctly by inserting the ‘cut card’ at least a half-deck from either end of the stack. If you’re not aiming for the middle of the deck, you’ll likely be asked to cut again, holding the game up.
Check before betting mid-shoe
Depending on the casino that you’re playing at, it’s often bad practice to try and bet in the middle of a shoe.
It’s important to check whether or not the casino will forbid the placement of a wager while midway through a shoe before joining in at the table.
If there’s a sign nearby stating ‘no mid-shoe entry’ you’ll know to wait it out before joining in.
You’re free to sit and watch, but don’t try and wager until you’re dealer starts reshuffling.
Don’t tell others how to play
There is absolutely nothing worse than a backseat gambler and when it comes to blackjack, it’s best practice to keep yourself to yourself.
If the guy next to you asks your opinion, you’re more than welcome to give them it. You’re allowed to chat and talk about the weather, your family and your home life, but don’t go starting criticizing and advising those around you.
Instead of complaining while watching others butcher good hands, frequently bust or only search for the perfect blackjack – it’s important to let them do their thing and you do yours.
After all, their bad play might end up helping you in the long run, even if you did want that card.
You’re allowed to ask the dealers advice
It might surprise you in a game where you’re technically pitched against each other, but asking for the dealer’s advice when you’re stuck can be some of the best plays you can make.
Most dealers, providing that you’re being a polite guest, will happily inform you of the mathematically correct way to play the game if you’re struggling for hands and most want to give you the best chance of winning.
Be friendly to your dealers, strike up a conversation and don’t be afraid to ask their opinion. Good dealers will be rooting for you to win, so if you’re finding yourself enjoying yourself and their company, don’t forget to tip.
Most dealers will be working on minimum wage and living off of the tips – it doesn’t have to be much – you just have to show your appreciation.