Table Manners for Blackjack: Cards and Touching

Yes, blackjack has table manners. It is played at a table after all. Actually that is a more relaxed term for blackjack etiquette, and the things that make up blackjack etiquette are kind of like the unwritten rules for blackjack.

Fist off we are going to talk about the cards and touching.

In a face up game the cards are obviously dealt face up on the table by the dealer. He will then quickly calculate the totals. Player then make hand signals to show what play they would like to make: a two finger scratch on the felt for a hit; a palm-down wave over the cards to stand; doubling your amount of chips to signal a double down or a split depending on what cards you have. Hand signals are a part of blackjack etiquette and a tradition of the game. Oh, and they also can back you up if there is some discrepancy on what play you wanted to make since there is a camera above the table.

But above all in a face up blackjack game do NOT touch the cards.

Not touching cards in a face up game prevents players from cheating or marking the cards.

The only type of blackjack game in which you can touch the cards is a face down game. The dealer deals the cards face down and the player picks them up with one hand. Signals in a face down game are a bit different: to hit scrap the cards towards you on the felt to hit; to stand scoot your cards under your wagered chips; to double down or split, turn the cards face up and add the appropriate amount of chips to your wager.

Do NOT use more than one hand to handle your cards.

Handling the cards with one hand helps to cut down on switching or adding cards or marking them for cheating purposes.

You have the etiquette for how to handle your cards down now, and are all set to grab your clip-on tie and head to your favorite casino.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Card counting is one of the many skills that blackjack players want. Whether because they saw it in a movie and thought it looked cool is beside the point. Card counting is one of the pieces of blackjack strategy that can increase players’ blackjack odds.

Players who are determined to beat the house are the ones who turn to card counting and who take the time to learn it and practice it so that they can take full advantage of it.

It also pays to practice your card counting skills as you also to not want the casino staff to throw you out of the casino.

Card counting is actually pretty easy to learn. The problem many aspiring counters have is that they actually have to practice this skill and keep practicing it. Those who take the time to learn and practice card counting can get the edge on the house by 0.5% up to 1.5% for those who are truly skilled.

One of the easiest counting systems to start with is the Hi-Lo system. In this system the cards are assigned the following counting values:

+1 = 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
0 = 7, 8 and 9
-1 = 10, Jack, Queen, King and Aces

Starting at 0, players then add the positive or negative values of the cards that are played. When the count has a high positive number it means that a good number of low cards have been played and that the remaining deck is rich in high cards that favor the player. This is when card counting blackjack players begin to raise their wager.

But when the count turns strongly negative it means that a number of high cards have been played and that the remaining cards in the deck are low, which favor the dealer. As I am sure you can figure, this is when player begin lowering their wagers.

To practice card counting, sit down with a deck of cards and silently add the positive and negative values, starting from 0, as you look through the deck. You have to keep practicing this until it becomes easy and you hardly have to think about the math—so that you are at ease with counting silently in your head without any outward appearances that you are counting.

Once you are comfortable with that, turn some music and the TV on to provide some distractions like you would find in a casino. Now keep practicing until you can count through the deck with ease with the distractions around you.

Sure card counting can have a good impact on your blackjack odds when playing in a casino, but those odds are not achievable if you are unwilling to take the time to practice. So take the time, practice and then go try your hand at card counting at a blackjack table in a casino.

Dealer Hitting Soft 17 is Not Good

Some players think that working in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 is good for their blackjack strategy.

They would be mistaken.

Sure, on the surface a dealer hitting a soft 17 sounds like a good thing. Players might think that the dealer has a better shot of busting because he is so close to 21. But what these players are forgetting is that Ace. The Ace that makes that soft 17 soft can be reduced to a 1 if the dealer hits and receives a card that would cause him to bust.

Because of that Ace, dealers can actually reduce that 17 to an 8 and hit to rebuild a stronger hand. He might then wind up with a hard 17 or higher that stands a shot of beating the player. Just like how an Ace can benefit a player, so too can it benefit the dealer. A soft 17 can be rebuilt whereas a hard 17 has a better shot of being beat by the player.

With that ability to rebuild his soft 17, the house’s edge goes up by 0.2%.

That is quite an increase. Think about it. Basic strategy can lower the house edge to around 0.5%. But if one of the house rules allows the dealer to hit a soft 17 and the house gains 0.2% on their edge, that puts the house’s edge at 0.7%.

In short, playing in a game of blackjack that allows a dealer to hit a soft 17 undoes just under half of what basic strategy works to accomplish. That is a big impact to a player’s blackjack odds and to a player’s opportunities to make a profit from blackjack.

Hence trying to play in games that allow the dealer to hit a soft 17 are not just bad for blackjack strategy—they are very bad and should be avoided.

Blackjack Strategy for Hard 12 vs. a 2

Sure a 2 does not seem like that big of a threat. It is a tiny card, the tiniest card in a game of blackjack. But when facing down a dealer’s 2 with a hard 12 that little tiny 2 suddenly seems like a much bigger problem than its value begets.

When a player finds himself in such a situation he is, according to basic strategy, supposed to hit his 12 against the dealer’s 2. But many players do not do this out of fear that they will be dealt a 10 or a face card and bust.

But here is the truth—those four cards are the only four cards that can bust a hard 12. Otherwise, the other nine cards will not bust a hard 12, not even an Ace since it would be reduced immediately to a 1.

It comes down to the fact that there are only two choices for a player here: stand or hit

Of the two standing is the worst choice to make in terms of blackjack odds. I know that players’ inclinations in when holding a 12 and faced with a 2 is to play it safe and stand. But standing only gives you a 35% chance of winning and a 65% chance of losing.

On the other hand a player can—and should—hit. Hitting, while going against a player’s instincts to preserve their wager and hand, offers better odds: 37% odds of winning and 63% odds of losing.

Okay, I know, that is only a 2% decrease in the odds of losing, but lowering the losing odds does increase the winning odds. And while it may not be a huge difference it still is a difference.

In terms of money, which is perhaps more easily understood, standing will on average cause a player to lose $30 in an hour when making $1 wager; but hitting reduces that loss to $26 per hour. Me? I would rather have odds of losing $26 per hour than $30. That is how to preserve your bankroll.

Now it is true that with a two showing the dealer only has a 35% chance of busting. Sad to say it, but this is an underdog hand. The best that a player can do is make the best possible—also known as the most advantageous play—possible.

Single Deck Blackjack Games

Would you believe that there are still single deck blackjack games out there?

I am not talking about blackjack variations that use a single deck or about single deck games that offer a 6-5 payout. I am talking about good old fashioned single deck blackjack.

It is true, such games are not easy to find since they are not a common occurrence. But they are out there.

Casinos will use classic single deck blackjack games as a way to compete with their neighbors to try to steal blackjack players from a competitor and bring them into their casino. Sometimes they will offer single deck games as part of a special promotion.

It is a rule of thumb that the fewer decks being used in a game of blackjack that better the player’s odds are. So obviously a blackjack game that uses the maximum of eight decks offers no benefit for players. This is probably why eight decks are commonly used.

Next up are six deck games. They increase a player’s blackjack odds by only 0.02%. And five decks only increase blackjack odds by 0.03%. And four decks? The odds increase is only 0.06%.

It is not until we get down to two decks that there is a decent increase to a player’s blackjack odds as a result of the number decks. A two deck game will give player’s odds an increase of 0.19%.

But we are concerned with the single deck classic blackjack game. If you can find a single deck game of blackjack that offers standard house rules and a payout of 3-2 (no 6-5 payouts now) you had better sit down and play because the player’s blackjack odds increase by 0.48%.

So with that nice 0.48% boost to your blackjack odds, you can see how single deck classic blackjack games are worth playing in.

Online Blackjack Variation to Avoid: 5 Diamond Blackjack

Recently I came across an online blackjack variation that I had not looked into before. I wish I had so that I could have passed onto players that this is not a good blackjack variation to play. But really there is no variation of online blackjack that is good to play.

The variation I found is called 5 Diamond Blackjack.

A round begins with the player placing a wager of $1, $2, $5 or $10. It is always in increments like that or similar to that since this is an online game. The player then clicks Play. Five two card hands and one dealer hand appear on the screen. The player can then click on a hand one at a time or click Scratch All to reveal the total of each hand.

The objective of this game is to beat the dealer with one of those five hands without going over 21. Without doing anything more than ‘scratching’ each hand to reveal its total.

That is it. There is no hitting or standing or any other play for that matter.

Players will win if one hand beats the dealer’s total. Revealing a blackjack causes the prize to be doubled.

This is not a true blackjack game. This is actually a scratch card online game and is a game of chance since the player has no control over the outcome of the game.

A true game of blackjack or online blackjack allows a player to hit, stand or make other plays. It allows the player to have some degree of control over the outcome of the round.

But this scratch card game masquerading as an online blackjack variation does not allow players to make any playing decisions. Because of that fact this is one so-called online blackjack variation that should be avoided.

While I do not recommend any variations with side bets or the like, at least those other variations allow players to choose how to play out their hands.

Blackjack Worth it in Pennsylvania

Build it and they will come. Or rather, add them and they will come.

There were many people in Pennsylvania that were either skeptical or downright opposed adding blackjack tables to the casinos found in their state. The objections and disbelief ranged from ‘Could that really give the state revenue?’ to ‘Gambling will corrupt our society and communities.’

But the table games were approved this past spring and were installed in nine brick and mortar casinos around Pennsylvania:

Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack, Hollywood Casino Penn National, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Mount Airy Casino Resort, Parx Casino, Presque Isle Downs, Rivers Casino and Sands Casino Resort.

August was the first whole month in which all nine brick and mortar casinos had their blackjack and other table games open for business. While the table games were all installed in July, they were not all installed at the same time. So August is the first month in which revenue could be compared.

For the month of August those nine casinos brought in from the table games alone $34.6 million. Of that $34.6 million, $4.8 million will go to the state of Pennsylvania in taxes, while another $691,000 will to municipalities.

So that is $4.8 million that did not have to come out of citizens’ pockets in the form of raised taxes, so I would call the installation of blackjack, poker, roulette and craps tables a success.

Shawn McCloud, an analyst for Spectrum Gaming Group, agreed:

“It is an impressive start for Pennsylvania…Obviously, Pennsylvania is going to be a formidable competitor in the table games market.”

Here is the breakdown in revenue generated by the new blackjack and other table games:

Parx Casino: $6,338,617
Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack: $5,918,137
Sands Casino Resort: $4,297,070
Rivers Casino: $4,162,280
Mohegan Sun: $3,533,765
Mount Airy Casino Resort: $3,360,361
Hollywood Casino Penn National: $2,658,762
The Meadows Racetrack and Casino: $2,395,124
Presque Isle Downs: $1,891,056

Double Down and Pair Splitting All in One

This morning I talked about a house rule to work into your blackjack strategy in which the house rule actually favors the player. Well, there is another one. This particular house rules allows players to double down after they have they have split a pair.

The step by step breakdown of how this house rule works goes like this:

First you have to be dealt a pair. You then choose to split that pair and up your wager accordingly. Let’s say that you split a pair of 8s—which you are supposed to be splitting no matter what. Once those two 8s have been broken into new hands they then receive new second cards. We are going to say that one of those 8s receives a 2, making it a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6.

According to basic strategy you would double down on a hard 10 against a dealer’s 6. Normally you would not be allowed to double down after splitting a pair. But if you are playing in a blackjack game that does allow for doubling after splitting this would be the time to do so.

Doubling after splitting at advantageous times can lower the house edge by 0.14%, which is a nice hit to their edge. This is because doubling after splitting allows you to win more money from the house than you would if you were not allowed to double after splitting. But you have to do so only when it is advantageous.

How do you know if it is advantageous to double after splitting?

It is surprisingly easy. After splitting and receiving your new second cards for each of your new hands, check those new hands against a basic strategy chart as if each hand were the first two cards you had been dealt at the beginning of the round.

Using the above example, when I wound up with a hard 10 after splitting, I would check how to play a hard 10 against a dealer’s up card of 6 just as if I had been dealt that hard 10 from the beginning of the round.

Because of the 0.14% hit to the house’s edge, doubling after splitting is a good play to add to your blackjack strategy.

Blackjack Strategy for Aces

Aces are the strongest cards in the game of blackjack. This is because of their ability to be counted as an 11 or a 1. That flexibility is what makes them the strongest card.

Not to mention the fact that they are essential to having a natural blackjack.

But Aces are also strong because of how they work with pairs.

I have discussed how, when dealt a pair of Aces, you need to split them. This is because it increases your blackjack odds because it increases your chances of making money.

But there is another house rule that further increases the flexibility of Aces. And in increase in flexibility further increases your blackjack odds.

Sometimes casinos will allow for players to resplit Aces. This means that you are dealt a pair of Aces in your first two cards, you split them, then at least one of those new hands receives another Ace forming a second pair of Aces.

A fair number of casinos will not allow players to resplit such a second hand, and you would be stuck with a soft 12.

However there are times when the house rules are changed a bit, and players are allowed to resplit Aces. This house rule takes 0.06% away from the house’s edge because it increases your chances of winning and decreases their chances of taking your money.

While 0.06% is not a huge hit to the house’s edge, some is better than none. Blackjack strategy is about increasing your chances of winning which increases your blackjack odds. So even though resplitting Aces is not a huge decrease it is still a decrease. On top of that a second pair of Aces is not a common happening which is another reason for the low hit to the house’s edge.

But it should still be worked into your blackjack strategy for the hit it does to the house’s edge.

Blackjack Payouts and Blackjack Odds

Have you ever thought about the payouts you receive in a game of blackjack?

Oh I am sure you have thought about it in terms of money. You know not to play in a game of blackjack if the payout for a natural is 6-5 because it means you will receive less money.

But have you thought about blackjack payouts in terms?

Probably not.

Another reason not to play in a 6-5 payout blackjack game is what that payout does to your blackjack odds. That so-called payout takes 1.39% off of your blackjack odds. In fact, the only payout worse than a 6-5 is an even money—that knocks 2.27% off.

The reason for the hit to the odds is because a smaller payout is an opportunity to make less when winning. Blackjack odds are based on opportunities for the player to make money. If a house rule or payout provides the player with an opportunity to make more than the standard amount given simply for beating the dealer, then that house rule or payout increases the player’s odd.

On the other hand if the house rule or payout takes away from the opportunity to make money, that house rule or payout decrease the player’s chances.

So is there are a few payouts that decrease a player’s blackjack odds—not to mention money. Are they are payouts that increase the player’s odds?

There is. A 2-1 payout for a natural blackjack increases a player’s blackjack odds and money.

For a 3-2 payout a player receives $1.50 for every dollar that they wager. For a 2-1 payout a player receives $2 for every dollar wagered. It does not sound like much but in terms of a standard $10 wager, you would receive $20 instead of $15.

As for odds, a 2-1 payout increases a player’s blackjack odds by 2.27%, which is quite a nice increase.

So if you can find a game with a 2-1 payout play in that game since that blackjack payout will increase your blackjack odds.