Blackjack Etiquette and Strategy
There's more to mastering any game than a fundamental understanding of how to play. You must also know the customs of the game and how to finnesse the rules.
When you sit down at a table, wait for the dealer to finish the hand in progress. Then you may buy chips by placing currency on the layout, pushing it toward the dealer, and saying, "Change, please."
Do not leave currency in the betting box on the table. In most newer gaming jurisdictions, casinos are not allowed to accept cash bets. However, casinos in some places allow cash bets with the call "Money plays." Don't leave the dealer wondering if that $100 bill is a request for change or a bet on the next hand.
Once you make a bet, keep your hands off the chips in the betting box until the hand is over.
If you are betting chips of different denominations, stack them with the smallest denomination on top. If you put a larger denomination on top, the dealer will rearrange them before going on with the hand. It's one way the casino guards against someone attempting to add a large-denomination chip to their bet after the outcome is known.
In multiple-deck games, give playing decisions with hand signals. In single- or double-deck games dealt facedown, pick up the cards with one hand, scratch the table with the cards for a hit, and slide the cards under your chips to stand. Turn the cards faceup if you bust or if you wish to split pairs or double down. At the conclusion of play, let the dealer turn faceup any cards under your chips.
If you are a novice, you might want to avoid the last seat at the table, the one all the way to the players' left. This is called "third base," and the player here is the last to play before the dealer. Although in the long run bad plays will help other players as much as they hurt them, in the short term other players will notice if a mistake by the third baseman costs them money. For example, the dealer shows a 6, the third baseman has 12 and hits a 10 to bust. The dealer turns up a 10 for 16, then draws a 5 for 21, beating all players at the table. The third baseman is likely to take heat from other players for taking the dealer's bust card instead of standing. If you don't want the heat, sit elsewhere.
If you wish to use the rest room and return to the same seat, you may ask the dealer to mark your place. A clear plastic disk will be placed in your betting box as a sign that the seat is occupied.
The House Edge
Because the player hands are completed first, the players have the chance to bust before the dealer plays. And the house wins whenever the player busts, regardless of how the dealer's hand winds up. That is the entire source of the casino's advantage
in blackjack. Because of this one edge, the casino will win more hands than the player, no matter how expert.
The casino gives back some of this advantage by paying 3-2 on blackjack, allowing players to see one of the dealer's cards, and by allowing the player to double down and split pairs. To take advantage of these options, the player must learn proper strategy.
Played well, blackjack becomes a game of skill in a casino full of games of chance. Studies of millions of computer-generated hands have yielded a strategy for when to hit, when to stand, when to double, when to split. This strategy can take the house edge down to about .5 percent in a six-deck game -- and lower in games with fewer decks. In a single-deck game in which the dealer stands on all 17s and the player is allowed to double down after splits, a basic strategy player can even gain an edge of .1 percent over the house. Needless to say, such single-deck games are not commonly dealt.
Compare those percentages with players who adopt a never-bust strategy, standing on all hands of 12 or more so that drawing a 10 will not cause them to lose before the dealer's hand is played, to players who use dealer's strategy, always hitting 16 or less and standing on 17 or more. These players face a house edge estimated at 5 percent -- about 10 times the edge faced by a basic strategy player.
Basic strategy takes advantage of the player's opportunity to look at one of the dealer's cards. You're not just blindly trying to come as close to 21 as possible. By showing you one card, the dealer allows you to make an educated estimate of the eventual outcome and play your cards accordingly.
One simple way to look at it is to play as if the dealer's facedown card is a 10. Since 10-value cards (10, jack, queen, king) comprise four of the 13 denominations in the deck, that is the single most likely value of any unseen card. Therefore, if you have 16 and the dealer's up-card is a 7, you are guessing that the most likely dealer total is 17. The dealer would stand on 17 to beat your 16; therefore, you must hit the 16 to have the best chance to win.
On the other hand, if you have 16 and the dealer's up-card is a 6, your assumption would be that his total is 16, making the dealer more likely than not to bust on the next card. Therefore, you stand on 16 versus 6.
That's an oversimplification, of course, but very close to the way the percentages work out when the effect of multiple-card draws are taken into account.
The most common decision a player must make is whether to hit or stand on a hard total -- a hand in which there is no ace being used as an 11. Basic strategy begins with the proper plays for each hard total faced by the player. You can refer to this simple chart: