Your Place at the Blackjack Table

First of all, if you are ready to play blackjack and find yourself at the pit in a casino, don't just rush into any empty seat you find available. Be discerning and careful. Follow these rules.

A. Don't Sit at a Crowded Table

If the table has four or more players, avoid it. This means single deck as well as multiple deck games. If all the tables are filled, then don't play at the casino. Try another one. If you can't find space at any casino, then don't play that night.

The goal of playing blackjack is not to get action or pass the hours in aimless gambling. The goal is to win money. If you can't win money, don't play. Don't trust to luck. If you want pure luck, go to a roulette wheel, not the blackjack pit.

Pros in blackjack are much like pros in poker. If they can't find a good game, they don't play. Be a pro yourself and follow that simple solid rule.

B. Study the Games before Sitting Down

Suppose you are at a single-deck game in downtown Las Vegas. There are only two players at the game, but you find that the dealer will not penetrate the deck. Only two rounds and the cards are reshuffled or three rounds at the most when a lot of aces and 10s have been dealt out. That's not the table for you. You need to see more than fifteen or twenty-two cards in a game like that. You want the dealer to go beyond the halfway mark in the deck, to give you a chance at some really powerful situations.

Or you may find that the deck varies in terms of penetration. Sometimes the dealer stops after two or three rounds, sometimes the dealer goes almost to the bottom of the deck. But, as you study the cards, you note that the dealer is counting cards also. When the deck remains favorable, she reshuffles fast. When the deck is unfavorable, she'll go way down into the deck. Who needs this? Move to another table.

If the same situation seems to prevail at all the tables, get out of there. But this usually won't be the case. Dealers have other things on their minds besides counting. They have to make correct payouts, cash out players, and add up the card totals. They have their own onerous duties. Counting cards doesn't have to be part of their job.

If you find another table in the casino, where there are less than four players, sit down if it seems right to you and if the dealer goes beyond the halfway mark in deck penetration.

Best of all, find a table where you can play head-to-head with the dealer but even if such a table is available be careful if you confront a dealer robot with his or her arms crossed. Bad body language. Probably it's an empty table because everyone has already fled after being destroyed. However, this doesn't have to be the case. Many players prefer just what you want to avoid, a crowded table. Why? Well, they are in the casino to gamble, they are not skillful and they don't count cards. They don't really have a grasp of basic strategy. They make mistakes. At a crowded table in a lower limit game, such as $2 or $5, they have plenty of company. Other players make mistakes also.

That is why, when you sit down at a table that isn't crowded, you'll often find the third base seat empty. Weak players don't like to sit there. When they make a mistake, they feel they have hurt everybody at the table if the dealer makes his hand, when he should have busted. Even when they make the right play, the others at the table moan and groan and give the anchorman a dirty look.

I watched a game where the anchorman hit his hard 12 against the dealer's 2, and busted. The dealer turned over a 10, and hit his own hard 12 and got an 8, beating everyone at the table. The players all stared at the hapless anchorman, who mumbled "I'm sorry," and flushed, left the table soon after. Correct plays don't always guarantee wins but the player didn't even know he had made the correct play.

Some else took his place, a woman. A couple of hands later, she stood on an Ace-6 when the dealer held a 5. The dealer turned over a 10 for a hard 15, hit the hand and got a 4 and beat everyone, most of whom had stood with stiff totals against the dealer's 5. But no one even bawled out the anchorwoman or gave her a sidelong glance. She had made a horrible blunder, and probably caused the whole table to lose, but her fellow players probably would have done the same thing.

I was at a $25 table (where the player are generally not much better) and split 9s against a dealer's 8. The commotion that followed! The verbal moan and groans! The muttered "Geez, what's he doing?"

I got an ace on one 9 and busted the other for no gain-no loss. The dealer held an 18. At least I had a shot at two wins in this situation, rather than a push. But my fellow players didn't even split 9s against a dealer's 4 or 5. They liked the 18 total.

C. Don't Play with Bad Rules

If you sit down and find the rules are bad. Get up again and leave. There's no rule that says you must play one hand before leaving. Even after you've exchanged cash for chips, pick up the chips and go, if you find that the rules are too restrictive. I sat down at a game in a Strip casino which was single deck, whereas all the others were multiple deck, then asked about the rules, just to be on the safe side. Doubling down only on 10s and 11s. I picked up my chips and was gone, heading directly to the cashier's cage. I didn't even want to play one hand, why be stupid even for one hand?

If the whole casino has lousy rules, get out of there. I wandered into a small casino in Reno, where the rules seemed like everyplace else. But I noticed that the layout printing didn't say "Insurance Pays 2-1" a fairly standard rule in practically all American casinos.

"Don't you have insurance bet?" I asked. "No, sorry sir," the young woman replied rather pleasantly. I was up and gone, pleasantly.

D. Look for the Best Game

Even if you find a game that isn't crowded but if the only place open is in the first or second baseman's seat, look for another game. The best place for you to sit is the anchorman's or the seat directly before the anchorman's seat.

In the later seats, you get that extra piece of information, because other players have to act on their hands before you act on yours. Thus, a positive deck can quickly turn into a negative deck. With about seven or eight cards dealt before you have to act on yours, you may change your strategy. This extra knowledge has won me a lot of money, and sometimes saved me the grief of doubling down or splitting cards that were no longer profitable moves.

On the other hand, if the dealer is sloppy or uncertain, maybe the first base seat is ok because sometimes a sloppy dealer reveals his hole card when dealing. If you come across this situation, by all means sit down. But don't be obvious, and if a floorman starts watching your action, stop first basing immediately.