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Top 10 common mistakes made by blackjack players

23 January 2017

Keep your cool and keep these tips in mind.

Keep your cool and keep these tips in mind. (photo by Bob Owen)

With nearly a decade of experience as a table games dealer, Alex Kim could tell stories literally for hours upon hours about the common mistakes casino gamblers commit on a regular basis.

"Yeah, I think I've pretty much seen it all," says the 30-year-old Kim, a Las Vegas native who was casino dealer at Gold Coast Hotel and Casino, Wynn Las Vegas, Encore Resort and The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas before starting and becoming director of CEG Dealer School in 2014. "You just cringe when you see some of the stuff people do at the table. It can be tough to watch."

So, with the help of Kim and Casino City Gaming Guru Henry Tamburin, author of Blackjack: Take the Money and Run, below is a list of blunders you want to avoid the next time you sit down at the blackjack table.

10. Blaming the dealer for bad cards
"We have an inside joke in the business: What's the difference between a little puppy and a blackjack player?" Kim says with a laugh. "The puppy eventually stops whining."

Here's the deal. If you aren't getting decent cards or if the dealer just snapped a five-card 21 against your two kings, it's not his or her fault. So, crying about the dealer having a vendetta against you and your tablemates isn't going to help and, quite frankly, it's a boorish habit to get into. Be careful, bad karma could cost your bankroll dearly.

9. Playing drunk
Kim points out that poker players generally keep their alcohol intake in check much more than players at table games.

"There's always more of a party atmosphere at table games, and that means the players will put back drink after drink and eventually it affects their decision-making," he says. "I've see so many people start out playing blackjack the correct way, but then after they've had too much to drink, they start hitting when they shouldn't, betting more and, more often than not, seeing their chips disappear."

8. Playing tables with continuous shuffle machines
A continuous shuffle machine, or CSM, is an automatic shuffler that makes every round of blackjack like playing from a freshly shuffled deck. And with no pause in the action, the casino can deal 20% more hands.

"This increases the player's exposure to the house edge and the average player's theoretical hourly loss will correspondingly increase," writes Tamburin. "Therefore, CSMs will put a hurt on your bankroll. Don't play on tables that have them!"

7. Not knowing when to get up and change tables
Kim is a full believer in getting up and changing tables, or simply calling it a night, if the cards turn bad on you.

"I have no scientific evidence, but to me, if you lose three to five four hands in a row, it's probably time to walk away," he explains. "I always feel like there's a small window for the player when the cards are working for you and the dealer is busting. But a lot of players just sit there at the same table in the same position and get pounded hand after hand. Sometimes you need to get up, reset and find another table before it's too late. You can't just sit there and expect things are going to get better."

6. Being greedy
Kim says that most blackjack players lack self-control. They don't know when enough is enough.

"It's hard to win, so when you do, you should try to take home some of those winnings instead of giving it all back," he says. "When I was working at Encore, I had a situation where a guy sat down with $1,000 at a $25 table, and over the course of my eight-hour shift, he rolled his bankroll up to 135 grand, and then lost it all back, plus $5,000 more. You think he wished he walked away when he was still up six figures?"

5. Playing the side bets
Royal Match. Lucky Ladies. 21+3. Match Pair.

These are the enticing "side bets" you will now see at most every blackjack table, offering players a chance to "bet a little and win a lot" in addition to their regular wager.

What do they all have in common? A high house edge.

"Sure, it only costs a buck to make one of these side bets, but those dollars you bet on every hand keep adding up," warns Tamburin. "And unless you are very lucky, at the end of the day you'll wind up a loser. Stay away from side bets!"

4. Taking even money on blackjack
You've just hit blackjack, but before you can even finish a fist pump or slap a high five with the dude next to you, the evil dealer flips over an ace and immediately inquires if you want "even money" instead of the typical blackjack odds.

"Just as insuring a 'good hand' like a 20 is a bad play, so is taking even money (on blackjack)," Tamburin writes. "In the long run, smart blackjack players will wind up with more money in their pockets when they refuse the even-money proposition compared to if they always take the 'sure' even money."

3. Not checking rules before sitting down
"Most players just plop themselves down at the first open blackjack seat that they spot," writes Tamburin. "That can be a big mistake, because not all blackjack games are created equal."

Some of the more essential questions you want to be aware before putting your money in play include, Does the dealer stand or hit on a soft 17? (A player's expectation decreases when the dealer must hit). How many decks are being used? (The fewer the better, in most cases) Can you double down after splitting a pair? (Yes, you want that option).

But the most important rule to be aware of is . . .

2. Playing a table where blackjack pays 6-to-5
Sadly, more and more casino are offering 6-to-5 odds on blackjack, rather than the traditional 3-to-2.

In simple terms, a $10 bet will pay $15 on blackjack on a 3-to-2 table, but just $12 on a 6-to-5 table. Tamburin estimates that, on average, you should get four blackjacks per hour, which means a $10 player is basically handing over $12 to the casino every hour at a 6-to-5 table.

Unfortunately, Kim says that most players are completely unaware of this costly mistake.

"The number of people who actually ask what blackjack pays before they sit down is minuscule," he says. "I swear if there was a 3-to-2 table right next to a 6-to-5 table, most players wouldn't even bother to move over and get the better odds. It's scary, but true."

Tamburin adds, "If you are unsure what a blackjack pays, before you sit down and buy in, ask the dealer. If she says 6-to-5, tell her adios."

Be sure to pay attention to the basic strategy.

Be sure to pay attention to the basic strategy. (photo by Bob Owen)

1. Not playing basic strategy
One of the main attractions of blackjack and a reason why it is so popular is because it offers one of the lowest house edge bets in a casino.

The caveat? You must be playing perfect basic strategy to take advantage. Otherwise, you might as well be playing Keno.

"Playing by hunches is the biggest mistake I see players make at blackjack," Tamburin says. "You'll face a 1% or higher house edge if you play by hunches, and only a half a percent house edge if you play by the basic strategy. Enough said."

Kim explains that when a dealer sees a player doing things out of the ordinary, like doubling down on a hard 12 when the dealer is showing a six, they can make suggestions in order to point out what basic strategy says, but they won't go overboard.

"It's OK to guide the player, but you have to be careful because that can backfire on the dealer," he says. "If you're playing blackjack and you're in a situation where you're not sure what you should do, my recommendation is to ask the dealer. In most instances, he will tell you what basic strategy calls for, but he should never say, 'I would do this . . .' That could get them in trouble if the cards don't fall right."
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Best of Gary Trask
Gary Trask

Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT