11 Don’ts of Playing Blackjack in Vegas
Leah Walker October 23, 2011

Thirty-seven million people visited Las Vegas in 2010, and I just have to wonder if they counted me four times. That’s right. I went to Vegas four times in 2010 and three times in 2011. Sadly, in 2012 I didn’t step foot in Clark County once. I’m a Vegas junkie; I was hooked after my first trip in 1998. I have a bucket list a mile long, but always seem to find myself in McCarron Airport far too often than I should.

04.24 Las Vegas Day 4 (66)nevbrown via Flickr

The Vegas experience is as diverse as the people who visit. I am a gambler, specifically a blackjack player. I don’t care a thing about the night clubs, lounges, shopping, or restaurants. I just want to play blackjack, and I do. For hours. Lots of them. I jokingly say that if I had a catheter and was allowed to eat at the table, I would never get up.

I’m a good blackjack player, if there’s such a thing. I know the odds and follow the rules. I am disciplined, which allows me to be able to sit at a table for as long as I do. I’m not saying that I win all the time. I don’t. The cards just don’t always fall in my favor. But I love the game, and that’s why I play. What I don’t love about gambling are some of the people who sit down at my table. Don’t want to clear a table faster than a green 00 on a roulette wheel? Then pay attention to these 11 don’ts for the blackjack table:

A blackjack hand at the casinoImages_of_Money via Flickr

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you are new (or not) to the game, please ask the dealer for advice. They want you to win! The more you win, the more likely you are to tip (More on that later). They’ll tell you what “the book” says to do. Some friendlier dealers will actually explain the book’s strategy, which is based on math and probability. If you don’t want to ask every time, pick up a credit card-sized cheat sheet. Its graph style is easy to understand. Don’t worry about taking a little longer. Everyone starts as a beginner, and most will appreciate your attempt to make the correct play.

Gilmore Henne 2011 Rally for RecreationComedy Showcase and Benefitspaceyjessie via Flickr

• Don’t sit at a table with auto shuffle or a shoe with more than two decks. These will take a bit longer to hunt down, especially on the Strip in larger casinos. Auto shuffle is a machine that continuously shuffles the cards, which takes away much of the players’ advantage. A shoe is the rectangular thing that the dealer pulls the cards out of to deal. They usually hold anywhere from six to eight decks. This makes it really difficult to calculate odds. It’s no coincidence that there are very few single and double deck tables. Those are easier for a player to determine which cards are still in the deck. For instance, you need an ace, but you’ve already seen four come out. If you’re playing single deck, you know that you’re not getting an ace. The time you are able to spend at single and double deck tables is more. Depending on the fullness of the table, the dealer will only get one or two hands before he is forced to shuffle, as opposed to the larger-deck games that rarely, if ever, have to stop and shuffle.

Black Jackdave_stone via Flickr

• Don’t mishandle your cards or chips. Nothing will get you reprimanded faster than messing with your cards or chips when you shouldn’t. Most blackjack games won’t allow you to touch the cards at all. They are dealt face up, and if you want to split your hand, the dealer will take care of it. At those tables that do let you hold the cards, only do so one hand at a time. And for the love of gamblers everywhere, don’t bend the cards! That calls for a new deck, counting and shuffling included. Once you’ve laid down your bet, you can’t add or take away from it after the cards are being dealt. If you want to split or double down your hand, put the chips beside your original bet not on top.

• Don’t hand the dealer chips or money. Put the chips or cash on the table. They will not accept it any other way.

• Don’t take a handful of chips away from the table. Let the dealer cash you out. Say you have ten $10 chips, the dealer will give you one $100 chip.

playing blackjack the queen of subtle via Flickr

• Don’t be rude with your cigarette smoke. I think people who don’t even smoke come to Vegas and decide to smoke. Whatever. If you’re going to do it, be aware of the smoke and the people around you.

• Don’t EVER split tens. I don’t care if the dealer has a six showing. DO NOT SPLIT A WINNING HAND. There is only one hand better. Just don’t do it. EVER.

• Don’t forget to tip. Yes, the drinks are free, but that doesn’t mean you don’t tip the waitress bringing them to you. A dollar or two per drink is the minimum you should tip per drink. Don’t have cash? They’ll gladly take chips. The same goes for the dealer. TIP THEM! Most casinos pool the tips from all the tables each day and divide it by the total number of dealers. This way the dealers working the 8 am shift don’t get less than those who work the 8 pm shift. Want a chance to double their tip? Place a chip on the upper left side of your bet outside of the circle. If you win, they win. Bingo, your $5 tip is now $10.

Start of a long night versello via Flickr

• Don’t sit at third base if you don’t know what you’re doing. Nothing will make me want to come across the table and slap a person more than the third baseman making stupid plays. Third base is the chair directly to the dealer’s right. This person gets the last card before the dealer makes his hand. If you have a 14 against the dealer’s assumed 16 and you take a hit, there’s likely to be a lynch mob after you (see don’t #1). Other people at the table may have made stupid plays, but yours is the one everyone will remember.

dealer must hit soft 17scpgt via Flickr

• Don’t forget to be sociable and have fun. You’re on vacation and so is most everyone else around you. Blackjack (and craps) is a sociable game; talk to people if it’s in your nature. You never know who you’ll meet or what you might have in common. I always seem to find at least one person who knows someone I do. Not much of a talker? That’s ok too. Just be congenial and smile occasionally. I promise it will make your over-all experience more enjoyable.

There’s a lot more to the blackjack table than just the game. Watch. Learn. Everyone starts as a beginner, and that’s ok. It’s just like anything else, the more you practice the more comfortable and better you’ll get. I’m terrible at math, but something about the green felt turns me into John Nash from A Beautiful Mind. See you in Vegas. I’ll be the one at third base with a catheter taped to my leg.

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Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.


  1. Ahh, what’s that movie I’m thinking of where that dude doesn’t know how to play Black Jack…Oh, Swingers with Vince Vaughn.

    So funny.

    I used to play Black Jack all the time and did quite well for awhile. That all changed though when I learned how to play No Limit Hold ’em.

    Which I love.

    I do miss the social aspect of Black Jack though. Lots of fun!

    Did you take those photos? I always get screamed at when I take photos in the Casinos.

    Great post!

  2. Funny, I go to Vegas for the total opposite reasons you do. I hate gambling (I’ll throw some money into the penny slots here and there…) but I LOVE the restaurants, clubs, and shopping! I did learn to play blackjack there, and I will agree with don’t #1. The dealer was so helpful and I actually won – a lot. It pissed off the other people at the table (my parents… tee hee!). It also was like 10am and the casino at the Monte Carlo was empty.

    1. Gambling itsn’t everybody’s cup of tea. I get it. For me, I just thrive on the rush. I find myself counting cards when I lay down at night in Vegas. I’m a total marathoner too. I’m talking at least 14 hours at the table a day. If I’m hungry I tell the waitress to bring extra olives! Bahahaha…

      There is so much more to do in Vegas besides gambling. I’m glad you found something you love to do there. I just love Vegas!

  3. I love that movie! Swingers is great still. I like to watch poker on TV, but I’ve never gotten into it. Part of the problem is I wouldn’t have a good poker face. The look on my face is something I have a hard time controling. I would lose all my money on the first hand. I didnt’ take the photos, but I did have a hard time finding blackjack-related photos. Most casinos do frown upon photos at the table, especially when cards are being dealt.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. I’m a great teacher! You just take me with you and I’ll teach you everything you need to know. I don’t guarantee winning though. If I won all the time, I wouldn’t ever get up from the table. Get a blackjack app on your phone to practice. You’ll get the hang of it without losing any money.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  5. You sound alot like me when it comes to Vegas, the only time I see the outside is when I land and get in the cab and when I leave the Golden Nugget on my way back to the airport, ha ha. I go to gamble, its what I do in Vegas and you should always play where you stay, thats how the comps work best.

  6. Leah, after reading one of your earlier posts, I know, just know that you’re listening to Mambo Number 5 while thinking Vegas casinos!! ;)) Since I don’t gamble, can’t stand cigarette smoke and have no interest in nude ladies, there is only one thing that can bring me back to Vegas, the food. They attract phenomenal chefs!

  7. Me! and like you, I go to gamble, nothing else, from the time I get there, until I leave, I take time out to eat once or twice a day and I do sleep but I go to gamble

  8. I have never liked Vegas, but I have learned to appreciate the amazing restaurants they have there. And the souffle at the Eiffel Tower restaurant is one of the best desserts in the world.

  9. I sure hope the casinos are playing Mambo #5, Pola. That means a load of cash is coming my way! A Cook Not Mad, Vegas isn’t for everyone, but it has matured quite a bit since the 90s. I think you’d enjoy the variety of wonderful restaurants, right Bespoke Traveler?

  10. Leah,

    I know I’m 2 years late to this comment thread. Mostly great advice to a first time player but one thing you mentioned is actually incorrect. Tables using a CTM (continuous shuffle machine) actually increase player odds slightly. I was under the impression the machines hurt player odds as well, but I did some research, and several blackjack math gurus have concluded the machines help. Cheers!

  11. I like these suggestions. If you’re really an all time black jack player, I’d like to know where you can color up your $10 chips. I’ve never seen $10 chips, only $10 slot tokens.

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