Blackjack Table Etiquette for Beginners

One thing I hear from friends on a regular basis is that they often feel overwhelmed playing blackjack or almost any table game live in a casino since they are afraid that they will make a mistake that will embarass themselves, or worse, make someone at the table get upset with them.  My guidance is that unless they are being an a-hole and the mistakes they make are honest rather than malicious the dealer and other players will usually cut them slack.  The approach that I appreciate most when less experienced players join my table is to have them ask the dealer and tablemates for advice when they are uncertain about a situation.  Nothing is more frustrating than an inexperienced player who makes a bad move that tanks the entire hand for the table rather than swallowing their pride and asking for advice.

To get started there are a few simple things to remember:

1) Don’t touch the cards unless you are at a single deck table where they deal face down

2) Feel free to ask the dealer or other players their opinion or advice

3) Take a minute to understand the table rules before you sit

4) Don’t sit at third base – the last seat to players left – unless you are comfortable with people second-guessing every play you make

5) Ask the players if you may join them or if you should wait until the next shoe

6) Don’t enter a game if everyone is on a roll without asking first

7) TIP your dealer and drink server – I usually play between a $2-10 bet for dealer after a blackjack or major split/double win

8) If the players look like boring jerks choose another table

9) If you smile and have fun even the biggest a-hole will usually not get too upset with a couple of bad plays

10) Cheer for other players to win even if you lose the hand


Let me know if you have any other advice for new players to make their experience better


New Way to Win at Harrahs Cherokee April 2014

I’m a loyal Totalrewards member since my friends at Ceasars give me free rooms, food, beverage and credits from time to time due to my level of gaming.  They also run my favorite Vegas casino – Planet Hollywood – more on that in a future past-tense post.

Sunday April 6, 2014 there was a WSOP event at Harrahs Cherokee which made the place a madhouse with more people than I’ve experienced in my 5 or so visits in the past two years.  I’m from Atlanta and it’s a 2.5 to 3 hour drive one-way so I was afraid I’d just wasted a long trip for nothing.  Arrived at noonish and every single $25 blackjack table was full.  I prefer to play mano y mano with the dealer so this was not what I was hoping for.

Harrahs Cherokee blackjack set-up:

  • Main Floor
  • Several $10-15 tables, mid-shoe entry available
  • Handful of $25 tables, no mid-shoe entry
  • High-limit room
  • 4-8 $50 tables, no mid-shoe
  • 4 $100 tables, no mid-shoe
  • No surrender available in any situation, one split of aces, all tables auto-shuffle with a shoe, no single deck or manual shuffle that I’ve seen.

I waited until a new $25 table opened and played by myself for one shoe – promptly losing $250.  From there took a break and decided to play in high-limit room to have opportunity to play without others at my table.  Without surrender the strategy is less effective so tried a new tack.  Looked for open $50 tables that were mid-shoe and the previous player had been busted.  Using this strategy moved between 3 different tables and made back the $250 plus $600 in winnings.

Overall Harrahs Cherokee is a nice place, plenty of chain smoking slot stuffers, but there is enough open space to not feel like you’re in a SC truck stop.  The decor is upscale riverside casino, dealers are friendly, and there are plenty of tables to choose from as long as you are willing to bet $25+ per hand.


Another Winning Vegas Blackjack Trip March 2014

Even with the strong February trip I was in the hole for the year and needed to keep the good mojo rolling to get into the black for 2014.  This was a short two night trip for another speaking session at a small conference.  The timing worked well with a Tuesday arrival, event on Weds and late afternoon flight out on Thursday there was plenty of down time for the blackjack tables.

Since I had a solid run on my last trip I decided to stick with the same formula, stay at Elara, move between Ballys, Paris and Planet Hollywood.  The evening I arrived PH was fairly crowded so I headed to Paris where they had several wide open $25 tables.  I started off strong for once with the very first shoes netting a $500 head start.  I decided to call it an early night since I had to speak the next day and +$500/day isn’t bad for a hobby.

Day 2 work was good, but the blackjack wasn’t so hot – never try to impress people by playing cards – I took a few guys down to the tables during lunch and sure enough they did great while I dropped $200 in the blink of an eye.  After that depressing lunch and a few more hours of conference sessions I slipped out after the networking happy hour to hit my new favorite high-roller room at Ballys.  Ballys is a funny place – friendly dealers and a fairly nice lower end Vegas strip atmosphere, but their DJ wanders off from time to time and the high-energy music stops for 30 minutes or so and it feels like you are playing cards in a morgue.  I played for a long stretch at my high-limit table, had a nice solid run with ebbs and flows that generated a couple hundred on the plus side.  I decided to play my way back towards my hotel for an early night in order to wake up early for some extra play time on my final day.  My stop at Paris sucked $200 almost instantly from the bankroll which put me almost back to even for the trip and sent me to bed on a low note.

Day 3 was judgement day, I have a strategy, I had plenty of sleep and I’m playing in the morning which should give me plenty of alone time with the dealers.  8am on a weekday is an interesting time at a casino – at PH they actually keep the limits pretty high and tables were all busy since only the hard core are playing that early which forced me to walk to Paris – at Paris there were 2 $100 tables wide open, only 2 $25 tables which had players and when I aksed them to open another $25 they said no – they said it politely, but still a little frustrating so I headed to Ballys – best rejection of the week.  At Ballys I sat at my choice of wide open $25 tables  – plenty free there of course – and went on a super-heater.  On the first shoe I turned $300 into $1000 – couldn’t lose, turned 16s into 20s, dealer turned K’s into 15s and splits and doubles all hit.  It was a thing of beauty.  I quit while I was ahead – took my win and headed back to Paris where I thanked the pit boss who turned me away – she was very apologetic and thrilled that I won so it was all good in the end.

Since I was on a roll I skipped Paris and headed to the PH high-limit room to try to parlay the win.  I bought in for $700 figuring it was low enough to bail in case things went wrong.  The first shoe was a wash, up a touch down a touch.  Shoe 2 was a winner where I doubled my money and more – unfortunately I didn’t walk away with the more since I played out the entire shoe even after the heat died down and I gave back some of the winnings.  Now I had a problem – I won too fast – everyone knows that time is the biggest enemy of winning gamblers – the longer you play the better the chance of losing.  I had to kill several hours before my flight so I tried to fill some time playing craps – it was a fools errand, but it did at least cut some of the down time before my flight – I gave back a couple hundred of the winnings which may have been better than my results at blackjack over the same stretch, but we’ll never know for sure.

Big Vegas Blackjack Comeback Feb 2014

I was speaking at another small industry event in Las Vegas which usually creates a good environment for solid blackjack play since it gives me three weeknights in town and limits my time at the tables so I don’t feel the need to play long stretches across an entire day.  Weeknights are always my preference since fewer people are in town and my chances for finding unoccupied tables are very good.  The event was held at Bally’s which made me cringe a little since the times I’d been to Ballys in the past it felt old and run down.

My first night set the tone for a good visit.  Some industry contacts took me out to dinner at Paris – it was the cafe right next to the casino and it was very nice.  After dinner everyone went their separate ways which gave me a few hours to get started on redemption from the last beatdown I took in Vegas.  Since I was staying at Elara and dinner was at Paris which is right next door I decided to play my way home starting at Paris and then moving to Planet Hollywood.

I hadn’t played at Paris in years and honestly my impression was that it is a place for middle aged women and the older men who chased middle aged women.  It turns out that Paris wasn’t that bad.  There were plenty of tables and they had a version of the PH ‘pleasure pit’ featuring barely dressed women and dancing girls.  I stayed away from that section since the tables were mainly full which was nice since it drew people away from the main gaming area.

Paris had a couple of $15 tables, several $25 tables and a handful of $100 tables – thought it was odd to have $100 tables mixed in the middle of main area sitting mostly empty all night, but they know their business.  I found an open $25 table and proceeded to play three shoes solo with each coming out on the winning side and putting me firmly in the plus column at +$600 to start the trip.  At this point I was feeling the heavy dinner and wine which signaled that I should call it a night and skip the schedued stop at PH since my speech was early the next morning.

Day 2 was a pretty typical conference day in Vegas, speak in morning, attend sessions most of the day, good dinner at Burger place between Ballys and Paris with an industry friend and then time to play some cards.  Since we were at Ballys for the conference and dinner I decided to try it out even though it doesn’t have a sexy or even current vibe it was convenient.  The dealers are nice enough, they have been instructed to wave and say hi every time you walk by which is a bit odd, but at least shows they are trying to focus on customer service.  One thing I learned is that at Ballys I’m a high-roller.  I couldn’t find a $25 table on the floor on a Tuesday night and it turns out that there is a ‘high-limit’ area just up two stairs behind the main table area that has a couple of $25 and $50 tables.  It has to be one of the smallest, least private and more comical high limit areas on the strip.

I took my seat as the only person in the high-limit area and picked up where I left off the night before.  This is how the blackjack system is supposed to work, play consistent, minimize losses with surrender, and take advantage of winning streaks using smart bet unit increases.  When it works it seems so easy and after several shoes the night was off to a solid start.  With a seat on a panel the next morning I couldn’t play too late so I left the high-roller room at Ballys and headed back to the hotel up another $300.

Day 3 was my chance to cash in – the conference ended, most people headed to the airport and after a quick round of craps with a few of the remaining attendees I headed back to the Ballys high-roller room in an attempt to bring my 2014 balance sheet into the black.  Ballys didn’t treat me very well and I quickly gave back a good chunk of my winnings from the first two days.  From Ballys I headed to Paris and had a fairly uneventful few rounds before it got too busy to find an unoccupied table.

My time was running out and I had one last stop to make at PH – with my last night going backwards I made the call to hit the PH high-limit room and play the $100 tables since I didn’t come to Vegas to break even.  I bought in $1000 and decided I was leaving up a lot or down a lot, a push was not an option on this trip.  First rounds were uneventful with a slight upside and then came the hot shoe I was hoping for.  The shoe was hitting and I was increasing my bets as the wins stacked up – the key is to keep a consistent bet increment strategy no matter what table limit you play which is hard since the numbers get pretty big on a $100 table compared to a $15 table.  As the shoe neared an end I knew this was my last run of the trip so I set aside $1000 in winnings and played out the shoe thinking I’d be out before it ended – luckily I kept rolling and ended the night and the trip up over $1400 – solid, but still under water for the first two months of the year.

Big Blackjack Loss at CES Vegas January 2014

I was coming into 2014 after a pretty strong 2013 where overall I was up several hundred dollars, developed a nice routine in Vegas and made progress on my blackjack system.  With that in mind I was excited to head to CES where I would be able to get in some solid table time in addition to my business meetings and responsibilities.

As you can tell by the title of this post my 2014 gaming season didn’t get off to a good start.  The combination of fairly large crowds, lack of spare time to execute the strategy, lots of drinking at industry events, and playing with other people led to a very bad three day stretch.

The first night I was able to get out on the strip by myself for a couple of hours, however Planet Hollywood was a zoo so I tried Aria and the only table I could find where I had the chance to play alone was $50 and I never got any traction.  Night one was a bust and I had a feeling this was going to be a tough trip.  The second afternoon and night was more of the same.  Between happy hours and meetings I got in some blackjack, but it was always rushed and involved playing with industry friends so it was fun, but never profitable.

I went into night three with a flat tire and leaking oil.  Night three was the end of CES so I thought it would be a chance to make a comeback, but I was on a cold streak and never found my footing.  I played the system and found empty $25 tables, but the cards were not in my favor and then I pressed my luck at the $100 tables and compounded my losses to end the three day trip down over $2k – big ouch.

Harrahs Cherokee Poker and Blackjack December 2013

I got an email announcement for the Movada poker series at Harrahs Cherokee in early December 2013.  They had several events during the week and I had a few extra vacation days remaining so I figured why not try something new.  I’m not much of a poker player anymore – back in the Moneymaker days I played a couple of times a month with the neighborhood guys and would sit in a tournament or two every time I was in Vegas.  I haven’t ever cashed in a live tournament, but I can hold my own and made it fairly deep in some small events.

This tournament was a $250 buy in and had a fairly large field – I’d ballpark it at 300 people strong.  It was mostly middle-aged white guys who seemed to play events on a regular basis from the table talk I heard.  It was the usual cast of characters with the super-agro table leader, couple of quiet young guys with headphones, a loose cannon older guy who bet on almost everything, and the super friendly retiree who made a comment on every single hand.  My day didn’t last long, won a couple of small pots early and then got AK hearts – 3bet – was raised by loose cannon, re-raised, he went all in and I called down his AQ spades – I’m a 70% favorite to win so you can guess what came next – 2 spades on the flop, spade on the turn and the river just to add insult to injury and I’m gone.  This is why I’ve stopped playing poker – lots of skill, but in a tournament there is a lot of waiting for cards and then 2 ill-timed spades can tank your whole day.

Outside of poker of course I made time for blackjack before and after my quick exit.  It seems like a trend that my first few rounds at Cherokee always take a bite out of my bankroll and this visit was no different.  I lost $400 before the poker game which put me in a solid hole for the early hours of the day.  After poker I took a break to grab a bite of lunch, rehash my poker bad luck over and over in my head, convince myself that I did everything right, and get ready to play solid blackjack so the day wasn’t a total loss.

The afternoon black jack was solid, nothing exciting, but solid.  I clawed my way back slowly towards break even for the day and then the last shoe put me back to a $100 total loss for the day – not great, but not bad considering my early losses.  Overall a fun day, I doubt I’ll play any large tourny poker in the near future, this reminded me that I probably don’t have the patience to make it through a big field so I’ll stick with blackjack from here on out.

First Session at $100 Blackjack Table Vegas October 2013

I was back in Vegas for a couple of nights and on this trip.  I felt comfortable in my daily routine, knew the Planet Hollwood set-up, and had a blackjack system that was working well.  Due to my success and overall positive experience at PH last visit I planned my trip to spend as much time there as possible.

I had been to Vegas many times prior to this trip, but for some reason I never realized that I could earn Hilton Honors points while staying right on the strip – the Elara hotel is a Hilton property, has no smoking policy and is literally attached to Planet Hollywood – good stuff all the way around.

This trip started out strong with a quick run on the first night that ran up almost a grand in profit playing at the PH $25 tables.  Of course time is one of the biggest opponents to any black jack player and early on day 2 it looked like I was going to give back the entire upside of day 1.  After a disappointing early afternoon on day 2 I took a quick break and headed across the street to the Todd English PUB to regroup with a happy hour beer and burger sliders.  As I licked my wounds I made the decision to take a more aggressive tact and make a run at a big win at the Planet Hollywood high-limit room.

My first visit to the $100 table was a bit daunting – at PH there are only a couple of tables in the high-limit room which is just a handful of hand-wringing paces away from the rest of the tables.  One small step for me, one giant leap for my blood pressure.  Luckily few people go into the high-limit room so playing by myself is virtually guaranteed.  I change $700 – First hand – 15, dealer showing K – surrender – poof goes $50 without even seeing the dealers hole card.  Next few hands are uneventful, basically even, which allowed the sound of blood pounding through my ear drums to abate slightly.  About halfway through the shoe there was a nice run which got me a little on the plus side, but the end of shoe 1 saw me down about $150.

Shoe 2 started well, hit a soft middle then started to come on strong at the end which led to a huge moment of truth hand – I had increased my bet units during the strong run and was sitting on a $200 bet when I got 8-8 with the dealer showing a 7 – split 8s – first card 3 – double – oh crap! face down please – 2nd 8 hit with a J – okay should be at least one winner.  Dealer under card is a 6 for 13 – I cover my eyes and dealer turns a card, then another, then another – holy f I can’t look…and since I’m playing alone there is no cheer or groan to let me know the result so I have to move my hand from my eyes where I see the dealer moving to count out my winnings – dealer cards came A,2,6 for a 22 – much needed since my double card was a 6 – a $600 win!  The rest of the shoe was vanilla and I decided take my winnings straight to the cashier and run back to my hotel to check my shorts.  Solid trip at +$900!