Your Blackjack Etiquette Cheat Sheet

“I love blackjack. But I’m not addicted to gambling. I’m addicted to sitting in a semi circle.”

– Mitch Hedberg


One of my favorite recreational activities is playing blackjack.  This past weekend, I had a chance to play at one of California’s many Indian casinos.  I was at my preferred spot, third base (seat to the dealer’s immediate right), when this young couple sat down in the middle of the table.  Now, whenever a table is going well (and this one was going well), there’s always a sense of dread whenever new players jump in.  These two ended up being OK.  They asked questions (“Should I hit?” or “Do I stay?”) and were pretty low key the entire time.

In all the years I’ve been playing blackjack, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff, from guys “tilting” (losing all self-control) to near fistfights to unbelievable hot streaks.  And like any activity, there is proper etiquette.  For those new to the game, here’s your blackjack etiquette cheat sheet.  Print it out and carry it with you the next time you roll out with your buddies.

***Foul language warning.  A perfect example of what happens at a blackjack table.  From Ari’s language to 3rd base splitting face cards.***

Learn Basic Strategy: No, you’re not going to count cards.  Unless you are an MIT student, some kind of savant (Rain Man) or Alan from The Hangover, you need to learn basic strategy.  You will hear players or the dealer refer to “The Book.”  The “book” they’re referring to is basic strategy.  It’s about knowing when to hit and when to stay.  Some players actually play with a little strategy card in their hand.  Better to play with the strategy card in your hand than guess what you’re supposed to do next with the whole table watching.

Control Yourself: No one wants to hear you complain about other people’s play (“WHY did you do that?” or “I can’t believe you did that!”)  No one wants to watch you pound the table in disgust because you’ve been dealt 14 for five straight hands.  And there is no faster way to get kicked out of a casino than to start dropping f-bombs.  It actually makes the vibe at the whole table awkward and uncomfortable. Don’t be that guy.  That’s why you need to…

Have an Exit Plan:  This is easier said than done.  It takes a lot of self-discipline to get up and leave when you say you’re going to get up and leave.  One more hand becomes twenty more hands.  Know when you’re done.  At x number of losses.  At x amount of dollars.  Go get something to eat.  Take a nap.  People-watch.  Take a break and try again later (if you haven’t already blown through your cash).

Don’t Stare at Your Cards: This is why you need to learn basic strategy.  The cards aren’t going to somehow magically transform.  Make a decision.  No amount of concentrated brain power will turn your 15 into 20.

Please Don’t Hit and Run:  The table is in a good rhythm.  People are having a good time.  Don’t be the guy who walks by the table, plays one or two hands, then gets up and leaves.  Please find a table that is empty or where everyone is drunk.

Don’t Blame the Dealer:  See Control Yourself.  The dealer, as much as you may think, has no magical power over the cards.  Mary has been on her feet for eight hours.  The last thing she wants to hear is someone yelling, “Mary, you are KILLING me!”  “Mary, when is Lucy coming back from her break?”  Now granted, there are some dealers who are really great at interaction and making you feel at home.  And there are those who appear to be androids, mechanically dealing the cards.  Either way, your wins and losses are in the cards, not with the dealer.

Tip the Dealer: If you’re on fire, tip the dealer.  Like waiters and waitresses, dealers make a lot of their money from tips.  Better than tipping at one time, drop a bet for them on your next hand.  You’d be surprised at how some dealers come to life when they see that you’ve dropped as little as a dollar for them.  Believe me, they appreciate the consideration.

LEAVE: Get up a winner.  All gamblers know that dreadful feeling of having won and lost all of their winnings.  Set a goal.  Once you hit it and if things are still going well, keep going.  Inevitably, however, you’ll know when that streak has come to an end.  Get up and walk to the cashier’s cage with a big smile on your face.  Know that you’ve beaten the house, this time.

What’s your favorite blackjack story?