Las Vegas Overview
Vegas Here We Come
Where to Stay & Why
Getting Around the City
Attractions & Sightseeing
Entertainment & Shows
Dining in Las Vegas
Four Day Walking Tour
Heading Back Home
Blackjack ...a good game to
The Golden Rule of Blackjack is
always the “expectation of a ten or face
card” since they make up nearly one-third
mentioned earlier that I have been more
successful in recent years in handling my
gambling budget (about $500 a trip.) Over the
last few years, my results have improved
...that is, I have not lost much and may even
be a little ahead. I am satisfied if I break
even in Las Vegas. I concentrate on
Standard blackjack table
Otherwise known as 21,
Blackjack is by far the most popular
table game in Las Vegas. It got its name
due to the now obsolete practice of
paying a bonus to hands consisting of an
Ace and a Jack of Spades (a Black
Blackjack is easy to play and the chances
of winning are good if you play
right. The house advantage can be
reduced to under 1% if the player
religiously follows a set of rules known
...at least most of the
I am going to assume that you know nothing
about the game, so here is what you need to
1. The idea of the game is to have a hand value
that is closer to 21 than that of the dealer,
without going over 21. There can be one to
seven players. The number playing makes no
difference to you as a player, you play only
against the dealer.
2. The house rules are generally printed on the
table top felt between the dealer and the
players. Most likely it will say:
“Blackjack pays 3 to 2,”
“Dealer must stand on 17 and draw to
16,” and “Insurance pays 2 to
1.” Be very suspicious of any Blackjack
table that does not have printed rules. Do NOT
play on any Blackjack table that does not pay 3
to 2 on Blackjack. (Blackjack, of course, is an
ace plus a ten or face card.) While players
have a choice whether or not to draw additional
cards, the dealer does not. The dealer must
draw a card whenever their total is 16 or less.
An Ace in the dealer's hand is always counted
as 11 if it can be accomplished without the
dealer going over 21. The player can make
decisions, the dealer can not. A dealer plays
only one hand. (They can not split
3. Most Blackjack games use six decks (although
it can be eight) all shuffled together and
dealt face up to players from a rack called a
“shoe.” Every so often the cards
are reshuffled ...usually by a machine. It is
better for a newcomer to play
“shoe” dealt Blackjack since all
player cards are dealt face up and you will be
able to see what others do in specific
situations. Casinos like Blackjack dealt from
“shoes” and shuffling machines
because it increases the number of hands played
4. The first action by the player is to lay
down a bet on the table. (...in a round spot
designated for each player.) A small sign on
the table states the betting minimum. You will
need some chips, so put cash on the table and
ask for chips. The dealer is not allowed to
take money from your hand ...only from the
table top. You will be furnished with chips
matching the entire amount. Note that each
chip’s denomination has a different
color. An appropriate “buy in” is
ten times your average bet. So on a $5 minimum
table, start with $50 or more. (I generally
start with $100, but I quit playing - at least
for a while - if I lose $50.)
5. Most Strip casinos have a $10 minimum
...some even $25. Try to find a casino with a
$5 (or less) minimum. They are usually on the
North Strip, downtown or Off Strip. Unless you
are a hardened gambler, there is no sense in
betting more than you have to. The goal is to
have fun and, with Blackjack, the house has a
slight advantage ...and more with new players.
You’ll find the lower limit tables are
generally the most crowded with players. There
is a reason for that; the house winnings from a
$25 minimum table, for example, are five times
that of a $5 table.
6. The dealer gives each player two cards, face
up (one at a time going clockwise.) The dealer
gets one face up and one face down. If the
dealer’s face up card is an Ace, the
dealer will offer “Insurance” -
more on that later. The dealer will then check
to determine if he/she has a Blackjack
...usually accomplished with a novel card
reading device. If the dealer has a 10-value
card (10, Jack, Queen ,King) under the Ace, all
player’s lose unless the player also has
a Blackjack. In which case, a tie (or
“push”) is declared. The result is
a standoff and the house (dealer) does not
collect your bet on a “push.”
Players are not allowed to touch the
7. Blackjack “signals.” Ideally,
the game is played silently with hand signals.
The dealer will knock on the table on a
“push.” The player should make a
tapping or scratching motion with their hand to
signal that another card is wanted ...a
“hit.” A horizontal wave over the
cards signals that the player wishes no further
cards ...or wants to “stand.”
8. Playing the hand. While easy to play,
Blackjack (unlike the slots) is a game of
skill. If you are new at the game, not sure of
“basic strategy” or just learning
to play, ask questions of other players (or
even the dealer) about what you should do on
various player vs. dealer card combinations.
The casino will have no problem with you asking
for advice ...and you’ll make some new
friends. There is a proper response to every
possible combination. You can even purchase a
“Blackjack Basic Strategy” card in
the casino’s gift shop that tells you how
to respond in different situations. Most
casinos do not mind you referring to this card
...some players even place it on the table top
while playing for easy reference.
9. Card and hand values. An Ace counts either
as 1 or 11 (at the option of the player); 2
through 9 are actual value (2 to 9) and the 10
and face cards (Jack, Queen, and King) are all
valued at 10. The suits have no meaning in
Blackjack. You simply count up your points. A
hand with a face card, a 4 and a 6 has a value
of value of 20; a good hand in Blackjack. You
do not have to say whether an Ace is a 1 or an
11. A hand with a 9 and an ace is either 10 or
20. The Ace in a hand is considered
“soft” since it can be counted as
either 1 or 11. Hands without an Ace are called
are five different decisions that can be made
by a player after receiving their initial two
cards: HIT, STAND, SPLIT, DOUBLE or
|10. Once the cards
have been dealt, you aren't allowed to
touch the bet in the circle ...or the
cards. Players win if they are closer to
21 than the dealer. A dealer will pay a
winning Blackjack when it is that
player’s turn to play.
Any total over 21 is known as a
“bust.” A player with a count
over 21 “busts” and
immediately loses. A dealer also
“busts” when their count is
over 21 and any players at 21 or under,
win. Once the hand is over, the dealer
will pay winners and collect chips from
losing hands. Neither the dealer nor the
player win on a tie (or
“push”) and no chips are paid
or collected. Take your winnings after
the dealer has paid you and make your
blackjack in Las
HIT: “Hitting” is
when you draw another card in an attempt to get
closer to 21 without busting. In a “face
up shoe game”, you ask for another card
by tapping or scratching the table behind your
cards with a finger.
“Standing” is when the player
declines additional cards, instead playing the
cards he/she has. The signal for
“stand” is a horizontal wave of the
hand over the cards.
13. SPLIT: (or
“Splitting Pairs”) If the first two
cards are equal in value they may be played in
two separate hands. The signal to split a pair
is to place another bet, equal to your initial
bet, alongside your initial bet. Do not touch
your cards, the dealer will split your cards.
For example: you may split two Eights. Sixteen
is a very poor hand (actually the poorest!).
But the expectation is always that a high card
will be dealt ...so two eights have the
potential to become two 18s. But if you draw a
Three on the first Eight (a total of Eleven)
you can double down on that hand. Or if a third
Eight is drawn, you can re-split them making
yet another hand. Casinos usually allow a
player to split up to 3 times, making 4
separate hands, with 4 separate bets. Hint:
Never split 10 value cards (tens, or matching
face cards.) A 20 is a very good hand.
Two special rules generally apply when you spit
Aces. First: you get one card (and only one)
and Second; it is not a Blackjack if you get a
10-value card ...just a normal 21. Players
should always split Aces. Consult your
“Basic Strategy” card for advice on
when to split matching pairs.
14. SURRENDER: Offers the
player the opportunity to fold the hand
(decline playing the two cards dealt) at a cost
of half the bet. Not every casino allows a
player to “surrender.” Once you
begin playing the two cards dealt, you no
longer may surrender. There are two types of
surrenders: “Early” and
“Late.” They differ only in the way
a dealer handles a possible Blackjack.
“Early surrender” is where a player
is allowed to fold before the dealer checks for
Blackjack. (A good time to “Early
Surrender” would be if the player has a
16 and the dealer has an Ace showing.) This
gives a player an inexpensive way out even if
the dealer turns out to have a Blackjack. Not
many casinos offer “Early
Surrender.” “Late Surrender”
is more common. This is where the dealer has an
Ace showing and checks for Blackjack. If the
dealer does not have Blackjack, then players
may fold (“surrender”.) . When to
“surrender” is easily answered by
using the Blackjack Basic Strategy chart. Hint:
Players should always “surrender”
if they have a 16 against the dealer’s
Nine, Ten or Ace. Players with 15 should
surrender against a Ten.
15. DOUBLE (or “Doubling
down" as it is called) allows a player to
double the original bet by placing another bet
equal to and alongside your first bet. The
dealer will deal you one more card (and only
one) additional card. Doubling must be done
before a third card has been drawn. Since
nearly half of all cards are high value, a good
doubling opportunity is when you have a hand
totaling Eleven against a dealer’s poor
up-card ...such as a Six. Again, when to
“double” is easily answered by
using the Blackjack Basic Strategy chart. Hint:
38.5% of all cards are Ten thru Ace ...46.2%
are Nine or higher.
16. INSURANCE is a hedge side
bet to protect your original bet when the
dealer turns a Ace up card. When this happens,
the dealer will offer “Insurance”
to the players. Insurance bets are made by
betting up to half your original bet amount. If
the dealer has a 10-value card underneath his
Ace (a Blackjack), your winning Insurance bet
will be paid at odds of 2:1. If the dealer does
not have Blackjack, you'll lose the insurance
bet. In any event, you still have to play the
original bet. It is universally considered good
basic strategy to never make the insurance bet
since it has a high house advantage. (There is
about a one-in-three chance that the dealer
will have a Blackjack, but Insurance pays
two-to-one ...instead of three-to-one. Never
...or what do I do now?
Besides being available
in casino gift shops, “Basic
Strategy” cards/charts can be
found on the Internet. (Here is
one we found.)
Some charts can be slightly different
because some casinos allow doubling on
any two cards, while others restrict
doubling to the Nine, Ten or Ace ...or
just the Ten and Ace.
There can also be restrictions on
doubling after a split and whether or
not surrender is offered. Most
cards/charts assume doubling on any two
cards or after a split ...but no
(Note: H/P and
H/R = Split or Surrender if allowed -
otherwise Hit. Some rules below
may confict with this chart.)
Split, if you can double
spit, otherwise Hit (Pink)
Surrender, if allowed,
Here is a recap
of what most (but not all) charts say...or what
a player should do if the total of your first
two cards equals:
5 thru 8 --- Always hit.
9 --- Double down if dealer shows Three thru
Six, otherwise hit.
10 --- Double down if dealer shows Deuce thru
Nine, otherwise hit.
11 --- Always double down.
12 --- Stand if dealers shows Four thru Six,
13 thru 16 --- Stand if dealer shows Deuce thru
Six, otherwise hit.
17 thru 20 --- Always stand.
“Soft” Hand totals: (A
soft hand always includes an
Soft 13 thru 14
--- Double down if dealer shows Five thru
Six, otherwise hit.
Soft 15 thru 16 --- Double down if deaer shows
Four thru Six, otherwise hit.
Soft 17 --- Double down if dealer shows
Three thru Six, otherwise hit.
Soft 18 --- Double down if dealer shows
Three thru Six. Stand if dealer shows Deuce,
Seven or Eight. --- Hit if dealer shows
Nine, Ten or Ace.
Soft 19 --- Double down if dealer shows
Six, otherwise stand.
Soft 20 --- Always stand.
Ace and Ace --- Always split Aces.
--- Split if dealer shows Four thru Seven,
Fours --- Double down if dealer shows Five or
Six, otherwise hit. (If double not allowed
split if dealer shows Five or Six.)
Fives --- Double down if dealer shows
Deuce thru Nine, otherwise hit. Never
Sixes --- Split if dealer shows Three thru
Six, otherwise hit.
Sevens --- Split if dealer shows Deuce
thru Seven, otherwise hit.
Eights --- Always split Eights.
Nines --- Split if dealer shows Deuce thru
Six, or Eight or Nine, otherwise stand.
Tens --- Always stand on Tens.
Aces --- Always split Aces.
basic strategy rules for
1. Always split Aces
2. Split Deuces and Threes against a dealer
up-card of 4 to 7.
3. Never split Fours, Fives, or Tens.
4. Split Sixes against a dealer up-card of
Three to Six.
5. Split Sevens against a dealer up-card of Two
6. Always split Nines, except against a dealer
up-card of Seven, Ten, or Ace.
standing with a hard hand:
Stand on 12 against Four to Six.
2. Stand on 13 thru 16 against Deuce to
3. Stand on 17 thru 20 In all cases.
A final word about
Play Blackjack in a casino with good Blackjack
rules. This means that you can double after
split, double on any two cards, and split pairs
up to four times, and that the dealer doesn't
hit on soft 17.
If nothing else, remember these seven
Blackjack must pay 3:2, avoid odd rules.
Always split Aces and Eights.
Double down with 10 or 11 against a dealers up
card of Deuce thru Nine.
Stand with 12-16 against a dealers up card of
Deuce thru Six.
Hit with 12-16 against a dealers up card of
Seven and higher..
Stand on Seventeen and higher.
Never take insurance.
Card counting is discouraged by
casinos, because (while not illegal) keeping
track of high and low cards played gives the
player an edge. Playing basic strategy
correctly gives the player a pretty much even
chance to win. All you need to know is that
cards with values of Deuce thru Six generally
are poor cards and there are nearly 40% of
them. Ten-count cards and Aces are the most
favorable, also about 40% of them. Keeping
track of them in a constantly shuffled six to
eight deck “shoe” game is just
about impossible ...so forget about
“counting.” The main thing to
remember is that if a dealer has a Deuce thru
Six, the chances of a player winning (and the
dealer losing) are good. Conversely, if a
dealer has a high card showing, the chances are
the player will lose.
A word about
Realistically, unless you bet a
minimum of $25 a hand, most casinos are
generally not interested in giving you
“free stuff.” The Blackjack
“comps” formula is generally based
on an average of one Blackjack hand a minute
(60 hands an hour) times $25 (or $1,500
wagered) times 2% (their profit ...$30). For
“comp” purposes your share is 40%
(or $12 per hour.) And that’s if you play
$25 on every hand.
||Present your players
card to the pit boss for rating every
time you sit down at a Blackjack table.
You might increase your bet when the pit
boss is watching. It will improve your
chances of getting “comps”
...free stuff. A “comp” (as
in “complimentary”) is a perk
given by the casino. The purpose of
“comping” is two-fold ...to
build customer loyalty and to activate
your name in the casino’s database
for marketing purposes. Frankly, we
are not a big fan of playing just to
If you do, you might ask to meet the casino
host after 3 or 4 hours of play. Inquire about
free rooms, shows, upgrades, meals.... It never
hurts to try. The worst thing that could happen
is that the host will say “No.” And
you might get offered something else
One thing you should never lose sight of. That
is, anything you get free from a casino is not
really free. The “freebie” is
almost always based on your theoretical loss
...and the casino’s profit. You get it
because the casino wants you to keep coming
back so they can make more money off of
A better idea might be to just bet the table
minimum as long as possible. You have a good
chance of winning if you are lucky and play
perfect, basic strategy at all times. The house
advantage against a Blackjack strategy player
is about one-half of one percent. That's
as good as it gets in a casino.
Factoid: Blackjack is a game of skill which
typically yields a 10% profit to a casino
because 90% of the players do not play
Factoid: "Basic Strategy
Blackjack" is 50 years old. It was first
pubilshed in 1956 as a white paper in the
Journal of the American Statistical