The Weekend Warrior’s Guide To Blackjack


Do you plan on hitting the Blackjack tables on your next trip to Vegas? If so, check out these easy tips to help stretch your dollar while ensuring maximum fun.

This is not the typical article that sets out to exploit your get-rich-quick fantasies by offering up yet another card-counting system, because in reality, regardless of how sexy Hollywood tries to make it, card counting is extremely tedious and difficult. It requires the ability to perform high-speed arithmetic without a calculator while simultaneously carrying on casual conversations so as not to look suspicious. And it only increases your odds of winning by about 1%.

So, unless you have the time to learn how to count, along with a minimum $25,000 bankroll to ride out the losing hands (not to mention a team working alongside you to help evade detection), you’re better off just learning Basic Blackjack Strategy. It’s a lot less stressful and much more fun for the weekend warrior.

Why Basic Strategy?

As one who travels to Vegas from Los Angeles whenever I get the chance, I know all about putting undue pressure on myself to win. Nowadays, however, I go to Vegas with a totally different attitude. I have a designated amount I allow myself to lose each night — that’s right I said LOSE. And because I play basic strategy as opposed to hunches, I’ve increased my odds enough that I can play a long time without burning through my bankroll.

The reason I predetermine how much I am allowed to lose each night rather than fantasizing about how much I’m going to win is that it takes the pressure off. I take my wad of cash for the night and mentally write it off as an entertainment expense. I buy my chips and allow myself to play Blackjack until it’s all gone. That means my credit cards, debit cards, and any other damn card that can serve as a temptation stays locked in my hotel room safe. This prevents me from succumbing to the false bravado that alcohol often induces when it comes to taking excessive risks.

How Much can You Afford to Lose?…Really

So, does allotting myself a set amount to lose make me a loser? Absolutely not. I often have winning nights. I also have losing nights, but overall I’d say I’ve come out a little ahead after expenses over a long period of time, which is way better than the amateur who strictly bets on hunches. They can have winning streaks like anyone, but the odds are against them and in the long run, the house will snatch back their lucky gains and then some. Playing basic strategy Blackjack gives you the best odds to win in Vegas plain and simple.

So, enough with the reasons why you should play basic strategy, now for the how: Basic strategy simply tells you when to “hit,” “stand,” “double,” “split,” or “surrender.” I’m not going to teach it here as there are plenty of books, websites, and apps out there to learn from. Even the casinos will hand you a basic strategy card if you like.

However, if you really want to learn, it’s best to do so before you get to a table. Once inside the casino, the game can move quickly and you might feel too rushed to spend time scouring the card for the right answers as to how you should play.

Learn it Well

What’s great about learning Blackjack, however, is that you don’t need a group of people in order to practice. All you need is a deck of cards. Deal out the cards for yourself and your “make-believe dealer,” leaving one card face up for the dealer. You will then make your play based on what cards you have and what the dealer is showing. At first, you’ll need your basic strategy cheat sheet, but as you get better, try to make your plays without consulting it, then check to see if you were correct. Your mind will start to memorize the plays faster if you do it this way. Try to increase your speed to get faster and faster. Before I go to Vegas, I practice to the point where I can make a decision in a couple of seconds based on the hand I’m dealt.

You can, of course, do the same thing on your computer, but I prefer touching the cards because there’s something about the tactile senses working together that helps trigger memorization.

When you finally get to Vegas, if you’re more shy and introverted and the tables seem a bit too intimidating, go find some Blackjack machines in the casino to test your new-found skills. Then grab a drink and go watch a game for a while so you can pick up on the lingo, the table etiquette, and the vibe before you join in.

Also, if you’re a perfectionist like I am, surrender to the fact that you’re going to make some mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up, just learn from them and move on. Start out at lower dollar tables if possible. $3 tables still exist but they can be very crowded so you might have to raise your limit a bit to find an empty spot.

I promise it won’t take you long to feel comfortable and playing Blackjack with other people is so much fun you’ll be glad you didn’t remain a wallflower your whole trip.

And this leads to my next point for maximizing your play time. Obviously, if you’re losing consistently you’re going to burn through your bankroll. So, besides committing yourself to adhering strictly to the rules of basic strategy, (regardless of who tries to urge you to bet their hunch), there are a couple of other things you can do.

Maximize Your Playing Time

First off, I have found that when everyone else is playing basic strategy the game moves more fluid and I always seem to win. So, if you luck into a table like this, be reluctant to give up your seat no matter how badly you have to go to the bathroom.

Secondly, if I get a dealer with a bad attitude, you know, someone who clearly doesn’t want to be at work dealing cards, I always start losing. A rude dealer can kill a game and quick.

Those are the two reasons I will walk away from a game. Mind you, with the crowds in Vegas these days, you always have to weigh the option of leaving a bad game vs. the chances of finding a seat at a better one. If you don’t have a lot of time to be in Vegas, it sucks wasting it walking around in circles looking for an open spot.

One strategy is to start with 2 unit bets and stay at that level until you start losing. If lousy players join your table or you get a jerk for a dealer, switch to 1 unit bets and stay there until the storm passes. By unit bets, I mean if you’re at a $5 minimum table, one unit would be $5 and two units would be $10. However, you can designate a unit to be whatever your bankroll can afford, just keep it consistent.

Lastly, learn your splits. Basic strategy can be confusing during the heat of a game when it comes to splits, especially at tables where they allow multiple splits. Don’t get discouraged if you get wiped out sticking to strategy on these kinds of plays. The next time around you’re liable to win all your splits and laugh as your pile of chips soars!

That’s all for now, good luck and Happy Blackjacking!

"Downtown" Ricky Brown sports

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© Richard G. Brown 2017

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