Normal and Abnormal Events in Blackjack and What to Do When They Happen

| July 9, 2019 12:00 am PST

If you haven’t spent much time playing blackjack, some situations might come up where you don’t know what to do.

Some of these have to do with strategy decisions, but just as often, they have to do with how to behave at the table.

For example, what do you do if the dealer is rude and obnoxious?

I’ve personally never dealt with that at the blackjack table, but I have at the poker table, and it’s a drag.

This post provides you with examples of various situations you might run into at the blackjack table and gives you some advice about how to handle such situations.

How to Deal With a Rude, Obnoxious Blackjack Dealer

It’s customary for a blackjack dealer to root for the players. In fact, casinos understand that their rules are set up in such a way that the math behind the game will ensure their winning in the long run, so they encourage the dealers to be friendly and root for the players.

If the casinos didn’t want the dealers rooting for the players, they wouldn’t allow gamblers to place a bet on behalf of the dealer in place of tipping them.

But what do you do if you run into an obnoxious dealer who is obviously rooting against you?

I played with a poker dealer who once took an active dislike to me in particular, and her frowns and comments made it clear she wanted me to lose.

I’ve heard of players having the same experience with blackjack dealers.

Sometimes a blackjack dealer might just be having a bad day, and that person might not have another coping mechanism besides being unpleasant. Sometimes blackjack dealers have poor interpersonal skills and don’t realize that they’re not funny.

Your best course of action in such a situation is to refrain from tipping such a dealer.

Another course of action is to switch to a different table.

If the dealer is really unpleasant, it might be worth your while to complain to the management, but I think that should be your absolute last resort.

Understanding the Difference Between a Hand Dealt Game and a Game Dealt From a Shoe

If your only experience playing blackjack is at online casino sites, you might not understand the hand signals involved in playing blackjack in a live casino. Even if you’ve played at home, some of the subtleties might be beyond your experience.

I ran into this problem a few years ago when I was playing in a live casino for the first time. I thought that just announcing aloud what I wanted to do was sufficient, but the dealer — who was much kinder than the examples from that last section — explained to me that it was necessary to make the hand gestures.

The reason is because you’re being watched by the eye in the sky.

But you’re not wired for sound.

In the event of a dispute between the player and the dealer, the casino wants to be able to play the tape back to show what happened.

Most casinos deal blackjack from a shoe, which is a box that holds multiple decks of cards. It’s unusual to find a major casino dealing blackjack from fewer than six decks. These multiple-deck blackjack games all have one thing in common, and it’s important you remember it.

You NEVER touch the cards.

In a game dealt from a shoe, you use hand gestures to indicate what you’d like to do, but you don’t touch the cards.

If you want to stand, you wave your hand over the cards — with your palm facing the table.

If you want to hit, you tap the felt with your finger.

To double down or split is a two-part procedure.

  • Place a second bet
  • Hold up one or two fingers depending on which you want to do.

You hold up one finger to double down. You hold up two fingers to split.

But when the dealer is dealing from a single deck of cards, you actually get to hold the cards in your hand. You’d have to, because the cards in this game are dealt face-down. If you couldn’t touch the cards, you wouldn’t be able to play them because you wouldn’t know what they were.

  • If you want to stand, you slide the cards underneath your bet
  • If you want to hit, you scrape (gently, please) the cards against the felt
  • If you want to double down or split, you have to turn the cards face-up. Then you just use the same hand gestures that you would use in a shoe-dealt game

In terms of the mechanics of how to play, that’s about all you need to understand about the difference between a single-deck and a multiple-deck game.

But in terms of basic strategy, you should be aware that some of the decisions change based on how many decks are in play.

And if you’re a card counter…

The most important difference is that when you count cards in a single-deck game, you base your decisions about betting and strategy on the actual count — the running count is the same thing as the true count.

But in multiple-deck blackjack, the effect of each card being dealt is diluted by the fact that there are so many cards in the deck.

I didn’t understand this initially, but someone explained it to me this way.

Suppose you’re playing in a single-deck game where all the aces have already been dealt.

It’s impossible to get an ace as your next card, and so it’s impossible to get a blackjack. The probability is 0.

Contrast that with the probability when you’re dealing with a pack of cards made up of eight decks. Instead of four aces, you have 32 aces.

If four of those aces are dealt, 28 of them are still in the deck.

The probability of getting a blackjack is reduced, but not by nearly as much.

To compensate for this, a card counter must convert the running count into a true count. This is done by dividing the count by the estimated number of decks left in the shoe.

How to Deal With Another Player Who’s Criticizing Your Playing Decisions

It’s tempting to just leave the table if another player criticizes how you play your cards. After all, who wants to deal with that?

I think that’s the coward’s way out, though.

It’s also tempting to get into a verbal altercation with someone who criticizes how you play your cards.

That’s no good, either. Things can get ugly fast in a casino when you’re dealing with other gamblers.

And it’s tempting to try to educate your critic as to why your decisions are correct. This has two drawbacks. One of these is that your critic won’t EVER agree with your logic. I can promise you that you’ll never convince him that he’s wrong about how you just played that hand.

The other drawback is that he might be right. By arguing with him, you’re likely to just look silly.

The best approach to dealing with a critic at the blackjack table is to take the high road and ignore him. Avoiding him is cowardly, confronting him is silly, and educating him is pointless.

Your best bet is to try to set a good example for him.

You do that by continuing to march to the beat of your own drum, being polite to the dealer, and ignoring the critics’ advice.

What Should You Do If You’re Caught Counting Cards?

Counting cards isn’t cheating. It’s also completely legal.

After all, you’re just thinking analytically about the game you’re playing. How could that be illegal or considered cheating?

But casinos have a different view.

They’re not in the business of offering a game to players where they can get an edge. They’ll avoid that by backing you off from a game if they think you’re counting.

How will they know?

Some casinos use facial recognition software to identify known card counters. The staff at casinos is also usually aware of the most common basic strategy changes based on counting cards, and if they notice you making those adjustments, they’ll assume you’re counting.

Finally, the easiest way to spot a card counter is to watch his bets. If he’s raising and lowering his bets by large amounts, he’s probably counting.

Pit bosses can usually count, too, so they can tell if you’re making adjustments based on the count.

The casinos have a number of ways of handling this. They don’t all involved abducting you and beating you in the dungeon beneath the gaming floor, either.

They might have a waitress or another member of the casino staff approach you and strike up a conversation. Their hope is to interfere with your ability to concentrate.

You don’t have many options in this situation. Probably the best thing you can do is leave the table.

The casino can also start shuffling the deck every hand. Some of them will even shuffle the deck after you’ve raised the size of your next bet. If they do either of these, counting cards won’t help you anyway. You’ll have to find another game.

The staff can also require you to flat bet while you’re playing. This means you can’t raise and lower your bets based on the count.

If the casino is especially worried about your prowess as an advantage player, they’ll ask you to restrict your play to other games. They’ll usually heap some praise on you about how good a player you are while they’re at it.

And if you’re playing for high stakes, they might even ask you to leave the casino. Sometimes they’ll ban you from the casino forever.

They’re also likely to do this if they’ve backed you off the blackjack tables and you tried to get around it by playing again a few minutes later at a different table.

If you’ve been backed off the blackjack games by the casino, they’re going to be watching you for the rest of your visit there.

Your best bet, when you get caught, is to cooperate and leave the premises. You should remain polite and calm. You can’t be arrested.

If you want to avoid getting caught, try limiting the amount of time you spend playing in a particular blackjack game to less than an hour. Don’t visit the same casino more than three times per week.

And on those three visits, go during a different shift each time — morning, evening, and graveyard.

You should also always tip your dealer. If the dealer likes you, she’s less likely to tip off her boss to your nefarious activities.

Finally, try playing some of the other games in the casino, like craps or roulette. You don’t need to spend a lot of time at them. And you don’t have to lose a lot of money at them.

But casinos know that many advantage gamblers NEVER play games with a negative expectation, so this will increase the probability that they won’t take you seriously as an advantage player.

Conclusion

All kinds of situations can come up when you’re playing blackjack. Some of them will inevitably come up for the first time.

The rule of thumb for handling these situations is to remember basic rules of etiquette. Stay calm and think about how you’d like to be treated if you were in the other person’s shoes.

If you were a dealer having a bad day, how would you want to be treated by a player?

If you were a well-intentioned critic, how would you want to be treated by someone who’s irritated by your helpfulness?

And finally, never forget this.

The casino staff is there to serve you and make you happy. If you’re confused about what to do in a specific situation, it’s always polite to ask.

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