Five Things You Should Never Do When Playing Blackjack

Updated on October 18, 2021
blackjack mistakes to avoid

This article is my third in a three-part series written for NJ Online Casino on how to become a better blackjack player. Unlike the first two articles in the series, its focus is not on what blackjack players need to do to maximize their chances of winning but on what they should not do.

Biggest Mistakes You Can Make When Playing Blackjack

My article of 8/6/21 pointed out that blackjack is a game of skill as well as luck and described the five most essential skills needed to succeed in this game.

Then, in my 8/27/21 article “Blackjack Behavior Matters,” I covered the importance of blending in rather than drawing unnecessary attention to yourself and being courteous and pleasant towards the dealer and other players at your table. If you are losing don’t blame it on another player or the dealer. If you are winning, don’t act superior and brag about it.

Keep in mind that blackjack, like every other casino game, comes with a built-in house edge. So, no matter how well you play the game–or think you play–it is unrealistic to expect to win all of the time. That’s why blackjack comportment, or how you behave at the table, is so important to your longevity with regard to being welcome to return to the casino, if you so desire, to play again and again.

But now that you have a clearer handle on the most important blackjack dos, the don’ts are equally important. We will now take a close look at five things you should never do as a blackjack player. These are mistakes that many blackjack players make frequently and you might have made yourself from time to time, but they have no place in a winning player’s rulebook. Don’t do them!

The five biggest blackjack mistakes that can mess up your game

These are the five biggest mistakes you can make as a blackjack player.

  1. Playing for stakes you can’t afford
  2. Not following the correct basic strategy for the selected game
  3. Not taking advantage of recommended options for doubling down and splitting pairs
  4. Settling for games with inferior rules or making side bets with a high house edge
  5. Playing when tired or hungry, or otherwise preoccupied, or with a dealer or other players you find annoying

Playing for stakes you can’t afford

Many people, when they sit down at a blackjack table for the first time, have beginner’s luck. They might buy in for a very small amount of money but have great luck from the get-go and soon find themselves raising their bets and still winning. This is an easy game, the player thinks, only to get a rude awakening in the next playing session.

That’s what happened to me the first time I played, I brought along a pocket-sized blackjack strategy chart and started out betting $5 per hand, which was the table minimum. But not for long. Because I was steadily winning, I increased my bets to $10 and then to $15. When I left the table, I had won more than $100 and couldn’t wait to return to the casino to win more “easy money.” However, the second, time I played, the story was completely different. I lost.

Why playing with scared money at a $25 minimum table won’t work

Five-dollar minimum blackjack tables are hard to find nowadays. Instead, I often see people sit down at a $25 minimum table and buy in for a mere $100. This is completely inadequate for these betting stakes. Sometimes a player will get lucky and win a few hands. But it is only a matter of time before the player’s luck turns, and the small stack of chips disappears.

In fact, you could lose your entire stack on one hand. For example, suppose you get a pair of eights against a dealer 5. You split them and get a 3 on the first hand. So, you double down. But instead of the hoped-for 10, you get an Ace. Then you get a 2 on your other 8, so you double down on that as well and get a 6, for another stiff hand.

Alas, the dealer turns her starting hand of 5 into a pat hand of 19, and there goes your $100!

As I mentioned in Part I, a recommended bet size in blackjack is just 1/16 or, preferably, 1/20 of your table buy-in. Therefore, if you play at a $25 minimum table with a buy-in of less than $400-$500, you are undercapitalized and courting potential disaster.

Unfortunately, if you visit Atlantic City or any other popular casino destination during a busy time like a weekend evening or holiday, you might not find any blackjack tables with available seats with less than a $15 or $25 minimum. So, if your gambling bankroll is limited, you need to keep this fact in mind and plan accordingly.

Online casinos do offer lower minimums, but not at all of their blackjack tables. Live dealer games with less than a $25 minimum might not be available.

Avoid marathon sessions

Another important part of good money management, whatever stakes you play for, is being mindful of how long you play. If you’re winning, try to leave a winner. Avoid staying at the table too long. Your luck could turn, and you could give all of your winnings back and more. If you’re losing, it’s far better to leave the table sooner rather than later with a small loss instead of trying to chase your losses and, in all probability, winding up with a worse outcome. Even if you follow the recommended guidelines for bet size, if you play too long, you are also overbetting and playing havoc with your bankroll.

The bottom line

Wherever you choose to play, don’t let your eagerness to be in action tempt you to bet more than you can afford. Don’t play with scared money!

Not following the correct basic strategy

If you prefer casino games that entail little or no decision-making, you should probably stick to slots. Blackjack is not for you.  Every hand that is dealt to you in blackjack involves some degree of decision-making. You need to decide in each instance, and on some hands, more than once, which of the possible options would be your best bet–hit, stand, double down, or split a pair, or in a few casinos, surrender.

On some hands, the correct decision will be obvious, while on others, unless you know the correct basic strategy, it is not so clear-cut. But either way, you need to make a split-second decision so as not to hold up the game.

Statistically, you have a much better chance for a favorable outcome by following the advice of the experts who have researched and tested the various possibilities for you than if you base your play simply on a whim or a hunch.

Yes, there will be times when you will lose despite making the correct basic strategy play or times when you will see other players who are not following the correct basic strategy win. But in the long run, you will fare best if you don’t deviate from the correct basic strategy.

Keep in mind that sometimes the correct basic strategy might vary depending on the rules of the game. For example, whether the dealer hits or stands on soft 17 and whether or not you can double down after splits make a difference.

The bottom line

It is fine to bring a basic strategy chart to the table to refer to if needed. However, don’t ask other players at the table or the dealer for advice. It is your own responsibility either to remember the correct way to play a particular hand or to bring the information with you so you can avoid making costly mistakes.

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Not taking advantage of recommended opportunities to double down or split pairs

These kinds of plays call for additional bets, and even when, statistically, they are clearly the right play, they don’t win 100 percent of the time. Players who are undercapitalized might want to double down or split a pair but be unable to do so because they don’t have enough money. Or they might chicken out because they feel they need to conserve the few chips they have left

Doubling down for less, but not splitting pairs for less, is permitted but not recommended. Doing so would mean shortchanging yourself and not getting the full value of the option. Instead, avoid these kinds of dilemmas altogether by starting every blackjack session sufficiently capitalized.

Playing a blackjack game with inferior rules or making side bets with a high house edge

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck. But just because a game looks like blackjack, don’t assume that it is standard blackjack.

Many brick and mortar casinos offer a designated low-stakes “fun pit” with games that look like blackjack but come with a special set of rules that give the house a much higher edge. Players who don’t know any better might even think that the game gives them a better chance to win than regular blackjack, when in fact, the opposite is true.

For example, some of these games like Super Fun 21 have very liberal double down rules and bonus payoffs for certain rarely occurring card combinations like suited 7s. But any resulting advantages to the player are more than offset by the highly unfavorable rule that blackjack pays even money instead of 3:2.

Other bad blackjack games you should not play if you care about your bankroll include all of the following.

  • Double Exposure Blackjack
  • Spanish 21
  • Single Deck Blackjack where blackjacks pay 6:5
  • Zappit
  • Live Dealer Blackjack
  • Unlimited Blackjack

Double Exposure Blackjack

In Double Exposure Blackjack, both of the dealer’s starting cards are dealt face-up instead of one being dealt face-down. But blackjack pays even money!

Spanish 21

Spanish 21 is also a bad game but for a completely different reason. All of the tens are removed!

Single Deck Blackjack where blackjacks pay 6:5

Ordinarily, the fewer the number of decks, the better (i.e., a six-deck game is slightly better than an eight-deck game). But this statement applies only when there are no significant changes to the other rules.

A single-deck game with exactly the same rules as the six or eight-deck game offered in Atlantic City, including doubling down on any two cards, doubling down after splits, and the dealer standing on soft 17, would be fantastic. But outside of your dreams, you can be certain you will never see it.

Such a game would not only eliminate the house edge completely but shift the edge to the player. So, no casino would dare offer it.

But when the casino not only drops the three aforementioned favorable rules but, in addition, pays 6:5 instead of 3:2 on blackjacks, it is going too far. Then the game actually becomes worse than standard six or eight-deck blackjack.

Zappit

Zappit gives you the option to swap or “zap” a bad hand for another hand. But in return, the dealer hits soft 17, and you can’t double down on split pairs or resplit pairs. These unfavorable rules more than compensate for the zap option and make the house edge double that of the better standard blackjack games.

Live Dealer Games

If your main goal in playing is to have fun and socialize with other players while at the same time enjoy the extra convenience and perks of online play, playing live dealer games occasionally might not be as bad as some of the other mediocre blackjack games. But don’t overdo it because the highly entertaining experience these games can give you comes with a price. You face tougher rules than in most other online blackjack games.

Also, some of the NJ online casinos have raised their minimums at their live dealer blackjack tables. Therefore, the $10 minimum table you were hoping to find might not be available.

The combination of lackluster rules and a high minimum bet to boot does not bode well for your chances of winning. And if you are a novice player, you face an even bigger disadvantage. Unlike virtually all other online blackjack games, live dealer games don’t give you the option to practice for free in demo mode. You have to play for real money from the get-go.

Unlimited Blackjack

Lastly, when all of the other blackjack seats are taken or you can’t find a seat at a table with an affordable minimum, you might be tempted to try Unlimited Blackjack, This is an alternative to standard blackjack that some online casinos offer.

Like the name of the game implies, you never have to wait for a seat. The reason is all players start each hand with the same two community cards, thereby allowing any number of people to play the same game at the same time. And with a minimum bet of only $1, what could possibly go wrong?

The answer is unfavorable rules that force you to violate basic strategy. Unlimited blackjack is a bad game with a higher house edge than standard blackjack.

Side bets

Many blackjack games, including otherwise good games, may offer optional side bets with potentially high payouts. However, almost invariably, these side bets come with a higher house edge than standard blackjack plays.

The bottom line –  Blackjack Mistakes to Avoid

The bottom line is that gimmicky games or options that sound almost too good to be true are advantageous for the casino, not for you. Don’t fall for them.

Playing when tired, hungry, preoccupied, or under other adverse conditions

If you are serious about maximizing your chances to win in blackjack, you need to give yourself every possible advantage.
That means playing only when you are physically, mentally, and emotionally at your best.

You also need to pay close attention to any external factors that could adversely affect the quality of your game. Some blackjack experts maintain that such variables as the dealer’s personality or the presence of bad or annoying players at the table should have no bearing on your decision to play. Presumably, you should pay no heed to the less than desirable behavior on their part and simply play your hand.

I disagree, not because you are likely to get worse cards but for another reason entirely. When your time at the blackjack table becomes stressful and not enjoyable, staying fully focused and playing at your best turns into a formidable task. Under the circumstances, your best bet is to stop trying and leave the table.

Summary and Conclusion

As this three-part series on blackjack should reveal, there are many different elements that you actually have a lot of control over that can affect your outcome. Paying close attention to these highly important blackjack dos and don’ts will ensure that you are playing the best game in the casino with the lowest house edge and highest probability of winning possible.

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