The most important decision you can make in Blackjack is choosing where to play. Sit down at the “right” table, and you might walk away with a small fortune. Take a seat at the “wrong” one, and you may wish you had never learned to play the game at all. But it isn’t just guesswork. To pick the best Blackjack table for you, there are six aspects of play you need to consider.
1. Game Rules
What version of Blackjack you play can have a huge impact on your odds of winning. A game where the dealer has to stand on soft 17 is preferable to one where a draw is required. Single-deck tables have better odds than multi-deck ones if the rules are comparable, but beware of modifications such as 6-to-5 payouts for natural blackjacks or allowing a double down only on ten or eleven instead of any first two cards. Pick a table where you completely understand how the game is played and what your options are.
2. Table Rules
Beyond the actual rules of the game are the conditions the casino sets on play. Foremost among these are the table limits, both minimum and maximum. If your average bet is $25, you may be better off sitting at a $5 or $10 table so that you can back off on your wagers when the deck is lean. If you play a “doubling up” strategy, you may need to find a table with a wide spread between the lowest bet and the table limit.
Also, you will not want your game interrupted by “hit and run” players who bet on just one hand and then leave, win or lose. Some tables do not allow new players between shuffles. Others require players to be seated during play, which discourages “hit and run” tactics. Tables that require chips for wagering may be preferable to those that allow cash play, too.
3. The Dealing
Are the cards all dealt face up or turned over by players so that you can see what’s in play? If not, you may wish to choose another table. And how experienced is the dealer? Does he/she maintain a steady pace of play or pause frequently to socialize? Does the dealer give novices advice on “playing by the book” or leave them to their own devices? Are players rushed to make decisions? You want to pick a table where you feel comfortable with the way the game is dealt. Don’t hesitate to walk away if you feel the dealer isn’t right for you.
4. Other Players
Before you sit down, take a good look at who else is seated at the table. Watch how they play, as their decisions will influence what cards you see. Be wary of sitting down with drunks, poor decision makers, distracted players, and dead beginners who don’t know the rules. Seek out a table occupied by people who play the same way you do. Also, a table where all the players have lots of chips in front of them or the dealer’s chip rack seems depleted is often a good one.
5. Seating Position
Many Blackjack players like to sit at ends of the table. At “first base,” you get your cards out of the shoe ahead of the other players. At “third base,” you get dealt last and can see more cards in play. Some do not like the responsibility of being first or last and prefer to be seated in the middle. This is really a matter of personal preference. But if at all possible, try to get a position with an empty seat next to you. That way, if the deck gets hot, you can play a second hand. And when you are truly confident in your skills, pick a table where you are alone against the dealer. Going head to head may seem scary at first, but it eliminates all of the uncontrollable variables that other players bring to the table.
As in most things in life, timing is everything in Blackjack. If you join a table mid-way through a deck, you have no idea what cards have already been played. It is usually best to wait and join immediately after a shuffle. But if you have been watching a table and know the deck is favorable, that’s the best time to jump in.