From Stepping up to Cashing Out

The customary transactions and communications you’ll need to make to enter, play, and leave a table follow a certain ritual. Aside of the awkwardness and embarrassment of doing things “wrong,” deviating from some of these rituals may result in verbal warnings and, eventually, ejection from the table orperhaps even the casino.

Buying In

Unless you arrive at a table with a stack of chips, you’ll need to buy in. At games where a placard announces “no mid-shoe entry,” you will not be allowed to buy in while a game is in progress—you must wait for the next shuffle. Otherwise, you may buy in at any time when the game is not in progress. Though it is not forbidden to set your money on the table while a hand is in progress (unless you set it on top of someone’s wager), you can expect to be ignored until the hand is played out.

The accepted procedure for buying in is to place your bills on the table between yourself and the dealer—anywhere except in the spot designated for wagering. In some casinos, bills as well as cheques can be placed in the betting spot as a wager—so if remains in that spot as the next hand is dealt, you’ll wager your entire bankroll on a single hand.

You should not count out your bills for the dealer. If you do, the dealer will count them again, laying them out on the table so that the cameras can see them clearly. The dealer is be required to get the attention of the pit boss when making transactions of a certain amount (usually $100 or more).

The dealer may also ask what denominations of cheques you want. Though the choice is entirely up to you, the best procedure is to ask for cheques that can be easily sorted into the denomination you intend to wager to avoid having to ask for change again later. The dealer will lay out the chips methodically, again for the sake of the cameras.

Once the chips are counted, the dealer will drop your cash into a slot on the table and push your chips to you—do not reach for them until the dealer moves his hands clearly away. The house needs to be certain that the dealer did not slip additional chips into your stack or your hands, so the camera will need to record the dealer’s hands moving away and the appearance of the chips on the table before they are moved in front of the player. If it does not, you may expect a visit from a pit boss, possibly flanked by security officers.

You may also buy in by taking out a marker, in which case you’ll be given chips on credit. To do this, you’ll need to have established a line of credit with the casino in advance.

Cheque Handling

When you receive cheques, treat them as cash—because they are. Place them in front of you at the table and leave them there, touching them only as necessary for transactions while playing the game. Casinos keep a close eye on cheques at all times—yours, other players’, and the dealer’s—to ensure security and track the progress of the games.

Above all else, two things are important:

  • Never touch anyone else’s cheques—not the dealer’s, not any other players. That’s the quickest way to get thrown out of a casino, and perhaps into jail.
  • Keep your hands clear of the dealer’s at all times when cheques are being handled, for the reason mentioned above.

Cheque Transactions

At any time during the game, you may ask the dealer to break a cheque into smaller denominations (which is usually done when you need smaller cheques to tip the dealer or the waitress), though it’s polite to wait until between handsunless it’s necessary to do so sooner.

You may also convert cheques of smaller denominations into larger ones (called “coloring up”), though this is typically done when you leave the table. In rare cases, when you have a large volume of cheques in a denomination the dealer is running short of, he may offer to color up some of your cheques—this will avoid a lengthy pause in the game as the dealer waits on casino personnel to bring more chips.

When changing cheques, place the cheques you wish to change on the far side of the wagering spot. The dealer will count them down, if necessary, and return your change or higher-denomination chips. Again, be sure to wait until the dealer’s hands have moved clearly away from the cheques before you reach for them.

Placing Your Bet

At the beginning of a hand, place the amount you wish to wager in the wagering spot, roughly at the center. Make sure that it meets the table’s requirements (minimum and limit).

If you’re betting more than one cheque, stack them neatly, and if you’re betting cheques of multiple denominations, the higher denominations go on the bottom of the stack. If your chips are off-center, spread out, sloppily stacked, or stacked in the wrong order, the dealer will correct them. Though there are no serious consequences, both the dealer and the other players will be frustrated if this happens regularly.

A tip to the dealer is usually placed as a token bet (or “toke”) that is placed at roughly the 2:00 position on the betting circle. As with the player’s bet, the toke will need to be stacked neatly and in proper order if it includes more than one chip.

You may not touch your wager again until the hand is over—altering the wager after seeing the cards is a form of cheating, and the consequences will vary from verbal warnings to ejection to prosecution. Even if a mistake is made (you bet below or above the table limits), the wager cannot be altered. It must stand once cards are dealt.

Since it’s the dealer’s responsibility to verify wagers before dealing the cards, he’ll probably get a stern warning at the end of his shift—sooner if mistakes happen often. Rather than face this embarrassment, and possibly imperil his job, the dealer will instruct you to correct your bets, and may call a pit boss (who will usually eject you) if you make such “mistakes” often.

Playing Your Hand

There are two conventions for playing blackjack—hand-dealt games (usually one- or two-deck games) in which player’s cards are dealt face-down, and shoe-dealt games (usually four or more decks) in which they are dealt face-up. There are a few differences between them.

Primarily, in a shoe-dealt game, players are no permitted to touch their cards. In a hand-dealt game, players may touch their cards with only one hand (either will do), must keep the cards over the table, and may only hold one hand at a time (you may be play two hands on two separate wagers, or you may split a single hand into two separate hands).

While playing the hand, you must make hand signals to indicate your intentions. These signals must follow the common conventions, and must be made clearly over the playing surface. Even if you tell the dealer you want a hit, he may require you to give the hand signal for the sake of the cameras.

To request a hit in a hand-dealt game, brush the bottom of the cards against the table in a sweeping motion, towards yourself. In a shoe dealt game, make the same sweeping motion with your fingers, in proximity to the cards.

To indicate that you wish to stand in a hand-dealt game, tuck the cards under your chips. This should be done carefully, so that the chips are not moved or toppled. It is also advisable to hold the cards in a way that it is clear to the cameras that you are not concealing an additional chip beneath them. In the shoe-dealt game, wave you’re hand over the cards horizontally.

To split pairs, place an additional wager beside your original one. If the game is hand-dealt, you should overturn your cards on the table so the dealer can confirm they are a pair. The dealer will move the cards apart and place the additional wager by the new hand.

To indicate that you wish to double (in either game), place the additional wager beside your original one. In a hand-dealt game in which restrictions are placed on doubling, you should overturn your cards on the table to prove that you meet the requirements. If the cards are paired (a pair of fives), the dealer may ask you to confirm that you wish to double (and not to split) by asking “double?” or “one card?” because the signal is similar.

To surrender, simply state “surrender.” There is no hand signal for surrendering (though in a hand-dealt game, the player typically overturns his cards). The dealer will usually ask you if you’re sure, and you must confirm that you are. It can be a bit tedious and annoying to have to repeat yourself—but bear it with as much patience as you can: it’s customary and, in some casinos, required for the dealer to ask you to confirm your intention to surrender.

In either game, it’s important to wait your turn. Not only is this polite to the other players and the dealer (who must handle several players at once), it prevents the appearance of impropriety. For example, if you add to your wager with the intention of doubling, it may appear as if you’re altering the original wager after seeing your cards (a serious infraction of the rules) unless the dealer’s attention is clearly upon you and you announce your intentions as described above.

Cashing Out

When you’re ready to stop playing, simply stand up and leave the table. If you’ve a large amount of chips, it’s customary to color up at the end of the game. This reduces the chance that the dealer will need to call for lower-denomination chips, delaying the game later, and allows the casino to better track its cash flow (they generally pay attention only to chips of $100 or more when making spot-checks of the table and cashier).

To cash out, push your chips to the dealer’s side of the wagering spot and asked to be colored up. As with any transaction, you should keep your hands clear of the dealer’s, reaching for your chips only after the dealer has pushed them to you and moved his hands away.

To redeem your chips for cash, or to buy back your markers, you will need to carry your chips to the cashier. Most dealers and pit bosses aren’t authorized to make those transactions (though in some places, you can, and should, buy back your marker at the table).