Choosing a Table

In most casinos, there are two dozen or so blackjack tables available to you, and there’s a good deal of superstition that choosing the “right” table can increase your odds of winning. So long as the game is played by the same rules and with the same number of decks, there is no statistical difference (unless you’re counting cards and waiting for an opportune time to join). There are, however, a few things to look for before sitting down:

Table Limits

Most importantly, find a table that offers limits you’re comfortable with. A placard at each table (usually to the dealer’s right) announces minimum and maximum wagers at that table.

Generally, table minimums are set at $5, $10, $25, and $100 limits, with the maximum being 1,000 times the minimum. In small operations during the off-season, you can find a table where you can play for less, and most casinos reserve a high-limit section for players who are willing to wager anywhere from $500 to $10,000 per hand.

A player should select a table at which he can afford to play, which should be an obvious choice if you know how much you intend to wager on each hand. If you need guidance in that decision: divide the amount you’re willing to wager in an entire session and divide it by twenty—this should be your wager on each hand. Buying in at 20 times your wager will provide ample padding if you have a moderate run of losing hands.

A more experienced player, especially one who intends to vary his wagers (whether by counting cards or using a wagering system), will need to consider the reasonable limits of his system or technique. For example, a card counter may select a table where the limits are below his average wager so that he can reduce his bets when the deck is against him.

Table Rules

Not all tables, even in the same casino, play by the same rules. There may be a blend of hand-dealt and shoe-dealt games, and each has their own set of rules. It’s even been witnessed that casinos may apply different rules at tables of different limits to increase their profits from the high rollers or encourage the low rollers to move to a higher-denomination table in search of a fair game.

It’s especially important to note the number of decks and whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17, as this will affect which strategy chart should be used. If you have a multiple-deck strategy memorized, your outcome will be worse at a single-deck game, and vice versa. The same goes for hitting/standing on soft 17. Simply put, you should not sit at a table unless you’re absolutely certain you know how to play.

Finally, select the table where the rules are most advantageous to the player—where surrender, doubling on any two cards, and doubling after the split are allowed. If there are additional perks, like doubling or surrendering late, hitting split aces, and so on, all the better.

The Players

All other criteria considered, it may be worthwhile to observe the players at a few different tables before deciding which to join. There are various superstitions about the effect that players, as a group, can have on each individual player’s odds—for better or for worse. None of them hold true. Primarily, you should assess the group of people at any given table for a social perspective—are these the kind of people you want to be surrounded with for a few hours?

Primarily, you should avoid distractions. While you don’t necessarily need to seek the company of Stoics, excessively boisterous or intrusive players can make it difficult to maintain your concentration, causing you to lose the count or make mistakes in playing or wagering strategies.

The Dealer

It’s also worthwhile to observe the dealer. A beginning player would do well to find a dealer who deals at a moderate pace, calls out the totals of players’ hands as the cards are dealt, and (if he’s allowed by the house) is willing to give players tips, or at least hints, in difficult situations.

Since dealers work in 30-minute shifts, and since some houses rotate dealers among the various tables, the dealer you’ve chosen will leave the table before long, and may not return to it. You should not, under any circumstances, follow a dealer from table to table. The most effective forms of cheating involve collusion between a dealer and a player, and a player who seeks out a specific dealer will inevitably bring suspicion on them both.

Choosing a Seat

Sitting in one seat or another will not affect the outcome of the game, but a novice player would do well to avoid the last seat on the left (called “third base”). A common superstition is that the player in this position has the ability to influence the outcome of the game for everyone else. If the third-base player takes a hit where basic strategy indicateshe should have stood or stands when he should have hit, he’s “cursed” the table—especially when the card he took (or failed to take) would have busted the dealer’s hand. While this has no basis in fact, it seems to be a widely-held belief, and a novice who already feels awkward in this situation will feel all the worse for the glares he’ll get from the other players.