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Las Vegas Blackjack 101 (Part 3) – Player Hand Decisions

Learn Blackjack hand decisions in the third installment of our guide for new blackjack players.

Learn Blackjack hand decisions in the third installment of our guide for new blackjack players.

In this third entry, additional basic game description focusing on the actual course of play will be presented. Player hand decision options such as standing, hitting, doubling down, pair splitting, surrender, and insurance will be discussed. Many player options can be affected by the specific rules in force at a given table or casino as we discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Further, player decisions for all playing options should be based on the correct basic strategy for the specific game rules and number of decks in play at a given table. In a subsequent article within this series, we’ll cover basic strategies in some depth and encourage all players to learn them. Basic strategy is a primary weapon to reduce the casino’s onslaught of our blackjack bankrolls.

 Player Hand Decisions :

Hitting / Standing – These two play options are the most common for blackjack players. Hitting refers to drawing an additional card from the dealer, while standing infers that no more cards are desired. Hand gestures are required at the table to avoid ambiguity / confusion in player decisions. Casino surveillance cameras above blackjack tables monitor play and record all player hand gestures to avoid conflicts.

Player hand signals for hitting and standing differ between pitch (face-down) and multi-deck (face-up) games. Players at face-down pitch games should scratch the table felt with their hand cards towards themselves when desiring to hit. Players in pitch games who receive a card that exceeds 21 points when added to their held hand total should toss their cards on the felt indicating a bust. Multi-deck players should tap the table top with their fingertips when another card is desired. When standing, face-down pitch game players should slide their hands underneath their chip bet stacks; multi-deck players should wave their hands in a horizontal motion over their cards when standing.

Double Down – This option allows players to double original bets with a two-card hand before another card is drawn. Players will receive only one card when doubling down. Doubles should be made according to strict basic strategy for the game and number of decks in play. Players also have the option of “doubling for less” if desired, rather than for the full amount of the original bet. Doubling for the full amount is the best choice, as doubles are one of the best playing decisions to improve player returns over the long run when using basic strategy.

Players in pitch games should expose their two cards face-up on the table when desiring to double down, and then add the double bet to the left side of the original chip stack in the betting area. Multi-deck players signal a double down by simply placing the additional bet alongside the original chip stack.

Splitting Pairs – Players receiving a pair of the same value on their first two cards have the option to split the pair into two hands. This player option, again, should be based on correct basic strategy use in relation to the dealer’s up – card. It is a great option to get more money on the table when the math is in the player’s favor. Split pairs are played as individual, separate hands. Players who receive a third ( and even fourth) card of the same value (other than aces) after the original pair split can continue to split the hands into separate hands to be played individually. All pair splits require a second bet for the full amount of the original bet.

In Part 1 of this series, we listed some player-favorable game rules. One of those desirable rules was doubling allowed after pair splits (DAS ), which is offered at most Las Vegas blackjack games. This rule allows players to double appropriate hands after pairs have been split in relation to the dealer’s up-card. This is another example of an opportunity for players to get more money on the table when correct basic strategy calls for it.

Another desirable player rule mentioned in Part 1 was the rule allowing re-split of aces after splitting an original pair (RSA) up to a total of four hands. This rule can still be found in a limited few Las Vegas casinos, some of which have lower table minimums. Players can only draw one card on each split ace at most casinos, and players can not count any resultant hand after ace splits as blackjacks (eg split ace plus a face card is worth 21 points, but is not a 3:2 payoff blackjack). The majority of Vegas casinos only allow splitting of an original pair of aces. Basic strategy dictates that players always split aces and eights ( unless surrender is allowed in an H17 game for 8/8 vs dealer ace ) regardless of the game or number of decks in play.

Pitch game players should expose their pair of cards face-up on the table similar to a double down hand and place an additional equal bet next to their original wager. Multi-deck players should announce the split and place an equal bet amount next to the originals.

Surrender – Basic strategy lists a limited few two-card player totals against certain dealer up cards that should be surrendered when the option is available. Surrender offers players the choice to fold poor hands at the cost of half the original bet. Players surrendering their hands should verbally announce surrender and then make a left to right motion on the table felt with their fingertip behind their cards. This player option is usually only available at multi-deck games in Las Vegas.

There are only 4 to 6 card totals that players should surrender against dealer up cards 9, 10, and A in multi-deck games. The basic strategy surrender hands are player 15 vs dealer 10 (or face cards) and player 16 vs dealer 9,10 (or face cards), and ace in multi-deck games. There are some differences in the basic surrender hands depending on whether the dealer rule involves hitting (H17) or standing (S17) on soft seventeen. The above four player hand total situations are correct strategy plays for either game, with additional surrender hands of 15 vs ace, 17 vs ace, and 8/8 vs ace in an H17 game. Surrender provides an option that can result in players losing less, as the true surrender hands are big-time losers (75% +) most of the time.

The only surrender option available at a few Las Vegas casinos these days is referred to as late surrender. In late surrender, the player may fold his/her hand against the dealer up-cards described above AFTER the dealer checks their hole card for blackjack. The player loses half their original bet in that scenario. Years ago, early surrender was a great player option, as players could fold their hands BEFORE dealers checked hole cards for blackjacks. This surrender option hasn’t been seen in Las Vegas for many years outside some rare promotional games.

Insurance / Even Money – When the dealer’s up card is an ace, players are allowed to make an insurance bet. This is a side bet that is clearly marked on Las Vegas blackjack table felts and labeled “Insurance Pays 2:1”. The casinos want players to see and make this bet, because it is almost always in their favor. This is a side bet that the dealer has a ten-value card as the down card which would give the dealer a blackjack. Basic strategy players should never make this side bet, because in a randomly distributed 6-deck game, the dealer will only have a ten-value down card approximately 30% of the time (eg 70% of the time they won’t have a ten-value card in the hole). Only seasoned card counters will have the necessary info to accurately and efficiently make this side bet.

Players who are dealt a blackjack often feel safer to make the insurance bet when the dealer up card is an ace. In this scenario, players can claim “even money” and immediately receive a 1:1 or even money win payoff. The same odds apply here, and non-counters should never take the insurance bet.









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