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Las Vegas Blackjack 101 (Part 4) – Course of Play

In this part of our ongoing Blackjack series, familiarize yourself with basic etiquette at live blackjack tables.

In this part of our ongoing Blackjack series, familiarize yourself with basic etiquette at live blackjack tables.

This 4th entry in our blackjack series for beginners concerns the actual playing process and procedures at live tables. We’ll discuss buy-ins, placing bets, dealer actions, and the general course of play. It is assumed that players will elect to play at tables with player-favorable rules / conditions and acceptable bet minimums as previously discussed in Part 1 of this series.

Buying Chips :

Some Las Vegas blackjack game rules prohibit entering a game in mid-shoe (usually posted as “no mid-shoe entry”) or until the next round after shuffling in many pitch games. Some game rules will allow player entry in the middle of a game but restricts maximum bet amounts.

After selecting a seat at a desired table, players will buy-in by placing cash on the table above ( not in ) the designated betting area. A typical buy-in amount at $5 – $10 minimum bet tables is $100. Players should lay the cash buy-in amount on the table felt as dealers are not permitted to take money directly from the hands of players. Dealers will lay the cash in front of them on the table felt, count it, and then call out the buy-in amount for the pit boss or supervisor to acknowledge. Once acknowledged, the dealer will provide an equivalent amount of chips or checks for player use in the game. Chips are stacked near the player’s betting area for use during the course of play.

The following lists the commonly used chip denominations ( and associated common chip colors) at most Vegas casino games.

  • $1  White
  • $2.50  Pink
  • $5  Red
  • $25  Green
  • $100  Black
  • $500  Purple
  • $1000  Yellow or Orange

There are higher denomination chips ($5000 = Brown) but above $1000 the colors vary more from casino to casino. Beginning blackjack players are generally not concerned with higher -end chips anyway.

Placing Bets :

 After buy-in, all players must place bets in their specific betting area on the tables. Bet placement always occurs prior to the deal, as no bets may be placed after the deal has begun. Players have the option at most tables to play more than one hand if spots / seats are available. Players are generally required to bet at least twice the designated table minimum on each separate hand at most Vegas casinos.


The Shuffle & Deal : 

After the shuffle (hand shuffles or transfer of automatic-shuffled cards), dealers will ask one player at the table to cut the shuffled deck/s by placing a colored card in the deck/s. After the cut, the dealer will then burn the top card off the card stack and place it in the discard rack. Games which involve continuous shuffling machines (CSM’s) for card dispensing do not involve shuffling or cutting of the deck/s, though the top card is burned when a new dealer arrives at tables.

Refer to Part 2 of this series regarding hand play procedure differences between pitch and multi-deck blackjack games.

After insuring that all bets have been placed in betting areas, the dealer begins the deal. Each player receives one card each (beginning with the player at the dealer’s left or first base) and continuing until each player has two initial cards (both face-up or face-down depending on the game). The dealer’s first card is generally placed face down (dealer’s hole card )  while the second card (dealer’s up card ) is dealt face-up. That up-card is critical for players to make correct playing decisions based on the specific basic strategy for the rules and number of decks in play.

Dealers with a ten-value or ace as an up-card must check their hole card for blackjack. If the dealer’s up-card is an ace, he/she will ask all players if they desire to take the insurance side bet. Players making this side bet will place a bet amounting to at least half their original bet amount in the insurance betting area. Again, players who aren’t seasoned card counters should never make the insurance side bet, even if they have a blackjack (as discussed in Part 3 of this series). If the dealer’s up-card is a ten-value card, they will check the hole card for presence of an ace (dealer blackjack). If the dealer does have blackjack with an ace in the hole, that round of play ends and they will collect all bets except for those players who were also dealt a blackjack ( which is a push with no money exchange ).

If the dealer does not have a blackjack, players in games allowing late surrender may surrender their initial two-card hand/s at the cost of half their original bet before the deal progresses. Surrender allows players to lose less money and should be based on the specific basic strategy for the game being played as discussed in Part 3 of this series.

Each player in clockwise progression around the table (beginning with the player at dealer’s left) will then have playing options for hitting, standing, doubling down, or splitting pairs based on a given game’s specific rules and and correct basic strategy. If a player’s card totals exceed 21 points ( busts) during the course of play, the dealer will immediately collect their bets and proceed to the next remaining player/s in the round. Players who were dealt blackjacks on initial two-card hands receive 3:2 payoffs during the player progression around the table.

After all player decisions / plays have been made, player bust hand bets collected, and payoffs for player blackjacks have been completed, dealers will reveal their hole card and continue play on their own hand as appropriate for the specific rules in force at the table (eg dealer hitting or standing on soft 17). After completion of dealer hands, appropriate bet collections or payoffs are made on remaining live hands. Remaining cards are then collected and placed in discard racks and the next round begins.

Players can expect to see 60-80 rounds of blackjack play per hour on average as described above in Las Vegas casinos depending on the type of game (pitch vs multi-deck), dealer speed, number of players, and presence of CSM’s and automatic shufflers. Comp players should keep in mind that slower game speed is more desirable than fast-paced games.







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