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Top 10 blackjack tips for beginners

17 April 2023

As many of you know from my Casino City bio, I’m a runner who lives in Massachusetts, so it’s only fitting that I tie the sport into this week’s column. After all, it’s Marathon Monday in Boston, and while I won’t be toeing the line in Hopkinton, I’ve learned there are many similarities between running and blackjack that I can share as a newbie to the casino tables that might help you reach your desired payday finish line.

10. Be consistent
Every time you lace up your sneakers, even if you’ve run that same race before, it’s going to be different. It can be anything from your training, your body, what you ate for breakfast, the field of runners, or the weather like the runners pounding the pavement in Boston are experiencing today. The only thing you can do is be consistent. You put in all of those training miles prior to taking the starting line and you need to make the best decisions on the course to reach the finish line. The miles don’t lie, so what you experienced training should be your inner voice.

Every time you sit down at a blackjack table, even if you’ve been at that same table, with the same dealer, in the same casino, it’s going to be different. It can be anything from the card chute to the other players at the table. The only thing you can do is be consistent. You put in all of those hands prior to sitting down at the table and you need to make the best decisions during the game to reach your payday. The hands don’t lie, so your experienced training should be your inner voice.

9. Learn hand signals
In running, there are several unwritten rules to the road that all must learn before heading to the starting line. Some of these are always let runners who are in front of you know with a loud voice when you’re attempting to pass them and on what side as well as to always look on both sides of you before drifting right or left, especially when heading to a water station on the course.

In blackjack, instead of unwritten rules, it’s unsaid commands that must be learned to communicate with the dealer before a player can sit down at a table. When a player gently taps the table with their finger, it means they want a hit on their cards. If you wave your hands over your cards then you’re telling the dealer I like my cards and I’m standing.

When a player not only likes their cards, but also likes them better than the dealer’s cards, they can double down by putting the correct number of chips next to their original stake outside of the betting box prior to pointing one finger up toward the dealer. If you want feel the same way about your cards and want to split then you can do the same with your chips, but instead of pointing with one finger, you split two of your fingers into a v-shape for the dealer.

8. Practice online before hitting the tables
Every runner dreams of running Boston, New York or Chicago, but just because you’ve completed your homework, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ready to put your favorite sneakers to the pavement.

In order to literally take the next step, runners need to practice in a comfortable setting such as a track or neighborhood. The equivalent environment for new blackjack players is online. No hustle and bustle of casinos, just you and the game. And more importantly, not only can players play as many hands as they wish, but they also have better odds of reaching a personal record due to the fact that online tables tend to pay better than casinos.

7. Listen to the streaks
Whether in training, road races or marathons, Personal Records aka PRs are a runner’s high and there’s nothing like stacking a bunch together. Conversely, cramping from dehydration, blisters, side stitches, heavy legs and breathing issues can also unfortunately pile up from time to time. It’s during both of these times that a runner must listen to their body and determine the best course of action for their next step.

When blackjack players go on their own type of run at the casino tables, it’s a hypnotic feeling for sure. All of a sudden, you feel like Ben Campbell in the movie 21 and there’s nothing that can stop you. That is until the forces of the universe swing the luck to the house and in the blink of an eye you feel like you couldn’t get a 21, let alone a decent hand in a million years. Whether you’re on a movie set in your mind or feeling like you’re the only one with bad luck in the casino, you need to listen to that little voice in your head that tells you when to walk away and when to run.

6. Don’t worry about other players
In every race, whether it be a fun run or a competitive race of any distance there’s always going to be a runner who takes it out slow, takes it out fast, slows down during it, and takes off at some point prior to the finish line. The most important thing you can do when you see any of these scenarios is to just do you, because you’re not them and you need to run your own race based on your training and body.

Is someone at the blackjack table not playing basic strategy? Is that player or another player at your table talking trash? Are your friends or bystanders, shouting everything they think you should do or worse everything they think you’re doing wrong? This is especially true in this game, as a common misconception about blackjack is that someone not playing basic strategy can cost you money, but not only is that not true, it can also help you as much as hurt you. The solution is simple in any or all of these situations – it’s at that moment you need to channel your inner Bill Belichick and “block out the noise and do your job” based on your knowledge and feel for the current game.

5. Know when to double down
While it’s important to just do you in a race, it’s just as important, if not more so, to know when to put it down and go for it. There’s going to come a time in every race, whether there’s a rabbit aka someone you’ve been pacing off and now want to go chase down or the finish line is within a smart distance to put your body into that sixth gear and leave it all out on the course. It’s a leap of faith, for sure, and one you don’t want to do too early, but one that every runner needs to take from time to time.

This is true in the race for 21 as well. If your two cards total 9, 10, or 11 without an ace or 16, 17 or 18 with an ace then that’s the moment when you want to go get it and double down. However, before you match your initial bet and point a finger up toward the dealer, you need to make sure the dealer isn’t showing an ace or that your cards total more than 11 without an Ace. If all these scenarios are lined up, then take a breath and go for it as a rite of passage at the tables. It can vary as players use their own strategies, as some players might not double on a 9 or a 10 when the dealer has a 10 or a face card.

4. Know when to split
Whether you’re just starting out running or have been running for a long time, you’re going to learn quickly that all distances can be broken down into two time frames in your mind. So, if you’re running 3 miles then you’re running two runs of 1.5 miles each or if you’re running the magic number of 26.2 miles then you’re running two runs of 13.1 miles each. This is important to remember because you can run each phase of the run differently and to your advantage.

If a player is dealt two cards that are the same number, like two fours or two eights, then they can match their initial bet and make the v-shape motion to the dealer that they want to split those cards apart and play each one like two separate hands instead of one. This allows you to not only turn a bad hand into a good hand, but also increase your odds for two good hands.

It should be noted that it’s just as important to know when not to split.

Learn the rules before you play.

Learn the rules before you play. (photo by Javon Swaby)

3. Know the rules of the casino
Prior to starting your watch as your cross the start line, it’s important for every runner to know the rules of said race as they vary from event to event. Two of the main rules focus on safety and enjoyment. The first of which revolves around starting corrals as a lot of races want to make sure not only do you race within your time capability, but also and more importantly that you don’t slow faster runners down by starting in a faster pack. Another area, you should know before you enter a race is whether or not you’re allowed to listen to music as some events prefer you be aware of all your surroundings and fellow runners rather than listening to your running playlists.

Some of these are, if you’re allowed to listen to music, keep the volume at a level that allows you to hear what’s going on around you.

While the goal for every blackjack player is to hit 21, it’s imperative for all players to know the house rules. All the rules should be on the table’s felt when you sit down.

For instance, at some casinos, if a dealer is showing a face card when he flips his one card over, and your two cards aren’t great such as a 15, you can surrender. You can do so by using your index finger to draw a horizontal line from left to right as if you’re crossing out something. By surrendering, you’ll be able to get half your bet back.

Another, and a more important difference between casinos, can be the odds at each respective blackjack table. Casinos used to pay 3-to-2; however, those tables are increasingly hard to find as most now only pay 6-to-5 odds, which is something that experts will tell you not to play.

An additional rule to keep an eye out for is if a dealer must stand or hit on a soft 17. A soft 17 is when a 17 is made with an ace serving as an 11.

2. Know your fund threshold
Even though every person who runs doesn’t have a gauge on the outside of their body like a car does for gas to tell them that they’re low on hydration, salt, carbohydrates, or sugar, deep down a runner knows what their limits are on any given day and any given course. It doesn’t matter what the race distance is or the amount of people in the race, a runner knows their body and what it can withstand before they hit a wall.

A blackjack player only needs to keep track of one gauge when they walk into a casino, and that’s their bank account. You need to know before you choose a table am I going to feel comfortable with the limit at this table? More importantly, if you’re dealt a solid hand that you want to double down on or split, do I feel comfortable raising my bet? Whether you’ve been playing forever or you’re a newbie, you need to set a limit in your mind so you don’t run into trouble down the road.

1. Learn basic strategy
Putting one foot in front of the other is as simple as it gets if you want to run, but that alone won’t win you a marathon. In order to maximize your chances of competing in a race you need to do your homework by reading running blogs and watching others run a race.

The same holds true for blackjack. Anyone can sit down at a table in a casino, but then what? In order to increase your odds, you need to know what to do as soon as your two cards flip and the dealer opens one of their cards. Do you stand? Do you hit? The best way to answer those questions is to find yourself a basic strategy manual or card, find trusted casino gurus to read (hint, hint), and watch others play in a casino.
Jarrod LeBlanc

Jarrod serves as Casino City's associate editor and helps produce and edit all of our weekly newsletters, as well as the GPWA Times Magazine. He has more than six years of experience as a writer and editor and enjoys playing fantasy sports, but spends most of his time with his family, running and coaching youth sports. Contact Jarrod at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityJL.
Jarrod LeBlanc
Jarrod serves as Casino City's associate editor and helps produce and edit all of our weekly newsletters, as well as the GPWA Times Magazine. He has more than six years of experience as a writer and editor and enjoys playing fantasy sports, but spends most of his time with his family, running and coaching youth sports. Contact Jarrod at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityJL.