blackjack or bust 

Katie Shimer's Clip-n-Save Guide to Staying Afloat at the BJ Tables

Being a blackjack novice is painful and embarrassing, especially on a packed Friday night at the subterranean Mirage Casino in Vegas (my favorite gambling hole). And since the fun components of blackjack are: a) winning money, b) playing for a long time while swilling free drinks, c) making friends/lovers with your tablemates, you'll want to have some idea what you're doing out there. Here are some basic blackjack rules that should keep you in enough dough to buy the hottie next to you a drink or better yet, some breakfast.

Pointers for the novice: Start out your gambling day in the morning. You'll have some space at the tables, and Vegas card dealers are very willing to coach. Try the wheelchair table for especially helpful dealers. Making friends with your dealer (the house) is imperative. Tip them lavishly, whether or not you win or lose--that way, karma will be on your side.

(And just in case you're a complete idiot: Point at your card if you want to hit, wave at it if you want to pass.)

The object of the game is to get as close to 21 as possible without going over, although this rule is amended below, based on the hand of your dealer. You play against the house, and your fellow tablemates are your cohorts. Beware of the booze. As is the case with sex or driving while intoxicated, your betting/hitting/staying judgment is impaired when intoxicated.

The following rules apply to the standard 6-deck Vegas shoe or the more po-dunk 3-deck shoe at, say, the glamorous Cadillac Ranch in Longview.


Hitting or Staying

• The general rule is stay on a 17 or above. This applies even for a soft 17 (Ace and a six), unless the dealer is showing a 9, 10, or Ace. On soft 17 or 18, hit at your discretion. Stand on a soft 19 or above.

• Assume the dealer's down card is a 10. If their up card shows a 7 or higher, hit if your hand is 12-16.

• If the dealer's up card is a 2 through 6, stay on any hand 12 or over.


Splitting

• When you are dealt two of the same card, you can "split" them, creating two hands where you can hit as many times as you want--but you must bet an identical amount on the new hand.

• Always split on Aces and 8s.

• Never split on fives or 10s.

• Split 4s only if the dealer shows a 5 or 6.

• Take risks in splitting 2s, 3s, 6s, or 7s if the dealer shows a 6 or under.


Double Down

• The double down is possible with any hand. This is when you match your initial bet after you've been dealt your hand. In exchange, you receive only one more card.

• Double down if your hand is 11, unless the dealer shows an Ace.

• Double down on 10, unless the dealer shows an Ace or 10.

• Double down on 9 if the dealer shows a 3-6.

Not to brag, but after following the above advice, I'm up $340--after starting with only $40. True, it's not amazing, but it's not chump change, either and as long as I'm not bragging, I'm also up two breakfast dates.

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