For those who have never played a table game before, this section is for you. It will benefit everybody if you know the basics of gambling protocol before you sit down for the first time. Few things are more annoying than a beginner at a table who doesn’t know what to do and has to be told everything several times by the dealer. Before your first time at a table game ask if your casino offers gaming instructions. Many will give a tour of all the major games, explaining the rules and how to play, at specific times of the day. Some casinos offer a designated table where people can play with play chips to get their feet wet. If none of these options are available I would suggest watching a game from behind for a few minutes before sitting down. Notice the procedure and when you sit down try not to disrupt it.
Following are some pointers which you can learn now or learn the hard way:
- Understand the rules before you sit down.
- Only buy or cash in chips between hands. If you sit down while a hand is in progress then wait patiently for the conclusion of the hand to buy in. Use this time to get your money ready.
- When you buy in the dealer may ask what denomination of chips you prefer. You should know that red chips are $5, greens are $25, and blacks are $100. Some high limit tables have additional colors, I have seen $10,000 chips at Caesars Palace. If you buy in for $100 or less I would take all red chips. If you buy in for $100-$500 I would ask for $100 in red chips and the rest in green. It is also a good idea to ask for $10 in “silver” or $1 tokens. This shows you are willing to tip and will help establish a good rapport with the dealer quickly. You can always get change for large chips later. You are usually not allowed to trade up in denomination except when you leave the table. If you have too many red chips and are betting over $25 then bet only red chips until you get your stack down through attrition. The dealers will pay you off in the largest denominations possible. If you bet $20 and win they often will take one of your red chips and give you a green. This is a subtle way the casinos get you to bet more. While you should have no compunction about asking to make change for large chips don’t keep breaking one green chip at a time, it wastes everybody’s time.
- When you cash out the dealers prefer for you to trade in smaller denominations of chips for large ones. Between hands give the dealer neat stacks of chips and let him/her count them and change them in.
- In some games the cards are dealt face up. If this is the case then never touch your cards.
- If the cards are dealt face down then only touch your cards with one hand! If you break this rule you will almost always get a sharp rebuke. Be gentle with the cards, don’t bend them or put drinks on them. Some players have tried to cheat by bending specific cards slightly, for example the aces, and the dealers have to guard against this. I’ve seen new players told repeatedly to only touch their cards with one hand. If you can’t seem to break the two-hand habit then sit on one hand if you have to. In some games, like Caribbean Stud Poker, you may not even touch your cards until the dealer signifies that you may by turning on a light.
- Never touch your bet once the first card has been dealt until after the hand is over.
- Do not drink excessively. Much worse than a new player is a drunk (except in poker when you can take their money easily).
- Speaking as a non-smoker, if you must smoke please try to maximize the time between cigarettes. When you exhale do not do so in the face of other players or the dealer. When you are done with your cigarette please fully put it out, not letting it emit smoke from the ash tray. I respect your right to smoke, even at my table, but try to make it as painless for me as possible.
- In blackjack do not rebuke another player for the way they play their hand. There is a mistaken belief that unnecessary hitting causes everyone to lose at blackjack. This is addressed in more depth in my section on gambling myths.
- Do not ask the dealer for advice. Dealers do not want to be blamed if you follow their advice and you lose so they will usually give a vague answer if you ask.
- Do not ask for pity if you have a bad hand, it happens to everyone. Numerous times I have seen a player hit a stiff hand in blackjack and get an additional small card but still be in the 12-16 point range. When this happens some players will often show their cards to the dealer, make a big sigh, and expect some sympathy for having to make another decision. Nobody cares about your hand but you, make a decision quickly and do not hold up the game.
- Tipping is more open to your judgement than the other rules of etiquette. In my opinion you should tip 2/3 based on how friendly and helpful the dealer is and 1/3 on how much you are winning/losing. Even if you are losing you should still tip if the dealer has been trying to make the experience more fun. I used to say a player does not have to tip if they are losing but dealers viewing the page wrote in and rebuked me. The remarks of two of them are below. I think you should tip the cocktail waitresses based on their service alone, a dollar a drink is the norm, and ordering non-alcoholic drinks is not an excuse to skimp on the tip.
- Some games, especially blackjack, involve hand signals to signify how you want to play your cards. You must use hand signals, verbal instructions are not enough. Please know them before you sit down, it is very annoying when a new player has to be instructed over and over. Here are the hand signals in blackjack when the cards are dealt face up:
- Hit: Tap the table
- Stand: Wave your hand, palm open and parallel to the table
- Double/Split: Place your matching bet next to, never on top of, your original bet. If you have two fours or two fives you should hold up one finger for doubling and two for splitting.
Here are the hand signals in blackjack when the cards are dealt face down:
- Hit: Lightly scrape the corner of the cards against the felt.
- Stand: Slide your cards under your bet. Do not lift your chips in the process.
- Double/Split: Place your cards face up on the table, just above your bet. Then place your matching bet next to, never on top of, your original bet. If you have two fours or two fives you should hold up one finger for doubling and two for splitting.
If you bust then lay down your cards face up by your bet. Do not throw them in disgust, it is very rude. If you can’t handle losing then don’t play at all.