Beginners Guide for Blackjack in Las Vegas

Question: My sister is getting married in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks. I bet on sports, but I've never really gambled in a casino before, and I would really like to try my hand at blackjack in Las Vegas. Any advice on how and where in “sin city” can I get started?

It's great that you are thinking about it now, before you actually sit down at a Vegas blackjack table with real money on the line. Because although blackjack is a relatively simple game, it still takes a little time to learn and if you just jump in and head straight for the casino floor, it's going to end up as a very expensive lesson.

Before your trip, you'll probably want to look into one of the many online blackjack simulation games or free smartphone apps where you can play realistic blackjack for fun. These games are terrific ways to learn the ins and outs of the game without actually putting your hard-earned money on the line.

Luckily, you won't have to play blackjack computer simulations for hours and hours in order to develop a sound blackjack strategy – someone has already done it for you. It's called 'Blackjack Basic Strategy' and it was developed by mathematicians as statistically the best possible way to play blackjack. All it is is a set or rules for what you should do based on the card the dealer is showing. If you follow basic strategy correctly, you cut the house edge to less than 1%.

The best part about basic strategy is that it's not a secret, you can find basic strategy charts everywhere. In fact, you can even find small basic strategy cards in casino gift shops for just a few dollars. Do casinos have a problem with that? Absolutely not, and you are free to use a basic strategy card while playing a video blackjack machine or even at a live blackjack table itself.

Having a basic strategy card in your pocket, ready to tell you what to do at a moment's notice, is something that every new blackjack needs. Unless you have an amazing memory, it will take a lot of hands before before knowing the exact right action becomes second nature, so take advantage of this amazing, and legal, tool.

Once you are in itching to take on blackjack in Las Vegas and play for real money, you might want to consider starting on one of the easy-to-find video blackjack machines scattered around the casino. These machines are perfect for beginners because of their small minimum bet (usually around 25 cents instead of $5 or more); when you lose because of a bad mistake, at least you won't lose very much. And you likewise won't feel intimidated by other players, which is something which commonly afflicts new players.

When it's time to finally hit the real-live tables, you should head downtown to the El Cortez casino. Yep, the glitz and glamor of The Strip is not the place to be learning blackjack; instead it's the old-school local favorite El Cortez where the best blackjack game in town can be found.

The reason for this is that the El Cortez still offers a game which is nearly extinct in the rest of Nevada, if not the world – 3:2 single-deck blackjack with a house edge a tiny 0.19%. That's right, at the El Cortez you can play single-deck blackjack where natural blackjacks pay 3 to 2 (most single-deck games now pay 6:5 or even 1:1) and you can play this rare and magical game for an incredible $5 a hand!

If you don't know Vegas that well, then you don't understand how amazing this actually is. There are of course other great blackjack games with advantageous rules scattered around the city, but you often have to bet $25 a hand to play them. Playing for $5 a pop at the El Cortez will keep you playing for a long time, even if you're losing. And if you use basic strategy combined with these great rules, maybe you can win a little cash by playing Blackjack in Las Vegas and get your sister a special wedding present.

About The Author

Insider casino expert Mark Pilarski worked nearly every job in his 18 years in the casino industry, from dealer to cashier to shift manager. Armed with that experience, he created the legendary Hooked on Winning casino advice audio series and he currently lectures and writes gambling columns for various websites, newspapers, and magazines.

  • "Ideally, all bets should be made with chips. However, casinos will allow one-time bets made with cash. To confirm this bet, the dealer will say, 'money plays'. if you win, you will receive your winnings in casino chips."

  • "The modern roulette layout comes from mid-nineteenth century France, making it one of the oldest casino games. Roulette dealers are often referred to as croupiers, which is the French word for dealer."

  • "Modern video keno can trace its roots all the way back to ancient China, where a lottery-style game called 'white dove' was used to finance the army during times of war and hardship."

  • "Mechanical slot machines have everything you need to known written on the front glass. You can immediately see the type, how much it costs to play, and how much you can win for each combination."

  • "You get free drinks when you play in a casino. Casinos do this because alcohol makes you gamble more, of course. If you want to stay in control and have a shot at winning, don't drink."