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Reading the Placard
Blackjack Professor
by Lance Humble

It was a holiday weekend, and I was in a large casino in Northern Nevada where I found almost every blackjack table open. When I find casinos crowded, I use a mental checklist to evaluate good blackjack tables from ones that are not so good. I do this rather than just hoping that the table I sit down at will be a winning one. On this particular weekend I found something special!

The first thing I look for is the placard. This small rectangular sign is normally positioned near the far edge of the blackjack table. It’s important for players to observe this sign because of all the information on it. To begin with, I look at the color of the placard itself. Many casinos color-code them to identify what the minimum bet is at that specific table. For example, a red colored placard will indicate that the minimum bet is $5, the same color as the $5 red chip found in most casinos. A green colored placard would indicate a $25 minimum as the $25 chips are generally colored green. A black placard would indicate a $100 minimum, the same as the $100 black chip.

Besides listing the minimum and maximum betting allowed many casinos list some of the rules of the game on the placard. For example, it may post what two cards a player can double down on, rules about splitting aces, doubling after split, what action the dealer takes on a soft 17 (hit or stand), and sometimes it will list whether surrender is offered. It is important to know that each table can be different! In many cases the difference in rules is based on whether it is a single or multi-deck game.

During this particular weekend I noticed one table listing on the placard a rule stating “double down on 2 or more cards.” I was surprised because I had never seen that rule offered before. I thought it was interesting as the rule adds a positive 0.24 percent advantage to the player. I wanted to see if this unique rule was as good as it looked, so I sat down. After a few hands, the opportunity I was looking for came. I had a three-card eleven. To make sure, I asked the dealer if I could double down and she said, “You certainly can.” I added the additional wager and she give me a 10 for a winning 21. I was delighted.

After some time, a relief dealer came to our table and took over dealing. As we continued to play, I again received a three-card double down opportunity and began to add more chips to my original bet. This dealer stopped dealing and said, “You can’t do that. You can only double down on the first two cards.” I explained to the new dealer that this particular table was different and pointed to the placard. Just then the pit boss appeared and the dealer, who looked surprised after reading the placard, asked him about this unusual rule. The pit boss pointed to the little sign and said it was OK. It was interesting to note that the blackjack tables on either side of ours had the same amount of decks and the same rules with the exception of the double down option. The dealer shrugged her shoulders and resumed dealing, giving me my card. Again I caught a 10, resulting in 21 and a winning hand. Later, as I canvassed the rest of the casino, I discovered only four tables allowing this exceptional rule. What was interesting is this particular casino had over sixty blackjack tables. The point to remember is: always read the placard and don’t take if for granted that all the tables have the same rules.

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