If you’ve spent any time at a live blackjack table, no doubt you’ve come across some real characters. Blackjack players are a special lot, because the game they’re playing is special. Blackjack is a table game, sure, but it’s a casino-banked game in which players compete only against the house. Good blackjack play requires a ton of strategy and abstract thought, another fact that separates it from the typical card or table game.
In short, blackjack players often have strong personalities. I’d say that every blackjack player I’ve ever come across at a casino fits into one of these five broad categories:
The Social Butterfly is in the casino to have fun. They usually have small bankrolls, little idea of how to play, and not much of an agenda in terms of strategy or winning. I’d say the majority of blackjack players fall under this heading. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
You’ll notice that players of this variety play based on hunches. If you handed them a strategy card, they’d be polite and thank you, but I doubt they’d have any idea how to use it. The Social Butterfly is the guy at your table who hits on a soft 17 while he regales you with stories from his meat processing plant back home. Social Butterfly players split all the time and neglect to draw enough in situations with a positive expectation.
It’s good to have a few of these players at your table. They keep the house happy with their sloppy play and hefty tips, encourage everyone to take shots, and keep the party atmosphere at its peak. So long as you don’t get distracted by their boisterous attitude, they’re no danger.
The Math Whiz is in the casino as a kind of noble pursuit. He’s either a really smart guy who happens to have found himself in Vegas for a bachelor party, or he’s on his way to becoming a professional player or card-counter. No math whiz is playing blackjack to have a good time.
I’d say fewer than one in ten blackjack players are true math geniuses. These players have a little knowledge of the game, for the most part, and rely on statistics for the ideal play. Their knowledge of blackjack probably includes basic strategy, and you’ll find a surprising number of them doubling after winnings in homage to the Martingale System.
I’m not crazy about having one of these guys at my table. I’ve noticed that they tend to slow the game down, mulling over their position or the dealer’s up-card. To make matters worse, they’re hardly ever sociable enough for my taste.
The Nervous Nelly is in the casino despite their best efforts to stay out of them. You can recognize a Nervous Nelly right off – they look out of place, they’re saucer-eyed, overwhelmed, and maybe even a little sweaty. They clutch a tiny amount of cash tight in their hands and approach the table with anything but confidence.
Almost as many Nervous Nellies exist as Social Butterflies. I’d say most of the Butterfly archetype were, at one point, Nervous Nellies, unsure how to play, unwilling even to ask for help. They have little or no knowledge about casino gambling, much less blackjack. They’ve probably ended up at the blackjack table accidentally, or because it’s the only gambling game they’ve heard of before.
We have to be patient with newcomers. At one time, I was as nervous as any of the Nellies I’ve played next to in casinos. The trick is to lift them up, so to speak. Fill them in on game rules and etiquette. Talk to them about basic strategy. Point them in the direction of a decent game trainer or article on the subject of blackjack. I fully believe in gambling karma – helping someone become familiar with the game just might extend your next winning streak a few rounds.
The Amateur Card-Counter is in the casino to perfect or display her ability to beat the casino with her brain. She’s not part of any professional network or group designed to rip the casino off on a grand scale – she may not even win all that much, depending on her ability level. But she has one goal and only one goal in mind – and spotting that is how you spot this player.
Amateur Card-Counters can and will spend a little extra time counting cards and maintaining and adjusting their betting to suit. Honestly, I’d say you have about a 1% chance of playing next to a true amateur counter. They need to practice this skill all the time or they lose it – so if you do spot an amateur counter, you may be seeing her again and again.
In my experience, it’s a drag to play with a player of this type. As I already mentioned, they tend to slow the game way down. But they also don’t have the patience or the confidence to engage in any kind of conversation or interaction with you or the dealer while they work. They make the table all the more boring by generally breaking even over the course of their session.
True professionals make up a fraction of a percent of the casino gambling population. Being a pro or even a semi-pro blackjack player requires concentration, effort, dedication, and discipline in amounts that most people just don’t have. True pros are consistent winners at the blackjack table.
In some cases it may be next to impossible to spot a pro outside of the fact that he seems to win way more than he loses. He knows more about the casino, the game, and maybe even the dealer of your game than anyone else in the room. They tend to play for short session, maybe an hour or less. They make a hasty retreat and leave little in the way of an impression. That’s right – surprise, surprise, blackjack professionals don’t like to be known.
Each of the five archetypes above come with positive and negative characteristics. Without the Social Butterflies of this world, table games would be boring. Nervous Nellies remind us to follow etiquette rules and help us brush up on the game by asking tons of questions. Every one of the characters above has something good to offer. The next time you’re sitting around a blackjack table, take a look at the other players. No doubt you’ll find one of each of the above stereotypes playing right by your side.