Crash Course in Table Games

Or see my detailed lessons for: Baccarat | Blackjack | Craps | Roulette | Slot Machines

Last update: October 2019

One of my goals for this site is to get players off of slots and onto games that don't suck your money away hand over fist.  Just how bad are slots?  Have a look:

Turn your phone sideways for a better calculator!
Average Loss Calculator
Game Rounds / Rolls
Per Hour
Bet per round House Edge Average Avg. Loss for
hour(s) hrs
of play
Slots $ 
Roulette $ 
Video Poker $ 
Baccarat $ 
Craps $ 
Blackjack $ 
These are mathematical averages based on infinite play.  You could lose more or less.
Play online casino games with fake money!  It's better than losing real money.

Of course, to enjoy the better odds available at table games you have to know how to play them.  That's where this page comes in.  Maybe you're a slot player tired of losing your shirt every time you take a gambling vacation, and you're ready to have a better chance of winning.  Or maybe you've never been to the casino, but you're smart enough to seek out the best bets rather than throwing your money away in slots.  Either way, I'll show you the basics of playing table games.

A word of caution:  table games are better than slots not just because the odds are better, it's also because table games are played slower than slots.  You might get 70 rounds an hour in blackjack, but it's easy to play 700 spins per hour on a slot.  Well, that goes out the window when you play table games online.  Online table games can be played nearly as fast as slots.  The trick here is to simply bet less.  If you'd bet $5 per hand on blackjack in a land casino, then online, where the play is five times faster, bet just $1 per hand.  My calculator above will help you find the games and betting sizes that are right for your budget.

For that matter, slots are a reasonable choice as long as you don't bet very much.  Bet a penny per spin and you're looking at a mere $2/hr. average loss online, or $6/hr. in Vegas.  (Odds are better online.)  Spend some time with the calculator to get a feel for how the options affect your losses.

And now, onto the lesson!

Getting Chips

Every table has a minimum bet, indicated by a sign on the table (at least $5).  Make sure to read the sign so you don't buy in at a $25 table when you meant to be at a $5 table.  (If you make a mistake and buy in at the wrong table, you don't have to play there, you can just take your chips to another table, but it can still be embarrassing if everyone sees you picked the wrong table.)

Put your cash on the table to buy chips.  (It has to be cash, they don't take credit cards.)  Put your cash right in front of you, between two betting circles (or in craps, outside the great big box).  Don't hand your money to the dealer; they can't take it directly from your hand.  When you put it on the table, don't put it inside a marked circle or on any writing, or the dealer may think you want to bet the cash and start dealing.  The dealer will finish the hand (s)he's dealing before looking at your money, so be patient—if your money's on the table, they'll get to it.

Dealers don't make change.  Any money you put on the table will be turned into chips.  Then again, you don't have to bet all your chips.  When you're done, you take whatever chips you have left to the cashier booth to cash them in.

Red chips are worth $5 and green chips are $25.  The $1 chips are either silver or white.  The dealer may ask "How do you want that?", meaning do you want all red, or some red and green, etc.  Whatever you get, always get at least five $1 chips for tipping the dealer and the cocktail waitress.  More on tipping later.

When you're done playing you'll "color up", which is to turn your chips into higher denominations so you have fewer chips to carry to the cashier.  Just push your chips towards the dealer and say, "Color up, please."  She'll change your chips and give you the larger denominations.  If you're not going to gamble any more then walk your chips over to the cashier (the "cage") to cash them in.  You can't cash your chips in at the table.

All the games use the same chips, except roulette.  With roulette each player uses a different color, so it's easy to see who bet on what.  You can buy roulette chips with regular chips or with cash.

Use Your Slot Card

Yep, you can use your slot card on table games. Just place it on the table with your money.  The dealer will give it to a floor supervisor, who will write down the number on the card and then give it back to you. Your play won't show up as points the next time you put your card into a machine, but you can still get free meals once you've played long enough. (Ask a floor supervisor how long you need to play to get a meal.)  Free goodies you get from the casino are called comps. (More on comps.)

Using Chips

Make a bet by putting one or more chips in the betting circle or other marked betting area.  If you're betting different color chips, put the larger denomination chips on the bottom of the stack.

Don't touch your bet (chips) once you've placed it!  Some people try to cheat the casino by decreasing their bet (removing chips) when they've lost a hand, or adding chips when they've won a hand.  Because of this, the casinos don't want your hands near your chips once your bet is placed, and the dealers enforce the no-touching rule very seriously.

When you're finished playing, push your chips forward and ask the dealer to "color up", which means to turn your stack of low-denomination chips into a few high denomination chips. That way you have fewer chips to carry over to the cashier cage to cash them in. Just make sure you don't push your chips into a betting circle, otherwise the dealer might think you want to bet all your chips!

How much to bet

When you're new at any game, always play the table minimum, often $5.  If you could afford to play 5¢/spin on slots, you can afford to bet $5 a hand at a table.  A $500 bankroll is usually sufficient for a weekend of play (15 hours) at most table games.  See my separate page on how much you can afford to bet for more.

Getting Help from the Dealer

Don't be afraid to ask the dealer for help, especially if you don't understand some of the instructions listed here.   For example, you might see that the blackjack strategy below tells you to split two 8's, and you have two 8's but you have no idea how to split them.  Just ask, "How do I split these?", and the dealer will tell you how.

Be sure you can tell the difference when the dealer tells you that you can't do something vs. that you shouldn't do something.  If the dealer says you can't, well, that's the rules, and you can't.  But if the dealer advises against something just because they think it's a bad bet (like splitting 8's), then remain firm that you want to make your play.  Believe it or not, most dealers don't know the complete and proper strategies for the games they're dealing, and the other players are no better.


Like waiters, dealers generally make minimum wage (or not much more) and work for tips.  I tip at least $5 per hour I play ($1 at a time throughout the hour).  A tip for a dealer is called a toke.  You can offer your tip directly to the dealer, or you can place a bet for the dealer.  I often ask which they prefer, but almost all dealers go for the bet rather than taking the toke directly.  Betting for the dealer is a good way to establish rapport with the dealer, and in games like blackjack when you're betting against the dealer's hand, this reminds you that your opponent is really the casino, not the dealer herself.  Betting for the dealer is done differently in different games, so just ask the dealer at your game, "How do I place a bet for you?"

Of course, tipping is optional and some players don't tip at all.  But remember that most dealers, like waiters, make minimum wage and are really working for tips.  (And at the El Cortez, dealers averaged only $21/day in tips in 2003, according to The Dealer's News.)  Also, the IRS takes 28% out of their tip pool right away. I don't tip unfriendly dealers, but I'll tip any dealer that didn't give me a bad experience.  As I say on the tipping page, you're not tipping for good service, you're tipping as long as the service wasn't bad.  Don't worry about losing money from tipping—$5/hr. is way less than you'd lose on slots.

The cocktail waitress will come around periodically to take your order for free drinks.  An adequate tip is a dollar every drink or two.

The Games


This game is the closest thing to a table version of a slot machine: You place your bets, the cards are dealt, and then they tell you whether you won or not.  You don't make any decisions, just like a slot machine.  You simply bet and cross your fingers.  You have a choice of three different bets (Banker, Player, or Tie).  Banker is the best bet, so just bet on Banker every time.   You'll enjoy a very low house edge of only 1.06%.  The dealer will take a 5% commission on winning hands, but your low 1.06% disadvantage includes the commission.

Practice baccarat with fake money at Bovada

No popups, no registration, no download, no B.S., just the game.  One click and you're in.

This is all you need to know to play Baccarat, but for those who want more, I have a complete guide to Baccarat.


The players take turns rolling the dice.  Everyone bets on the same roll of the dice, no matter who's rolling.  It probably won't be your turn to roll right away, and if you're still getting used to the game you can pass your turn (unless you're the only one playing, of course).  After you've bought chips, look for a big hockey puck on the table that says ON or OFF.  If it says ON, wait until the dealer turns it to OFF before you place your bet.  As soon as it goes to OFF, then put your betting chip on the part of the table marked PASS LINE. If you lose, the dealer will take your chip.  If you win the dealer will give you another chip, which you'll pick up, and let your original bet play again.  If the marker gets turned to ON, you're moving into a bonus round and have another chance to win.  At this point place another chip below (due South) of your original bet. Most of the other bets at craps are sucker bets, so don't make them. If you play as recommended, you'll enjoy a very low house edge (casino profit per bet) of less than 1%.

Practice craps with fake money at Bovada

No popups, no registration, no download, no B.S., just the game.  One click and you're in.

You don't even have to understand what's going on, though it's probably more fun if you do.  Short summary: Right after you place your bet, rolling a 7 or 11 wins, while a 2, 3, or 12 loses. Any other number moves you into the bonus round.  In the bonus round, rolling the number that got you into the bonus round wins, while a 7 loses, and any other number is irrelevant,  For more info check out my detailed craps lesson.


The odds on roulette are at least five times worse than baccarat, blackjack, or craps.  Consider playing those games instead!  But if you must play roulette....

Most roulette wheels have a 0 and a 00, and have a 5.3% house edge. Some wheels have only the 0 (no 00), and have about a 2.6% house edge, but the catch is that the minimum bet is usally a lot higher.  Playing Roulette is easy: Just buy chips, and put your chip(s) on the number(s) you think will win, or on red or black, even or odd, etc.  For the most part, it doesn't matter what bet you pick: Except for one obscure bet, all bets carry the same odds.  To make your money last longer make only one bet per round, rather than a bunch of bets.  Also, understand that your odds are the same on every spin.  If black has just come up ten times in a row, your odds haven't changed, black and red are equally likely on the next spin.  (If you don't believe me start flipping a coin and notice that after three heads, you're equally likely to get heads as tails on the next flip.)  For the curious I also have more detailed information about roulette.

Practice roulette with fake money at Bovada

No popups, no registration, no download, no B.S., just the game.  One click and you're in.


You can get an ultra-low 0.5% house edge with a couple of hours of study.  But even with just this crash course you'll enjoy a low house edge of around 1.5% and lose way less money than at slots.  Remember, if you don't understand these instructions, just tell the dealer what you want to do and s/he'll help you.  For example, if you have two 8's and you know you want to split, ask, "How do I split these?"

Here's how the game works: Each player plays against the dealer, not against each other. So your objective is to beat the dealer. Here's how the scoring works:

  • Whoever has a higher score when the round is over, without going over 21, wins.
  • If the total of all the cards in a hand is over 21 (22 or higher), that hand is said to "bust". If you bust, you automatically lose, even if the dealer busts too.
  • If you didn't bust then you win if your total is higher than the dealer's total.
  • If either side gets a ten and an ace, it's called a blackjack and wins automatically. If the other side also has blackjack then it's a tie.

All cards are face value, except face cards count as 10.  An ace counts as eleven unless it would bust your hand, in which case it counts as 1. You and the dealer each get two cards but you get to see only one of the dealer's cards. Your choices are now:

  • Hit (take another card)
  • Double (double your bet, take one more card, and end your turn)
  • Split (too complicated to explain in the crash course, see the full rules)
  • Stand (end your turn and pass to the next player)

Here's your crash course strategy:

(1) Never play a game that says "Blackjack pays 6:5" on the table felt.  These games aren't real blackjack and the odds are three times as bad as the real thing.  (However, if the minimum bet on the casino's 3:2 games is higher than on the 6:5 games and is more than you were planning on betting, then either look for a better casino, or play the 6:5.)

(2) When your total is 9, 10 or 11, double when the dealer's up card is less than your total.

(3) Always split two 8's or two Aces.

(4) If the dealer's up card is 7 or more, then hit until you have at least 17, then stand.

(5) If the dealer's up card is 6 or less, than hit until you have at least 12, then stand.

(6) Never take insurance or even money.

Dealers and players may want to give you advice and suggest you play differently than what's suggested above. It's usually fine to take their advice, except that you should always split 8's and aces, you never want insurance or even money, no matter what the dealer or other players say. (The dealer is trained to deal the game, s/he knows nothing about the math behind it.)

Practice blackjack with fake money at Bovada

No popups, no registration, no download, no B.S., just the game.  One click and you're in.

Print out the above and take it with you to the casino.  You can't use your phone at the blackjack table because the casino will worry you're using it to count cards.  But they totally won't care if you have a printed cheat sheet.

For those willing to do a little extra work I also have the complete blackjack strategy. If you learn the proper strategy then stick to it and ignore when the dealer and other players tell you you're playing "wrong".

How to get a big jackpot with table games

One reason that people play slots vs. table games in the first place is that slots offer the advantage of a big jackpot.  Not so in a game like blackjack, where a $5 bet usually wins, at most, another $5. But there's a way to play table games and still have the chance of hitting a big jackpot like you would with slots: Use a simple betting system, as detailed in my article about how to win a million dollars at table games.  The gist of it is: Start off with $10, and bet 1/4th of your bankroll on every hand. Your chances of $100,000 this way are much greater than with slots.

Or you could set a lower goal and have an even greater chance of making your jackpot. Let's say you want to win $640. We'll do this by using a simple betting system with craps. If the following doesn't make sense to you, then read up on how to play craps.  Anyway, with one such bet system you would bet $5 on the pass line, and double your bet every time you win, until you hit $640.   If you lose then catch your breath by skipping two come-out rolls and then start over with a $5 bet.  Doing this you have a 1 in 34 chance of winning $640, much better than you'd have on slots. And if you don't win then you'll lose only $33/hr. or so—the same as if you were playing quarter slots.  So you'd have the same average loss on craps as you would on slots, but your chances of walking away a $640 winner are much greater.


You can practice your Crash Course strategies with fake money at Bovada.  The games play right in your browser and even work with Macs—and you don't have to register or give up your email address to play the free games.


You're now ready to play table games and leave with more money in your pocket than if you'd played slots!  


See my complete lessons for:

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Before you throw down your hard-earned cash in a casino, PRACTICE FIRST!  Learn the games with play money where it doesn't cost you anything if you lose.  Seriously.

You can play Bovada's games (below) right away without registering for an account.  Most every other online casino makes you give up your email address just to play the fake-money games — ugh.  That's the main reason Bovada is the only online casino that gets advertising space on my site.  (When you see the registration box, you can cancel it and proceed to the game without registering.)

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