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Cruise ship casinos are a staple for anyone spending a long day and night at sea. You’ll find a plethora of slot machines, craps tables, and roulette, but one of our favorite time-passers is blackjack. It’s an easy way to win a couple extra bucks to cover those overpriced drinks.

Our love of blackjack can be attributed to the movies and their glorification of the game. Movies like Rounders, 21, and Casino showed us the highs and lows of gambling [see sidebar]. These films gave us the desire to learn the ins and outs of blackjack, and we subsequently fell in love with the gambling experience.

Unlike poker, Texas Hold ’em, or roulette, this game is essentially played as a team; it’s everyone versus the house. The team dynamic makes for a much more enjoyable gambling experience and most people will help you out when you’re first learning—after all, you’re all in this together. People will often tell you the object of blackjack is to get as close as possible to 21 without going over, but that is false; the object is to beat the dealer.

We at Cigars & Leisure have been playing blackjack for many years now and have never lost money (yet). Sure, sometime we’ve walked away only $5 ahead, but other times it’s been a couple hundred dollars—though we’re no high-rollers. Because we’ve enjoyed relative success, we figured we’d share some tips with you and give you some terms you should know before hitting your ship’s casino. Also, we are by no means experts, so if one of our strategies goes wrong, don’t go blaming the random editors from C&L.

Terms to Know Before Jumping In

Blackjack – When you’re dealt an ace and a ten, congrats, you have a blackjack! That means you’re usually rewarded with 1 1/2 times the amount of your bet.

Bust – When your total points exceed 21, you lose.

Hit – When you choose to be dealt one or more cards, but don’t bust!

Stand – When you stay with the hand you were dealt.

Double Down – When you double your bet and get one more card.

Split – When you’re feeling really confident and the dealer is showing a bad hand, you can split your two cards and the dealer will give each card a second card. Then you can hit, stand, or double down as needed.

blackjack close up blackjack tips


Want to become a pro? Practice makes perfect. Play with friends a few times before betting any money, and make sure you feel comfortable with the basic rules. Honestly, you don’t need to know all the ins and outs; the dealer will almost always offer assistance and advice, as will your fellow players.

If the dealer gives you two 10s, don’t split them. You’re almost guaranteed to win with two 10s and you don’t want to jeopardize that by splitting them up.

Always split two 8s. If you’re dealt two 8s, then you have 16 (obviously), which is the absolute worse hand in blackjack. If you split them, then you have a better chance of at least winning one hand.

Never split two 5s. If you get two 5s it’s best to double down instead of split. I’ve seen many a person split 5s, and it’s never gone well for them. They always end up sad.

Stand on a 17 or higher. I’ve watched a few poor souls try to hit on their 17 when the dealer was showing an ace, and they almost always bust.

The rule of thumb is; don’t stand on your 12 through 16 if the dealer is showing a 7 or higher, but I usually do otherwise. Say I’m dealt a 15 and the dealer is showing a 9. I’d rather chance the dealer busting and going over 21 than me busting and then him busting as well. In that case, we both lose, and I’d rather keep my chance. I never trust myself to hit and get a low card. Many seasoned players may call this idiotic, but it’s always worked for me.

There is no such thing as a hot or cold table; it’s all chance. I’ve witnessed people get frustrated and leave because the table “went cold.” I usually laugh at these people … not to their face, of course.

It doesn’t matter where you sit. Some people will insist sitting right next to the dealer, others insist on being at the opposite end. But again, it’s all chance. All of it. If you’re superstitious, then do what you want.

Never take insurance. It’s always offered when a dealer is showing an ace, but I’ve never seen anyone take it. It really is the coward’s way out.

Gambling Movies

Art imitates life, so why not brush up on your skills by watching one of these gambling movies?

rounders blackjack tips
Courtesy of Miramax

Rounders starring Matt Damon.
Type of gambling: Poker

casino royale blackjack tips
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Casino Royale starring Daniel Craig.
Type of gambling: Texas Hold ’em

blackjack tips 21
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

21 starring Kevin Spacey.
Type of gambling: Blackjack

casino blackjack tips
Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Casino starring Robert De Niro
Type of gambling: Their lives

Oceans-11 blackjack tips
Courtesy of Warner Bros

Ocean’s Eleven starring George Clooney
Type of gambling: Jail time

We know you like movies, so which of these fall films have you seen?

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