Alone Against the Dealer
Blackjack is not a team game, nor is it a competition with other players. It is contest of each individual against the dealer. Players wager and win or lose, independent of what happens with others.
That said, most Blackjack tables feature from five to seven betting spots. There is seating for just as many players, who come and go at will. The parade of ever-changing tablemates can be quite a challenge for the serious Blackjack player, who may have to endure visits from novices, partiers, loudmouths, drunks, slow players, poor players, know-it-alls, high stakes bettors, penny pinchers, tourists, off-duty casino staff, and all various other forms of distraction.
Playing Heads Up
An attractive alternative is playing alone against the dealer. This can be accomplished either by sitting down at an empty table and asking the pit boss to open it or by outlasting everyone else and ending up as the only player at a previously busy table.
That said, many players admit they are afraid to go “heads up” against a dealer. They fear being out-maneuvered, rushed to make decisions, and taken advantage of by someone whose job it is to play Blackjack for a living. Yet playing alone against the dealer is actually in a player’s best interests, for many good reasons. For example, card counters find that playing Blackjack alone against the dealer makes it much easier to keep track of what’s been played.
First and foremost among the advantage, however, is the opportunity to win more money faster. How much a player can profit in an hour is a function of the number of hands dealt, and fewer players means more deals. Assuming the average hand consists of 2.7 cards, a full table of seven players plus the dealer sees 22 cards per deal. A single player alone with a dealer will see just six cards. That means at least three times as many cards can be seen per hour.
For a good player, most hands do not require a lot of decision-making—it is either hit or stand. If a betting strategy is employed, knowing how much to wager is a quick decision, too, so it is quite possible to play even four or five times faster than a full table.
On the downside, the pace is so fast when playing alone that there is little time for sipping a drink, let alone taking a mental break. Beginners and intermediate players who need time to think may prefer the pace of a full table. Heads up is for those who know their Basic Blackjack Strategy forwards and backwards and can almost play hands on auto-pilot.
More Pros and Cons
It is quite common to get on a roll or hit a bad slump when playing alone with a dealer. When the latter occurs, it is best to slow down the game by taking a break. It is not possible to “sit out” a hand when playing heads up, but the dealer will not act until a bet is placed, so taking a breather without leaving the table is most certainly allowed by delaying putting up a wager.
A bigger challenge is when a winning streak comes along and spectators start to gather. Having an audience can cause a form of “performance anxiety.” Worse still, an eager beaver may sit down at the table and say “I want in on this.” Proper etiquette would be for the new player to ask permission to join the table, which can always be declined, but it is really up to the pit bosses whether others can be seated when you are playing alone. Providing the dealer and pit crew with tips can help make their decision a little easier.
Other ways to discourage game-crashers include sitting in the middle-most seat and playing at a higher stakes table. Simply requesting a private game is not out of order, either.
Another intrinsic advantage of going heads up is the ability to play multiple hands. Some casinos require only that the player make at least a minimum bet on each spot. Others insist that equal amounts be wagered for each hand. And some will allow any number of hands to be played, but require that they be bet continuously. Once off a spot for a hand, the spot may not be regained. Obviously, it is important to be familiar with the House Rules before opening up a table for solo play.