Is It Better to Play Blackjack with a Full Table?

People Sitting Around a Full Blackjack Table

Blackjack is one of those casino games where the size of the crowd has a big effect on gameplay.

People who are new to blackjack often want to know if it’s better to play at a full or empty table. The truth is, there are reasons to choose both crowded and empty blackjack tables.

I wrote this post to cover all the reasons why a person might choose or avoid a full blackjack table.

How Does a Full Table Affect Blackjack?

Let’s look at the four biggest ways a full table changes the game of blackjack:

Effect on Game Environment

Imagine two blackjack tables – one is crowded, one is essentially empty.

A crowded table is busier. A crowded table is noisier. It’s potentially more obnoxious. It’s almost definitely going to draw more attention from casino employees. Crowded blackjack tables can even draw crowds of onlookers. The dealer’s making more money, so she’s happy.

Empty blackjack tables are slow. They’re quiet. They’re moving at a slower pace. There’s no crowd of looky-loo’s, and you’re being watched a little less by the guys in the suits. The dealer is a little bored, not making much money, and she’s probably a little bit irritated.

Your preference in terms of the air around your blackjack table has a lot to do with your experience, your personal history, and your personality.

Hands Per Hour

In the book Casino Operations Management by Jim Kilby, a textbook for students of gaming management, there’s a breakdown of the hands per hour at blackjack tables with different numbers of players.

I’ll share it with you here:

  • 1 player – 209
  • 2 players – 139
  • 3 players – 105
  • 4 players – 84
  • 5 players – 70
  • 6 players – 60
  • 7 players – 52

The difference between the number of hands a single player can see and the number of hands at a typical full table is massive.

If you play perfect strategy for an hour for $10 a hand at the posted rate for a full table, you’re looking at maybe $26 in losses per hour. If you were playing the same game but at the rate for a solo player, you’d see $104.50 in losses over the same period of time.

Effect on Game Odds

Playing at a crowded table or an empty table, blackjack odds are the same.

The only way that one blackjack game could offer different odds than another is due to variations in game rules. Some rules favor the player, some the house. The rules of each blackjack table will vary, so will the odds.

The only way a table’s number of players could affect game odds is if a full table of people throws you off your strategy game and you start to make mistakes.

Players Around a Blackjack Table

Effect on Comps

It’s possible to play blackjack for a small expectation of profit if you earn comps and balance your play against the value of those comps.

When I play blackjack in Atlantic City, I know I’m going to get maybe three free drinks an hour. If I’m drinking three $4 beers an hour, that $12 in value cuts into the casino’s profit. If I can play a blackjack game for an hour and lose less than $12, I’ve just turned a profit.

Players with bigger bankrolls than me can easily get comps way more valuable than a few draft beers. The trick is to balance the value of your comps against your expected losses per hour.

Remember that playing at a crowded table means fewer hands per hour, and therefore fewer losses per hour. That increases the value of anything free the casino gives you, whether it’s a $2.50 plate of nachos or a $25,000 a night suite.

Below I’ve covered situations where it’s better to play at an empty blackjack table, and situations where it may be better to play blackjack at a table full of other players.

It’s Better to Count Cards at an Empty Table

I am not a card counter.

I understand the basics of card counting, maybe better than the average blackjack player. I’ve read books about it, watched endless training videos, and even tried it out, at home for fake money.

I’m just not fast enough against a real casino dealer, or against anything but a single deck.

There’s a single-deck game not far from me, but I know better than to try it out there, where the dealers are absolutely better trained at their job than I am at counting cards.

So, here’s why it’s better to count cards at an empty table. It’s simple – the more hands you see, the closer you’re going to get to your expected value number.

Closeup of Blackjack Table

A very good card counter may expect to win $xx per 100 hands. At 52 hands an hour, he’s not making enough money to reward him for his effort (and his risk). At 209 hands per hour, it just may be worth it, depending on win and loss streaks.

Obviously, there are reasons why you may not want to count cards by yourself – you stick out more at an empty table, and you’re more likely to get caught. But without that consideration, it’s technically “better” to play blackjack at a table with fewer gamblers, if you’re counting cards.

It’s Better for Newcomers to Play Blackjack at a Full Table

The name of the game for people new to casino blackjack is to find the slowest game, then slow it down even more, as much as you can until the dealer and other players start to get mad.

Before you perfect basic blackjack strategy, you’re not getting the 99.95% payback percentage you’ve read about. You’re probably giving the casino something like 2% (or more) of your money over time. That means you’re losing $0.20 a hand. It’s way better to lose $0.20 a hand 52 times an hour than to do it 209 times an hour – better for your bankroll, anyway.

The slow pace isn’t just good for your wallet, it will help you learn the game. Blackjack doesn’t require you to play with anyone but the house but playing alongside other players can be the most instructive blackjack lesson of all. Watch how they play, to the extent that you can, and learn from them.

Let’s not count out the social element of the game. For my taste, most of the fun of blackjack is the crowd. Banter and interactions between players aren’t necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but I like to sit back and enjoy the flow of conversation and the colorful personalities around me.

Newcomers to blackjack need to experience the social aspect of the game – something that’s difficult to do if it’s just you and the dealer, face-to-face.

It’s Better for Misanthropes to Play at an Empty Blackjack Table

I really just wanted to use the word “misanthropes” in a headline.

You get the idea, though, right?

If you’re a miserable human being and you don’t like society, but you want to play blackjack, by God you should have as much right to give the house your cash as anyone else.

Finding an empty table is a prerequisite for playing blackjack for a lot of people – my wife included. She’d always rather play a single-seat electronic blackjack game, even though it means wildly increasing the hands-per-hour and reducing her odds, because she just doesn’t want to deal with the strangers pressing in all around her.

Casino Blackjack Table

I point out that people playing blackjack at machines rarely get comps, while the sophisticated blackjack players at full tables tend to get comps at a higher rate. She shows me a rude finger and goes back to her game. Life goes on.

Don’t like big crowds? Find that weird empty blackjack table with the bored dealer, then tip her enough to make up for her low numbers.

It’s Better for Social Butterfly Types to Play at a Crowded Blackjack Table

If misanthropes should avoid crowds, their opposite should revel in them.

Blackjack isn’t as social a game as craps, but it’s right up there in terms of an ability to draw and hold a crowd.

I’ve been in plenty of American casinos where the VIP blackjack table has a built-in section for a live audience. People love watching rich guys bet $10,000 a hand for some reason.

If you like crowds, you won’t like the fast pace and relative calm and quiet of a one- or two-player blackjack table.

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to find a full or almost-full table to have the typical blackjack social experience.

Blackjack draws weird personalities out like flakes of steel to a magnet. You’ll meet some of the most interesting (and some of the most frightening) people at the blackjack table, and sometimes just one or two of these creatures is enough for an entire gaming floor, much less a single table of blackjack.

You may need to float from one table to another to find the right mix of personality and crowd, so being a social butterfly really helps on weekend nights when the gaming floor is flooded with the unwashed masses.

Conclusion

As with most things in the gambling world, the answer to the question of whether it’s better to play blackjack at a full or empty table comes down to personal preference.

If you like fast play and dislike crowds, an empty blackjack table is ideal. If you like a slower pace and more social interaction, look for interesting folks at more crowded game tables.