CARD COUNTING IN BLACKJACK

In our previous strategy section we outlined some basic concepts of card counting including the several different systems commonly used. On a practical level, however, card counting is much more complex. Card counting is not technically illegal but it is seriously frowned upon at most casinos. In the United States, the ‘worst case scenario’ as a card counter is usually being ‘exited from the premises’. Internationally, it can be much worse depending on where you are in the world.

LAND BASED CASINOS VS. ONLINE CASINOS

While you’re unlikely to put yourself at any physical risk by trying to count cards online there are still potential repercussions. The primary way that online casinos deal with any player that doesn’t lose with regularity is to withold payouts. Depending on your jurisdiction, a casino can choose not to pay you and leave you with little or no leverage to get your money. A casino can also can ban players from their website.

WHY DO CASINOS HATE CARD COUNTERS?

It’s simple. Most casinos only want losers to play there. Even if they offer ‘beatable’ games—-blackjack, sports betting, video poker, etc.–few casinos take it very well if a player doesn’t lose regularly. It doesn’t matter if a player isn’t cheating or otherwise running afoul of the law. As long as a player is winning regularly, he’s a liability for the casino. It’s not enough that casinos have a mathematical edge over every patron that walks in the door—they’d like to do anything within the power to tilt the game even more in their favor.

This mentality isn’t in the long term best interest of a casino, let alone the popularity of the industry. This ‘losers only’ philosophy more than any of the casino gambling industry’s excuses (‘over saturation’ and the Internet are two favorites) has done more to harm their business and turn land based casinos into a complete joke (and particularly in the United States). A decade ago, the state of Nevada was well poised to become the world center for the gambling industry. Instead, they’ve done everything they can to distance themselves from casino gambling and have tried to re-brand themselves as ‘Orlando in the desert’.

Whatever the reason, card counting is very much unwelcome at the overwhelming majority of casinos around the world. There’s nothing going on except observation and memorization but the sad mentality in the gambling industry is that any effort by the player to develop expertise in a particular game is ‘undesirable’. Expect to be treated as such.

TACTICAL CARD COUNTING

For the reason outlined above, a serious card counter can expect to do as much work on his ‘tactical’ strategies as he will on learning how to count effectively. Many counters go to great lengths to disguise their identity and otherwise conceal their true purpose. That makes card counting all the more difficult—it’s an activity that requires concentration and focus but there’s no better way to draw attention to yourself. So you have to develop the ability to focus and keep the count while you act as if you’re not paying attention at all. And this is best case scenario—some players have even resorted to disguises just to get into casinos where they have been barred from playing.

Players will also work as a team—one player doing the counting, another player signaling a third player who does little more than place bets when it is most desirable to do so. There’s much to be said about this division of labor but it requires a high degree of coordination as well as the ability to trust your team members. It tough to say conclusively, but there’s a lot of anecdotal accounts that suggest that most of the high level blackjack players in the world now work as a team.

Another important element of high level blackjack play is scouting not only for specific games and rules but for more general factors like quality of dealers, casino security, etc. There’s something of a ‘catch 22’ at play—in theory, professional blackjack players would rather go to the top end establishments that offer high limits but these places usually have the sharpest dealers and best security. At the other end of the spectrum, there are lower limit ‘grind joints’ with weak dealers and careless supervisors but in this type of place just making a large bet can raise suspicion.

YOU HAVE TO WALK BEFORE YOU CAN RUN

We’re not going to discourage anyone from becoming an adept card counter and trying to win big money at casinos. It’s not easy, but it’s been done. In the meantime, however, the best thing you can be doing is to learn the rules of blackjack front and back and learn as much about the game as possible. In our final section, we’ll give you some suggestions of books to read and other resources with which to hone your game.