Spend enough time in a casino or among ‘serious’ gamblers and you’ll start to realize what separates the ‘sharps’ from the ‘squares’. There’s a reason why most ‘recreational’ players are life and death to stay ‘in the black’ whenever they go to the casino and why ‘pros’ are able to consistently turn profits. Successful gamblers pay attention to *everything* relevant that is going on around them while unsuccessful gamblers have ‘tunnel vision’ and are only able to focus on their cards, chips or decisions.

Sure, there are other factors at play. You can’t replace knowledge, instinct and experience. Poise is an underrated characteristic of successful gamblers. Casinos can be very intimidating environments and table games can be especially so. A successful gambler is comfortable and able to make sound decisions in any situation. That being said, the ability to focus might just trump everything else. It’s a pretty clear distinction–you won’t see many successful gamblers without the ability to focus and you won’t see many unsuccessful gamblers with it.


This is somewhat obvious but like many other ‘somewhat obvious’ gambling concepts people take awhile to assimilate it so it bears repeating. This is particularly true at the blackjack table. Beginning players tend to focus on their cards and whether they should hit or stand. Not long after, they start to view it as a head to head battle with the dealer. This isn’t a bad thing–in fact, it’s the foundation of basic strategy. Basic strategy presents a ‘decision matrix’ based on your starting hand relative to the dealer’s up card. Basic strategy is where everyone starts and even when you’re a high level card counter the concepts you learned at the beginning still apply.

At some point, however, you need to start paying attention to all of the salient details at the blackjack table. Watch the dealer for ‘tells’ or weakness’. More importantly, keep an eye on the other players, watch their cards and watch how they bet. This is mandatory if you want to be a good card counter. Scanning the table and keeping the count needs to become an intuitive part of your game. Even if you’re just starting out, however, you can start to make the first part of that equation a habit–pay attention to the cards as they’re dealt and drawn. You can add in the counting techniques later but there’s no reason to hesitate at keeping your eyes open and your brain engaged.


Here’s something else obvious but no less important than the above concept. Casinos have a vested interest in *keeping* you from being able to focus. It’s the same reason (and actually part and parcel) of why they offer free drinks. Players that are impaired or unfocused make bad decisions and that helps the casino’s ‘bottom line’. Their biggest fear is sober, sharp, attentive bettors. That’s why so much in the casino is designed to negatively impact your focus. That’s why many casinos have cocktail waitresses in revealing costumes, flashing lights, loud music, free drinks, etc. etc. Focus is their enemy because focus can cost them money.

Make it a point to start immediately at trying to improve your focus in the casino. Watch the dealer, watch the cards and watch the players. If you’re not ready to count cards you can still get some general notion of whether the deck is rich in face cards or aces. Just watch and pay attention to as much as you can. When this becomes a habit, you can start to fine tune exactly what you watch and how you process the information.