blackjack personaIn a perfect world, land based and online casinos would cheerfully welcome advantage players. We’re not talking ‘cheaters’ here–we’re talking people who have worked long and hard to develop the expertise necessary to get the edge over the ‘house’. Card counters, ‘sharp’ sports bettors, video poker experts, etc. There’s only a handful of games where it’s even theoretically possible to make them ‘positive EV’. It’s unfortunate that casinos are so hostile to people who have developed a high level of skill at their specific games. It would benefit the image of gambling businesses and create more market demand to have some highly visible ‘winners’.

Why is that the case? It’s simple–and something that was validated back in the late 70’s/early 80’s when Ken Uston became the nation’s ‘celebrity card counting expert’. Blackjack quickly skyrocketed in popularity but casinos were terrified of card counters. The feared that a nation of expert card counters could turn their lights out. It didn’t happen that way. What they quickly realized is that for every expert card counter capable of ‘getting the best of it’ there were hundreds, if not thousands, of players who thought they could ‘beat the house’ by counting cards and couldn’t. Ultimately, they were making so much money off of the ‘wannabes’ that it more than made up for what they lost to the less than 1% of players that could actually beat them.


blackjackThe dynamic mentioned above didn’t stop Ken Uston from being run out of every casino in the country. It hasn’t stopped card counters and advantage players from harassment since then either. In most jurisdictions, you probably won’t be given the ‘hammer in the back room’ treatment depicted in the movie ‘Casino’. That guarantee can’t be universally applied, however, and in some parts of the world you’re literally putting your health and life in jeopardy just because you can play a game well. A more likely scenario is that you’ll be kicked out or barred from the casino and/or all affiliated casinos. At the very least, you’ll be subject to ‘countermeasures’ from dealers such as more frequent shuffles.

The reality is that to be a successful card counter or advantage blackjack player you have to spend as much time disguising your skill as you do learning how to count. At the highest levels, the complexity of these tactics is worthy of a spy movie. Blackjack players operate in ‘teams’ with each having a different job and using signals and other clandestine methods to communicate. In most cases, the player keeping the count or tracking the dealer isn’t the one doing the betting. Many teams have several players who serve as ‘decoys’–attractive women are good for this purpose. We’ll discuss some of these tactics in a future article but the important takeaway now is that you should expect to spend as much time trying to stay ‘off the radar’ as you do working on your skills.


personaAt the very least you shouldn’t make things easy for the casino while you’re ‘learning the ropes’. Casino security and dealers have been taught to look for certain ‘profiles’ to sniff out card counters and other advantage players. For example, it’s a really *bad* idea to waltz into the casino wearing a MIT t shirt, horned rimmed glasses and carrying a scientific calculator. In fact, the more you can do to avoid looking young and well educated the better. ‘Acting drunk’ is another skill that takes work but if you can learn to do this it’ll serve you well. Acting like a drunk frat bro or an average guy in town for a convention is a good start. A cowboy look also can be effective–particularly in Las Vegas during the National Finals Rodeo.

At the extremes, players have had to wear disguises like wigs and fake beards. That might be overkill when you’re just starting out. You don’t have to be a Marlon Brando level ‘method actor’ either. That being said, you also don’t want to look like an aspiring ‘advantage player’ honing your card counting skills. The best thing you can do at any casino is try to ‘fit in’. If your mom was like most moms probably advised you to ‘be yourself’ if you want to make friends. That might be true, but if you want to become a high level blackjack player you should do anything but.