Card counting gives a blackjack player an edge over the house. It’s an age-old practice that entails maintaining a mental tally of the dealt cards. That way, a player gets information about the cards that the dealer has not dealt the gamblers. Ideally, card counting is not the same as cheating. It’s using the brain to keep a mental tally of the cards.
However, some people think card counting is illegal because casinos frown upon the practice and remove a player from their premises if they suspect they are doing it. Nevertheless, many blackjack players see card counting as an excellent method for getting an edge over a casino.
Essentially, a blackjack card counter uses a strategy to tip the odds balance in their favor. In the simplest terms, a card counter attaches a value, negative, positive, or zero, to every card coming from the deck while maintaining a running count of the totals in their head.
In blackjack, high cards from tens to aces favor the gambler while the low ones favor the dealer. Therefore, counting the cards enables the bettor to predict when the deck has more high cards remaining. Thus, the deck becomes favorable to the gambler statistically, and they can increase their bets. And this strategy can give the player an edge over the casino.
Over the last decade, card counting has gone into the mainstream consciousness, thanks to publications like Bringing down the house and films like 21. These works have introduced card counting strategies that gamblers can use without getting caught by the casinos. Nevertheless, casinos have ways to detect card counters. That means you won’t get off scot-free if a casino suspects you’re counting cards.
Although card counting isn’t illegal, gambling venues do everything to prevent it. Nevertheless, it’s illegal for a casino to confiscate any of your chips or detain you for counting cards. Ideally, card counting is not a crime.
What you need to start counting cards
If you play online blackjack for free, you might want to visit a local brick-and-mortar casino to play this game for real money. Nevertheless, master a mathematical strategy for assigning a specific value to every card out from the deck. Ideally, develop a technique for tracking the cards to know when you’re likely to get 21 or something close to it, thereby increasing your winning chances.
Although card counting doesn’t require you to be a mathematics wizard, you will need the following skills:
- Expert-level comprehension of blackjack and its rules
- The ability to subtract and add quickly whenever the cards are dealt
- Adequate perceptiveness to track all cards dealt at your table, not yours only
- The ability to act cool even under pressure because pit bosses and dealers know how to spot a card counter
Most blackjack players struggle to recall the cards the dealer dealt them in the past hand. However, some gamblers are skilled at this. Therefore, most casinos implement different measures to catch and punish card counters.
How card counting works
Casinos use a multi-deck system to ensure that it’s almost impossible for a gambler to count cards. But some players still count cards by assigning every card a value. For instance, high cards like Jacks, Tens, Kings, and Queens get a minus value. On the other hand, low cards like Four, Three, and Two get high values. Neutral cards are from Seven to Nine.
The card counter takes away or adds the value of every card dealt into a running tally. The player considers the effect of the removal of each card from the play on the casino’s advantage. And the gambler acts accordingly once the count reaches a point where they believe they have an advantage over the house.
Perhaps, this is the most straightforward way o look at card counting. However, some card counters are very sophisticated at it. But this is basically how card counting works. You try to figure out when you have an advantage over the house.
Card counters can gain significant advances than players who don’t count cards. In some cases, gamblers use card counting strategies to bring down the house edge to around 1%. While average card counters can move the edge to about 1% in their favor, some can increase it to 2.5%. And this can be significant for a player wagering around $100 per hand.
Methods casinos use to detect card counters
No casino wants a player to have an advantage over them when playing blackjack. But card counting can do this, leading to significant revenue loss for casinos. Therefore, these venues have developed sophisticated and rudimentary methods for detecting and catching card counters. Here are some of the techniques that casinos use to detect card counters.
Monitoring player behaviors
Monitoring the behaviors of gamblers at the card table is a rudimentary method that many casinos use to spot and catch card counters. A casino can have several staff members monitor players at the table, including the croupier, pit bosses, and video surveillance experts. Some of the behaviors that the casino staff pays attention to include:
- Playing more than one hand at a go
- Failure to play many hands
- Dramatic variation in bet types
- Buying-in in significant amounts
- Moving from one blackjack table to another one
- Not having a basic strategy
Remember that gamblers count cards to wager a significant amount when they believe they have an advantage over the house. For this reason, a casino can disincline a gambler to play many hands during the shoe. It’s also the reason pit bosses are wary when a gambler plays cautiously until the end of a shoe, and then they start betting adventurously.
Essentially, this method of catching card counters is like the cat and mouse games because players know what pit bosses look for and how to avoid it. Thus, they avoid any behavior that can make the casino staff detect them. For instance, a gambler can vary their playing style to suggest eccentric instead of actively counting the cards. If the casino staff notices any sign of card counting, it watches the player more closely or stops them from playing.
Using card counting detection software
Technology has evolved rapidly over the decades. And casinos use advanced technology to understand a player’s behavior better if they suspect they are counting cards. Essentially, anti-card-counting software enables a casino to see the players that play games accurately because it’s unusual for blackjack players.
Card counters follow their math while playing to determine the right time to place a bet. On the other hand, a regular player will wager smaller or larger amounts depending on how they think or feel the cards will fall. If a player wins consistently, they can feel that they are running hot. When they don’t win for a while, they might think their fortune is almost changing and wager accordingly. Some of the technologies that casinos use to detect card counters include:
- RFID Chips
- Shuffle Master
These technologies enable casinos to monitor players’ behaviors and compare them to statistical models to flag up when and if a player bets in what seems like a suspicious way.
Signs of card counting
For a casino to suspect that players are counting cards, it looks for specific signals. Therefore, understanding these signs can help you avoid getting caught when counting cards.
Placing larger bets during favourable counts
Most casino managements know that the best way to catch card counters is to monitor when players place larger bets. These establishments use complex software to count cards and alert the dealers of favorable counts.
Therefore, if you start making larger bets at once when the count is favorable, the casino will know that you’re counting cards. Ideally, it’s rare for a player to change the average bet amount when the count is favorable for them.
If you don’t want the casino to detect you, avoid increasing your bet size at once. Instead, do it slowly or vary the bet size throughout the gameplay. That way, you will be less predictable.
Sudden entrance of big betters
Most casino staff pay attention to sudden large bettors’ arrival. That’s because arriving at once could hint at a team that wants to work together because they had a player counting the cards and has signaled them to come and place big bets.
Therefore, card counters that want to work in a team should keep everything subtle. For instance, your group members can arrive at different times instead of entering at once.
Suspicious signaling and communicating
Successful card counting for teams requires communication. Unfortunately, every communication that the parties send presents an opportunity for a casino to detect and catch card counters. Some casinos employ former card counters to help them see players that engage in this practice. Others have trained employees to safeguard their money. Thus, they know how to spot suspicious communication or signals.
Therefore, keep your communication to a minimum if you have to communicate with team members. Also, choose responsible individuals to stay sober, be subtle, and play nicely.
Practical card counting tips for players
Succeeding with card counting requires a player to be incredibly stealthy. But anybody can learn and practice to become an excellent card counter. Here are practical tips to help you with card counting.
- Formulate and memorize a basic strategy: Maybe you’ve seen plastic cards with a basic plan in gift shops. You can learn that strategy and follow it when deciding to hit, split, stand, or double.
- Take your time to watch: Stand behind the blackjack table and sit down only after seeing enough cards and feeling comfortable wagering a sizeable amount of money. Also, start small and increase your bet size progressively.
- Assign a value to every card: Whenever the croupier deals a card, assign a value of plus one if it’s a low card and a minus one if it’s a high card. If it’s a middle card, assize it a zero to have a running count.
- Raise the bets: Increase your bet once you have a high count. Essentially, you’ll have an advantage over the house if you have a running count more significant than the decks’ number in the shoe.
- Avoid a player’s card: Most casinos offer an ID for rewarding frequent gamblers. And nobody doesn’t like the free drinks and foods that come with such loyalty programs. However, this ID gives the casino your information, and they can use it to track you faster.
- Act drunk: Play like a drunken person, asking for advice. You may not use the advice, but it will create the impression that you’re not counting cards. You can even order some beers and pour them in the washroom and refill the bottle with water.
- Change your appearance: Don’t look the same whenever you visit the casino where you count cards while playing blackjack. For instance, you can wear eyeglasses, jackets, and hats. But don’t have something intense because you can draw attention to yourself. Instead, wear something to through the security team off-trail.
- Choose your games wisely: Card counting doesn’t affect all blackjack games. Therefore, research different blackjack games to know the best titles for this trick. Also, choose a game with beneficial rules and a betting spread whose limits you are comfortable playing.
- Maintain small spreads: Don’t spread your bets maximally when counting cards. If you do that, the casino can notice and catch you. Therefore, go for all or nothing to avoid this spotlight.
- Don’t talk about the count: A casino can catch you if you announce the count or do your counting visibly. As hinted, card counting is not easy. It’s a skill that requires time and practice. Therefore, please don’t take this skill to a local casino until you master it. Also, ensure that the pit bosses or the dealer don’t see you counting.
- Take a break: Whether you make a successful or wrong count, always take a break. If you count cards successfully, it means the pit bosses and dealers can do it. Taking a break during a high count will create the impression that you’re not counting the cards. And this will distract the staff from monitoring you.
- Tip the staff: Tipping the casino staff distracts them from paying attention to you even if they suspect you’re counting cards. Therefore, please share some of your winnings with the casino team to ensure they are always on your side. You can even engage the dealer to determine whether they would like you to tip them directly or play it. When you play the tip, the dealer can also play and double the tip size.
People have different ways of counting cards to get an advantage over the house. Nevertheless, these tips can enable you to sharpen your card counting strategy if you practice them more.
How not to get caught when counting cards
In most cases, a casino will eject you from its premises if it catches you counting cards. What’s more, you might not redeem the chips with the casino’s cashier. That means you will be broke and embarrassed. The casino can ban you from stepping afoot at the casino. Some casinos can circulate your picture in the entire area, warning other gambling venues against allowing you to play on their premises. Therefore, ensure that the casino won’t detect or catch you counting cards. Here’s how to avoid getting caught when counting cards.
Make deliberate mistakes
The casino has a team that knows the basic blackjack strategy. This team comprises staff members that know the best card counting strategies. Thus, they can see when you play smart and when you count cards. In the minds of the casino staff, a gambler with bad plays is an amateur.
Therefore, make deliberate mistakes when counting cards to appear like a beginner. For instance, you can split a tens’ pair if the dealer has a 10. Only a pure gambler or a beginner can make such a play. Although you may lose for doing this, you aim to appear like a beginner. But make such plays when betting the minimum and the deck is not hot.
Avoid a hot deck
If the count is high, you can color the chips and then cash out. Look for a different table after the break. Most card counters lack the self-discipline to walk away knowing the deck favors them. And this is an excellent way to avoid the casino’s scrutiny. But don’t do this more often. A single break can be a powerful statement, telling the casino you’re not counting cards but being lucky.
Practice your card counting strategy
If you play live blackjack when counting cards, you will find it mentally relaxing. Fumbling around and making a show by looking at every card on the table can draw attention to yourself. Therefore, practice your card counting strategy at home using peripheral vision to observe cards rather than staring at them directly.
Make quick decisions
If the casino staff suspects that you’re counting cards, hesitating will confirm the suspicion. Therefore, develop a basic strategy and memorize it. Your plan should cater to the awkward moment when the casino staff suspects that you’re counting cards. Also, ensure that you can execute your card counting strategy without delays. Practice the plan until you master the correct play in every circumstance.
Avoid playing in one casino every week
If you succeed in counting cards, visit different casinos whenever you want to play blackjack. Some places have many casinos, and hitting all of them could take close to a year. That way, you will avoid becoming a familiar face if you master an effective card counting strategy.
Return some money to the casino
Perhaps, this sounds crazy, but it’s not. If you want to be an intelligent card counter, you must learn the best way to do it. Therefore, spend some winnings from blackjack and spend them playing crap or slots. It’s unlikely that a casino can toss you out when you play games that give it an overwhelming advantage. The amount you spend on other casino games should appear like investments in your blackjack career. And your reward will be greater if you’re lucky to hit the jackpot when playing a slot game.
Work as a team
Creating a team sharing a bankroll can be a great way to excel with your card counting strategy. For instance, you can have many players at different tables to avoid detection. The gamblers can play a basic plan and flat-bet the minimum amount in every table. However, they can always count cards when playing.
The gamblers can signal the “big player” upon detecting a high count at a table. During the shoe and high count, the big player would come in to place a series of significant bets or a single large bet.
Some blackjack teams even use spotters to watch what happens behind the game tables. Spotters don’t lose anything because they don’t have any cash in action. However, they keep counting cards, and this strategy is known as back counting.
Members of the team decide how to signal their big player. However, verbal signals are the best instead of hand gestures. That’s because the casino could have a surveillance system that may pick up the verbal cues. What’s more, the casino has experts who can detect even subtle gestures, which could be bad news for the team.
Card counting is a complex skill that requires a lot of practice to master. Therefore, prepare to spend time at home formulating and practicing an effective card counting strategy. Also, take your time to learn the blackjack game for which you want to implement the plan. Once you’ve done that, practice the tips shared in this article to avoid getting caught counting cards. That’s because getting seen could mean you will never set your foot at the casino again. But if you’re unlucky and the casino catches you while counting cards, stand firm because you’ll have not done anything illegal.