Blackjack - Counting Cards

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What do you find to be the best method for counting cards in blackjack? When you play do you count the cards? And lastly would you even bother trying to count cards in a six-deck game?

Tyson from Omaha, Nebraska, USA

There is a trade off with card counting strategies between power and ease of use. I personally recommend the high-low count. There are more complicated strategies out there, that are marginally more powerful, but much more difficult to use. Personally, I rarely count cards any longer. Six deck games are indeed worth counting if the rules are favorable and at least 75% or so of the cards are dealt. In Las Vegas Blackjack Diary by Stuart Perry, the author spent most of his time playing 2 and 6 decks games, as opposed to single deck.

What is the value of the blackjack system called "Mastering the Flow?" It's marketed via an infomercial, and the website is www.changetheodds.com. It claims not to be a counting system, yet the vague description of the system that the website gives makes it sound like counting to me. The claims are pretty out-there: "Win every time" etc. I count cards (using the KO PREFERRED), and understand that this new "system" has to be either a simplistic count strategy, or a scam. Would you look into it for us, the gullible public?

Michael G. from Henderson, Nevada

I had a look at the web site and also found what little he says about the theory behind his system makes it sound like card counting. However I'm deeply skeptical of anything that claims to "blow old fashioned card counting away." I think we can file this under "If it sounds too good to be true is probably is."

Update: The web site in question vanished sometime after the publication of this question.

Love your site, I have a math degree and I am a blackjack counter who has made numerous trips to Vegas and I want to start to use my math skills to play poker. I have watched poker from a distance in Vegas and would appreciate any advice/explanations of the rules of poker. Can I gain an advantage similar to counting in blackjack?

Kal from Chicago

First, let me say that I'm not an expert on poker. It is no big secret that Texas Hold 'Em is the most popular form. In this game there are five community cards and only two down cards per player so a person good at calculating probabilities has more to go on. However, even the best math genius may make a bad poker player if he can't read the other players or the other players can easily read him (both of which I think are true in my case).

On your blackjack page, in the House Edge section, you indicate that the player has the edge in single-deck blackjack. Numerous Vegas Casinos offer single-deck blackjack, but I doubt they are dealing a losing game. What gives here? Is your page incorrect or are the casinos just gambling on their clients not being able to play basic blackjack. A friend of mine and I have a bet riding on this. Also. Is it true that with even a simple card counting system a competent blackjack player can consistently walk away a winner in the long run? Thanks for your help.

Alex from Toronto, Canada

You have a legitimate point. At the time you wrote this I indicated the house edge according to a fixed set of rules that varied only by the number of decks. However, in real life, when single deck is offered the other rules invariably become more stingy. I have already enhanced the house edge table in the blackjack section to include a wider variation in rules. The typical Las Vegas single-deck game does not allow doubling after a split and the dealer hits a soft 17. With these rules, the house edge is 0.18%. The best single-deck game is at the Slots-a-Fun (next to Circus Circus) where the dealer stands on soft 17 for a player edge of 0.01%. Next door, at the Westward Ho, double after a split is allowed but the dealer hits a soft 17 for a house edge of 0.04%. About card counting, absolutely not, even the best of card counters will lose often. An entire month can be at a loss. Only over the very long haul does a net profit become likely.

Update: Since this writing the Westward Ho was torn down and the Slots-a-Fun has slots only.

Your newsletter gives the casino advantage on Spanish 21 as 0.34% if the dealer doesn’t hit soft 17. How effective is card counting in further reducing this house advantage and giving the advantage to the player?

Rod from Newburgh, Indiana

Good question. Yes, this house edge is definitely low enough to consider card counting. Since most card counters don’t even consider Spanish 21 I think the field is ripe to exploit the game and to do so with a great deal of impunity. However counting may not be as effective in Spanish 21 as regular blackjack. A small card rich deck will benefit the player in more multiple card 21’s. To the best of my knowledge nobody has developed index numbers for Spanish 21 but somebody should. Maybe I will.

Great web page wiz! I like to think of myself as a wiz of sorts. Question -- I like to play casino blackjack -- mostly Las Vegas, I've been using Hi Opt 1 counting without great success. In Casino Player Magazine Aug. 2000 pg. 50 is a system comparison table. It claims that Uston APC, Halves Count, Revere APC, Advanced Omega 11, & Hi Opt II are the most profitable counting systems. Can you comment on these and tell me the point values assigned under these systems?

Andrew from Jupiter

A book could be written in response to this question. Please excuse me for only scraping the surface. On page 107 of Uston’s ’Million Dollar Blackjack’ he indicates that following card values for the Uston Advanced Point Count:

Uston Advanced Point Count

Card Value
2 +1
3 +2
4 +2
5 +3
6 +2
7 +2
8 +1
9 -1
10 -3
ace counted separately

It is very true that this is a more powerful system then {-1,0,+1} systems like the Hi Opt I. There are different ways to measure the strength of any given system. My opinion is that the serious player should use the most powerful system that they are comfortable with. It is better to play a level 1 system (like the Hi Opt I) well than to play a level 2 system badly (like the Hi Opt II).

Biloxi, Mississippi casino has single-deck blackjack dealt to the bottom. What is the casino's edge on this game? Does the basic strategy for blackjack still hold still hold for this game? by the way, blackjack in this game pays even money.

Roger from Baton Rouge, U.S.

Dealing to the bottom of the deck would not help the basic strategy player but greatly benefits the counter. There would be no changes to the basic strategy. However, this game may be of interest to card counters. Vegas World (now the Stratosphere) in Las Vegas used to have such a game but I don't think card counters ever took it seriously because of other adverse rules like a blackjack only paying even money.

I have never gambled on-line, but I would suppose that since you play the games from your computer, with no one watching, it would be a lot easier to do things like card counting or even using a computer to make your decisions. Is this true? Do on-line casinos have any way to check if you're cheating? Also, do you have a time limit to play each hand?

Gonzalo from Mexico City, Mexico

Yes, you can easily count cards when playing blackjack online. However, most casinos shuffle after every hand. For those that don't, software exists to tell you the exact correct play given any deck composition. However, such places generally have strict rules against card counters.

As long as you aren't playing at a multi-player table or live dealer, there is no time limit to play a hand.

Is counting cards in blackjack (or any other card game for that matter) pointless if one is using a truly infinite deck?

Jon from Des Moines, USA

Yes.

Do you change your strategy based on the play of other players at your table? For example, you have players who hit when the dealer has a bust card face up taking the bust cards and therefore the dealer does not bust.

Star from Ft Worth, USA

Unless you are a card counter, how other players play should not affect what you do. Basic strategy players should stick to the basic strategy no matter how badly the other players play. Other players are just as likely to help you as hurt you. In the end, it makes no difference how they play.

Can blackjack be beaten under the following casino conditions:

  1. The game is dealt face up from an 8 deck shoe, with the cut card appearing after 5 decks have been dealt (3 decks behind the cut).
  2. Dealer stands on soft 17.
  3. No surrender.
  4. Can double down on any 2 card total without an ace.
  5. Can split aces once only, one card on each.
  6. Can split any other pair to a maximum of 3 hands.
  7. Can double after split.
  8. Dealer takes original bets only on blackjack.
  9. Can take even money on blackjack when dealer’s upcard is an ace.
  10. Table max is 50 times table min.
  11. Card counting is permitted if the counter plays the first hand of the shoe, and plays every hand. Counter can play any number of boxes, and any bet amount. Counter can stop at any time, but cannot rejoin a shoe after missing a hand, or join a shoe that is partway through.

Alex from Auckland, New Zealand

I haven't done any simulations, but my educated option is a definite yes, this game can be beaten. The strategy to use in this game would be to bet the minimum when the odds are against you and the maximum when they are in your favor. Normally a sudden 50 times increase in bet size would set off a huge red flag but it seems the counter could do this with impunity in your game. When Atlantic City first opened the casinos could not ask card counters to leave and entire tables were filled with people jumping suddenly from a $5 bet to $300, or whatever the minimums and maximums were. After taking a huge beating, the Atlantic City casinos begged the gaming authorities for a change in the rules, which they got. Not only could this be beaten, but I think it would be a card counters dream.

What is the best counting system to use. I've tried the Hi-Lo (balanced) and the KO (unbalanced). I like the KO system best because it seems to be the easiest. But I have a fairly good mathematical mind and am able to concentrate pretty well. I play in Biloxi, usually only double-deck games, DAS, split any pair, dealer stands on soft 17, one card after splitting aces, no surrender. What's the best, don't mind a bit difficult, but don't want too difficult. Thanks a lot.

Marie from Montgomery, USA

There is no best card counting system. Personally I like balanced systems but don't know enough about the KO system to comment. My opinion is that you should only consider systems you are comfortable using and among them weight both the power of the system and how comfortable you are with it.

You might try asking this at www.bj21.com.

I recently started gambling online and like your site more than any other gambling site I've found. Somewhere I remember you wrote that every online casino you'd seen shuffled the decks after every game. By game to you mean hand? Also, if they shuffle after every hand, doesn't this minimize the benefit of card counting? Is there any significant benefit to card counting in that case?

Greg from Brighton, Massachusetts

Most online casinos shuffle after every hand. However, the six-deck game at Unified Gaming casinos shuffles at a random point in the deck. I have heard of other casinos that also penetrate more than one hand into a shoe, but I don't recall which ones. If the cards are shuffled after every hand there is no use in card counting, other than applying my composition dependent basic strategy exceptions.

I play blackjack using Basic Strategy. I raise my bet if I see a bunch of low cards and lower my bet it if I see high cards. On my last trip to Las Vegas, two casinos asked me to step away from the table and told me to leave! Please comment on this. It does not seem fair.

Stan from Milwaukee, USA

You obviously understand that a deck rich in high cards favors the player and a deck rich in low cards favors the dealer. Although your method is the crudest form of card counting it is still card counting. Nevada casinos have the legal right to do what they did.

In the future, I would recommend being more discrete. Never more than double your bet, preferably only after winning. If you feel you're being watched, then get up and leave before they do it for you. Don't play too long in any one place. Ian Anderson's "Turning the Tables in Las Vegas" gives lots of tips about looking like an ordinary player while card counting.

As a card counter, what are the odds to make it as a professional blackjack player? What do we have to do?

T&M from Philadelphia, U.S.

First, it takes a lot of time to learn the theory and strategy of card counting and get your counting speed up to casino play. You will also need a large bankroll of at least $50,000, but preferably $100,000. To make a decent living you have to be comfortable with a bet spread of at least $25-$300 and it takes a large bankroll to sustain the ups and downs. For most people, I think it is better to play part time.

I realize that card counting is pretty much a thing of the past and only if you can find a single-deck game. I also realize that if you are good at it you will probably be asked to leave which just about loses my interest in it. My question is when the deck is "rich" why do the odds favor the player and not the dealer as well since he/she is part of the hand?

Harry from Geneva, USA

Card counting is still alive and well. It is just as easy to count one deck as it is to count eight. Many card counters prefer the multi-deck games. There is lots that can be done to avoid being asked to leave, like short playing sessions and acting like a typical bad player. I try to explain why card counting works in my card counting page.

Hey Wizard...I have just got into online gambling and have referred to your site for pretty much everything...I appreciate all the information on the single-deck Unified Gaming information, but what about the six deck game? Can you tell me the player (or dealer) edge in this game as well as a basic strategy? It would seem to me that this would be one of the best bets at which to count cards...what do you think? Thank you in advance!

Chris from Denton, TX

You should follow my multiple-deck strategy but surrender against aces in the same hands as the single-deck strategy. I haven't studied if counting this game is more profitable than the single-deck game, but I would be interested to hear from anyone who is doing as you suggest.

I read on your web site that you recently had a chance to visit Tunica, Mississippi. I play very often at the Grand. I am sure you have heard of the side bet known as Triple 7s. I don't consider myself a good card counter, or even an average one, but say no 7s had been played at all in six hands would the odds not be in my favor to play the side bet?

Austin from Germantown, Tennessee

Yes, I've seen that bet in Tunica. I address it in my blackjack appendix 8. I agree that side bet would seem very countable.

First of all, I think your web site is great and want to thank you for all this great, solid information. My question is this: blackjack tables have a maximum bet limit that more than increases when you move up from the five dollar table to the ten etc. I suppose this is to discourage larger stakes gamblers from playing at lower stakes tables but how do they calculate these limits? I notice that they are different at different casinos. Also, on your chart of the house edge, it would be great to see a comparison of house edge for a blackjack player using Basic Strategy vs. one who is counting cards. Thanks again for the great work.

Michael from Santa Cruz, USA

You're welcome! Casinos generally try to keep the maximum bet about 200 to 500 times the minimum bet. Why? If a casino is comfortable with a $10,000 bet on a $100 table, why not take it on a $5 table? The answer seems to be that casinos like to corral their big bettors into certain areas. Such high-limit areas tend to have the best staff and surveillance. Limiting the ratio of maximum to minimum bet is also a defense against cheating and advantage play.

The advantage of card counting depends on how good and aggressive the card counter is. Other than my introduction to card counting, I leave that topic to other gambling writers.

I’ve noticed that the CSM (Continuous Shuffler Machine) at the blackjack table does not shuffle ALL of the cards at the end of each hand. There are a few cards left in the shoe part of the machine (anywhere from 1 to 20 or so) that are not shuffled. Is there any way this can be used to advantage? For example, I was thinking that there is a lower (but still not zero) probability of having a card repeated two hands in a row. Sit out if there were a lot of high cards last hand . . . bet higher if there are a lot of low cards last hand. The CSM I saw used four decks so, on a full table, there are actually quite a few cards played each hand and you could potentially get a true value of plus/minus one if you made the simplifying assumption that none of those would repeat. Maybe enough to skew the odds?

Chuck from New York

You’re right, the discards are not mixed among all the cards but can not be placed close to the top of the shoe. I don’t know the exact size of this buffer but it is about 10-20 cards I think. As a card counter it would probably be safe to use a true count from just the last hand played and off the top of a shoe. When converting to the true count you will rarely get anything far from +/-1. If you’re any kind of counter at all I would forget about playing against a CSM, it isn’t worth the bother.

I am an avid Blackjack player. I’ve been using the Hi-Opt 2 system with fair success, but I keep running into the same problem: I often seem to forget the running count while playing my hand. I guess my brain has trouble remembering the count while calculating my hand totals. What is your method for keeping the running count straight in your head?

Adam L. from Los Angeles, USA

To be honest with you I forget the running count myself sometimes. Sometimes if I see an impending distraction I’ll use my fingers to remember the count. Other than that all I can suggest is play more. The more you play the easier it should become.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t possible, but is there any way to count cards when playing blackjack in an online casino? P.S. Your site is great. Being a beginner it has given me lots of good advice.

Dustin from Austin, USA

Thanks for the compliments. Most online casinos shuffle the cards after every hand. At single deck casinos (Boss Media version 1, Microgaming, Unified Gaming) you can use the cards already on the table to alter your play sometimes. See my blackjack appendix3A for all the details. There are some casinos that play into a shoe a little way but not far, and have restrictive betting limits. I have yet to be convinced of any worthwhile opportunity on the Internet to count cards.

Is it possible to count a 6 deck shoe?

Scott from Verona, USA

Yes. If you can count down one deck you can count down six. It is just a matter of counting longer between shuffles.

Just read your latest ’Ask the Wizard’ section. You said that sport betting would be one of the ways to earn a living. Could you elaborate a little bit? Does it have similar edge over the bookmaker as blackjack with card counting does over the casino? Thanks.

Daniel from Hong Kong

Unfortunately I can’t elaborate much. Sports betting is not my strong point, although I plan to learn more about it when I have the time. I will say it is hard to compare the profitability of sports betting to card counting. Card counting is very technical and by the book. Making money sports betting requires more judgement and is more subject to opinion. There are various strategies one can employ to make money sports betting, for example looking to arbitrage games by taking both sides at different casinos under different point spreads, looking to exploit unusual proposition bets, or going after correlated parlays. I would recommend ’Sharp Sports Betting’ by Stanford Wong for more information on winning at sports betting.

As you state on your site the house edge in blackjack is very low. Maybe you should increase your bet when the dealer gets 4 or 5 cards, because the cards would likely be small and the next hand would be large card rich?

Tim from Gurnee, Illinois

This is an oversimplified method of counting cards. Better yet survey all the cards on the table. If you see a lot of small cards, especially fives and sixes, and few large cards, especially aces, then raise your bet. If you see the opposite then lower your bet. The fewer the decks the better this will work. Better yet use an actual count system like the ace/five.

Hello, thanks for the great website. There is a lot of helpful information. I hate to bother you, but I wanted to let you know about a variation of blackjack that I played recently. I was at the Oneida Bingo & Casino in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They had a few tables that at first glance looked like 2 deck pitch blackjack. Upon further examination they were using automatic shufflers and according to the rules they listed, this game consisted of eight decks and the automatic shuffler dispensed approximately 100 cards. The game was dealt using these 100 cards. The dealer put the cut card approximately half way in the 100 card deck and then dealt. When the cut card was reached, the dealer would put the cards back in to the automatic shuffler and take 100 more cards from the machine and start dealing again. In this game you could not double down after a split, and you could split up to 3 times. I’m not sure whether the dealer stands or hits on soft 17.

Rob

Mathematically speaking this is the same as playing from an eight deck game. Players have been known to be fooled, incorrectly thinking these are double deck games. For card counting purposes the penetration is 50 out of 416, or 12.02%.

I was recently playing single deck blackjack with one other patron at the table and right after the shuffle I got 2 aces and split them and got 21 on both hands!(yea for me) the other guy got a nineteen 10-9 and the dealer had an ace up. the dealer had a soft 17 and drew a 10. My question is this: What should I do on the next hand considering that the deck just lost 3 aces and 4 tens and only 2 small cards? Should I go to the bathroom, leave the table (I had just sat down 2 hands prior.) or keep playing? Thanks for your great site. It is just as fun to learn about all the different aspects of the games as it is to use your advice and know I am playing the best game I can!

Anonymous

This would be a good time to either bet small, go to the bathroom, or just leave, depending on your style of play. Personally I hate bouncing up and down and would just bet small. There are lots of books that explain specifically how to count cards. However for the amateur if you see a disproportionate number of tens and aces leave the deck bet less. Likewise bet more if lots of small cards leave the deck, especially fives and sixes. Thanks for your kind words about my site.

The index number of 16 against a 10 in most blackjack counting systems is zero. So if the deck were completely neutral you should stand, because you stand if the count is equal or exceeds the index number. Yet the basic strategy tables tell us to hit. This seems to be a contradiction.

Anonymous

Good question. My educated guess is that if the index numbers were not rounded then it would be greater than 0 but less than one half. So it is getting rounded down to zero. Making the index number 1 would result in more of a rounded error, causing players in slightly positive decks to hit when they should stand.

Michael, a person asked you if they are not counting cards in blackjack, what difference does it make how many decks are being used. You stated the difference had mostly to do with the number of stiff hands possible, due to the fact that if a small card came out it was more likely a large card would follow and vice-a-versa. How could that be? Would it still not be a random event with the possibility of a small or large card coming out being equal, if you are not counting?

Anonymous

Every legitimate blackjack expert agrees the house edge decreases as the number of decks goes down, all other rules being equal. However it is hard to explain why. First, it is true that you are more likely to get one small card and one big card in single-deck than multiple-deck. For example if we define a small card as 2 through 6, and a large card as any 10-point card or ace then the probability of getting one of each in single deck is 2*(20/52)*(20/51) = 30.17%. The probability in 8-decks is 2*(160/416)*(160/415) = 29.66%. Although stiffs can cut both ways the player has the free will to stand, the dealer must always hit them.

Is there software that will count cards as you input them? Can this be used to play online blackjack? Or does online blackjack shuffle after each hand?

Anonymous

Yes. Have a look at Beejack. Most, but not all, casinos shuffle after every hand. I don't know if it practical to actually use this product. If you try it please let me know how you do, I might like to try it myself.

Note: The link to Beejack was removed in 2014, due to a potential virus with that site. Proceed there with caution.

Does losing a hand at blackjack increase the probability that the composition of the deck is in your favor? More specifically, is your expected return on one hand ever positive after a given net loss since the last shuffle?

Anonymous

Without knowing anything else, if you lost the last hand in blackjack then it is slightly more likely that more small cards than large just left the deck. This would make the remaining deck more large card rich and thus lower the house edge. However I speculate this is an extremely small effect. Yet it does go to show that if you must use a betting system one that increases the bet after a loss is better than one that increases after a win. I hesitate to put this in writing at all because again the effect is probably very small and I fear system sellers will misquote me and imply I endorse any system, which I DO NOT.

Not that I plan to, but if I did want to card count, wouldn’t it be easier and just as effective to count only the high cards as opposed to tracking the hi’s vs. the lo’s? Assuming you are good at estimating how many cards were left in the shoe.

Anonymous

No, it would be both harder and less powerful to only count the large cards. You may misunderstand how the plus/minus counts work. The high cards count as -1 and the low cards as +1 and you keep a running total as you play. So most cards offset each other and the running count tends to stay close to zero. So you are only keeping track of one number. If you only tracked high cards the total would run high and then you would have to carefully divide it by the number of remaining cards. Even assuming you were good at estimating the number of remaining cards the division would be difficult to do well.

Hi, wiz. Love your site, please keep it up. I have 2 questions would like to ask.

1) Does card counting only work with blackjack? Is it useless or simply not as effective for other card games like baccarat?

2) In your blackjack card counting section, you mentioned that the Ken Uston’s Plus/Minus strategy counts 3-7 as small cards. Doesn’t it seem more reasonable to count 2-6 as small, and 7-9 as natural?

Anonymous

Thanks for the kind words. To answer question one, baccarat is not countable for all practical purposes. I have wondered about your second question myself. I used to use Uston’s Plus/Minus but switched to Wong’s Hi/Low. Looking back I don’t think Wong’s hi/low is much more powerful, but there is much more information about it. My blackjack appendix 7 shows that removing a 2 from each deck adds 0.39% to the player’s return and removing a 7 only adds 0.29%. So if you must track only one the 2 is better. The Knockout Count tracks both the 2 and 7. My opinion is if you haven’t taken up counting yet then the 2-6 Hi/Low is the marginally better way to go, however if you already use something else you should probably stick with that.

I was playing blackjack at the Casino Niagara, jumping from $15 to $300 using an improvised counting system of making a max bet when I saw a lot of small cards leave the deck. Both times I did this the dealer yelled "table max" and the pit crew was suddenly watching the game very closely. How close was I to getting backroomed in your opinion?

Anonymous

I can’t speak for Canada very well but backrooming a card counter would be illegal in the United States. That tactic is only allowed in cases of cheating. However it still has been known to happen. Fortunately in such cases where the counter sued the case the counter won. If I may say I think Canada is more mellow and non-confrontational than the U.S. so I would guess the probability of getting backroomed is even lower there. Although you didn’t ask about it, jumping by a factor of 20 sets off a huge red flag. Most counters who don’t want to attract attention don’t increase their bet by more than a factor of 2 at one time. This is also my policy, unless I feel there is no heat at all.

Are there any published card-counting strategies for Spanish 21? If not, do you think the rules of Spanish 21 make it conducive to counting?

Anonymous

There was discussion about this at www.bj21.com under the Green Chip section about a couple years ago. As I recall the consensus was that counting was not as advantageous as in blackjack but you could get away with a lot more. I know of no published material on this.

Why is there so much written about card counting strategies in BJ, if they are not as rewarding "as television and the movies make it out to be"? This seems highly illogical to me and is really puzzling.

Anonymous

There is a lot written about card counting simply because the books sell. I suspect many people watch a movie like Rain Man and get interested in card counting. Then they buy a book and realize it is too hard or give it a try and get discouraged because they lose. Only the most patient, devoted, and well financed players stick with it.

I read somewhere that online casinos may shuffle the deck after every turn and that card counting then would be of no value. How can I find out for sure if a casino is doing this?

Anonymous

You could test for how often the same card appears in two consecutive hands. Considering only the four initial cards dealt and assuming all four are different the expected number of those cards seen in the next hand is 16/52 = 0.307692, assuming the cards are shuffled after every hand. If you see fewer repeats than would argue that the cards are not shuffled after every hand. If the cards are not shuffled between hands the expected number of repeats seen would be 4*(4d-1)/(52d-4), where d is the number of decks. It is easier, but less reliable, to just ask customer support.

Since you are very well-known and respected for your expertise on gambling, statistics, house odds, etc, do local casinos still allow you to play at their Blackjack tables, since you obviously are an experienced counter?

Anonymous

It is my policy not to count in Las Vegas. Since I live here I don’t want to make any enemies out of prospective clients. So I am allowed to play blackjack at all but two casinos locally. However last January I went to Reno and Lake Tahoe for a few days and was told not to play blackjack at four different casinos.

How many "successful" card counters, i.e. the ones who do it right, do you think are in a casino on any given night?

Anonymous

In would say in a large Strip type casino the number of counters who know what they are doing on a given night is in my best guess one half of a single person (or two casinos would have one person). The reason I think it is this low is in my many hundreds of hours at the blackjack tables I only spotted other counters twice.

In your June 25 column, you seem to say that you've only seen other counters (I presume, based on them changing their bets and/or strategy similar to how you might, if you were counting) twice in many hundreds of hours of playing. At the same time, if I read you right, you seem to say that you think half the players in a strip type casino are successful counters. That seems to be a contradiction. Maybe you meant one half of one percent....? Assuming you see 10 or 12 players per hour that might be more in line with the math.

Anonymous

What I meant was half of one person, or one person for every two casinos. However you were not the only person I confused so I reworded my original answer to say half on one person, not half of everyone playing.

What are the pros and cons of burning a card on a blackjack shoe game, when a new dealer taps onto the table?

Anonymous

Unless you are counting cards it doesn’t make any difference. If you are counting cards then it is like decreasing the penetration by one card.

Since you seem to be driven by house advantage, do you actually play for fun anywhere (whether floor games, machines or poker), or do you only do blackjack counting and/or video poker with progressives over a target amount? Or do you not actually play at all? I think a lot of your "readers" would be interested in that, but you may not want your hosts to know!

Anonymous

The only time I might play for fun is if I am entertaining somebody visiting Vegas and am just out gambling with them. Otherwise I always look for an edge. I also play new games sometimes just to ensure that I understand the rules correctly. I don’t want to give away all my secrets but card counting and positive expectation video poker are definitely two games in my bag of tricks.

I am a casual Basic Strategy blackjack player who would like to learn a counting technique that offers positive or even expected value. I was wondering if there is a counting technique that doesn’t require tracking all the cards. I’m thinking that I could take a random sample of all the cards played (say my hand) and just count the cards that have been in my hand. Hopefully, my cards are representative of all cards played and thus the count of my hand is close enough to the true running count that I can adjust my wagering accordingly. Do you feel that this could be a valid approach particularly against 6-8 deck shoes or am I just a lazy guy looking for the easy way out?

Anonymous

The easiest counting method is what I call the "eyeball" method, in which if you see lots of small cards come out then increase your bet, and vise versa. However this is better suited to one and two deck games. For 6 or 8 deck games I would recommend the ace/five count. This requires only counting aces and fives. According to Ken Uston in Million Dollar Blackjack this give the player an additional 0.5% with just a 1 to 3 unit bet range. That is enough to overcome the house edge in most games.

What is the safest way for the house to deal double deck blackjack? Face up or hand held?

Anonymous

Face down. Not being allowed to see other player cards until the end of the hand gives the player less information, which works against card counters.

Do you have any comment on the Blackjack Pro device for card counting?

Anonymous

Interesting. Basically this looks like a two-way clicker to help the player keep track of the running count in blackjack. From what I read there is no true count conversion or index number help. Still knowing the running count and betting accordingly is much better than not counting at all. It is also a clever disguise. However be aware that using any device to help calculate the probabilities on any game in a Nevada casinos is a felony and carries a punishment comparable to bank robbery.

What incentive does a dealer have to "tell on you" if he suspects you are card counting. Why would a dealer care if you are card counting or not? Doesn’t it mean bigger tips for him?

Anonymous

Good question. If the counter were tipping then the dealer has the choice of not telling and getting more tips or tattling to get on the good side of casino management. I think it in large part comes down to the attitude of the dealer, whether he is rooting for the player or the casino. Dealers who are loyal to their employer first will probably tell, and tipping may not help. Dealers share tips so the dealer you give your tip to may only get 1% of it. Tipping cynical dealers who resent tip sharing won’t buy you much cover. In my opinion dealers loyal to the casino are more likely to be women than men and Asians over any other race. One of my blackjack books goes into this in more detail but I can’t remember which one. The decision to tip is hotly debated in the counting community and many counters follow the Stanford Wong philosophy of only tipping if the cover it buys you is more than in value than the tip itself. This may explain the joke that the difference between a counter and a canoe is that a canoe sometimes tips. Other counters tip anyway whether they think it buys them cover or not because they believe in tipping.

First of all thanks for the great site. Is there no point in card counting if it is a single deck that is reshuffled after every hand?

Anonymous

You’re welcome, thanks for the compliment. There is still some point, especially with a full table. However under typical single deck rules (dealer hits soft 17, no double after split) I don’t think it is enough to overcome the 0.19% house edge.

Is the Super Sevens side bet countable?

Clem

Yes! If you count sevens as -12 and all other cards as +1 then the odds on the side bet swing to the player’s advantage with a true count (running count divided by remaining decks) of 5 or greater. According to my simulations in six-deck game with no three-card guarantee and 75% penetration the true count is 5 or greater 23.2% of the time and the player advantage at these times averages 27.3%. In the game with a three-card guarantee the average advantage goes up to 29.1%.

I was wondering how the house advantage would change if you played 5 hands at a time using basic strategy blackjack and card counting at an online casino. Let me explain. I know the deck is shuffled with each hand, however you can count the cards of all hands leading up to the last hand - the 5th hand. You can then use this information to help you modify your basic strategy betting. For example, not doubling down when the count is against you or hitting when you normally should stay. Could this possibly shift the overall odds to the players advantage?

Anonymous

Flat betting and only five spots, I think not. However if you bet seven spots and progressively more on each spot to be played then yes. This is called depth charging and is treated lightly in the book Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Andersen.

The index number of 16 against a 10 in most blackjack counting systems is zero. So if the deck were completely neutral you should stand, because you stand if the count is equal or exceeds the index number. Yet the basic strategy tables tell us to hit. This seems to be a contradiction.

Anonymous

In all honesty this is an old question but I got a better answer from Chris F.. He correctly says the reason is that when the basic strategy charts are created they assume the player’s first two cards and the dealer’s up card have already been removed from the deck. A good example of this is that in single deck the correct play is to stand on 7,7 against a 10, because half of the sevens in the deck are already gone, and that is what you need to beat a dealer 20 with 3 cards.

In the case of 16 against a 10 the player’s hand is either composed of a 10 and 6 or a 9 and 7. Either way two cards that would bust the player by hitting have been removed. So the deck is slightly rich in small cards that will not bust the player, giving the player an incentive to hit. While this is true I was skeptical because in an infinite deck game the odds still favor hitting. However except in a few Internet casinos an infinite deck is just an abstraction. I was curious what would be the best play in an 8-deck game if the dealer just said without dealing a single card "You have a 16 and I have a 10, but don’t have a blackjack." Using the blackjack analyzer at gamblingtools.net (site no longer exists), I entered eight decks and then carefully depleted the deck of 1 of every card, except only no sixes, and 2 tens. Then I gave the dealer a 10 and myself a 10 and 6. So the player was playing this hand against a neutral deck with 31 of each card A-9 and 124 tens. Here is the expected values:

10+6 vs 10 — Eight Decks

Play Expected Value
Stand -0.5399
Hit -0.5399

Although the expected value numbers are the same the applet highlights standing as the better play, presumably because it is higher beyond four decimal places. It is the same if I remove the following: A,2,3,4,5,6,8,10,10,10 to simulate 9,7 vs 10, because the player is going against the exact same neutral shoe.

It just goes to show how powerful the effect of removal is, even when just three cards in an eight-deck game. Getting back the original question, a zero count reflects a totally neutral deck after the player’s two cards and dealer’s up card have been accounted for. So as I just showed going into a neutral deck the odds favor standing. The reason hitting is correct in an infinite deck is because there is no effect of removal. If you accidentally hit a 16 vs 10 in a neutral shoe, and got a low card, then the dealer would have a better chance of getting a 10 in the hole. This fact is reflected in the higher expected value for standing in an 8-deck game, but would not matter in an infinite deck. For the record, here are the expected values in an infinite deck game:

10+6 vs 10 — Infinite Decks

Play Expected Value
Stand -0.5404
Hit -0.5398

I've been counting cards and things have been going okay. I’ve logged almost 200 hours. I only go to casinos on the East Coast, but last week I was on vacation in Vegas. Well I went to the Barbary Coast where they had two-deck blackjack with pretty good rules. So I'm counting with a 10 to 50 incremental spread and all seemed okay, but then I put out a $50 bet and a pit boss pushed it back and said "no more 21 for you!" (or something like that). I got busted! Anyway I didn't say anything took my chips cashed out and left! Now do I have to worry about them having identified me with any kind of face recognition software or anything? I won’t be going back to Vegas for a least a year and certainly won't go back to the Barbary Coast . Do I have to worry on the East Coast?

Anonymous

The Barbary Coast is notorious for having a low tolerance for counters. I wouldn't worry about the incident going past the memory of that pit boss. What happened to you is known as a "back off", which is nothing more than a warning. To get in the Griffin Book of undesirable players you need to be a much more serious threat. I don't know Griffin's secrets but in my estimation you need to be a black chip counter and have been backed off or read the trespass act several times before you make it in the book for the reason of card counting.

What’s your opinion on backing advantage players off of 6 to 5 blackjack? Would you still let them play? Every advantage player that I’ve met says he won’t play 6 to 5 because he gives up too much.

Anonymous

Even 6 to 5 blackjack can be beaten if the penetration is close to 100% and a huge bet spread is used. Sometimes counters will play such games because they can get away with much more. The decision must be made on a case by case basis.

You have made it known that you use card counting in casinos. Why do casinos let you still play in their casinos?

Jason from Boston

I was recognized in Reno when counting once, although it may have been by dealer who knew me personally and tattled. It is a long and bizarre story. Aside from that I don’t play often, nor for high stakes, so the threat I pose is fairly small and not worth the fuss of memorizing another face.

Wizard, I have been reviewing your site in preparation for a trip to Vegas, because it is the best gambling site period. I was intrigued by the analysis from your December 4, 2001 column about when to stand with 16 vs. dealer 10. Being a math person myself I want to maximize the odds, but also understand the slim gain. Like many basic strategy players, I’ve always hit 16 vs. dealer 10 when I hold a 2, 3, 4, or 5. I’m curious, since this was brought to your attention, have you altered your play to gain that "one unit every 5 years", or have you stuck with just hitting the 16 every time? Thanks for all you do!

Anonymous

Thanks for the kind words. If I’m playing basic strategy (as opposed to counting) I tend to stand if there is already a four or five in my hand. If it is a face-up game, with other players, I scan the table and just use my best judgment.

When counting cards, what seat has the best position to count cards on the table?

Nate from Marquette, MI

Mathematically speaking, third base is best because you have seen more cards by the time it is your turn, and thus have more information. However, given six positions at the table, I personally prefer the fourth position because I have a better view of the entire table.

I’m very interested in turning the small house edge in blackjack into an essentially even game with the house. I know this will not change my results all that much, but I think it is a psychological barrier that many players wish to pass. I play basic strategy religiously and am comfortable with counting cards using the Hi-Lo sytem, but mainly do it just for a challenge at the moment as I don’t use much of a bet spread.

Erik B. from Toronto, Ontario

I hope you’re happy, I spent a week on this, off and on. Using the hi-low strategy you’ll need to spread to 4 or 5 units in a six-deck game. However, I devised a much simpler adaptation of the ace/five count. You can read all about it in my section on the Wizard Ace/Five Count.

In regards to your Wizard Ace Five Count, what effects does real casino play versus your simulation have on the bank role needed to have a reasonable risk of ruin. More specifically, is your simulation played head to head with a dealer, where when the count is high you are betting the higher bets more times per shoe than at a real table where 6 players are using up cards when the count is high, resulting in fewer chances to bet when the count is high. Thank you.

Rich from Greenwood, IN

Measured in terms of the house edge, the number of other players doesn’t matter. Yes, they will eat up cards when the count is good, but they will also do so when the count is bad. In the long run it doesn’t matter. However, in terms of expected wins per hour, when you have an advantage, it helps to have fewer players, because you will play more hands in the same amount of time.

Are there any other basic strategy changes that have a meaningful impact to expected return at various counts?

Dan from Las Vegas

At some count you should start to accept insurance. However, the point of the ace/five is to be simple. If you’re willing to memorize index numbers you should learn a more robust count strategy, like the plus/minus.

On your web page, you state that continuous shuffling machines reduce the house edge in Blackjack. Although I have no doubt that you have proven this mathematically, this result appears to be in conflict with the "Floating Advantage" concept described in Chapter 6 of Don Schlesinger's Blackjack Attack. Basically, the "Floating Advantage" concept appears to indicate that the house edge decreases as more decks are removed from play (regardless of the true count). For me, it is difficult to reconcile the fact that the house edge can decrease when cards are immediately replenished (when CSMs are used) and also when cards are utilized and not replenished (when shoes are used). Can you comment on this observation?

Mark from Mississauga

I hope you’re happy; I spent two days running simulations to answer this one. For the benefit of others, let me briefly summarize both arguments. The Cut-Card Effect states the house edge is less in a continuously shuffled game, as opposed to a cut-card game, all other things being equal. The "Floating Advantage" concept states that for the card counter the odds get better the deeper into the deck or shoe the dealer gets. According to Stanford Wong, "...after we have counted the deck down to where n decks are left, the edge with a count of zero is about the same as if we had started with n decks." - Blackjack Attack, third edition, page 71. So, for example, the house edge in a six-deck with one deck left, at a count of zero, has about the same house edge as a single-deck game with the same rules.

Unfortunately the Floating Advantage does not benefit non-counters. While they will benefit, unknowingly, at close to neutral true counts, they will do worse at extremely high and low counts. According to Schlesinger, "Seems that, at the one-deck level, extremely high counts produce less edge than expected for the basic strategist (many pushes) and the extreme negative counts were found to be even more unfavorable than previously thought (doubles, splits, and stands tend to be disastrous)." - Blackjack Attack, third edition, page 70.

As I understand it, the reason the counter benefits from the Floating Advantage, even if he may not know about it, is that he bets more when the Floating Advantage works to his advantage, and less when it doesn’t. For the non-counter, who doesn’t know when the Floating Advantage is strongest, the pros and cons exactly cancel each other out.

In conclusion, both the Cut-Card Effect and Floating Advantage are distinct topics and do not contradict each other. To compare them is to compare apples and oranges. For more information please read chapter 6 in Blackjack Attack by Don Schlesinger.

Spirit Mountain Casino in Grand Ronde Oregon added a side bet in the last 24 hours called "Field Gold 21." It resolves before the rest of the hand begins and concerns the first two cards dealt to a player. The side bet can be between 1 and 25 dollars. The pay table follows.

  • Ace, Jack Suited = 25 - 1
  • 2 Aces = 10 - 1
  • 3 or 4 Total = 3 - 1
  • 9 or 10 Total = 2 - 1
  • 11 or 12 Total = 1 - 1
  • Any Blackjack = 3 - 2

Aces always count as 1 and 10’s and faces count as 10. What is the house advantage? If I keep an Aces and Fives count is there a positive count where the possible remaining aces make the bet a positive proposition? Would counting remaining aces divided by remaining decks be better?

Stan from Beaverton, Oregon

You didn’t tell me the number of decks, but assuming six the house edge is 5.66%. Here is the return table.

Field of Gold — Six Decks

Event Pays Permutations Probability Return
Ace/jack suited 25 144 0.002968 0.074202
Two aces 10 276 0.005689 0.056888
3 or 4 total 3 1428 0.029434 0.088301
9 or 10 total 2 4884 0.100668 0.201336
Any other blackjack 1.5 2160 0.044521 0.066782
11 to 12 total 1 6612 0.136285 0.136285
All other -1 33012 0.680435 -0.680435
Total 48516 1 -0.056641

Just eyeballing it, I would say aces would be the best card to track, betting into an ace-rich deck. My advice would be to count aces as −12 and all other cards as +1.

I’m a novice card-counter. The simplicity of your Ace-Five counting system appeals to me and I’ve played a few shoes online with some success using the system. Is it possible to combine the Ace-Five system with some form of penetration adjustment. E.g., if the count is positive and there is only two decks left (of six) then increase the bet more than is normally provided for under the Ace-Five system? Or is this just likely to draw more attention from the pit if they are looking for card counters?

Adam from Toronto

I wanted to keep the ace-five count as simple as possible, so I didn’t want to mention a true-count conversion. However, you may make one yourself if you wish. Just divide the running count by the number of decks remaining. You don’t need to be perfect in either the deck estimation or the math; a rough guess will be fine. The greater the true count, the more you should bet.

Do all card counting strategies tell you the same information? For example, if you had 7 counters playing on a table, one each playing +/-, Red 7, KO, Hi Opt, Silver Fox, Wong Halves and Zen, would they all be raising their bets at the same time? Or do the different systems consider different things to be advantageous to the player? Thanks

Jeff from Shelton

If different counters were using different count strategies at the same table the bet amounts would be highly correlated. Most of the time they would all bet big or all bet small. The close to neutral counts may see some diversity. When the bet sizes are different, the counters with the more difficult, and thus more efficient, strategies are probably right. There is a good table at Casino Verite on the index numbers and efficiency of various popular card counting strategies.

I read somewhere that half a counter’s edge is in taking insurance. In the UK insurance is only offered on a blackjack. Hence in the UK a counter’s edge must be about half of what it is under rules allowing insurance on any ace. Have I got this right?

Grame from London, UK

According to the famed “Illustrious 18” table in Don Schlesinger’s “Blackjack Attack” insurance is the single most valuable hand to the counter, in terms of value gained by making count dependent strategy changes. The value of taking insurance, when the true count is +3 or more, adds 0.117% to the player’s overall advantage, based on the hi-low count, spreading 1 to 8. However this does not come close to half the total advantage from strategy changes. Looking only at the top 18 count dependent plays (the Illustrious 18), plus the top 4 count dependent surrenders (the Fab Four) the total value to the counter is 0.469%. So correct insurance accounts for only 25% of the value of strategy changes. A good counter will gain about another 1% by betting more in good counts. So taking away the insurance option reduces the total value of counting by only about 8%. In the UK it would be slightly less because you can still insure with a blackjack. The advantage figures are rough and depend on lots of things. The value of all surrender deviations is about the same of insurance deviations.

Using just an Ace/Five count: 1) Why not more than double your bet if the count goes very high especially near the end of a shoe. 2) If the count goes very low might it be wise to leave the shoe? If either is yes, how high or low?

George from Buffalo, NY

More than doubling your bet at once sets off a red flag that you’re counting. That would increase your advantage, but at the risk of being backed off from the table. My advice is to not do it. Leaving the shoe in a low count is a well-known trick. That is a great time to hit the bathroom or pretend your cell phone is vibrating. It is up to you at what point to do this. There is a tradeoff between suffering a shoe with a negative EV and looking like a counter jumping in and out all the time.

Thanks for the informative site. I can effectively count cards at an online casino, playing head-to-head with the dealer. At a real casino, however, I usually get distracted and lose the count. If the cards are dealt face down, forget about it. The only time I’ve been to Vegas, I played a lot of late night/early morning blackjack, sometimes head-to-head. But that was in my pre-card counting days. My question is whether the card counting pros come out at night when table traffic is down, and if so, is the casino more wary of 4:00 AM players than daytime or evening players?

Freddy from Lansing

You’re welcome. Card counters usually prefer to play by themselves, all other things being equal. This is for various reasons, including more hands per hour, fewer distractions, and nobody to shorten their life expectancy via his/her second-hand smoke. Once when I was caught counting on a cruise ship, the casino manager was kind enough to list all the red flags I raised, and it was an embarrassingly long list. One was playing at 3 A.M., when the casino was almost empty, and another was playing alone. So, this casino manager at least felt counters were more of a risk late at night. Given that experience, I think blending in at busy times outweighs the better conditions at slow times.

About losing the count, I recommend getting a deck of cards and flipping them over two at a time, keeping the count as you go. Try to get through the deck, with an accurate count, within 25 seconds.

I was backed off while playing for low stakes at Sienna in Reno. I was being careless, obviously varying my bet from $5 to $20. They were very nice about it, and just asked me to stop playing blackjack. I play there about one weekend every four months.

I like playing there and would be happy to flat bet. How likely is it that they would let me play again? If I went back in four months and flat bet would they even recognize me? Alternatively, would I be better off to approach the pit boss, tell him the situation and ask if I could play if I flat bet? Thanks for the great web site!

Bob from Burlingame

Thank you for the compliment. The Sienna is a classy casino, my favorite in Reno. They are also one of the few places with a liberal single-deck game in Reno, in which you may double on any first two cards. You should not ask permission to play, because they would be unlikely to reverse themselves. Your odds are much better waiting before coming back. Four months is pushing it on the delay, I would skip them a trip, and wait eight months.

I’m a novice counter, using the hi-lo system. Knowing the count, do my odds increase significantly enough to make a side bet of "over 13, under 13" worthwhile?

Jared from Minneapolis

Yes! That side bet is extremely vulnerable to card counters. As long as the minimum is not too low, you should be using another strategy to exploit it, one that treats aces as a low card. Arnold Synder presents such a strategy in The Big Book of Blackjack. Otherwise, if you are using a standard hi-lo count, Synder says to only make the Over bet in very high counts.

What happens to you if you get backed off/barred from a cruise casino?

Joshua Gavina from South Williamson, KY

That has actually happened to me. If you were backed off, then you just can’t play in the casino any longer. If you were barred, you can’t even enter. I suppose if you did not comply, and were caught, they might make you get off at the next port, and not let you get back on. Signage on my last cruise indicated they will do that if they catch you with illegal drugs.

This question is about counting cards in a two-deck blackjack game. Using the Knock-Out Count, how do you account for the card the dealer burns and doesn’t show you? I usually just assume it is a negative, but there has to be a better way than this conservative approach.

TCD from Long Island City

A burned card is just like any unseen card left in the shoe. You don’t have to assume it is anything. In the Knock-Out count you can completely ignore it, because there is no true count conversion. In the Hi-Lo, or any count with a true count conversion, a perfectionist would add the number of burn cards to the number of cards remaining in the deck. However, since there is usually just one burn card, it can be safely ignored under any card counting strategy.

Why do casinos burn cards in blackjack and baccarat?

Matt from Fort Myers, FL

A minor reason is to foil card counters. However, instead of burning x cards, the dealer could move the cut card x cards forward, and achieve the same purpose. The major reason is game protection. For one, the player might catch a glimpse of the top card, and alter his bet and strategy, based on this information. Such a tactic would not be cheating, I might add. The top card is also vulnerable to lots of cheating schemes. It could be marked, the dealer could peek at it, or force a desired card to the top. If for any reason the dealer knew what the top card was, he could signal that information to a confederate player, giving him a huge advantage.

I’m a pretty good poker player, and I’m interested in learning blackjack as well. The problem is, I’ve always been a bit slow, in the literal, non-euphemistic sense. I can’t count the cards at the speed they come out. I’ve tried, but I always wind up dropping the sign on negative numbers, or mentally count in the wrong direction.

I would have much better luck if I could just count the tens and never deal with negative numbers. That should be possible, right? The major factor is how "rich in tens" the deck is, right? I know you have your Ace-Five count on your site, but you say that’s profitable only if the dealer stands on soft 17, and that’s not the case at the casino I go to.

So my questions are: (a) Am I barking up the wrong tree entirely by thinking you could use just a count of tens (adjusted for number of decks left, of course)?, and (b) Do you know of any such strategy that doesn’t use negative numbers?

Peter from Redmond, WA

Lest any experts in blackjack history correct me, Lawrence Revere has a chapter on the Revere Ten Count Strategy in his classic work Playing Blackjack as a Business. This strategy requires keeping two counts, one of tens, and one of everything else. Play and bet amount is then dictated by the ratio of these two counts. In my opinion, this strategy is too difficult to use. I have yet to meet anybody who actually practices this count.

The Speed Count requires only counting low cards, offset by adjustments in the number of hands played. There are no adjustments for the number of decks left, known as a "true count conversion." If you really hate negative numbers, you will probably never see one with the Speed Count, although one subtraction per round is required. The effectiveness and ease of use are a topic of hot debate in the blackjack community. For more information, please read my review .

If negative numbers are the only issue, my webmaster Bluejay notes that you could adjust any counting system that does not involve a true count conversion, like the Knock Out, by starting at a higher number. Of course, you should adjust all the index numbers by the same amount.

If the Lucky Lady side bet is only played when the true count is, say, 10 or above, will one beat the house edge? If so, what is the minimum true count at which one can beat the house edge with this side bet?

Julie Jacques from Morristown, TN

I have not studied the effect of card counting of that bet for myself. However, Arnold Snyder has, and his results can be found in his Big Book of Blackjack. There he says you should make the bet in a six-deck game if it is the last two decks, and the count is +10 or greater, using the Red Sevens count. In a double-deck game he says to bet in the last deck, and a count of +6 or greater.

I count cards (14 count). I prefer to play alone at third base, and avoid really bad players. The continuous shuffle machines are impossible to play and count. Is there a current list of Las Vegas casinos using these machines?

Jim from St. Louis

I don’t blame you for wanting to avoid other players. They slow down the game, and if they smoke, they pose a health hazard. However, it shouldn’t matter whether they are good or bad. Just about all Vegas casinos have some mixture of continuous shufflers, automatic shufflers, and hand-shuffled games. For details on blackjack rules, including type of shuffle and penetration, there is no substitute for the Current Blackjack News, for which a paid membership is required.

What happens if you are caught counting card on a cruise ship? Will they evict you at the next harbor, or...directly throw you into the sea?

Austin from Las Vegas

They make you walk the plank.

Just kidding. Speaking only for the Norwegian Star, they politely inform you that blackjack is off limits, but you’re still welcome to play any other game. The same way they usually do in land-based casinos. Other cruise ships probably do the same thing.

I have been in the casino business for 27 years and have worked positions from dealer to casino manager. I am dealing now, and there is a player that comes in our casino and plays blackjack who has won $5,000 or more, for at least 30 consecutive trips. Having been a manager, I know that even the best card counter does not win every time. I believe it is not possible to win that many trips in a row and not be cheating somehow. I have only dealt to him personally one time, and I was unable to detect anything out of the ordinary. He has a $35,000 credit line and sometimes starts off losing, but he always winds up winning in the end. He bets anywhere from $200 to $5,000 and doesn’t appear to be counting cards. Do you think it is possible to win so many times in a row without cheating?

Daniel from Philadelphia

Let's ignore the house edge for the sake of simplicity. If the player’s two stopping markers are a win of $5,000 or a loss of $35,000, then the probability of reaching the winning marker is 7/8. The probability of doing that during 30 consecutive trips is (7/8)30 = 1.82%. So, this could easily be just good luck. I’d let him play until you determine why and how he is beating you.

This brings to mind a very good book I just read, Casino-ology, by Bill Zender. The main thrust of the book is that casino management is much too paranoid about advantage play. The overreaction to it is slowing down play and annoying legitimate customers, the cost of which is much more than what is saved by catching a few extra advantage players.

While playing your free blackjack game on this site, I noticed that when the count got to, i.e. -7 or lower, I was winning as much if not more than when the count was say +10 or higher. Is this just a fluke, or is there some advantage to the player when the count is a high negative number?

Mark from Pahokee

The game shuffles after every hand, so the count is always zero at the start of the hand. However, when there is a cut card, a negative count tends to be very slightly correlated to positive results since the start of the shoe. That is because the negative count means that more good cards than bad have already been played, which would have been good for the player.

Should a card counter ever double on a hard 12?

dh2525

Short answer, no.

Long answer, If the numbers of 7s, 8s, and 9s are all twice what they should be, then the player should double 12 against a 6. However, how often does that happen? Even if it did, the best of card counting strategies would not identify the situation. For confirmation, I asked Don Schlesinger, author of Blackjack Attack, who said, "We kicked that around on the sites, and, with normal count systems, the answer was never."

Is it just me or does the sound of offering "live blackjack" on online casinos just BEG for card counting?

Malaru

I agree, that does seem like a good advantage play. At the 5dimes live casino game they offer the following rules:

  • 6 decks.
  • One burn card at the beginning of the shoe, and one with every dealer change, which occur every 30 minutes. If the supervisor has to step in, which I’ve seen happen twice, then three cards are burned.
  • Dealer stands on soft 17.
  • Early surrender, except against an ace.
  • Double after split allowed.
  • Split to two hands only.
  • No hole card, but player loses original bet only to dealer blackjack.
  • Bet ranges: $5-$250, $10-$250, or $25-$500

The house edge under these rules is 0.24%.

The rules say the penetration is 75%. Twice I counted the number of cards seen per shoe, and I got 211 both times, which is 68%. Shortow, a member of my forum, placed two videos of the cut card placement on YouTube: Video 1 Video 2. It looks to me like the penetration was a little deeper in video 2. I would say it ranges from 60% to 70%, depending on the dealer.

Not only could the player easily count this game, but he could use a calculator on a separate screen to make perfect decisions. The Blackjack Real Time Analzyer is one product that does this. However, I have no idea what kind of game protection they employ. With every card scanned, it would not be difficult to determine the correlation between count and bet size and raise a red flag if the correlation was sufficiently positive.

If you give it a try, I'd be interested to know what happens.

This question was raised and discussed in the forum of my companion site Wizard of Vegas.

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