math on card counting has changed over the years.
don’t mean the raw numbers governing the true count, or the edge when you’re at
+4 and doubling a 10 against a 6.
mean that a good card counter will need to avoid detection for hundreds of
hours in order to be profitable, but I only need to catch them once.
today’s technological world, I can have a description, name, and facial scan
sent to a dozen surrounding properties before a good card counter can even be
escorted from the building.
Make a mistake once in some Indian casino in Oklahoma and the odds are good you won’t even make it to a table without being escorted out the next time you arrive in Las Vegas.
ups the stakes because once you’re flagged for the first time, you will have a
much harder time going unnoticed in the future. It may even bring your playing
days to an end.
around the country subscribe to various databases and programs that help them
manage counters and other advantage players.
shared information means one misstep for a card counter can be extremely
How Casinos Catch Counters
(Be On The Look Out) or info sheets on players will not only have pictures,
often from multiple angles, but also known associates and aliases.
will have a detailed description and other identifying info like tattoos.
casinos use Car Tag Readers to let them know when certain VIP guests arrive or
just to keep track of who enters and exits the garage or parking area, so don’t
be surprised if some of that data is also on file.
these are sent out regionally, or to casinos that have information-sharing
agreements between their surveillance departments, but the info is still widely
available to be searched by name, description, or the like by any casino that
subscribes to the databases.
of this is often combined with facial recognition software which means many known
counters are unlikely to even make it to a table before management intervenes
and asks them to leave.
casinos will simply not take a chance on letting someone identified by another
casino as a card counter play on their tables, though some will allow a player a
little leeway so that they can make their own determination.
the medium to large casinos I’ve worked, it’s not unusual to walk three or four
counters a week off the property.
sure the number is much, much higher at certain Las Vegas properties known for
their advantageous rules, and deck penetration.
four out of five of those I walk off the casino floor will have been identified
off a BOLO. They messed up once and now we have got them again.
the fact of the matter is, counting cards is a mathematical game. You can only
change your play so much before it erodes all your profit.
ways of playing are unavoidable.
that’s what we look for.
The Math That Gives Counters An Edge Is Also Used To Catch Them
Card counting is at its heart a very simple proposition.
Bet more when the remaining cards are in your favor and bet less, or sometimes don’t bet at all, when they are not.
trick of course is that the casino also knows when the remaining cards are in
personal favorite tell is the insurance/16 against a 10 rule. These two play
deviations make up almost 40% of the advantage one can achieve through basic
can’t escape the math. If you want to make money, these are the two plays you
Basic strategy says you must hit a 16 against a 10, but the index count for changing that strategy is basically zero.
the deck is even slightly positive in 10 cards you need to stand. If you stand
on 10 against a 16 with big bets out there (a high positive count), you will
have my attention.
you also then sit on 16 when you have table minimums bets out there, I’ll be
reaching for the phone.
The same is true of insurance.
most average players have learned their lesson about insurance being a terrible
bet, all counters know that they must insure their hand at a +3 true count.
leaves them in the unenviable spot of having to sometimes take insurance with a
12 and skip even money when they have a blackjack.
are must-make bets for a counter to be successful long term.
both leave a counter extremely noticeable to anyone trained to look, but there
are just as many other tells that will give a counter up.
following all draw quick attention:
Reducing your bet to your minimum bet size after the shufflePulling back all of a blackjack payoff or a tie betNever tippingLeaving the table to take a phone call or use the bathroom when the count goes very negative.
can also be a giveaway and get you noticed, such as:
Watching the cards too closelyNot drinking Not conversing with dealers or guestsNervous or furtive behaviorVery precise with chips and/or cards.
of course, the biggest hurdle is getting more money in the betting circle
without bringing down the house.
be truly effective, you will need to bet somewhere between 12x to 16x your
lowest wager when the count goes higher in a shoe game.
That means a player who starts off betting a $100 a hand, and who will stay betting that same $100 a hand for more than 70% of their play, must sometimes be able to get a $1,000 or even $1,500 bet out on the layout.
And ideally more.
have come up with many ingenious methods to try and disguise this bet spread.
no matter the story, no matter the reason, this kind of bet spread will draw
then we will have someone counting down the shoe and rating their play, whether
it’s another trained counter or, more and more often, a computer program.
players do get away with it for an extended period, it’s because the dealer or
the floor didn’t do their job.
when a dealer sees that kind of bet spread, they will say something like “checks
play,” which usually means something like “this person just suddenly started
betting a lot more than they were.”
is to alert the floor to large bet spreads so that they can relay that on up
you can see, there are many, many ways a card counter can be tripped up. They
are literally constrained by the math that makes all of this work.
as soon as they’re outed once, it becomes incrementally harder to get away
unnoticed the next time.
was exactly these constraints that made for the team play that was immortalized
by Hollywood in movies like 21.
The Old Bait And Switch
premise of the “big player” attack was simple. Skilled counters could watch
games, and continue to flat bet, but call big players in when the count was
players would bounce from table to table, only playing when the count was high.
meant it was hard for casinos to spot the real counters; they remained camouflaged
on their games, and since the big player was only betting large amounts of
money each hand, it didn’t call into question the bet spread.
the big player would assume a theatrical role to lend some credence to their
often odd and erratic behavior to lessen suspicion even more.
it seems unlikely 30 years later, these teams would take Las Vegas and other
casino jurisdictions for millions.
? How The MIT Blackjack Card Counting Team Beat The House
solution was simple yet costly.
would only allow new players on a table to bet a maximum of $100 until the new
stopped this attack in its tracks, but at the cost of casinos telling millions
of guests that they couldn’t place large bets until after the shuffle.
argued that the remedy was worse than the malady, but it did put an immediate
end to that particular loophole in the casino’s counter defenses.
of these rules have been relaxed now as casinos have gotten better at knowing
what to look for and mining databases of players to find connections between
seemingly unrelated players has become exponentially easier.
Working In Teams
of the best team plays I’ve seen involved a group of five or six players who at
first seemed unrelated, who often bet erratically and didn’t seem to pay close
attention to the count.
would position sometimes two but mainly three players on a table and take turns
keeping the count while the others engaged in conversation.
would signal the count using chip stacks, and while each member’s bets might
not follow the count, the team’s as a whole would.
would also disguise play this way, with smaller bets on larger counts not
always matching the index deviations.
were eventually only discovered when some of our dealers noticed them on
multiple occasions playing at other casinos in the same cohesive groups which
caused us to reevaluate their play.
we knew they were a team, we could see the bets and play move with the count in
total, instead of through one individual’s actions.
team play can slow down a casino’s efforts to identify counters, it is still
constrained by the need to put large bets out only when the count is high.
ideally, the ability to play that hand in a very defined way, though large
enough bet spreads can make up for some of that.
a long-ago shift manager once told me about game protection, “The money will
always tell the story.”
that’s as true today as it was 30 years ago.
math that makes blackjack beatable and card counters successful is exactly the
hook that we use to catch them.
What To Bear In Mind If You Plan To Count Cards
those still intent on card counting, there are a few important considerations.
The first thing is to remember that the age of the MIT teams or the Hyland
Group are gone.
The money laundering laws and know-your-customer regulations post 9/11 did more to end counters and count teams than all of the casinos’ efforts combined.
money bets now mean filling out W-9s and tax paperwork. Identification, and
even sometimes occupation, are verified through databases.
same types of databases that casinos and the government look for to fight money
laundering can be used to look for counters and count teams.
often uncover relationships that might not have been visible to the human eye.
This means you need to manage expectations;
the big bets won’t be as big, and the payouts will need to be smaller.
If you’re a lone player, it’s going to
be more of a grind. Teams will need to adapt to the new rules on the ground.
Asymmetrical team play – where
individual bets and even index plays may not match the count, but the overall
money at risk and play does – can be very effective. The trick is not to overuse the same players
at any one property.
Another way some teams have adjusted is
by finding players with long histories with casinos, especially losing
histories, and recruiting them. The casinos will have done their due diligence
and won’t be as alert to the high action.
Others have recruited wealthy business
owners or tech execs that might look like the exact type of player that the
casinos are marketing to and can withstand a quick background check.
Counters will also want to pay close
attention to the many other various advantage plays that are possible in
casinos, from excess free play on electronic table games and badly designed
promotions, to tournaments and giveaways – and many others.
EV (expected value) can be gained in
many different ways to help offset lower betting spreads.
Using all of the possible ways to
extract value has a long and sometimes hilarious history in the tales of
From rummage sales of merchandise bought
with comp points, to using porn stars to induce dealer errors, many players
have gone the extra mile when attempting to gain the advantage.
Don Johnson is one of those. He beat
Atlantic City and Vegas for millions not just due to his superb counting
skills, but by scaping the battlefield before he ever sat down to play.
By using counting, confusion, and badly
designed casino cashback, he won against casinos that should have known better
by being better prepared and having a mathematically sound plan – a plan that
just happened to include porn stars.
A New Day
One slip-up or one mistake that draws
attention to your play or your team’s play can be disastrous with the speed of
information and depth of data available now.
Players must be more cautious, measured,
Situational awareness is very important.
Watch pit personnel (especially when they go to a phone) and pay attention to
furtive glances or whispered conversations in your area. Don’t panic, just flat
If I come over and move the cut card up,
or tell the dealer to shuffle and you run, surveillance will be rewinding your
Counting cards for fun and profit hasn’t
come to an end just yet. Though truly, technology will probably bring about its
demise in the next five or 10 years.
I’m sure there are individuals and teams
out there making lots of money. But I’m also sure they would tell you that it’s
just not as simple and fun as it used to be.
That being said, there’s something about
pitting your wits and imagination against a determined foe, that will always
probably draw the hustlers and the dreamers to take their shot at bringing down
And that’s just fine. It keeps me
? 6 Reasons Why You Should Never Count Cards