Playing blackjack is one of the most popular table games in casino gambling, and it has an incredibly low house edge of less than 2% – plus with card counting this can be lowered even further!
If you have been a part of the blackjack or casino scene, you would have noticed the animosity that is directed towards notorious professional blackjack players. This is such a common theme among casino managers that average everyday punters are beginning to be influenced by the notion that professional blackjack players are bad news.
But the question is, why is it that bad being a professional blackjack player? When it comes to counting cards, technically they are not cheating or doing anything wrong. Professional blackjack players manipulate the odds against casinos by altering the house edge into their favour – the most notorious of these tactics is card counting, and when a card counting strategy is implemented correctly, blackjack professionals can end up walking out of casinos with big-time winnings.
The even bigger question is, why do casinos have a disliking towards professional blackjack players? They do not cheat, they do not steal – they merely apply a technical strategy of tracking and mathematical probability to the game. The truth is, card counting is a legal form of advantage play, and casinos discourage it because they hate to lose money. We get it. But we aren’t going to refrain from letting you know how to count cards like a professional blackjack player.
The beauty of choosing to play blackjack professionally is that it is one of the most popular table games in casino gambling, and it has an incredibly low house edge of less than 2%. The speed of the game is fast-paced which is attractive to the mindset of any avid gambler. With card counting, a professional blackjack player can lower the casino’s advantage even further.
Now, don’t be mistaken, being a professional blackjack player is no easy task. Being a professional in anything is hard, let alone mastering the art of card counting. It was never easy to count cards, but these days, it is now even tougher to win at blackjack with all the countermeasures being put in place by casinos. They do this pretty much everywhere to deter professional blackjack players from gaining the advantage.
What are casinos using to deter Blackjack professionals?
From the fallout of the 2008 global economic crisis, the gaming industry put measures in place to deter and reduce the art of card counting. Casinos have since put limits and reduced the amount gamblers are able to bet on each hand, using larger six or eight-deck shoes, and also using monitoring systems for watching players’ gameplay. Many of the major casino brands are now offering fewer tables, more continuous shuffle machines, and no double after splits.
Don’t be disheartened though, there are still a few tables of hand-dealt, old school blackjack; however, these tables are always heavily watched, and you will find that you will be asked to leave or to enjoy another game in the casino quickly. Professional blackjack players are still finding ways to overcome the various obstacles and ridiculous discouragements that casinos continue to put in place. Here are how professional blackjack players do it.
How to be a Blackjack professional
The old days of walking into a casino Ken Uston-style and going full gung-ho are over. Casinos are switched on to the presence of professional blackjack players, and the interruption this can cause in their bottom line.
Since those days, and following from the 2008 global economic crisis – casinos have drastically changed the way that they manage casino gaming. The best example for this is apparent in the limits placed on table gaming bets.
There once was a time where it was common to see blackjack (and other popular games) bets over $10,000 per hand, on a single table! Nowadays, and on average, you will see most bets not exceed $400-$800 per hand.
Of course, there are exceptions to this, but in general, whenever bets over the average are placed – casino management is summoned and consider the player and the bet before approving the higher stake bet. Micromanaging at its finest!
Comps and incentives these days do not match up with what they once were. Back in the day, even elite level players were eligible for comps worth their weight in gold. Today’s perks at times are not even worth the time and money spent.
Blackjack professionals live a life of grinding
Being a blackjack professional is a hard life. Well, the thrill, work, and the money are attractive, but it takes really hard work to run the grind every day. This is exactly what makes a professional blackjack player stand out from your everyday punter.
With casino countermeasures in full swing, professional blackjack players are required to rotate casinos with high frequency. The best pros frequenting the infamous Las Vegas strip work their way through up to 36 different casinos, mixing it up playing 5 or 6 days per week.
You will find that professional blackjack players will work in small teams to execute a perfected strategy when taking on casinos.
A great example of blackjack team play is in the great movie “21” directed by Robert Luketic in 2008. The underlying story of this movie was based on the true events of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology team (with added melodrama), which coupled computer software and card counting in order to bankroll millions of dollars playing blackjack at various casinos in America.
You might think that the lengths that these professional blackjack players go to are excessive, but the reality is that it does take true grit and hard yakka to go these great lengths needed to establish a working strategy; one which also remains undetected.
Managing heat with the casinos
Playing blackjack professionally involves implementing a winning strategy. It also involves remaining under the radar to keep the ‘heat’ from casino management minimal, while avoiding being asked to leave.
We sat down to chat with a close friend of ours, who is well known amongst the card counting community – we will just refer to him as ‘Blinky’ – detailing the excruciating lengths he goes to each day just to work the Las Vegas strip and manage his play.
Blinky keeps his spending down low in casinos and never carries large amounts of cash, only ever amounts between 3 to 5 thousand dollars. While only playing between 25 to 60 hands maximum, the key to success as a blackjack professional is having a system that works, and following this up with techniques to reduce the ‘heat’ you will be exposed to by casino management.
Prior to the economic crisis, casinos would spend a considerable amount of time evaluating you as a player and checking your play over; watching your every move. If management thinks that you are counting cards, you are asked to leave – or at the least, offered to play other games right away. These days there is no evaluation, or checking your play for long periods – you are just straight up asked to leave or play something else.
Many blackjack professionals will use disguises or manipulate their natural appearance when visiting a casino. Blinky used a system that does not rely on disguises per se, but he efficiently planned regular appearance changes, with an understanding of how casinos manage their day. Blinky noted that casinos generally have three shifts throughout the day over the 24-hour period– morning, day, night for example – which coupled with visiting up to 36 casinos a week, makes the task of reducing your heat with casino management slightly easier.
We have summarised some of the best tips for managing your heat through your appearance:
- Changing your appearance regularly; sometimes having full facial hair, no facial hair, alternating hairstyles, temporary non-outlandish hair colouring (no we aren’t talking electric blue).
- Changing the type of clothing or outfits; sometimes a suit, or t-shirt and jeans, casual, youth styling, ‘metrosexual’ appearances.
- Adding fake accessories like earrings or nose rings can sometimes completely change the way your facial features ‘pull’ together; and
- Wearing glasses.
The list of possibilities could go on and on, but just remember not to be excessive in something that will draw too much attention to making you a rememberable character within the casino. Sometimes the best form of disguise is to simply be careful about how much winning you are doing.
Simple casino management strategies when starting out counting cards
Just like becoming a professional at anything, it does take time and hard work. Consider these simple steps to begin your mastery of blackjack card counting:
- Test yourself to be completely sure that you understand all of the basic blackjack strategies and terms.
- Save up some bankroll to use at first. So, when you lose (you will make errors while starting out), you do not resort to withdrawing money from your usual account.
- Visit casinos within your area or choose a town or area that has multiple casinos that are accessible.
- Start out playing hands-on tables with low minimum bets – ensuring that you are keeping track of your wins and losses. If you make more than one mistake each hour, you are losing any margin for success.
- Once you have maintained a solid display of your strategy and are feeling comfortable, move onto blackjack tables that allow larger bets.
- REMAIN inconspicuous! Or else you risk being banned or refused from play. Do not play at one casino for the entire day or evening – be sure to move around and have a feel for other casinos; and
- Remain patient, remain hidden.
Master the Blackjack strategy
Without the use of computer software, it is important to take a close look at the art of card counting. The best source for this is taking a page out of a professional blackjack pioneers strategy; inspecting the various methods that professionals use to make large profits in blackjack.
In short, card counting is a strategy that uses certain advantages in the foundations of blackjack. The beauty of blackjack is that while your skill as a player increases, the house edge decreases – which is attractive to many – as the ability to master and control the game is second to none.
The average house edge against a typical player is about 2.5%, however, with an expert strategy, this house edge dwindles down to less than 1%. With effective card counting, a professional blackjack player can create true odds – which means the house has no edge over the player.
Interestingly, of all the casino games in rotation these days, blackjack is the only game where the decisions of the past will influence the future results of a play session.
Now, it does not take a mathematical genius to count cards efficiently. In fact, anyone can learn to count cards in blackjack provided you have the right tools. Beware – it is not a way to make a fortune quickly. Counting cards does include a bit of math, time, and patience – but with it, you can make some really nice money.
How to count cards playing Blackjack
Once you have mastered the basic rules and lingo for blackjack, you are finally able to start learning the art of counting cards in blackjack. Counting cards involves developing a strategy for assigning cards a numerical value. This then creates the concept of your bet, based on what cards the dealer has and what cards are still in the deck.
Card counting in blackjack is a system that works through the following 4 steps:
Step 1: Hi-Lo Value System
Card counting involves a “hi-lo system”, which means that cards are assigned a distinct value. A common method for this is assigning cards 2 to 6 a value of +1, cards 7 to 9 a value of zero, and the following face cards – 10, jack, queen, king and ace value of -1.
As the dealer deals out the cards, you must add or subtract a value of 1, or do nothing if the value is zero (i.e. cards 7 to 9). These values are what determines a new hand value, which a player uses to establish their ‘running count’.
Step 2: The Running Count
Once you have determined the ‘running count’ by implementing step one – you add or subtract against every card that the dealer reveals from a shoe – for both the dealer and player’s hands.
As the dealer continues to deal more cards, you must update your ‘running count’ accordingly. Now, the key to success for the running count is that if it increases, the advantage in the game shifts into the favour of the player.
Alternatively, if the running count decreases, the advantage lies with the casino.
Step 3: Calculating the True Count
The ‘true count’ is the total value that you as a player, assigns per deck, which comes from the ‘running count’. What you are looking for here is a greater concentration of high cards.
Now, the difference between knowing the concentration of high cards for five decks versus one deck is critical and determines what the true count is. For example, if your running count is 10 and there are 5 decks remaining, the true count is 10 divided by 5, which is 2. Whereas, if your running count is -7 and there are 2 decks remaining, the true count is -7 divided by 2, which equals -3.5.
Step 4: Betting and Playing Deviation
In card counting, the ‘playing deviation’ determines when, and how players should bet. The player must increase their bets as the ‘true count’ rises based on the information they have collected. When the ‘true count’ is favourable for the player – this can be turned into a big profit. This form of blackjack strategy relies on mathematical intervals and not lucky hunches.
Professional blackjack players memorise rules based on computer-generated formulas for blackjack card counting.
Remember the basics for success in Blackjack
These basics may seem obvious, but it is surprisingly easy to overlook them when you are starting out. We suggest playing blackjack online for free or with real money first, as a smart way to practice and master the basics. You can play blackjack online many of the online casinos that we recommend, and creating a player account is just as easy.
Don’t split tens
When your hand consists of two ten-value cards, you are given an opportunity to split the tens to double your money. Avoid splitting tens, always.
Statistically, there is a lower probability of winning on a split pair of ten-value cards instead of holding onto the tens to make 20. Remember, the only hand that can beat 20 is 21, which means there is a considerably higher chance of the dealer losing if you keep the tens together.
Avoid playing on tables offering a 6:5 payout
Avoid blackjack tables that payout 6:5, regardless. This is a sneaky tactic used by casinos to shift the house edge in their favour. Always play on a table that pays out 2:3.
Split aces and eights
Always split aces and eights, because statistically there is a good chance of you winning with a hand consisting of either card. So, if you split, then your probability of winning is increased.
Don’t buy insurance
There is always the possibility of the dealer getting a ‘blackjack’. When the dealer’s face-up card is an ace, you are given the option to purchase insurance – by putting down half of your original bet on the dealer having a ‘blackjack’. Now, if the dealer does score blackjack, you will win back your original bet as the insurance pays out 2:1, however, statistically this is not a smart bet to make as you will lose your bet in most scenarios.
While playing blackjack, always choose to avoid buying insurance.
Follow basic Blackjack strategy
Don’t overdo it. The best strategy is one that is effective yet easy to master. Never underestimate the basic strategies for playing blackjack as it will help you to determine when to hit, stand, split or double down. Check out our Simple Beginner’s Guide to Blackjack for a detailed breakdown on the following predetermined blackjack rules:
- Stand when your hand is between 12 and 16 and the dealer has between two to six.
- Hit when your hand is between 12 and 16 and the dealer has a seven-ace.
- Always split your aces and eights.
- Always double 11 versus the dealer’s two to tens; and
- Either hit or double aces-six.
Only bet with what you can afford
Practice responsible gambling. Always set a limit on your losses when you gamble. A smart habit to get into is to provide yourself with an affordable allowance and stick to this each month.
Never gamble with any amount that you aren’t happy losing. Don’t be stupid – if it risks the financial comfort of you, your family or those around you, then don’t bet.
Now that you have all of the tools to become a professional blackjack player, it is time to go out and start practising counting cards. Remember that you are going to make mistakes, it is ok to make mistakes – use these as opportunities to reflect and learn. Always have fun playing, regardless of the money you may end up making, if you are not enjoying yourself you will soon resent playing the wonderful game of blackjack, fair dinkum.