Understanding Blackjack Bet Spread Requirements for a Card Counter in Blackjack

Chip SpreadBy Bill Zender. 1)EDITOR NOTE: Post below updated in 2023 to reflect Bill Zender’s interesting comments on the state of advantage play.

When I ask table game executives what signs they use to detect that a person is on their tables counting cards, I get the following list of “tells”;

  • Guys winning a lot of money
  • Young guy with a baseball cap
  • Guy sitting on third base
  • A Guy who watches all the cards

If you agree with this list, you probably are in a position to make a lot of wrong calls to surveillance, or you could be allowing actual professional level card counters to slip through the cracks.  Also notice that the previous list is gender specific indicting that it is “guys” who get your attention even though a number of good card counters are women.  However, the number one “tell” that I hear from the table game’s executive is “winning a lot of money”.  This is not a valid “tell”, although it is a good reason to monitor a person’s table play.  When someone is winning, the number one default of table game’s executives is, “he must be counting cards!”   I would suggest that 99% of all players winning a large sum of money on your table are due to two factors; (1) their average wager is considered to be “high limits”, and (2) they are running lucky (known as negative statistic fluctuation for the house).  Under standard statistical deviation, out of 100 higher limit players, 2 to 3 of them will be beating the casino for a scary amount of money.  That’s just the law of normal distribution.

Detection from the casino floor can be accomplished quite easily even with today’s floor supervisory situation (too many player ratings, and too many games to watch).  Even under these conditions you can teach your floor supervisors (and surveillance operators) three key tools to use that will increase your card counting detection rate by 200%, and  decrease your false positives (think a person is counting when they are not).

The first tool the supervisor needs to learn and be able to recall correctly is basic strategy.  In July, I linked a basic strategy examination to my eBlast.  The purpose was to allow all my eBlast readers to evaluate the level of basic strategy knowledge among their staff.  As I have said before, basic strategy is the foundation of the game of blackjack, and without knowing how each hand should be played, you can’t protect the game of blackjack effectively.  You need to be able to watch a person wagering a significant amount of money, and determine if they are a good strategy player, an average strategy player, or are deviating from basic strategy because they are using card or deck composition knowledge to make their hand decision.

The second tool your floor supervisors (and surveillance operators) need to grasp is the required bet spread that the professional level card counter needs to employ to gain an advantage over that specific blackjack game type.  Approximately 80% of a card counter’s advantage is gained through wagering more money when he or she has a mathematical advantage over the house based on the remaining cards in the deck or shoe.  For example, using a six deck shoe game using standard rules and hitting soft 17 with a deck penetration of 4 ½ decks before shuffling.  Approximately 80% of the hands played will be in the house’s favor or neutral (no one’s favor), and 20% of the hands will be in the player’s favor (between slight to 3 ½% player advantage).  If the counter does not increase his or her bets, or does increase their bet limitedly during those 20% favorable deck occurrences, they cannot win money in the long-term.  In addition, using this same blackjack game and penetration, the professional card count will need to maintain a bet spread ratio of 12 units (example, $25 to $300) to gain a marginal overall win rate (less than 1%).  In most cases, that counter will strive to achieve a win rate equal to or in excess of 1%, and opt for a bet spread ratio of at least 16 units (example, $25 to $400) or greater.  If the card counter cannot achieve at least a mathematical overall return of 0.8%, counting that game is considered a waste of time and resources.
Following is a table that illustrates approximate bet spread ratios against numbers of decks and deck penetrations;

Blackjack Spread Requirement Ratios

For blackjack games where 6:5 is offered, multiple the maximum level units by 5 (example, 1 deck blackjack 6:5 would require a bet spread ratio of 1 to 20 and 1 to 25 Units).

Next month we will look at the most important of the three tools for detecting card counting, and that is the correlation of bet size to the suspected blackjack player’s hand decisions (deviations from basic strategy).

Simple game protection tips for baccarat

I recently received this email from a casino executive regarding his introduction of the non-commission EZ Baccarat game into his Las Vegas based casino.  Even though the casino offers standard 5% commission baccarat, management felt that they could attract more Californian based Asian business if they offered the baccarat format most common in the Golden State.  This executive’s question and my reply are as follows:

Hi Bill, can you email me any new information on EZ Baccarat, and also the Dragon 7 side bet.   Also do you have any material on the use of Promos Chips in baccarat?  When you come to town next, let’s have diner.

My answer:
Good to hear from you.  I heard you are putting in EZ Baccarat.  Be sure the dealers understand the three-card 7 banker rule.  I’ve seen casinos where the dealers were pushing both the banker and player bets.  Be sure they take the players bets with a three-card 7 banker winner.

This is a great game, but just so you know, the Dragon 7 and Panda 8 can be counted successfully using a modified count system.   Please read through the attached material, and if you have any questions, let me know.  [Note: If any readers want information on detecting counting of the Dragon 7 side bet, email me and I’ll send the information to you.]

BTW, I know most of the scams that have hit California baccarat games.  Here’s what you need to do to protect yourself (in any baccarat game for that matter);

  • Do not use the ribbon spread for inserting the shuffle point indicator card.  Have the dealers insert the shuffle point cards approximately 20 cards from the back.  Prevents back card location play.
  • When presenting the decks to be cut, always have the dealer present the cards with his right hand regardless where the customer cutting the cards is sitting.  This prevents camera-up-the-sleeve scam.
  • If possible, use an MD shuffling machine on the game.  There are a number of card sequencing cheating moves that can be done by the dealer.  Lately, it’s been the camera in the dealer’s shirt or vest.
  • If you use a squeeze baccarat game, be sure to use an Intelligent shoe.  There are a couple of good switch teams working in California (and North America).
  • Don’t let any of the customers dictate changes in procedure.  Think the Ivey edge sort play.
  • Be careful of California junket reps who insist on giving their players promotional chips.  Know the cost before agreeing to any promotions of this nature.
  • If it looks like marketing wants to start a “rolling chip/dead chip” program, let me know because I just put out some information on the mathematics and short comings of that program.

Rolling chip programs are, in actuality, a different form of player rating system; however a number of junket reps in California are insisting on a rolling chip program, so they can put money into their own pockets.  Imagine that!  Many of the junket reps out of the LA area are bandits.  Count on it.
I’m always available to answer your questions. If you have any questions on gaming; don’t hesitate in contacting me through email.  I answer close to a half dozen email on gaming every day wzender@aol.com
Cheers and good luck.
Bill Zender and Associates




1EDITOR NOTE: Post below updated in 2023 to reflect Bill Zender’s interesting comments on the state of advantage play.

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