This article originally started out (in the 1990s) as an Internet discussion group topic called “What New (Blackjack) Players Do.” I would like to thank Grimy Fellow for posting the topic and Max Von Count, JW, Curious Amateur, BJ, Grinder, Slick, and Don Schlesinger for contributing items and ideas.
“…the less you ‘look’ like a counter the longer your play will be welcome.”
The point of this topic was to come up with ideas to improve a card counter’s cover at the table. When you get to a comfortable level of proficiency in card counting you often forget that your play may be monitored. The last thing you want is for a casino to suspect that you are good enough to beat its game simply because you act and look like a good player. Although it is almost impossible to count cards indefinitely without being detected the less you “look” like a counter the longer your play will be welcome.
Obviously, not all of the plays below can be incorporated in a player’s camouflage repertoire but many of them can with little or no loss in expectation:
- Making a few (or a lot) of playing errors. (This can get costly – See update below!)
- Over-tipping or just tipping in general. (This can get costly – See update below!)
- Telling the dealer you want to double down when you really want to split a pair. (You don’t want to do this with a pair of 5s.)
- Having consultations with friends or other players about how to play your hand.
- Putting an insurance bet out equal to your first bet.
- Doubling down by betting twice the amount of your first bet.
- Going WILD over winning a $5 hand! (Or at least getting overly excited when you get a blackjack — even with a small bet.)
- Referring to a basic strategy card. (usually a bad one)
- Doubling down for less. (usually because they have run out of money)
- Placing medium to big bets off the top of the deck or shoe. (This can get costly – See update below!)
- Pressing your bets when you win.
- Chasing your losses.
- Always (or usually) taking even money. (This can get costly – See update below!)
- Running over to the slots for one lucky pull.
- Attempting to shake the dealer’s hand.
- Drinking too much while playing. (You can act can’t you?)
- Splitting tens. (I’d be careful about this one!)
- Trying to “hand” the dealer cash when you want chips.
- Having a cup full of slot tokens on the table.
- Touching the cards to split them in a face up game. (a definite no-no!).
- Placing money on “top” of your original bet when doubling down. (You can only get away with this once per casino!)
- Asking what insurance is “after” the dealer asks “Insurance anyone?”
- Asking what surrender is. (if sign mentions surrender is available).
- Asking if there is a bonus for a 5-card 21.
- Asking if the dealer wins ties.
- Not paying attention to the game when distracted by the cocktail waitress, friends, or by the noise of someone who just won a slot jackpot.
- Getting upset when third base takes the dealer’s bust card. (An indication that a player is not really new to the game, however, is superstitious.)
- Stacking chips in the betting circle in no apparent order (e.g., green on top, red on bottom, etc.)
- Not using hand signals or incorrectly using hand signals.
- Not using correct terminology at the table. (Like bust, hit, stand, felt, insurance, tokes)
- Taking too much time to play a hand.
Here are a few “new player” habits that are applicable only in hand-held games:
- Picking up the cards with two hands.
- Leaning too far back with the cards, thereby removing them from above the felt — a definite no-no!
- Failing to tuck your original cards under your bet, in the circle, when you stand. (The usual move is to simply drop the cards in front of your pile of chips, thus annoying the hell out of the dealer who has to pick them up and give instructions on “tucking”!)
- Failing to turn over your blackjacks.
- Turning over your cards when you hit to 21. (thinking that this is the same as a natural)
- Bending the cards when you look at them.
- Peeking under the cards as if it were a poker hand.
Once again, be aware that some of the above plays may not be suitable or cost effective as cover. You obviously don’t want to over-tip the dealer and you obviously don’t want to make costly playing errors. But not all playing errors are costly! A good source of information on this topic is Don Schlesinger’s article entitled “How ‘Dumb’ Can You Afford to Appear?” in the September 1993 issue of Blackjack Forum. One of the conclusions of this article was that appearing very “dumb” at the outset of play may remove any potential heat after just a few hours. Schlesinger wrote “Pit bosses often formulate ‘first impressions’ that last for the duration of the trip. So you might not have to continue to make ‘mistakes’ all the way through.” Schlesinger presents charts of every basic strategy play possible with hand frequencies and conditional and absolute penalties for deviating from basic strategy. According to Schlesinger study, of the 254 plays on the chart almost 100 of them carry penalties of less than one cent per $100.
In the 1990s, I integrated many of the above ideas, including an occasional playing error from time to time, into my overall blackjack strategy. If you want a long playing career, you should give the above ideas serious consideration! Good luck!
2019 UPDATE: Playing errors can be costly! I no longer recommend making playing errors for the sake of camouflage. Most pit personnel probably won’t even know a “playing error” from an appropriate card counter’s “play deviation” anyway. Oh…. and be careful with tipping! If you tip at all, I suggest tipping at the “end” of a session only, which also suggests that you only tip if you won.
Copyright © 1997 – 2020 All Rights Reserved
Originally published (in part) in the Summer 1997 issue of Blackjack Review Magazine