Five Key Lessons from Card Counting Masters

Do Your ResearchBy Alicia Davis

Those with a passing interest in blackjack have likely looked into card counting legends like Edward Thorp and Al Francesco. Most gaming enthusiasts know that blackjack offers the best odds to win against the house—but card counting is a surefire way to beat the dealer.

Even better, it’s not illegal. Though most casinos will track suspected counters and the skill doesn’t exactly translate to online play, that doesn’t stop pros and newcomers alike from checking out the ropes. But first, players have to learn the basics, like knowing when to split, when to double down, or when to take a break. 

But when it comes to card counting, knowing when to stay at a table is even more important—and it’s not always dependent on when the count is in or out of their favor. Similar to how sports bettors will cross-reference odds from a variety of sportsbooks, blackjack pros may also choose to remain loyal to one company in search of exclusive offers. 

For example, one FanDuel sportsbook review highlights the group’s same game parlay capabilities. Punters who bet with FanDuel will have more competitive offers on the table for their loyalty, which could lead to competitive bonuses on parlays or other bets, leading to much higher payouts.

Similarly, a card counter may choose to stick around at a table with a cold deck, looking for a larger payout in the future—or, in some cases, to avoid raising suspicion. In other words, the standard advice may not always apply to those diving into card counting.

Let’s take a look at five key lessons from history’s most successful card counters.

Al Francesco: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

There’s plenty for the average blackjack player to admire in pro Al Francesco. First of all, he wasn’t a natural-born mathematician. Instead, he spent hours and hours learning to count cards and battling headaches. 

Eventually, Francesco turned his hobby into a money-making endeavor in Reno and Tahoe using the Ten Count strategy. However, his biggest contribution to blackjack was forming card counting teams to alleviate the demands on a single counter. Francesco and his ever-shifting team brought home hundreds of thousands throughout the late 1960s and early 70s.

Edward Thorp: Stats > Emotion

So who did Al Francesco learn to count cards from? The original strategy came from Edward Thorp, regarded as the father of card counting, and his debut work Beat the Dealer (1962). Thorp was a mathematician who drew on his probability skills and applied them to blackjack.

Many consider Thorp to be the first true master of blackjack. Similar to his work in the financial sector, Thorp’s message for card counters is this: hard stats will yield reliable probabilities. The most successful players don’t rely on emotion or even experience but stick strictly to the numbers.

Build a team that’s skilled and trustworthy
Build a team that’s skilled and trustworthy!


Tommy Hyland: It Pays to Know the Rules

As mentioned above, card counting isn’t illegal—but that doesn’t mean casinos like or tolerate the practice. And it certainly doesn’t mean large companies losing hundreds of thousands to experienced card counters won’t attempt to hold them accountable.

Back in 1979, blackjack enthusiast Tommy Hyland formed his own card counting team. Over the years, over two hundred different players moonlighted as part of his team, and more than one attempt has been made at taking Hyland to court. However, no charges have ever stuck, as Hyland knows the rules related to card counting, signaling and more—and has never officially broken them.

Ken Uston: Know Who to Trust

As one of the most high-profile card counters in the world, Ken Uston is regarded for his high IQ and card counting precision. His skills landed him on Al Francesco’s card counting team but exposed the team’s secrets in a 1977 tell-all book, The Big Player

What’s the lesson to be learned from Uston? Don’t be overly trusting with team members and make sure everyone is incentivized to toe the line.

Peter A. Griffin: Keep it Basic

Similar to Uston, Peter A. Griffin is hailed for his intellect. But rather than card count himself, Griffin preferred to observe other counting teams and take notes. In fact, he never opted into blackjack but preferred to construct theories from the sidelines.

Griffin’s lesson is to keep it basic—both for the purpose of enjoying what you’re doing and to keep complex strategies as simple as possible. In the end, blackjack has only one goal: beat the dealer!

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