The key to success for most blackjack card counters is the act. It is the very essence to the art of twenty-one. It is what distinguishes the average card counter who has trouble finding a good game and the blackjack expert who manages to make the game good.
A player once told me that he gave up card counting because every time he raised his bet the dealer would shuffle up on him and intimidate him by trying to deal faster. If this player had used some common sense and not acted so obviously like a card counter he probably would have been left alone. A good card counter should be able to keep up with the fastest dealer, however, if you are having issues with this, here is a tip: Just play your hand slower and think about every decision. Don’t let the dealer dictate the speed of the game! To be successful at twenty-one you not only have to be able to count cards you must develop a unique style of play that is different from what the casinos are looking for.
CARD COUNTERS DON’T DRINK
All books recommend that players not drink. All casinos realize that drinking affects judgment and card counting and drinking don’t mix. Therefore, players who drink are not a threat to the casino and more likely than not they are preferred to your average player.
I also recommend that you don’t drink when you play but no one ever said you couldn’t pretend to drink. I will often order a Heineken or dark bottle beer only to empty 95% of its contents out and refill it with water. This completes my full gambler/tourist act. It doesn’t cost much since you can always refill your beer bottle with water. Just don’t try carrying your beer bottle from casino to casino. You might get arrested!
EARLY MORNING PLAY
Many card counters prefer to play early in the morning (3-6AM) because they tend to get better games and there are less crowds. However, most casinos also realize this. If your schedule calls for early morning play, try not grooming yourself when you wake up. In other words, don’t shave or shower. From the casino’s point of view, you will appear to be a player that has stayed up all night and thus less of a threat. Some players push this to an extreme! I once ran into an fellow card counter1)Yes, a card counter can usually identify another card counter in the casino. I remember the first time this happened to me many years ago. I was at the Silver City Casino in Las Vegas playing a $1 minimum single deck game. It only took about 15 minutes. I didn’t like the fact that this player was practically mirroring my bets. I later discovered after talking to him that he was using one of Lawrence Revere’s Point Count Systems. Recently, I found a fellow counter playing much higher stakes on a cruise ship. He was betting $50 to $500 or so. I watched him for a few days and after being convinced he was accurately keeping the count, I would occasionally jump into his game betting my maximum bet whenever he had $500 or more on the table. who attempted to block seats while smoking, drinking and essentially acting like an idiot.
One give-away that you may be a counter is that you sit quietly and stare at the cards. You need to get over this! A glance is all that should be necessary to accurately pick up the count. You should be counting cards as efficiently as possible – counting cards in groups of 2, 3 or more and canceling cards out. For minus counts, never think “minus X”. Always think “my X” or something simpler. It is shorter and more efficient. If you get distracted for some reason, have a method to “lock in” the count. Using chips or a chip location has worked for me.
ALWAYS BE FRIENDLY
Probably the best advice I can give to increase longevity in the casino is the ability to talk with other players, the dealer and pit personnel while accurately keeping the count and playing perfectly. For more ideas on putting on the perfect “act” be sure to read The Blackjack Player’s Guide to Idiot Camouflage and Ian Andersen’s book below.
Why? This was the long awaited sequel to one of the best-selling blackjack books ever written, Turning the Tables on Las Vegas. Included powerful camouflage strategies to avoid detection by casino staff while card counting.
Yes, a card counter can usually identify another card counter in the casino. I remember the first time this happened to me many years ago. I was at the Silver City Casino in Las Vegas playing a $1 minimum single deck game. It only took about 15 minutes. I didn’t like the fact that this player was practically mirroring my bets. I later discovered after talking to him that he was using one of Lawrence Revere’s Point Count Systems. Recently, I found a fellow counter playing much higher stakes on a cruise ship. He was betting $50 to $500 or so. I watched him for a few days and after being convinced he was accurately keeping the count, I would occasionally jump into his game betting my maximum bet whenever he had $500 or more on the table.
Background image courtesy of Michael Godard, the “Rockstar of the Art World”.
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.
Words can indeed be our own worst enemy! What we say and how we react to others can often mirror our intelligence, and reflect on our experience and knowledge. At the blackjack table, card counters1)Of course, this discussion also applies to any advantage play technique for any game! don’t want to appear too bright or they run the risk of arising suspicion in the dealer and/or floor person’s eye. What’s the result of this intelligent behavior? As a minimum, you may receive heat and gross intellectual prowess may call for unwanted counter-measures. The heat you receive may include being closely monitored or even harassed. Counter-measures can include everything from the dealer giving you a hard time, moving the cut-card to provide worse penetration, shuffling up on you when you increase your bet, to backing off your play and asking you to leave.
“…blackjack is a cat and mouse game… and you are the mouse!”
Imagine a player asking a dealer, “Is double-after-splitting allowed here?” Although the question is innocent enough it announces to the pit that you are a reasonably intelligent player who is aware of the value of this rule. Even before this player has sat down, he has given the pit reason to be suspicious. Casinos don’t like card counters and if you are suspected of being one you will have a tough time gaining any advantage over them. Just remember, dealers can easily communicate information about you to their superiors. And once you are tagged it is often a long time before you can show your face without similar results.
Unlike poker where expert players are often revered by the casino and other players alike, blackjack is a cat and mouse game… and you are the mouse! To survive, you have to conceal your true identity and blend in (as much as possible) with the rest of the losers casinos see every day.
The following table lists many commonly known words and phrases that experienced and knowledgeable blackjack players use. Although some novices may also know these words, it should be your goal to avoid as many of them as possible when you are in a casino. Rather, use the words listed on the right column… or make up your own! If a novice term is not listed I highly recommend that you don’t even think about saying it in a casino.
Ace-Card (e.g., Ace-Five)
Treat as hard hand (e.g., 6 or 16)
Blackjacks only pay 6 to 5?
Damn… this casino sucks!
Blackjack Review or the name of any blackjack publication
Damn… I went over 21
Memorizing them cards
Double after split
Face up blackjack
Ed Thorp or the name of any blackjack expert or authority
Before you sit down at any table be sure to introduce yourself and shake the dealer’s hand. If you need chips, always hand the dealer the money directly. Never place money directly on the table… someone might steal it!
Be sure to have a cup full of slot tokens in your lap and preferably on the table. They are great for tipping and when you pile them up in your betting circle you will feel like a high roller.
Always pick up your cards with two hands. You don’t want to drop them do you?
Tell the dealer you would like to take insurance when he “doesn’t” have an Ace up. Oh, let’s say, with an 8 up, for example.
When playing your hand, always signal your wishes verbally instead of using that silly scratching technique.
In a face down game, don’t tell anyone if you get a blackjack. Just keep it a secret until the dealer flips it over… for all to enjoy!
When doubling down, just slap your chips on top of your main bet. It’s so much more fun doing it this way and it adds a bit of excitement to the game. When security comes just tell them you heard about it in Blackjack Review.. they’ll understand!
In a face down game when the count is negative… and you have busted your hand, just keep asking for cards until you get 31. Just tell them you thought this was Chinese blackjack.
Every now and then bet less than the table minimum. This keeps the dealer and pit on their toes and tells them you are someone to be reckoned with!
If another player makes a mistake… any mistake, ask the dealer for your money back!