There are many good books that have been written about the game of blackjack. Here are my personal favorites for the best blackjack books of all time. These books have stood the test of time and provide outstanding advice on how to improve your blackjack skills. As a collection, these books cover everything you need to be successful as beating the casinos. Books are listed in order of the year they were first published. If you buy any of these books, be sure you get the latest edition. 1)Michael Dalton is author of the Encyclopedia of Blackjack and editor/publisher of the Blackjack Review Network. Looking for other good blackjack books? Check out the product review section of the Encyclopedia of Blackjack.
Why? This is the classic that changed the way we all view the game of twenty-one. This book presents, for the first time, a validated winning strategy (a ten-count) based on the results of computer simulation. The 1966 version has a practical point count (Hi-Lo) that was later revised by Julian Braun.
Why? The classic text that many early card counters were taught by including myself. Contained nice color charts that made it easier to memorize basic strategy. Included four counting systems developed by Revere with computer simulation data from Julian Braun.
Why? At the time, this was one of the most complete books on traditional blackjack ever published. Discussed everything from card counting to team play. Included the Uston Simple Plus/Minus, Uston Advanced Plus/Minus and Uston Advanced Point Count systems. Also, chapters on the art of single- and multiple-deck play, team methods, front-loading, spooking, cheating, getting barred and tournament blackjack.
Why? Introduced the unbalanced Red Seven count and the two-level Zen count. Topics included depth charging, money management, the true count, camouflage techniques, toking guidelines, hole card play, cheating, team play and the effect of table conditions. Written by the editor/publisher of the outstanding card counters resource, Blackjack Forum magazine.
Why? Introduced the very popular K-O unbalanced card counting system. This count ranks as one of the top single-level counts available to players today. The K-O card-counting system eliminates the mountain of mental arithmetic necessary to win at blackjack.
Why? The ultimate blackjack reference book for professional players. Covered topics such as back-counting the shoe game, betting techniques and win rates, evaluating new rules and bonuses, statistical insights, the “Illustrious 18”, the “Floating Advantage”, team play, camouflage, risk of ruin, and more.
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.
Why? This two-volume book is massive. It was written by the author of the outstandingCasino Verite suite of blackjack software which he used to provide highly detailed information and analyses of every aspect of the game.
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.
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”.
Just so everyone is clear, UNR/OSU cancelled the table game track of their presentation in Tulsa, and I won’t be traveling to Oklahoma to teach. Instead, I have enrolled in the 11thAnnual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference and Expo. The conference and expo, presented by Casino Essentials, will be held the week of August 13that the Cosmopolitan Resort and Casino. I plan on attending a majority of the meetings Tuesday through Thursday, including all of the events put on by Dowling Advisor Group (DAG). Jim Dowling and his company are working closely with Artichoke Joe’s Casino in order to upgrade our casino’s BSA/AML program. All of Artichoke Joe’s key executives will be attending this conference. From what I understand, this Casino Essentials event in Las Vegas is considered the “Superbowl” of casino industry BSA/AML conferences. For more information on the conference, please go to http://www.casinoessentials.com/events/title-31-las-vegas/.
Answers to Important Emails
Correcting a loop-hole in their manual multiple deck shuffle
Below is the follow up to an email I received two months ago. The casino executive contacting me had been watching a BJ customer punishing him with occasional large bets in the casino’s multiple deck shoe game. The game was a higher limit table, and was hand shuffled. Base on the original email I noted that the shuffle they used did not incorporate a deck “strip” in the shuffle procedure. When questioning this oversight, I was told that any shuffle, or change to the shuffle, had to be approved by the gaming regulator. I advised the casino executive that it was imperative that the casino insert a deck strip during each card grab selection where the cards are riffle shuffled. I received the following reply the middle of July;
Reply by the casino executive:
I just wanted to drop you a quick follow up…
We obtained approval to change the shuffle procedure to incorporate a more standard riffle, riffle, strip riffle for all cards during the shuffle, and…
Our most recent suspected AP and associate returned, checked into a comped room, bought in for a large amount, observed the shuffle, played utilizing a minimal bet spread redeeming all the match plays available to him, retired to his room with his associate cashed out a short time later checked out of his room and left property in an Uber. I can’t thank you enough for your insight and recommendations.
Additional comment on this subject: Regulators need to understand that for the most part, they do not possess the knowledge needed to judge and dictate various procedures required to make their casino providers’ games safe from scams and advantage play. I appreciate the job done by regulators, and I respect their watch-dog position for protecting the industry, however many regulators need to lose their egotistic attitudes, admit they don’t know the best method for conducting certain tasks and procedures, and seek outside expertise.
No commission Pai Gow Poker Variations
Email from a Director of Casino Games: Have you ever seen a commission free PG that offered player banking? I can’t think of anything that would vary the math away from the house and that would be different from a standard commission game. In the game in question a Q High Pai Gow for the Banker results in a push of all Pai Gow hands. We would just simply add a rule that states if a player is banking and the dealer’s hand is a Q high Pai Gow the “Banker’s” hand would then always push with the dealer. Have you even seen a casino do this? Thanks for any input. Also thanks for your input a few month ago about Baccarat. Our game is up and running now and doing quite well. Hope this finds you and yours well.
My Reply: There are versions of “Pai Gow Poker” where the game is dealt without charging the customer a commission on winning “player” bets. I have attached a PDF of a slide I use in my math presentations. It show three forms of PGP where commission is not charged on the customer’s winning player bets. Remember, the banking customer is either prohibited from banking or still charged a 5%commission on winning banking results. These games are based on a joker being used wild for straights/flushes, and as an Ace otherwise.
You can change the standard PGP game to commission-less, however it reduces the H/A% from 2.7% down to 1.23%. All customers banking results are still charged 5%, and are subject to the standard H/A% of 0.12%.
In “Commission Free” PGP the bank pushes ALL bets with a 9 high (or less) low hand (based on house way). Because a “9-high” low hand can be manipulated, customers are not allowed to take the bank. House H/A% of 2.5%.
In “EZ Pai Gow Poker” the bank pushes ALL bets with a Queen high (or less), and the customers can still bank, but are charged a 5% commission on all winning bank outcomes. House H/A% of 2.47% on the player hands, and I’m not sure about how the customer bank is handled.
That should help answer that question. I do believe that the Commission Free PGP and EZ PGP games are both proprietary (if the patents are still good), and you will have to contact with the vendors.
Questions about “Down Under Blackjack”
There has been a lot of interest in the past several years for different versions of blackjack. The most popular by far is “Spanish 21” which is a copy of Australian Pontoon. The next popular variations is the BJ series of “push 22” designed and patented by Geoff Hall. More lately, is the Dave Wisler creation of Down Under Blackjack. For those who are unfamiliar with the game concept, Wisler has developed a hole-card peeking system that actually informs the player about the approximate value of the dealer’s hole-card on every hand. This information is broken into three different categories of “Blue” (low 2-5), “Red” (medium 6-9), and “Gold” (high T & A). The information is helpful to a point, but it still presents the player with a number of hole-card value possibilities that the player has to consider before reaching a hand play decision. Following is my Q&A with this executive.
Executives Email: I am sure you know Dave Wisler from Masque Publishing. He just got “Down Under Blackjack” approved in this State. I remember looking at the game last fall at G2E. Please share your opinion when you have time.
My Reply: In reality, it’s another BJ variation in the same fashion as Geoff Hall’s “22 push” series of BJ games. The H/A% will be the same as your standard BJ games give or take a small percentage, but it will cater mostly to lower limit players (and the occasional high limit player who is temporarily curious). You should also get a high degree of side betting action on the Match the Dealer which should raise the return high enough to easily offset the proprietary fee. To my knowledge, DUBJ does not pose any new game protection issues, however the game does require the floor/surveillance to understand three different basic strategy charts correlating to the three hole-card categories of small hole-card, medium hole-card, and high hole-card. That is my two cents on the game. I hope to see you at one of the conferences this fall.
Scheduled Seminars and Workshop University of Nevada Reno Extended Studies: Table Game Management – September 17ththru 20th, 2018 – Reno Nevada
I always enjoy presenting at the UNR Extended Studies Gaming program regarding table games management. The students are from different gaming regions throughout North American, and occasionally, from around the world. I will be covering the topics of Casino Mathematics and Table Game Management on September 19thand 20th. Following are the topics covered during my two-day portion of the four-day program:
Hold-percentage analysis as a management tool
Game probability and profitability factors
Game selection, location, mix and pricing
Marketing strategies and customer development
Customer service strategies and applications
Maximizing department profitability and efficiency
Casino database management for table games
As I mentioned previously, these are the days I will be presenting; however, to attend you need to sign up for the entire week’s program. I truly believe that price and time spent in this University of Nevada Extended Studies program is well worth it.
Cutting Edge Table Game Seminar – Monday, November 5th, 2018 – Paris Resort – Las Vegas Nevada
I will be presenting once again on the first day of the Cutting Edge Table Games Conference. This is another conference at which I like to present. This year’s session covers a lot of the information presented last year, however I have included mathematics on electronic Table Games (ETGs) I always like to update my information and slip in topics that I feel need to be covered regarding the operation of table games. Following is an outline of this year’s session and the times:
Table Games Mathematics (including ETGs) – 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM
The Cost of Table Game Promotions – 2:00 PM to 5:30 PM
The conference will be held at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas, November 5ththrough 7th. For more information please go to their website www.tablegamesconf.com/. I hope to see you in Las Vegas in November.
On the Move I don’t have any travel plans other than in the northern California area and home to New Mexico. I will keep everyone informed when that changes. Following are a few of my obligations for the summer and fall of 2018:
August– The 11thAnnual Las Vegas Anti-Money Laundering Conference and Expo (I’m only attending).
September– UNR Extended Studies: Table Game Management, Reno Nevada
November– Table Game Cutting Edge Seminar in Las Vegas
Don’t forget the World Game Protection Conference in February/March 2019 in Las Vegas.
I’m always available to answer your questions. If you have any questions on gaming; don’t hesitate to contact me through email. I answer close to a half dozen emails on gaming every day [email protected]
I will be attending this year’s G2E tomorrow, October 3rd, and Wednesday October 4th. Since I am on the Board of Directors, I will be “hanging out” primarily at the Galaxy Gaming booth 4208. The convention area is like a small city so be sure to grab a map and look for the booth’s location. Come by and see Galaxy’s sales “guru” Dean Barnett, or the company’s new CEO, Todd Cravens. A longtime associate of mine, Gary Saul, will also be working the booth. While you are there, ask Gary to show you a card trick or two.
Part of the time I plan to visit the Techart booth 3535. Techart is the maker of the MAXTime hole card reader. I will be there visiting two of my good friends, Bob Del Rossi and Artie Miller. Artie is one of the winners of the World Game Protection Conference’s “Lifetime Achievement” awards for his contribution to the gaming industry and game protection. Not a bad place to spend time. If you catch me around 2PM on Wednesday, maybe you can join me while I walk the exhibition floor. I like to tour some of the booths and look at new and improved products that involve table game productivity and protection. It’s usually a fun table game “walk-about”, and you never know what you might find. Hope to see you there.
How can a casino executive be sure a person is actually counting? This is the third portion of the Card Counting Protection series I have detailed in my monthly eBlasts. Before backing anyone off a game, changing deck penetration, or limiting the player’s bet spread, one needs some reasonable tools to determine that the suspected person is a professional level card counter. The executive or surveillance professional who is conducting the evaluation needs to use some type of analytical tool that will accurately determine the possibility that the suspected player is in fact a card counter, and also provide the evaluator with a printout, or hard copy of these results. This hard copy can be used to back up the evaluation, and to later serve as proof that the suspect was in fact counting cards. How many times have your department taken action against a player for counting cards, only to have the legitimacy of the “back off” questioned by a host or casino marketing afterwards? In addition, this evaluation tool can serve as evidence as to why a player wasn’t backed off even though the customer was a big winner.
There are two tools that I recommend casino executives can utilize. The first tool is a blackjack software package that analyzes a blackjack player’s skill and betting level. There are two very effective software packages available to the casino executive.
Information regarding the person’s actual play is entered into the program either manually or through a voice recognition program. After enough hands are entered into the program, it is queried by the analyst. The program will indicate to what degree the information of the betting and hand decision patterns indicate the suspected player is counting cards. It’s important when using any type of card counter verification method that several decks or shoes are analyzed in order to calculate the best possible decision outcome. The primary drawbacks to the software are in its inability to take into consideration other influences in the game, and the hefty price tag that comes with the software.
The second card counting analytical tool is a much lower tech, less expensive system that accomplishes the same goal just as accurately. This is known as “charting”. A number of surveillance departments already use some form of charting a customer’s plays as a means to better understand the person’s play characteristics. Charting is most effective as a card counter catch tool when the evaluator uses it to determine the breadth of the suspect’s betting spread, and the suspect’s betting correlation with the true count of the cards. In order to win money counting cards, the counter must wager significantly more money when he has the advantage, and as little as possible when the casino has the advantage. If the charted observations of a suspected player indicate that he is utilizing a large enough bet spread, and increasing his wagers to the larger bet level when he has a mathematical advantage of 90% or greater, then the evaluator has enough information to safely rule that the suspected player is counting cards. As noted when using a software package to evaluate a suspected card counting play, it is prudent to watch no less than 4 decks or shoes before making the final decision about the player.
Following are points that need to be followed to ensure the casino executive or surveillance professional is making the correct analysis regarding a suspected blackjack player’s long-term ability to be a card counting threat to the casino’s bankroll.
Don’t automatically assume that a winning blackjack player is counting cards. There’s a greater chance he’s a desirable player who is running luck. Assuming a winning person is a card counter will also cloud one’s ability to look for other more costly problems such as advantage play techniques and cheating.
It’s a must for a successful card counter to have an effective bet spread, especially in the six deck and eight deck games (don’t forget the 6:5 single decks). Without the necessary bet spread range, the player cannot gain an advantage counting cards.
Never cut the shoe in half on a player to look for a reaction. You need to analyze the play before taking any action. If you cut the shoe in half on a desirable blackjack customer, he could get upset and never play at your property again.
Don’t rely on a decision that is made by one of your floor executives or surveillance operator who is not at least on a semi-professional card counting level. I’ve known a number of executives who claim to know card counting inside and out, but when asked, can’t answer simple questions such as the mechanics of true count conversion and hand strategy deviations. Take the Ouija board out of the equation.
Whether your organization uses a counter catcher software package or elects to chart the play, always look at several shoes or decks before making a decision about a player. I prefer looking at several examples where the count is mostly minus throughout the shoe, as well as several examples where the count is mostly plus. Taking your time to compare the extremes will help eliminate the chance of getting “false positives”.
Do not take action against a suspected player until you are 100% sure the player is counting cards. If you wish to error on the side of the casino, take your time and make sure you correctly identify a customer as a long-term card counting threat before disrupting his play.
For more information on charting, please feel free in contacting me [email protected].
Seminars and Workshop
CGA Conference – Protecting Cardroom Table Game Integrity – Monday, October 16th, 2017 – Hard Rock Lake Tahoe Nevada
I just finalized the material in my presentation at this year’s California Gaming Associations meeting at Lake Tahoe which will be held October 14th through 16th. I will be presenting a 60 minute session on Protecting Cardroom Table Game Integrity. The presentation will include different methods that are being used to cheat table games in the California card rooms. This not only concerns poker games, but also the rotating bank games such as baccarat, blackjack, and pai gow poker. The following topics are:
Capturing playing card sequencing It has become a common attack for cheaters to attempt to capture shuffled card sequencing on high limit games. The captured sequences are used to learn winning hands occurrence before making wagers on the game. The primary game of attack is baccarat, but this techniques have also been used in higher limit blackjack.
Switching hands in Pai Gow Poker The game of Pai Gow Poker is played with seven cards placed into two separate combinations. What if a player was able to place a large wager on one hand, but have the ability to choose from two separate seven-card hands? In this segment the participants learn how a husband and wife team were able to switch hands without the dealer, floor supervisor, or the designated player questioning their actions.
Protecting Bad Beat and High Hand Jackpots in Poker Ever have an unusual cluster of “Bad Beat” jackpots occur over a short period of time? Was it a statistical anomaly or was it created by cheaters working with the dealer. Learn how a group of cheaters would set up a “Bad Beat” cooler deck, and what your surveillance personnel need to look for specifically.
Player collusion in Pai Gow tiles What would happen if a group of Pai Gow players shared their tile information with each other? Do you know what to look for? Learn the primary indicators of a player collusion scam in Pai Gow tiles, and learn what you can do to prevent them from taking advantage of your Pai Gow customers.
At this time I’m not sure whether the presentation will be held in the morning or afternoon session. I will inform everyone of that schedule in next month’s eBlast. I believe you have to be a member of the CGA in order to attend. For more information please contact California Gaming Association, Joe Patterson, Executive Director, (916) 297-4822, www.californiagamingassociation.org/.
Cutting Edge Table Game Seminar – Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 – Paris Resort – Las Vegas Nevada I will be presenting once again on the first day of the Cutting Edge Table Games Conference. This is another conference in which I like to present. This year’s session covers a lot of the information presented last year, however I have included the much talked about topic of “Rolling Chip/Dead Chip Programs”. I always like to update my information and slip in topics that I feel need to be covered regarding the operation of table games. Following is an outline of this year’s session:
I. Table Games Mathematics – 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
House advantage of major casino games
Mechanics that drive hold percentages up (and down).
Table game procedures that waste time and money
Understanding how to optimize side bets
Managing table game minimums to yield the best returns
Calculating risk range for table games and table limits
Determine the best metrics to use in player tracking systems.
Understanding Rolling Chip/Dead Chip Programs – 12:00 PM to 12:30 PM & 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM
What is a Rolling Chip Program?
Understanding Multi-play Chip mathematics
Percent of the Rolling Chip Buy-in that you can use for Player Reinvestment
Points needed before initiating a Rolling Chip Program
III. The Cost of Table Game Promotions – 3:00 PM to 5:30 PM
Effect of changing table game rules
Cost of “value added” promotions
Cost and effect of using Match Play
Cost of using Single Play Promo Chips
The pitfalls of using play-till-you-lose Promo Chips
Problems with discounting player losses
Using an Adjusted T-win model
The conference will be held at the Paris Resort in Las Vegas, November 14th through 16th. For more information please go to their website www.tablegamesconf.com/ . I hope to see you in Las Vegas in November.
On the Move It appears I will have at least one week open each month to the end of the year. I always have time open to conduct winning player reviews. If you have any questions, let me know [email protected].
October G2E Open California Gaming Association Presentation Northern California
November Albuquerque NM Open Table Game Cutting Edge Las Vegas BOD Meeting Arizona
December Open Central California Holidays
Please let me know if I can provide one of my services for your organization.
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 [email protected].com.
The top play variations for blackjack card counters are knowing when to take insurance and stand on 16 versus a dealer’s 10. The top 18 plays, known as the Illustrious 18 are show in the table below in order of importance1)The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure.:
These top plays were recommended by Donald Schlesinger in an important study published in the September 1986 issue of Blackjack Forum. The study suggested that players might just as well forget all of the other play variations and stick to the top 18 plays since this is where most of your profitable gain is going to come from. In December 1995, Schlesinger continued his study to include the top surrender plays which have become known as the Fab 4:
The analysis and discussion that presented the above conclusions can also be found in Donald Schlesinger’s book Blackjack Attack, which was first published in 1997. This book includes some of the most important technical insights into the game of blackjack ever published.
Play variations (variations you make from basic strategy) are what card counting index numbers are all about. They can be very important in single deck and become less important as decks are added to the game. Each card counting system assigns unique index numbers for these plays. For example, in the Hi-Lo system the Insurance index for a 6-deck game is 3.0. This means that the player’s best technical move is to take insurance if the “true” count is 3 or higher. If the player has a 16 versus a dealer 10 the Hi-Lo index number is 0. This means that the player should “stand” if the count is greater than or equal to 0 and “hit” otherwise.
Although these top play variations are technically correct you may have difficulty implementing some of the plays from a camouflage point-of-view. For example, the casino pit will often watch players who correctly take insurance on bad hands and decline insurance on good hands. Splitting ten valued cards is another give-away that you may be counting cards. The saying is that only two types of players split tens — idiots and card counters. If you don’t look like an idiot at the table they may just suspect that you are counting cards. Many counters have given up splitting tens for this very reason. However, insurance is too valuable a play variation to ignore. If you need to mix-up your play I would suggest you consider taking even money on small bets occasionally when the count does not justify it.
The gains cited are associated with a player spreading bets from 1 to two hands of 6. These are the average gains for flat betting multiplied by the average bet one has out when he makes the departure.
There is no such thing as a “best” card counting system unless you are a robot, in which case you would be keeping track of each and every card. Humans, on the other hand, have limitations. For shoe dealt games, all card counting systems perform within a tenth of a percent (or so) of each other. For single deck games, a balanced multi-level count with an ace side-count can show a significant theoretical improvement over unbalanced and single-level counts, however, the player runs the risk of mental fatigue and errors. The bottom line for most players is that “simple is best!” I recommend the Hi-Lo, Red Seven, K-O or Zen for shoe games and the Hi-Opt I, Zen or Omega II for single-deck. What is the best all around count? I like the Hi-Lo because it allows me to concentrate on more important things… like convincing the pit boss that I am a loser!
Obviously, the answer to this question is not as easy as it appears. Several approaches have been used in the past to evaluate card counting systems. One analytical approach is the calculation of several performance parameters (e.g., playing, betting, and insurance efficiencies). The results are then used to approximate the potential of one system over another. Another approach that is used is to simulate each system against typical game conditions on a high speed computer. Simulations can provide an accurate real-world estimate of the advantages and win-rates that are possible in playing a particular system.
However, the problem with coming up with a ‘best’ card counting system is that you can always come up with a ‘better’ card counting system. Instead of a single-level 1) A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1. ‘unbalanced’ count you could assign more accurate point values to each card and determine true counts by the exact number of decks or cards remaining. You could improve ‘playing’ efficiency by assigning a ‘zero’ to the Ace and side counting each of them. You could also side count other cards such as 7s, 8s, and 9s thus improving your play against specific hands. You could also incorporate play variations (changes to basic strategy) based on specific counts by remembering ‘every’ index number for ‘every’ play possible. To improve the accuracy of your insurance decisions you could also keep a separate count of all the tens in the deck or shoe. Of course, you don’t want to forget all the ‘practical’ advice each system offers in regard to betting, playing, camouflage, and other tips and tricks of the trade.
Peter Griffin, author of the classic text The Theory of Blackjack, wrote “If one’s ambition is to raise overall strategic efficiency beyond the 70% level, perhaps as high as 90%, it is imperative that the primary system be quite simple and hence allow great flexibility for incorporating several auxiliary, independent sources of information.”
I believe the above comment was one of the most important suggestions ever made about card counting. Griffin suggested that it may be better to keep your base count simple to allow your brain the ability to perform other tasks and to utilize other sources of information. These other sources of information can often improve the potential of a single-level count over an advanced 2- or 3-level count that doesn’t use this information. This information includes side counts, shuffle tracking, ace location strategies, key card techniques, and dealer errors. My own experience at card counting has shown that Griffin was probably right.
Human error is another reason to keep it simple. The most advanced card counting system in the world is not going to do you any good if you can’t play it accurately. Thus, the best card counting system may be one that perfectly balances theoretical power and your human ability to execute it accurately.
A single-level count assigns point values in such a manner that the non-zero point values are the same in absolute value, namely +1 or -1. The single-level Hi-Lo count, for example, assigns 2 – 6 as +1, 7 – 9 as 0, and Tens and Aces as -1.
No! It’s no more illegal than using your brain to add up how much money you have in your wallet. But that doesn’t mean they won’t kick you out for trying! In most casinos in this country casino management has the right to bar players for any reason they want. Most casinos are considered private clubs and if they don’t like you they can ask you to leave. In Atlantic City, New Jersey, casinos cannot bar you but they are allowed to implement specific countermeasures that will reduce if not eliminate any profit potential you previously might have had.
If casino management suspects a player is a threat to its bankroll they will usually implement several countermeasures, which include reduced deck or shoe penetration and shuffling up. Psychological tactics are also often attempted to distract the player and to convince him or her to leave. Some less than reputable casinos may even implement cheating countermeasures — such as preferential shuffling. If all else fails, a suspected card counter may be asked to leave and/or to refrain from playing blackjack any further.
In Nevada, the courts have made it clear that card counting is legal. During a cheating case in 1983, which involved a player who was crimping cards to gain an advantage (definitely cheating), the court made an interesting statement: “By way of contrast, a card counter — one who uses a point system to keep track of the cards that have been played — does not alter any of the basic features of the game. He merely uses his mental skills to take advantage of the same information that is available to all players.” As I. Nelson Rose, author of the book Gambling and the Law*, states — “The card counter is playing by the rules of the games, as set up by the casino regulators and the casinos themselves.”
When I play blackjack I sit there and watch the cards. I use my brain to make decisions. I risk hard earned money on individual outcomes that are far from certain. If card counting were considered cheating then casinos would probably have little signs stating, “Thinking in this casino is forbidden! Players found using their brain to make decisions will be asked to leave.”
In a similar vein… if a dealer unintentionally flashes his hole card and a player sees the card, would it be considered cheating for the player to make use of this information? Of course not! The player is still playing by the rules of the house and is simply using all the information that is presented to him. Of course, if the dealer is intentionally flashing his hole card then that would definitely be considered cheating in every court in this country and both player and dealer could be charged with an illegal act. [If the dealer were intentionally flashing it to a third part confederate, an innocent bystander who didn’t know he was flashing intentionally wouldn’t be guilty of anything; but, he might have a hard time proving he wasn’t in on the caper!]
Although card counting is not illegal from a technical point of view, in some countries you still might find yourself behind bars, forced to return monies won, or worse! You are on your own in some of these third world countries where the law is often undefined.
Professional players are at the greatest risk because of the betting level they play at and because of reporting agencies such as Griffin. The Griffin Detective Agency of Las Vegas, Nevada publishes a monthly list of blacklisted players to casinos around the world. This list includes suspected cheats, con artists, card counters, and even card counting team members. If you are in a foreign country and they notice that you are on this list they may just throw you in jail… not bothering to make the distinction between being labeled a cheat and someone who uses legal card counting techniques.
To be perfectly honest, you stand a fair chance of losing money in this game! It all depends on your skill level, bankroll, the level of risk you are willing to take, and the quality of games you play. Assuming you balance all of these factors, the theoretical long-run advantage a skilled card counter can obtain is between 0.5% and 1.5%. This is not to say a player can not have a greater advantage on any individual bet or circumstance, however, in the long run a player can expect to win about 1% of the total sum of his “action”. Therefore, if your average bet is about $25 and you play 75 hands an hour you might expect to make about $19 an hour. But be forewarned… your mileage will vary!
I generally tell players that they can expect a winning streak as often as a losing streak in this game. You will often go for days, if not weeks and possibly even months questioning your ability because of losses. But you will also go through periods where you will feel invincible and unable to lose. During both of these periods your discipline will be severely tested. In the long run, if you are a good player, are not being cheated, and can get away with it, you should show a profit.
Basic card counting is not the only legal way to make money at this game. You can milk the comp system. You can use casino coupons. You can shuffle track. You can join a team. You can take advantage of dealer errors and mistakes. You can exploit casino promotions and new variations. I would estimate that it is possible to achieve at least a 2% win-rate in blackjack if you are an advanced player and use some of the above tricks and methods.
Milking the comp system is a true art form. It is getting tougher these days due to computers, however, it is still possible to achieve more than your fair share of comps. According to Max Rubin, author of Comp City, more than half a million dollars worth of complimentaries (free drinks, food, rooms, shows, limo rides, airfare, golf, and more) are handed out every day in Las Vegas. On weekends and holidays, comps climb into the millions.
Casino coupons are also wonderful! From those simple lucky buck coupons and free meals to discounts off your room — if you use them often I guarantee they will become like extra cash in your wallet. You can often find good coupons in local newspapers and magazines and through publications such as the monthly Las Vegas Advisor.
Shuffle tracking 1) Shuffle tracking is an advanced form of card counting. A complete tutorial and expose of shuffle tracking can be found in Arnold Snyder’s 3-issue Shuffle Tracking Series fromBlackjack Forum Magazine. is an advanced area of card counting and if mastered you can expect to easily double or triple your expectation. That is assuming you find “trackable” games of course. Unfortunately, it is becoming harder and harder to find these games.
Some players join teams to allow them to reduce monetary fluctuation and play with a bigger bankroll. Also, non-counters can be used effectively on a team. Theoretically, you can make more money by playing on a team, assuming you trust everyone to accurately report wins and losses.
Dealer errors and mistakes happen occasionally and I would estimate they add a small percentage to my overall win-rate. It may not be much but I will take every edge I can get.
Your greatest expectation can come from exploiting casino promotions and new games and variations. Casinos have offered 2 to 1 on blackjack, early surrender, single deck with an edge, bonuses, jokers in the deck, etc. If you are sharp these games can be a short-time gold-mine.
But most important to how much money you can make in this game is the element of time. If you don’t play they don’t pay! Put in the time and everything else will take care of itself.