We all love to hear the stories about men and women who manage to outsmart the casinos and walk away with great fortunes in their pockets, but why is it so tempting to us?
Maybe it's just because these tales tell the story of people with a lot more guts than most of us. Maybe it's because they are stories about folk who are really persistent, and able to refine basic blackjack strategy and turn it into a really profitable way of making money. Maybe it is just that we, like the rest of you out there, want to find a way to win as much as possible when gambling at a casino. Or maybe the answer is just that we really like to see someone, a no-one just like the rest of us, really sticking it to the big guys.
This article will describe some of the techniques used by some of the most successful blackjack card sharks in history, as well as some of the strategies that can be used in order to not get caught when you are messing with the big boys.
Table of Contents
History of Card Counting
Dr. Edward O. Thorp is considered to be one of the fathers of card counting. His 1962 book, Beat the Dealer sketched out not just what became somewhat of the foundation of card counting, but also several theories on how to play strategically correct blackjack. In many ways, Thorp was ahead of his time, at the very least he was one of the first who published his theories and presented them to a wider audience.
Another famous name in the card counting business is Andy Bloch, today maybe most known as a very successful poker player. But he was also part of the M.I.T. blackjack team and released an instructional card counting DVD called Beating Blackjack. Bloch was also featured in the 2005 blackjack documentary The Hot Shoe, by David Layton. In the movie, Layton interviews card counters such as Edward Thorp and Andy Bloch. During the making of the movie, Layton used the knowledge he got from the interviews and gambled with $5,000 of the budget for the film as a case study.
Thoughts on Card Counting
We would like to stress that in by publishing this article we in no way advise our readers to try any of these card-counting techniques at a real casino. Even though card counting is no more illegal than calculating your outs at the poker table, many casinos sure like to act as if it was. Since casinos are considered as private property (at least within the US), they have the right to refuse anyone admittance to the casino (and thereby suggest that card counting should be an illegal activity). And trust us when we say it; they WILL use this right the minute they think that someone is keeping track of the cards dealt at the tables.
To us, card counting is nothing more than strategic thinking while you are playing. If you learn to combine good blackjack strategy with bullet-proof card counting strategy, you will have a great edge over the casino, and a good chance of turning your knowledge into
a substantial win at the blackjack tables.
Just like a poker player who decides to move all-in when he or she has calculated the odds of winning the hand to be in his or her favor, we believe that a blackjack player has the right to increase the wagers in situations where a positive outcome of the game is to be expected.
Pros and Cons of Card Counting
As far as we are concerned, all types of cheating, like past-posting or base-dealing, definitely should be considered illegal. The same goes for all types of use of helping devices such as mirrors or computerized calculators on iPhones. Keith Taft and son is a classic example, becaming famous in the 1970s for constructing portable and mechanical card counting devices (see photo ). Counting the cards however, is just another way of thinking strategically during your game, and most importantly, it is not prohibited by law. Therefore, we see no reason not to count cards per se, but we strongly advise inexperienced players not to try it at a casino because of the reprisals if you get caught by the casino security. Or in other words, we just don't want you to get caught.
Counting cards online is pretty much pointless because of the random number generators used at online casinos. But in live casinos, where several hands of blackjack can be played before you reach the cut-card and the dealer has to shuffle the deck, card counting can be really effective.
The High-Lo System
One of the most profitable, and maybe the simplest way to count cards, is by using the Hi-Lo strategy. The system is basically a running count technique where every card is assigned a specific value. The system is used to distinguish when the ratio of high value- and low value cards in the blackjack decks is unbalanced.
High value cards like tens and aces will not only increase the chance of blackjacks being dealt, but also hands totaling 20. A deck containing a majority of high value cards is a very profitable situation for the player, as it increases the chance of the dealer going bust. In other situations, where the majority of the remaining cards in the deck are low value cards, all cards 2-6, the dealer will have a substantial edge over the player. The fact that the dealer must draw on hard hands (12 through 16) will, in a situation where a lot of low-value cards are remaining in the deck, reduce the chances of the dealer going bust when drawing another card. If there are a lot of high-value cards (tens and aces) in the deck, the probability of the dealer going bust is significantly greater.
How it Works
From the moment the first card is being dealt from the newly shuffled deck the card counter starts to count the value of the cards. A low-value card will add to your count by one point, and a high-value card subtracts one point from your running count. All cards from 7 through 9 are considered as neutrals and will not be counted in the Hi-Lo system. Here is how your counting would look during a random blackjack round: