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The signs of card counting

14 May 2016

I decided this month to answer a question on card counting and then to tell you about an exciting new blackjack book that I just finished reading (which ties in to the question very nicely). The reader’s question was, “How does a casino know that a player is card counting?”

There are several ways that casinos can determine if a player is card counting and a threat to their bottom line. Card counters gain the advantage over the casino when they play blackjack because they make small bets when they don’t have the edge and large bets when the edge swings in their favor. Therefore, “bet variation” is one of the first things that a casino looks at to determine whether the player is card counting.

Usually, card counters will bet small after the shuffle (because the count is neutral). That’s because there is an equal number of small cards (i.e., 2 through 6) as there are big cards (i.e., 10 through ace) in the shuffled deck(s).

However, as cards are dealt from one round to the next, the ratio of small to big cards in the unplayed deck(s) may change. Card counters keep track of this ratio, and when the remaining unplayed cards contain a disproportionate number of big cards, they will increase their bets. Therefore, if the casino suspects a player is card counting, they will look for this bet variation.

Since many players vary their bets for reasons other than card counting (e.g., using a betting progression), the casinos will also check the player’s knowledge of the basic playing strategy. Usually, the supervisor in the pit will call surveillance and ask them to watch the decisions the player makes on his hands.

If they determine the player knows his basic strategy, they will watch how he plays certain hands based upon the size of his bet. For example, the correct basic strategy play when a player has a two-card 16 (except 8-8) against a dealer 10 is to hit. However, when the unplayed deck(s) are rich in 10s, the card counter will deviate from the basic strategy and stand on 16 against a 10 (since the deck was rich in 10s, the counter will have a large bet on the layout when he makes this play). Likewise, when the unplayed cards are deficient in big cards, the counter bets small, and if he is dealt a 16 against a 10 in this scenario, he will hit.

Therefore, if the player always stands on 16 against a dealer 10 when he has a big bet on the layout and hit when he always bet small . . . well, that’s one of the telltale signs of a counter. Another is when a player always makes the insurance bet when he has a large bet on the layout. The casino will observe how the player plays several other hands based on his bet size to determine if he is counting but I think you get the picture.

There are other telltale signs that also give away a card counter. For example, if the player is intensely watching the cards as they come out of the dealing shoe, if he never talks to other players or the dealer, and if he moves his lips as he mentally keeps the count (no kidding . . . I can’t tell you how many novice counters I have seen doing this).

Casinos have also gone high-tech to determine if a player is counting. The surveillance folks key in each card dealt and the amount bet into special software that can determine whether the player is counting (it will even compute the player’s advantage). Some casinos use facial recognition software. They will take a photo of the player’s face and compare the image with a database of known card counters (and cheaters).

I think you get the idea on how casinos can determine whether a player is counting. Nevertheless, this shouldn’t deter you from learning card counting.

There are many tricks that counters use to play undetected. In fact, the book The Blackjack Life, written by Nathaniel Tilton, is one that I highly recommend if you want to learn more on this subject. The book describes how Tilton and his partner were able to play for high stakes in casinos in Connecticut, Atlantic City and Las Vegas over five years without detection.

Tilton’s secret for playing undetected was that he used a mix of slightly different camouflage techniques during a playing session (rather than just a single camouflage technique). What these camouflage technique are and how he used them make for very interesting reading.

I’m high on Tilton’s book for another reason. Tilton was leading an ordinary life with an ordinary job (just like most of you who are reading this) when he read the book Bringing Down the House, the story of how the MIT blackjack team won millions from casinos.

However, unlike most folks who read this book (or saw the movie “21,” which is loosely based on the book), Tilton decided that he wanted to do what the players in the book did. Therefore, you’ll read in The Blackjack Life how an ordinary person dove headfirst into the life of an elite professional card counter, playing for high stakes on the weekend, while maintaining a 9-5 job during the week.

Cigar Aficionado magazine said, “Nathaniel Tilton serves as living proof that you can keep a day job, learn to count cards, and live the life of a professional gambler when it suits you.” I couldn’t agree more.


Henry Tamburin, Ph.D. is the editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter (www.bjinsider.com and host of smartgaming.com.
Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin