Card counting! I’m still saying it! In the previous article I discussed the basics of card counting and the other principals required to go along with it to successfully beat the casinos at the game of blackjack. I understand that the first article could be quite overwhelming. However, the beautify of making it into a static article is that it will be there for you to read and reread whenever you need. It is my hope that any aspiring reader (professional or casual) will reread that article a few times as to perfectly understand the math behind the principals. Every time I hear someone say they’re going to head to the casino to count for the very first time I ask them to give me the house edge, their bet spread, their bankroll, and their hourly EV of the game they’re going to play. If you can not answer yourself with these numbers, then (in my opinion) you are not ready to play in a casino.
So what’s next? Rinse and repeat? Not exactly, there’s always something new to learn in the game of blackjack. In this article I will be discussing some more advanced plays/techniques as well as answering some of the tougher questions on what to do if a casino confronts you. I’ll discuss everything from a simple “no more blackjack” request to a pit boss saying “You need to come with me to my back office.”
The following can be treated as a table of contents for this article:
Rat Holing & Expected Loss (Comps)
Let’s say you’ve studied up on the first article, read all the books, and practiced for endless hours until you became the best counter known to man. You also, of course, took the time to do the proper math on the game you want to play and ensured you have a bankroll that can support your spread! Wow, look at you go! Now you head in to the casino, sit down at a fresh deal and start counting. About half way through the shoe you notice the count is going positive, enough to raise your bet. Fantastic! You raise your bet and the other players continue betting their wild table minimum ($10) to hundreds of dollars. It’s clear they’re not counting as they were betting hundreds of dollars in negative counts the first half of the shoe. One guy is betting so wildly he’s down to his last $100 in chips and he pushes them all in the circle! You bet your count dictated $40 and the dealer starts dealing. You receive a lousy 15, but luckily the dealer flips over a 5. Upon finishing your scan of the table, after the second round of cards comes out so you can use the cancelation principle and you notice the man who’s all in has 6 and 5 for a hard 11. He’s not reaching for his pockets and looks as though he’s just going to hit his 11. You, of course, know this is a fantastic opportunity to double down. Not only is 11v5 a positive expectation hand (61% expected return according to the Wizards appendix 1: http://wizardofodds.com/games/blackjack/appendix/1/ ), but with a positive count it might up the expected value a couple little percentiles. So what do you do?
I had this happen to me recently, though I actually was hoping for him to get a double or split when he pushed all of his chips in the circle prior to dealing. He declared that he had no more money and was going “all in.” So what do you do? You should ask him if he minds you doubling the hand down! This is a scenario where any ‘average’ player will NEVER hit more than once. Anything they draw after the 11 they will stand to the dealers 5. Thus, I held up $100 in chips and said “Hey, if you’re just going to hit, do you mind if I ride it with you?” He looked at me and said “Sure, go for it.” I gave him my $100 and he put it up along side his bet for a double down. Wouldn’t you know it, luck on our side the dealer peals off a 10! Then, to kindly finish the hand, the dealer busted her 15 so I won my bet as well.
So what just happened? This is called a scavenger play. It’s taking advantage of someone else’s advantageous situation. Now, I don’t go asking people to double down if they have money, or are doubling down themselves, but this guy was clearly “all in” and was just going to hit his 11 versus dealer 5 with a $100 bet. Let’s do a little math to show you just how important this is. Normally in a True Count (TC) +2 the player advantage on a standard game is about .5%. Knowing our numbers I recall from my 6 deck excel sheet that my TC +2 $40 bet on this game has an expected gain of $1.52. Before I was able to bet on his hand, I was looking to make $1.52 profit on my hand (in the long run). The average EV on that $100 bet is about 61%, as shown from the Wizards Appendix above. This means I gave him $100, and I could expect to get back $61 in profit every time I find a situation like this. If you stop to think about it, that’s an insane expected value! Card counting alone yields, on average, a one to two percent advantage for the player. This was a scenario where I could wager $100 with a 61% advantage! Thus, his double down opportunity gained me an additional $61 in expected gain! That’s only 40x my original expected value for the hand!
These are the types of opportunities one must always be on the look out for. It takes no kind of special training other than knowing the game and what is and is not advantageous to the player. I have had similar scenarios where someone had $50 or $100 up and I split their hand, and then doubled down once or twice. It’s amusing when you have a $40 bet on your circle, but you have $200 in action on someone else’s hand (imagine the percent advantage that $200 is carrying with it)! It’s important to note that you should obviously only offer to “ride it with them” in advantageous situations. Thus, you should not offer someone who’s all $100 to ride it with them and double down their 9 versus a dealer 9. After all, the player might not want to double down anyways. What if they draw a 4 and have 13. Then they’ll want to hit again. I’m not promoting hurting other players in the least bit. I’m simply suggesting that there is a plethora of opportunities in which the advantage would normally be lost, but being a wise player you’ll know how to jump on these opportunities, and just how much they’re worth.
Casinos are filled with promotions in order to drive attendance and play. Most of these promotions aren’t very profitable to the player, but they’re just nice incentives. However, some of these promotions can be very profitable to an educated player. Every promotion is different and requires a thorough understanding of the rules. While there are many promotions casino wide, for the context of this article I am only going to discuss blackjack promotions.
A loss rebate is when a casino will “give you your money back” (often in free play) if you lose up to a certain amount. I should hope that sentence alone tells you how powerful this promotion is. Even if the casino is giving you your money back in free play / slot play, you could always run it through a decent video poker game and expect to get back ~99% of your money. So what does this mean? This means you essentially get a free swing at the casino on their dime, for whatever their rebate amount is! Here’s a great example I recently experienced:
I traveled to a new casino I had not visited before. Upon going to their players club I inquired about their promotions. I was informed they had a $100 loss rebate. If at any time during my play (table games only) I was down $100 they would load $100 in free play to my players club card. So I went to play blackjack as usual and at one point I was down $100. So I went to the players club and sure enough they loaded my card with $100 in free play to be used on slots or VP. Well, I went and found a 9-5 JoB video poker game (98.45% payback). This means if I play with the correct strategy, in the long run, for every $100 I put in the machine I can expect to get back $98.45. So I essentially played my first $100 in blackjack while only risking $1.55 of my own money!
This is probably one of the simplest promotions to understand. With free play the casino is offering you the ability to wager at one of their games without having to put any of your own money on the felt. With match play, you must match the amount of the play, but you can essentially double your expected value of the match play bet. Okay, let’s look at some numbers! If you normally were to bet $10 on a hand of blackjack, but you have a $10 match play, you’re now wagering $20 on the hand with only $10 of that coming out of your own pocket. On a normal hand of blackjack, given a standard .5% house edge game your EV would be as follows:
EV = AmountBet*HouseEdge = (10)*(-.005) = -$0.05, meaning you could expect to get back $9.95 from your $10 bet.
However, with a match play, that’s another $9.95 you could expect to get back, except this time you did not have to wager your own $10 to get this back. This means when you play $10 with a $10 match play, your expected return is $19.90, while you’re only wagering $10! Both free and match plays often come in the mail after you’ve signed up at the players club of a given casino.
These are becoming less and less of a promotion used by casinos (because of how powerful they are to the player) but they still exist today. I was recently in Vegas and came across a downtown casino with a promotion that if you signed up they gave you a coupon to play at a blackjack game where it would treat your first card as an automatic ace! The expected return when you know your first card is an ace is 51%. Again, compared to the average 1-2% card counting brings, this is a monstrous return! I wasn’t even aware of this promotion and only found it by getting a flyer for the casino; it pays to do your homework. Most promotions like these of course come with a max bet limit you can use them with. Well, this one was $25, so I wagered $25 and wouldn’t you know it I was lucky enough to get a 10 with my free ace for a blackjack!
There are so many other promotions, but they are dependent on the individual casinos that have them. Instead of going in to every different one off promotion I’ve come across, I hope I’ve made it mathematically clear why these promotions are so valuable to the player. One must seek out the players club of each different casino and inquire about their available promotions. You might just be surprised at what you find.
In the context of this article Rat Holing is the art of pocketing chips from a casino game. Why would anyone do this? Well, you see people do this all the time. In roulette for example when someone hits a number straight up and is going to be paid $140, they’ll generally ask for “one black over.” This means they’re getting one black chip, worth $100, and the other $40 in $1 chips so they can pocket the black chip and keep betting the single chips. People do this so they don’t bet their winnings, or at least leave the game with something in their pockets! So what does this have to do with blackjack? Well, it is also a fairly common practice in blackjack. Casinos try very hard to keep very accurate records of their customers gaming. This way they know how much to offer in comps to players who aren’t as skilled, or gamble with a high volume of money. When a blackjack player buys in the pit boss will record how much they bought in for. At some point the pit boss will come by to observe how much you’re betting and denote that in their system as well. Finally, when a player either busts or cashes out, the pit boss denotes the final amount they left with. This way the casino not only knows if the player won or loss, but more importantly to them they know your expected loss.
Expected loss is a very important figure to casinos. Like I mentioned previously this is how they decide how to comp you past whatever your rewards card automatically comps you for playing. Here is the formula for a players expected loss in blackjack:
EL = AverageBet*HandsPlayed*HouseEdge
So let’s say a blackjack player flat bets and has an average bet of $10 a hand for an hour (which the casino knows is about 80 hands). In general, most players are so bad at even following basic strategy that most casinos/systems default to about a 2% house advantage. This is casino dependent, but the majority of the places I’ve checked use 2%. Remember, the .5% advantage that comes from the Wizards calculator is only if you play perfect basic strategy! Thus, for this average player here is their expected loss:
EL = (10)*(80)*(.02) = (800)*(.02) = $16.00
This means every time this player comes back to this casino and plays for 1 hour betting an average of $10, they will “on average” lose $16.00 per hour. Now perhaps you can see just how little red chip players mean to the casino. So how do the comps work? They vary from casino to casino but in general they are about 20% of your expected loss. Thus, if this player played for 8 hours, they would expect to lose $128, and they would in turn earn $25.60 in comps (128*.2). I hope this also points out something a lot of people do not understand. Comps most often aren’t “comps” from the casino. They’re paying you with a small portion of your own money to keep you playing more.
Rat holing is a way to save money in your pocket, because I don’t support intentionally misrepresenting yourself to a casino =). However, the side effect is exactly that. Say you buy in for $400, and you cash out with $700, but another $300 in your pocket. The casino thinks you won $300, but you actually won $600. This also helps on small wins where you actually leave the table with $200, so the casino thinks you lost $200, but with the other $300 in your pocket you actually made a profit on the session of $100. Rat holing itself is picking and choosing the right time to pull high denomination chips off the table. Be carefully not to pull too high though. If you have one black chip, $400 in green chips, and then a bunch of red chips, it’s much easier to pull off $100 or $200 in green chips than it is to pocket the black chips. Point being, the black chip is very easily noticeable. Experience will teach you the proper time to rat hole chips too. Most dealers that aren’t zoned out know about how much each player has. They know this because if a player suddenly gets up and leaves the pit boss will then be asking them how much the player left with for their record keeping. Thus, when there’s a dealer change is a great time to pocket some chips as the new dealer will have no idea how you’ve been doing at the table. Again, it’s not illegal to pocket chips so that you ensure you’re not leaving with empty pockets!
Cover and camouflage are a way to throw casino personnel off from thinking you are a card counter or an advantage player. There are many different types of cover, some that come with a cost, and some that are free.
This type of cover consists of ways to throw casino personnel off that cost you money. A great example of this is betting more the first hand of a new shoe. Card counting isn’t new to casinos, and they will eventually figure you out if you play at the same place, or the same shift, etc, frequently. One thing they know about card counting is that at the beginning of the shoe card counters bet the table minimum, because the true count is 0. One giveaway is when you’re betting $10 at the beginning of the shoe, but by the end of the shoe you’re betting $200 per hand. Now, many regular players do this as well, but how many times do you see them then go back to a measly $10 at the beginning of the next shoe? If a regular player wants to bet big, they generally don’t care if it’s the last hand of that shoe or the first one of this one, they’re going to bet big. Thus, when you have a big bet out and then come to a new shoe, it’s good cover to continue betting a little more on the first hand of the next shoe. Let’s say you were betting $80 on the last hand of the previous shoe. Well, instead of dropping to $10 for the first hand of the next shoe, try betting $30 or so. This will keep suspicion down, might even up the average bet they have marked for you, and isn’t all that costly to you. Normally a $10 bet at a 0 count is approximately a $1.75 loss, on average in the long run. Thus, a $30 bet at a 0 count will cost you approximately $3.55 more, as your $30 bet has approximately a $5.30 loss. So you see, this is good cover, but it comes with a cost! You definitely can’t afford to be doing this all the time or it will kill your hourly EV. The best practice in this scenario is to leave a table if you’re betting near the top end of your spread at the end of a shoe. Simply go to another table and start fresh there rather than playing the costly balancing act of how much to bet off the top of the next shoe.
Almost every new counter I’ve encountered has little knowledge of this subject. From the moment you walk in to a casino their personnel (surveillance, pit bosses, dealers, etc) are more/less forming an opinion about you: Are you a threat or not? When you come to a table how you’re dressed, how you act, whom you interact with, all says something about you as to why you’re there. There are so many forms of free cover I won’t even be able to cover them all, but I will go over several that I’ve known/used and a couple that I’ve even picked up from the forums.
Most every casino I’ve visited has some blackjack pits with better rules than others. Perhaps one pit is H17 and the other is S17, or one is 6:5 and the other is 3:2. If you were to walk in to the casino and make a direct line to the better pit, that says something about you. You’re not there to look around like a tourist or check other games out. You clearly came in to this casino to head straight to that pit. How hard is it to walk in to a casino and just go watch a point of craps first, or take a lap around the property? You’ll spend 10 minutes of your time doing this, but your profile might look a lot more like a tourist than a professional just from getting some exercise! This is the type of mentality that is needed for free cover. You must be thinking of what your appearance/actions say about you.
I always knew there was a sweet spot with your buy in, but only came to what I consider it to be through trial and error. I thought for a $10 table (15-1 spread) that $100 is just not enough. I also thought buying in for $1,000 might get me more attention than I wanted. However, the forums member kewlj pointed out that “short buying” can actually be a form of free cover. If you want to buy in for $500 at a table, instead, why not buy in for $100 and keep rebuying as necessary? This way the pit will see you digging in to your pockets more frequently and asses you not only as a losing player, but someone who’s quite willing to chase their losses. To further this point, why not buy in with 20’s instead of $100 bills? What’s your opinion when someone walks up to table next to you and buys in for only $100 with 20’s? You naturally assume they do not have a lot of money and thus aren’t much of a threat. Again, this costs nothing extra for you to do other than buy in for less at a time and use smaller bills, but it can change the opinion the pit/dealer have of you drastically.
The last bit of free cover I’ll discuss in this article will be your personality at the table. I never thought much about this at first because even though I’m a complete nerd, I’ve always had an outgoing personality and enjoy talking with random people. However, when I taught my current business partner what I know about blackjack I noticed something interesting. After he checked out and was ready to try a casino run I noticed when he was at the tables in the casino he would be dead silent, not talk to anyone, and always have his head down/eyes on the table. He never did this in our training sessions at home, but he must have been nervous in the casino! To me, he just looked like a counter. There are two schools of thought on this subject. One, that you should draw as little attention to yourself as humanly possible; don’t yell, scream, argue with other players, talk to the pit bosses, etc. There is some merit to this and if you can successfully pull of being a ghost, you will find a lot of longevity in your games. The other isn’t an exact opposite, but close to it, and it’s the strategy I’ve most frequently used for many years. I talk to everyone. I talk to the other players, the dealer, and I most definitely encourage conversations with the pit personnel. I’ve found throughout the years that talking with the pit absolutely helps their opinion of me. I’m friendly, ask lots of questions, and joke a lot with them. Whenever I can get a pit person to laugh I pretty much never have any heat for the session, and as an added bonus it’s almost always easier to ask for a comp afterwards =). Now, there is nothing wrong with either of these approaches, but you must be aware of your personality at the table and what opinions could be formed about you from it. Don’t look like a counter!
As I mentioned prior, casinos will eventually figure your game out. Whether it’s your next session, next year, or a decade from now, they will figure out you’re not like the other players. From here, there are numerous roads they could take stretching from the “I still don’t care” approach, all the way to “Let’s have ‘em thrown in jail!” It depends on the education and understanding of the casino you’re in. Card counting has made blackjack the popular game it is. You’re not doing anything illegal, yet sometimes you’ll run in to pit bosses or security personnel that attempt to be a “hero” and try to “catch” you and get you in trouble for doing absolutely nothing wrong. You need to be well aware of your rights and what the casino can, and can not, do. As a disclaimer, I am not a lawyer and should you seek legal advice I would recommend you find a practicing attorney to answer your questions or help you in a situation. Most of what I would recommend I picked up from listening to gambling with an edge and Bob Nersesian, credible online sources of gambling law, and seeking actual council about the laws surrounding these events.
When approached and asked to flat bet or leave
1) Nothing needs said further, they want you to leave.
2) Collect your chips in your pockets.
3) Walk with a direct path to leave, making no contact with anyone, and saying nothing else (anything else you do they could try to use against you).
The jig is up. There is an entire process each and every casino uses prior to asking someone to leave, come with them, etc. If they’ve made it to this step in the game, then no amount of pleading or arguing with them will change their minds. They are sure you’re not someone they want playing their games and being argumentative will only escalate the situation. You do not want this to happen for many reasons. While yes, there have been many cases of casinos mistreating, kidnapping, and assaulting players, you must ask yourself, is it really worth it? Is it really worth being detained right now, probably going to jail right now, having to post bail, putting a hefty retainer down on a knowledgeable attorney, and then going through the multiple year process in the courts to try to prove your rights were violated? If you’re successful you will probably get a nice settlement. Or, the casino could appeal and keep you in the courts for another few years. If you’re not successful, you’re going to expose all of your information to the casino, more than likely be added to any/all agencies books that casinos consult with, be out tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and finally put up with the headache of dealing with the situation for years just to get nothing in return but a bill from your attorney. Now, I’m not saying if you’re rights are violated not to pursue justice, but at this point when you’re being asked to flat bet or leave, you can make the conscious decision not to escalate the situation.When approached and asked to come to a backroom
They want to get your info, trespass you, etc. They are a private establishment and may ask you to leave, but do not have the right to keep you from leaving, nor demand ID from you (unless you’re suspected of something actually illegal). They will constantly say things like "You really need to come with me." or even "You have to come with me!" but you don't have to, legally. Here are the best things to do in this scenario:
1) Collect your chips in your pockets.
2) Stand up from the table and pull your phone out. Video record everything from here on out. Away from the table they can not make you stop video recording, nor are they allowed to grab the phone from you to make you stop (and if you get a video of them grabbing your phone - well then that's called assault, on video).
3) State very clearly you do not wish to stay, and that you wish to now leave the establishment.
4) Start heading for the nearest exit (again, don't try to cash chips out, you can do this another day). They might "surround" you at this point as to try to block you from leaving. Politely, but loudly enough to be clear on the video, again say "I would like to leave. Please let me leave."
5) Leave without incident.
If they surround you and won't let you, or touch you, or say something like "You either come with us or this is gonna get ugly." Then do indeed go with them, but know that at this point they are kidnapping you, holding you against your will, and the video you posses in your hands is now worth a hefty sum of money. Most casinos know the law, and they know they have no right to hold you against your will. They will try very hard to keep you there with their ambiguous statements like "You really should come with me" or even "I just want to talk come on back to my office." It’s the uneducated old mentality of some casino personnel that creates most conflicts with counters/AP’s. Above all else, AP's do not want conflict. It is 100% within your right to stand up and leave the casino. They can not hold you against your will as you've done nothing illegal and they have no right to hold you.
Knowing your rights and the laws are quite important. Had a certain forums member known he didn't have to go with them, give them his ID (to go in OSN or Griffin), etc, then he could have simply walked out and returned another day to cash his chips. Again, I'm going to remind you... You are doing nothing illegal. You are using your brain to play a game to the best of your ability, and nothing more. You are not a criminal. You did not do anything wrong. As much right as you have to use your brain they have to ask you to leave their private establishment, that's it.
Things Not To Do
These are things you shouldn't do in either situation or really any other situation.
1) Do not get in to an argument with them about letting you play. You won't win. Once they've identified you as a skilled player (which they don't like) they will never change their mind and let you somehow keep playing. I don't care if you're up, down, trying to get even, etc. You will not be the first person to ever change a casinos mind. Saying anything other than "I want to leave" will more than likely make the situation worse.
2) Do not physically touch anyone. They will try to surround you so even if you walk by them you have to brush shoulders. They could lie and say you were hitting them somehow and that's why they detained you, etc. This is why video is very important. Go out of your way to not touch someone, but as soon as you have a clear path to the door, leave.
3) Do not run. While it wouldn't be illegal to 'jog' out of a casino, this looks suspicious, and remember, you've done nothing wrong. You have zero reason to fear anyone in a casino so long as you're not 'cheating,' which using your brain is not cheating. To quote Bob, he said "Walk purposefully" towards the exit. You don't have to take your good old time, but you certainly don't want to raise any alarms like you're running. Casino security members are like dogs; if they see something running, they want to chase it.
4) Do not go to any back rooms, hallways, etc. Always stay on the main gambling floor and attempt to leave. Do not follow any casino personal anywhere other than to an exit (if they want to escort you out). You are under zero legal obligations to follow them anywhere. It's like the owner of a 711 asking you to come to his back office because he wants to take your picture. He can't 'make' you follow him, nor detain you in his 711 back office. That violates numerous laws and he could be sued, just as a casino may be sued if they do the same thing. The only exception to this is if the situation noted above occurs where they basically say “come with us or it’s going to get ugly.” Again, you don’t want conflict so go with them but make it clear on video that it’s against your will and that you would like the police to be called (or call the police yourself and tell them you’re being kidnapped / illegally detained).
5) Do not give your ID to any casino employee, ever, at this point. If you're getting ID'd to come in the casino, that's a different story, but if they're asking you to follow them, leave, or even for a cash out, you legally do NOT have to give them your ID (even for a CRT). The procedure written if you refuse ID on a CRT is they have to take down the best physical description of you they can, but they can't refuse you a payout (there are threads and legal cases about this). See why it helps to know the laws surrounding what you're doing? The only person you should give your ID to are the actual police whom will often be called to investigate this situation. However, even when giving your ID to the police, I would still say (and video if you can) “I am giving you my ID for the purpose of identifying myself to a police officer. This information is not yours to disseminate to the casino and I will sue to protect my personal information.”
I highly encourage anyone interested in this to listen to the radio show with Bob (he's been on the show dozens of times). I also suggest getting his book Beat the Players (Amazon Bob Nersesian). Lastly, I would again invite you to get your own legal council.
Now I hope it’s easy to see just how much there is to learn about the game of blackjack. There are even more advantage plays to be learned about blackjack. You can either find them in a book, or on the forums. The complexity comes from the amount of different principals you must put together. Each of these individually are not very difficult, but putting them all together in a beautiful symphony of advantage play can be quite a task. In the last article I will be answering a lot of questions. I will share the Q/A from the previous articles, as well as give a final answer to the questions “Is card counting a viable option?” and “Is card counting still worth it?” Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion!