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Blackjack Advantage players and Card Counters have an uphill battle learning both Basic Strategy and a profitable system of play. Once they finish dozens of hours perfecting their new skills they head to the casinos and then find out how tough the game is to beat. That’s because a blackjack card counter is very lucky to hold a 1% edge over the house and the swings of wins and losses can be quite dramatic.

Bankroll, ability and time to invest aside, skilled blackjack players soon realize there is yet another hurdle to success and it is insurmountable: staying in action without getting barred. If you didn’t know it, most casinos reserve the right to exclude any gambler from play. I’ve been barred (sometimes repeatedly from the same casino, but I’m stubborn), Lawrence Revere was barred; even actor Ben Affleck has been barred from playing blackjack at the Las Vegas Hard Rock casino. It happens, live with it or learn to adapt.

The Act worth a Million Dollars

Even though master counter and Big Player Ken Uston was eventually barred from many casinos (including several in Las Vegas), he played a great act of drunk, loose player. At first his table-hopping (into juicy shoes) didn’t cause concern, only happiness with the casino managers, and his act was terrific. Good enough to see his teams win over a million dollars. Today it’s a bit tougher as everyone gets scrutinized at some point, by dealers, Floor Supervisors, Pit Bosses and of course the Eye-in-the-sky.

Don’t be nervous, you can learn how to prolong your play without getting noticed and it’s not that tough. Just think like the casino bosses do and try to fit in. Fortunately they aren’t perfect. One good example is poker pro Phil Ivey who recently won £5 million at Crockford’s casino in the UK. Whether it was cheating for him to convince the dealers to sort the cards as he ordered or not, it happened.

What happened was he asked the dealers to turn the cards a certain way because he was superstitious. In reality, he had them edge-sort, because the cards had tiny squares on the back that were cut at a certain part of the square on different cards. The bosses thought “This guy’s a poker pro with lots of dough, he’s ok.” Not true.  He was caught and the casino refused to pay his winnings, although they gave him is buy-in back.

In the 1950’s, George Cannon, a Lake Tahoe, Nevada casino owner took to wearing disguises (including his wife’s dresses) to do the same thing. He too was caught, but it shows the casinos aren’t smart enough to stop using cards that can be edge-sorted. They get what they deserve in this case I suppose.

We can’t condone cheating, and you don’t have to wear your wife’s dresses or your husband’s suits, you can just fit in with the crowd and bet and win regularly. The truth is that looking like everyone else is worth the effort.

What the Pit Bosses Watch For

Unfortunately, the first thing Pit Bosses are trained to see is anyone that is winning.  After that there are many other things that standout, at least for a few minutes. These include:

  • Big Buy-ins
  • Players who never tip
  • Players who never drink
  • Players who watch every card
  • Players who are robot-like calm, even when losing
  • Players who seem to win all the time
  • Players who never take insurance except with a positive count
  • Players who vary their wagers, especially upwards during a positive count

So, the first thing you need to do is look at this list and avoid the pitfalls. Dealers have to call-out each time a player buys-in. If your buy-in is very large the bosses will ask if you have a player’s club card or want one. In the UK, they will ask you name or member number. Avoid this by making average buy-ins. If most players are buying in £100, you should too. If you buy-in for £1,000 you just focused attention on yourself. On the other hand, if you have to buy-in 100 many times you look like a loser. That’s perfect.

Most card counters are very methodical, stack all their chips neatly, and avoid tipping because it reduces their win. Again, you need to fit in. If players are tipping, you need to do so too. Obviously you can’t tip so much that you eat into your winning percentage, but expect to tip at least 10% of your anticipated win rate or you stick-out. IF you play exclusively in Europe where there is no tipping, good for you, money saved. In the US the dealers expect tips, and the saying is, “Know the difference between a Canadian and a canoe? The canoe tips on occasion.” So unless you talk like a Canuck, you should consider tipping.

Card counters rarely drink alcohol. Don’t sit there drinking water or club soda, act studious and refuse to interact with anyone else because you might drop the count. Instead, order a drink, have some fun, and loosen up, just keep the alcohol to a minimum, or leave your chips on the table (perhaps during a bad shoe) and walk away with your drink. You can always carry it to the restroom and dump most of it out, or replace it with water. Bring the glass back and rejoin the table. Is all that trouble worth it? Everything helps, so give it a try.

You’ll need to watch every card carefully whether you are shuffle tracking or counting cards, but learning to view them without starring takes practice. Look around at the other players, smile at the dealer, talk about their name, their beautiful hair, eyes, whatever, and be sociable. That makes you more normal. Professional players are not normal.

That includes your overall demeanor at the table. Don’t be a robot, show some concern when you double down or split, look worried. Take extra cash out hesitantly, not confidently like you’ve made this move a million times before. Don’t be smug. Whoop it up a bit when you win, and most of all, don’t be totally Zen calm when you lose. Go ahead and act frustrated, just don’t call attention to yourself.

The Things You Must Do

Unfortunately there are things you must do, like raising your wagers during positive counts and taking insurance at the same time. The insurance thing is a toughie, because bosses are taught that counters only take insurance on their large wagers (because the count is highly positive). You can’t do much about that, but once in a while you might use some cover play by taking insurance with a small bet out there. The small loss is worth the cover act, and your table-talk is important too. Might as well give some crazy explanation such as “I always take insurance if I won the last two hands (lost the last two, etc.),” to sell yourself as a novice player.

You’ll also have to raise your bets as the count goes up and get it back down if the count falls quickly. If you lost the last hand and the count goes up you can always talk the talk, “Double up and get even,” or gotta’ get my money back.” Another way of making a larger wager after a loss is to just bet what you have left (remember, you don’t want to make too large a buy-in at first) in front of you. It looks like you are angry, and that’s good. Or, if all your chips are gone, bet cash or get enough new chips to make a substantial wager and bet them all. This looks much more like you are out of control than in control. You’ll know better.

If you won the last hand it is easy to make your increase look like a winning progression, perhaps even doubling your wager, even if the count isn’t that high. If it is positive, go for it. If you win the next one, great, you got a lot more in action. You might even consider letting it all ride on the next hand if the count continues to go up by taking your win and spreading to two hands.

If you are worried about these moves, sit back and watch the other players for an hour while you grind away flat-betting or making small increases. What did you see? They bet crazy sometimes too! Try to follow their lead!

What Not to Do

Don’t play with the same Manchester United cap on your head every time you play. You don’t need a disguise of false teeth and a fake beard. Just mix-up your clothes from conservative to flashy, and consider wearing your hair differently. Bosses see a lot of people, blend in – don’t stand out.

You also won’t want to play at the same club all the time. If you have choices, play all-over. If you do play one casino regularly, don’t play more than 45-minutes at time at one table. Bounce around to other areas of the club. You also don’t want to play at the same time of day repeatedly. Many casinos are open 24-hours. Play on different shifts or better yet, set your plays for about 12 hours apart so you won’t see the same people two days in a row.

Casinos attract many local players, and you do have the ability to look like a regular, but if you look too much like a regular winner, you’ll run into problems. Don’t make a habit of coloring-up your winnings, which must be reported to a Floor Supervisor. Instead, if you are playing red chips and being paid occasionally in green or black (25’s and 100’s), stash a few in your pockets instead of coloring up. Don’t worry about changing a stack of reds when you quit, that looks more like you just broke even – and that’s alright.

Finally, don’t bet over your bankroll. That’s got nothing to do cover play or avoiding detection, but you won’t have to worry about being barred from play if you lose all your cash! Treat your bankroll like your best friend and you’ll be together a long time.

 

 

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