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Combatting Card Counting

When it comes to Blackjack, card counting is the skill employed by a number of top players to keep track of when the deck is stacked in their favor.

This is done by keeping count of how many Aces and cards valued at ‘10’  have been dealt. If a large number have recently been in play, the chances of the player winning is much reduced so (s)he will generally bet smaller. However, if they believe that a number of high value cards are about to be dealt, they will bet higher to take advantage of increased likelihood that they will make a valuable hand.

Generally speaking, a standard Blackjack game will offer players a return of 99.5% on their investment. However, a good card counter can push that figure up past the 100% mark, which is obviously bad news for the management team behind the casino involved.  In fact, this has been such a problem for casinos that the last 20 years has seen them employ a number of different methods to combat card counters.

The first thing they did was to introduce more decks into the shoe. Whereas Blackjack games  were originally played with only one or two decks, now it’s not uncommon to see Blackjack games featuring six or even eight decks of cards at a time. 

This obviously makes it a lot hard for card counters to keep track of the cards that have been dealt and also decreases their chances of correctly calculating when they might next receive a high value card. 

What’s more, any advantage that a player might have is further decreased by the casinos decision to reduce the number of hands that are played before the cards are shuffled. This figure is known as ‘penetration’ and it’s now unlikely for casinos to exceed 50% penetration before the cards are randomized again. The electronic age brought with it security cameras and CCTV, which allowed casino staff to pinpoint potential card counters more easily.  

More recently, technology has taken another step forward and most casinos will now scan all the cards in a particular shoe before a game of Blackjack is played. Then, when the action gets underway, casino staff will keep a note of every card that has been dealt and the bets that it has attracted. They are then able to track every player’s betting patterns and highlight those players who start to increase their stakes when the higher cards are dealt.

So what happens when a casino suspects a player of card counting? Well, they tend to respond in a number of different ways.  At the bottom end of the scale, they’ll simply send someone to start chatting to the player involved. This tends to break the player’s concentration meaning that (s)he loses track of the count.  However, if problems continue to persist, then it’s highly likely that the player will be reminded that card counting is against the rules of many land-based casinos and if the problem persists, then the player is likely to be ejected from the establishment.

What’s particularly interesting though is that as the casinos have evolved so have the Blackjack players.   While they may not be seeing the kind of returns that they were 20 years ago, a skilled card counter can still make some fairly significant gains over the long term despite the stringent methods now employed by many offline casinos.  Many card counters simply went online at first, but things have changed there now too. The vast majority of online casinos use six different decks and tend to shuffle the shoe after every hand.

In short, card counting is still very much alive in the game of Blackjack, but it now requires much more skill and dedication to be successful at something that has no become an art form.


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