Professional blackjack players who can count cards are legends in the world of casinos around the world. Film buffs surely remember scenes from „Rain Man” in which Raymond Babbit (Dustin Hoffman), an autistic and highly talented man, helps his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) solve his financial problems. Thanks to his ability to count cards, Charlie defeats the casino. Does it mean only talented mathematicians can count cards? Does this skill let you defeat casinos like in the Hollywood film? At the beginning of 1960s Edward Thorpe, a professor of mathematics from New Mexico State University, published a book entitled „Beat the dealer: the winning strategy for the game of twenty-one”, in which he emphasized the fact that player’s odds dramatically rose when there were more aces, face cards and 10s in the deck to be dealt. Low cards, particularly 5 and 6, raised casino’s odds. Edward Thorpe’s book soon climbed up in the list of bestsellers and it was primarily this book that made blackjack the most popular table game in American casinos.
Counting cards give you about 1% of advantage over the casino. Below we present one the most popular and simplest methods of counting cards.
High – Low
This way of counting cards was elaborated and propagated by Stanford Wong in his book „Blackjack Secrets”. Similar to the theory by prof. Thorpe, the method rests on the assumption that the more aces, face cards and 10s to be dealt, the more favorable to the player. When more low cards stay in the croupier’s shuffler, the casino’s advantage grows. When there are many aces, face cards and 10s to be dealt, you should raise your rate, and when many low cards are to be dealt, you ought to lower it or finish the game. High and low cards dealt by the croupier are counted separately.
In the course of the game players follow the basic strategy, adding up the value of cards which leave the croupier’s shuffler in accordance with the following:
10, face cards and aces have a value of -1
7, 8, 9 give the value of 0
2, 3, 4, 5, 6 represent the value of +1
This is how you can see the so-called current value.
If the casino adopts more than one deck of cards for blackjack, it is necessary to divide the current value by the number of remaining decks to be dealt. This is how you can see the so-called real value. The value also influences the changes in basic strategy.
Additionally it is essential that you take insurance if the real value shows that 10 or face cards represent more than 1/3 of cards to be dealt.
When you already know the basics, you can answer the questions from the beginning of this article. Is it only highly talented persons who can count cards?
It is necessary to dispel a myth popular with casino players. The myth holds that cards counting is exceptionally difficult. The truth is that it is not very complicated and anyone can handle it. As we have already said, thanks to counting cards, you can gain about 1% of statistic advantage over the casino. You have to remember however that defeating casinos requires considerable funds (assuming counting cards is to be professional) and long period of time (in short or average time span the standard deviation will have a key impact on your results).
Single players who count cards at low-limit tables are not truly dangerous to casinos. What is more, American casinos turn a blind eye to such visitors and let them win in order to support the claim „Someone must win in the casino and promote it”. You should also know that counting cards is not illegal unless you use electronics or make use of other players’ support – nevertheless the casino as a private business is allowed to prevent you from gambling without a reason.
The real threat to casinos are the so-called Gorilla BP’s groups (BP – Big Player). In this case a group of players play blackjack with low rates in accordance with the basic strategy and count cards. When cards give a suitable advantage to players, they suggest BPs that they join the game. BP opts for high rates, e.g. a few hundred dollars. Thanks to such solution, BP does not need to count cards but just properly respond to signals from other members of the group. It is hard to identify such person because he or she does not differ from other players who often change tables. In Polish casinos such actions would not be possible because we do not have as many blackjack tables as they do overseas.