Card Counting Basics for Blackjack—Part I

Card counting is one of the most coveted blackjack strategy skills in the game. It is easy to play according to basic strategy—all you do is look off of the chart and make the recommended play. I am not saying that basic strategy should be dispensed with in favor of card counting. Actually both are necessary.

Basic strategy can get you within 0.5% of the house’s edge over you. But card counting can make up that half of a percent and even tilt the edge in your favor.

But such a skill as card counting does not come as easily as basic strategy. It requires practice and patience to learn. That practice can make the difference between gaining that slight edge over the house and being caught and subsequently kicked out of the casino.

Because of its known potential to beat the house edge, card counting has built up a reputation, some of which is true and some of which is not. Part of using such a strategy skill in blackjack is to know what is true and what is rumor.

One of the biggest is that card counting is illegal. This is not true exactly.

There is now law that says that card counting is against the law. However, casinos are private businesses. This means that they can choose who they want to do business with, and by that I mean they can refuse to allow players to play as playing is considered a business transaction between a player and the casino. It is on these grounds that casinos can have a card counting player banned from the blackjack tables or removed from the casino.

This is why you want to practice your card counting skill regularly—you do not want to get caught counting. You must be able to count quickly and quietly in your head without any outward signs that you are doing so, and all in the midst of the lights and sounds that make a casino what it is.

That is the first most basic thing you need to know about card counting—the actual legal stand point on the highly acclaimed blackjack strategy skill. You need to know that it is not illegal but that there is the risk of being removed from the casino if you are caught counting. Knowing this helps enforce the need for practice and it also imparts the seriousness with which casinos regard card counting blackjack players.

Which Blackjack Table to Play at

Casinos are exciting places to visit. Lights, sounds, just the general atmosphere pulls you in and surrounds you creating a one of a kind feeling. With all the excitement it can be rather hard to choose which blackjack table is best to play at.

Wait, am I saying that there is a way to choose which blackjack table is best to play at?

Why, yes, I am.

We are going to pretend that you just walked out onto the casino floor and are looking to play blackjack. You head to where the balckajck tables are and find that you have a few options. I am going to give a few different types of tables and see if you can guess which table is the best blackjack table to play at.

Table 1: The table has six of its seven seats filled by some rather rowdy guys. They are rowdy because they have been winning fairly often. They are also all friends and have been drinking some as well.

Table 2: This table only has a couple of people at it. They are playing quietly, rarely speaking and communicating their plays to the dealer in hand signals. You notice that they keep getting more low cards than high, and the dealer is winning more. You attribute this to the reason why the two players are being so serious.

Table 3: At the third table the dealer appears to be offering help to a group of ladies who do not seem to really understand the game. The dealer is being very nice about helping them, and at least one or two of the ladies beats him each round.

Table 4: The final table is only half full and each player has a large pile of chips in front them. The cards are mixed, with no real leaning on high or low cards.

Those are your four blackjack tables to choose from. Imagine that you are standing on the casino floor and have to choose one. Which blackjack table is the best to play at.?

Check back this afternoon and I will tell you which blackjack table is the best to play at and why.

Table Manners for Blackjack: Cards and Touching

Yes, blackjack has table manners. It is played at a table after all. Actually that is a more relaxed term for blackjack etiquette, and the things that make up blackjack etiquette are kind of like the unwritten rules for blackjack.

Fist off we are going to talk about the cards and touching.

In a face up game the cards are obviously dealt face up on the table by the dealer. He will then quickly calculate the totals. Player then make hand signals to show what play they would like to make: a two finger scratch on the felt for a hit; a palm-down wave over the cards to stand; doubling your amount of chips to signal a double down or a split depending on what cards you have. Hand signals are a part of blackjack etiquette and a tradition of the game. Oh, and they also can back you up if there is some discrepancy on what play you wanted to make since there is a camera above the table.

But above all in a face up blackjack game do NOT touch the cards.

Not touching cards in a face up game prevents players from cheating or marking the cards.

The only type of blackjack game in which you can touch the cards is a face down game. The dealer deals the cards face down and the player picks them up with one hand. Signals in a face down game are a bit different: to hit scrap the cards towards you on the felt to hit; to stand scoot your cards under your wagered chips; to double down or split, turn the cards face up and add the appropriate amount of chips to your wager.

Do NOT use more than one hand to handle your cards.

Handling the cards with one hand helps to cut down on switching or adding cards or marking them for cheating purposes.

You have the etiquette for how to handle your cards down now, and are all set to grab your clip-on tie and head to your favorite casino.

How to Count Cards in Blackjack

Card counting is one of the many skills that blackjack players want. Whether because they saw it in a movie and thought it looked cool is beside the point. Card counting is one of the pieces of blackjack strategy that can increase players’ blackjack odds.

Players who are determined to beat the house are the ones who turn to card counting and who take the time to learn it and practice it so that they can take full advantage of it.

It also pays to practice your card counting skills as you also to not want the casino staff to throw you out of the casino.

Card counting is actually pretty easy to learn. The problem many aspiring counters have is that they actually have to practice this skill and keep practicing it. Those who take the time to learn and practice card counting can get the edge on the house by 0.5% up to 1.5% for those who are truly skilled.

One of the easiest counting systems to start with is the Hi-Lo system. In this system the cards are assigned the following counting values:

+1 = 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
0 = 7, 8 and 9
-1 = 10, Jack, Queen, King and Aces

Starting at 0, players then add the positive or negative values of the cards that are played. When the count has a high positive number it means that a good number of low cards have been played and that the remaining deck is rich in high cards that favor the player. This is when card counting blackjack players begin to raise their wager.

But when the count turns strongly negative it means that a number of high cards have been played and that the remaining cards in the deck are low, which favor the dealer. As I am sure you can figure, this is when player begin lowering their wagers.

To practice card counting, sit down with a deck of cards and silently add the positive and negative values, starting from 0, as you look through the deck. You have to keep practicing this until it becomes easy and you hardly have to think about the math—so that you are at ease with counting silently in your head without any outward appearances that you are counting.

Once you are comfortable with that, turn some music and the TV on to provide some distractions like you would find in a casino. Now keep practicing until you can count through the deck with ease with the distractions around you.

Sure card counting can have a good impact on your blackjack odds when playing in a casino, but those odds are not achievable if you are unwilling to take the time to practice. So take the time, practice and then go try your hand at card counting at a blackjack table in a casino.

Single Deck Blackjack Games

Would you believe that there are still single deck blackjack games out there?

I am not talking about blackjack variations that use a single deck or about single deck games that offer a 6-5 payout. I am talking about good old fashioned single deck blackjack.

It is true, such games are not easy to find since they are not a common occurrence. But they are out there.

Casinos will use classic single deck blackjack games as a way to compete with their neighbors to try to steal blackjack players from a competitor and bring them into their casino. Sometimes they will offer single deck games as part of a special promotion.

It is a rule of thumb that the fewer decks being used in a game of blackjack that better the player’s odds are. So obviously a blackjack game that uses the maximum of eight decks offers no benefit for players. This is probably why eight decks are commonly used.

Next up are six deck games. They increase a player’s blackjack odds by only 0.02%. And five decks only increase blackjack odds by 0.03%. And four decks? The odds increase is only 0.06%.

It is not until we get down to two decks that there is a decent increase to a player’s blackjack odds as a result of the number decks. A two deck game will give player’s odds an increase of 0.19%.

But we are concerned with the single deck classic blackjack game. If you can find a single deck game of blackjack that offers standard house rules and a payout of 3-2 (no 6-5 payouts now) you had better sit down and play because the player’s blackjack odds increase by 0.48%.

So with that nice 0.48% boost to your blackjack odds, you can see how single deck classic blackjack games are worth playing in.

Blackjack Worth it in Pennsylvania

Build it and they will come. Or rather, add them and they will come.

There were many people in Pennsylvania that were either skeptical or downright opposed adding blackjack tables to the casinos found in their state. The objections and disbelief ranged from ‘Could that really give the state revenue?’ to ‘Gambling will corrupt our society and communities.’

But the table games were approved this past spring and were installed in nine brick and mortar casinos around Pennsylvania:

Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack, Hollywood Casino Penn National, The Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, Mount Airy Casino Resort, Parx Casino, Presque Isle Downs, Rivers Casino and Sands Casino Resort.

August was the first whole month in which all nine brick and mortar casinos had their blackjack and other table games open for business. While the table games were all installed in July, they were not all installed at the same time. So August is the first month in which revenue could be compared.

For the month of August those nine casinos brought in from the table games alone $34.6 million. Of that $34.6 million, $4.8 million will go to the state of Pennsylvania in taxes, while another $691,000 will to municipalities.

So that is $4.8 million that did not have to come out of citizens’ pockets in the form of raised taxes, so I would call the installation of blackjack, poker, roulette and craps tables a success.

Shawn McCloud, an analyst for Spectrum Gaming Group, agreed:

“It is an impressive start for Pennsylvania…Obviously, Pennsylvania is going to be a formidable competitor in the table games market.”

Here is the breakdown in revenue generated by the new blackjack and other table games:

Parx Casino: $6,338,617
Harrah’s Chester Casino and Racetrack: $5,918,137
Sands Casino Resort: $4,297,070
Rivers Casino: $4,162,280
Mohegan Sun: $3,533,765
Mount Airy Casino Resort: $3,360,361
Hollywood Casino Penn National: $2,658,762
The Meadows Racetrack and Casino: $2,395,124
Presque Isle Downs: $1,891,056

Blackjack Strategy for Aces

Aces are the strongest cards in the game of blackjack. This is because of their ability to be counted as an 11 or a 1. That flexibility is what makes them the strongest card.

Not to mention the fact that they are essential to having a natural blackjack.

But Aces are also strong because of how they work with pairs.

I have discussed how, when dealt a pair of Aces, you need to split them. This is because it increases your blackjack odds because it increases your chances of making money.

But there is another house rule that further increases the flexibility of Aces. And in increase in flexibility further increases your blackjack odds.

Sometimes casinos will allow for players to resplit Aces. This means that you are dealt a pair of Aces in your first two cards, you split them, then at least one of those new hands receives another Ace forming a second pair of Aces.

A fair number of casinos will not allow players to resplit such a second hand, and you would be stuck with a soft 12.

However there are times when the house rules are changed a bit, and players are allowed to resplit Aces. This house rule takes 0.06% away from the house’s edge because it increases your chances of winning and decreases their chances of taking your money.

While 0.06% is not a huge hit to the house’s edge, some is better than none. Blackjack strategy is about increasing your chances of winning which increases your blackjack odds. So even though resplitting Aces is not a huge decrease it is still a decrease. On top of that a second pair of Aces is not a common happening which is another reason for the low hit to the house’s edge.

But it should still be worked into your blackjack strategy for the hit it does to the house’s edge.

Blackjack Strategy—the Little Extras

Every now and then when you are wandering around the casino floor of a brick and mortar casino somewhere you might notice some extra little blackjack house rules. Most players see addition house rules as a threat from the house: ‘Oh no! They are coming to take more of my money!’

Sure there are house rules that are aimed at taking your money faster. But they are often found in blackjack variations along with the side bets—which you should be staying away from, by the way.

What needs to be done when an out of the ordinary house rule is spotted is to check it out, see what it is and then think about whether it is to your benefit or theirs. If it is for theirs, keep walking. If it is for yours then sit down and play a few rounds.

One such rule is doubling down on three or more cards. It is not a common house rule, but every now and then it will pop up in casinos.

This house rules does not require a lot of thought as to whether it is good for you blackjack strategy or not.

In general, the double down play is in the player’s favor. For those players who do not do their blackjack strategy homework, doubling down at advantageous times will knock 1.6% off of the house edge. And that is only when you can double on your first two cards.

So logically it follows that if you can double on three or more cards that your opportunities to double down increase. So your odds of making more off the house increase because your opportunities increase.

Those extra opportunities to double down knock 0.2% off the house edge, which makes it a nice addition to your blackjack strategy. It does not knock as much off as a standard double down, but that is because there are not an excessive hands of three or more cards in which it is advantageous to double down on.

But I say that every little bit helps. Think about whether or not these extra house rules will help your blackjack strategy. If they do help, sit and play a few.

Gambling Addiction Signs

True to what I mentioned this morning, I will talk about gambling addiction.

While I honestly believe that the majority of gambling patrons can handle their money and their gambling responsibly, there are those who cannot, and it is important to be able to recognize if you or someone you know has a problem.

Financial Secrecy
When a person with a person has an addiction to gambling they will often become secretive about their finances. They will often insist on overseeing household finances by themselves, not because they feel that they can manage them better, but because it gives them direct access to money. They might also want to hide just how much money they have gambled.

Compulsive Gambling
Those with an addiction to gambling will often find it had to walk away when they have lost their allotted bankroll. Even though their gambling money is gone, they will often look for other sources of money. These could come in the form of credit cards, using money allotted for something else such as living expenses, or they could even steal it.

This need to find another source of money comes from the drive to win back the money they just lost. Winning back lost money is at the source of compulsive gambling. Addicted gamblers try to find more money to wager with to win back the money they already lost, and in the process lose that next batch of money.

Unnecessary Gambling
This happens when you do not have money to gamble but feel the urge to and do so anyway, finding money in the aforementioned sources. This is when gambling sits in an addicted player’s mind and is their constant companion. It builds into an urge that some addicts will fight while others do not, and it still leads to the casino or online casino.

If you notice these signs about you and your gambling habits, or if someone you know exhibits these signs, it is a good indicator that they have an addiction to gambling.

If you notice these signs about yourself, seek help. If you notice these signs in a friend or loved one, talk to them about their gambling, but be prepared to have your concern met harshly—addicts do not always like to admit that they have a problem.

However hard it is to admit that a person has a gambling addiction, it must be acknowledge so that help can be sought.

Blackjack Strategy: Card Counting Odds

Card counting has always had this glamorous image in the blackjack world. It is considered the crème de la crème of blackjack skills. It is also the blackjack skill that can allow the player to beat the house. But how much of an edge does this piece of blackjack strategy give a player?

You might be surprised.

A skilled card counter may only get a 1% edge over the house.

But when you think about it and compare it to other casino games, that 1% is not as little as it might sound. Blackjack already has the smallest house edge of all the casino games: 0.5% for the player who uses perfect basic strategy, and card counters certainly do use it.

Card counting is when a blackjack player uses a counting system to get an idea of what kinds of cards are left in the deck. If their counting system reveals that a good number of lower cards (2 through 6) have been played, it means that the remaining deck has more high cards (10 through Ace) left than low cards.

Because there are more high cards left, the chances of being dealt a strong hand or a natural blackjack are increased. This is when skilled card counters will begin to raise their bets.

But when their counting system reveals that a larger number of high cards have been played, leaving the remaining deck rich in low cards that favor the dealer, the player will then begin to decrease his bets.

It is having the idea of what the remaining deck is rich in that gives players that 1% edge on the house—if they can exploit it and not be caught by the casino staff. And the risk of being caught is why players must be skilled at card counting to include it.