Lesson 12 – Casino Playing Tactics

This free course on blackjack and card counting was created by the GameMaster, publisher of the GameMaster Online website. It is reproduced here in its entirety with permission of the author. His 24-lesson course is an excellent introduction to winning blackjack.

To start at the beginning, visit the Welcome page.

What Are Casino Playing Tactics?

It’s a sad fact of life that casino personnel, especially floor supervisors and pit bosses do not like card counters playing at their Blackjack games. They know the game can be beaten by a skilled player, so depending upon how deep their paranoia runs, their reaction to a player who wins and is suspected of being a counter may vary from close scrutiny (‘heat’) to outright barring of that player. Consequently, a skillful player must hide his or her abilities and appear as just another ‘loser’ while winning at the game. Proper casino playing tactics help to disguise your skills, thus allowing you to continue to play.

A Casino ‘Profile’ of a Counter

Casino supervisors believe they have card counters profiled and can spot them by their actions. While the list is long, here are some of their prejudices:

  1. Card counters are usually young, white males (probably with beards) who dress too casually for the amount of money they throw around.
  2. Card counters ‘scout’ the tables in a pit, looking for a good count before sitting down.
  3. A counter will change $200-300 into chips but then only bet $5 or $10 on the first hand.
  4. Counters don’t talk to anyone; they stare at the discard tray and rescan the table, checking on the count.
  5. Counters don’t smoke or drink alcohol.
  6. A counter thinks a while before placing his bet.
  7. A counter doesn’t hesitate before playing a ‘stiff’ hand.
  8. A counter never takes insurance with a minimum bet out, but does take insurance when a big bet is out, regardless of his hand.
  9. A counter varies his bet beyond a ‘parlay’.
  10. Counters don’t tip the dealers.
  11. A counter pulls back a big bet and lowers it on a ‘push’ or when the shoe ends.
  12. A counter always makes a minimum bet on the first hand of a newly-shuffled shoe.

Card Counter Camouflage

To make money at Blackjack, you must maintain your welcome at the casinos. But even though you may feel that there’s a big red ‘C’ on your forehead the first few times that you play as a counter, it really isn’t there and if you avoid a few of the ‘newbie’ mistakes, the casino supervisors probably won’t pay any attention to you at all.

If you are playing for high stakes, you’ll be noticed whether you win OR lose; high-stakes players are always noticed. But, if you are starting with the $5 to $60 spread which I recommend, you probably won’t be noticed at all. How often you play at a particular casino has a lot to do with this. Remember that most casinos have at least two shifts, so try to spread your play around between casinos and shifts. AVOID PLAYING FROM ONE SHIFT TO ANOTHER. Keep your sessions fairly short and it will take them a long time to even begin to figure out what you’re doing.

The real key to fooling the casino personnel is to appear as though you are just another gambler. Here are some techniques which I use.

  1. Dress appropriately for your betting level. A ‘high-roller’ should look like a prosperous person not, as one author put it, “like an out-of-work substitute school teacher.” If you go to a local casino on the day shift during the week, dress like a business person who’s playing hooky from the office. Do NOT dress like a tourist (a very effective disguise) if they are going to see you again next week.
  2. When you enter a casino, walk directly to a table where the dealer is shuffling and sit down. Talk to the dealer, or at least say “hi”.
  3. If you are playing a $5 minimum bet, buy in for less than $100, but more than $40. Do not use terms like ‘red’ or ‘green’; ‘nickels’ or ‘quarters’. Call the chips $5 or $25 chips.
  4. Do not order anything from the cocktail servers; they are too slow and waiting for a drink may cause you to play at a negative deck while you’re waiting. Instead, order non-alcoholic drinks at the bar (O’Doul’s, orange juice, anything with a lime) and carry it around with you.
  5. Try to always have a bet in your betting circle. Remember, only counters think about how much to bet; gamblers just put something out there. If you busted your hand or got a Blackjack, place your next bet as the dealer is playing his hand. With practice, your bet will be the correct amount, but it won’t appear as though you had to think a lot about how much to put out.
  6. Gamblers NEVER leave a table after a win. If the count has dropped below -1, continue playing at the minimum bet until you lose a hand.
  7. Hesitate before hitting a ‘stiff’ hand. Talking to the cards helps.
  8. Occasionally, insure your Blackjack against the dealer’s Ace when you have the minimum bet out. Do not ask for ‘even money’; go through the motions like you don’t know how it all works. This will also make the dealer slow down on her insurance calls in the future which will give you extra time to calculate the true count. It’s best to do this ‘minimum’ insurance bet when a floor supervisor is looking.
  9. If you are going to tip the dealer (something which you should do sparingly), wait until the count is high and you have a big bet out. Placing a bet for the dealer at that time will make it look like you want her to help you win.
  10. Once or twice in each session, start off a new shoe with a bet of 2 or 3 times the minimum.
  11. Do not vary from proper basic strategy as a form of camouflage; most casino personnel wouldn’t know good play anyway. In fact, perfect basic strategy players look like idiots — hitting a 12 against a 2 or 3 or doubling an A-7 against a 4 is nuts! (To them.)
  12. Do not talk to others at the table about your abilities; do not help others to play their hands properly. Never admit that you’ve understood a book about Blackjack. Do not appear confident, but don’t act like a loser when you’re obviously winning — gamblers love to win!
  13. I can’t bring myself to wear one, but a ‘fanny pack’ has got to be one of the most disarming items a counter can wear. With that and a pair of glasses on, damn few supervisors will ever think you’re this cold-blooded, card counting, steely-eyed destroyer of casinos. But I guess if my usual act ever starts to wear thin, I’ll get one and put it on. I’d rather be rich than cool.

Homework

Here are the answers for last week’s assignment.

Calculate the casino’s starting advantage for the following games:

  • Single deck, double only 10 or 11, dealer hits A-6. Answer: .33%
  • Six decks, double on any first two cards, dealer stands on A-6, resplit pairs, incl. Aces, double after split allowed. Answer: .33%
  • Two decks, double on any first two cards, no resplit of pairs, no double after split, dealer stands on A-6, late surrender. Answer: .30% (I didn’t specify if the dealer stands or hits on A-6; this figure is for a game where s/he stands.)
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14 comments on “Lesson 12 – Casino Playing Tactics

  • Ben said:

    Reading all of this right now and I must ask 2 questions:

    1. This one seems obvious for me but either way: Gambling with these odds and this little money seems to be a waste of time compared to just working. But for me if I go to a Casino I want to play with the best odds at least and have some influence over the game so yeah.
    So the question: Is it even worth it in your opinion to invest months of time learning and playing BlackJack for that amount of money? (If it really just is the money you want)

    2. The more important question for me: I haven’t found a table with <$10 yet and am not playing with more than $100
    I know that's not a lot but that's what I can (easily) spare for gambling.
    At the live dealer machine the minimum would be $5 but no way to count right? also the game can be predetermined beforehand. So machine isn't worth it right?

    So how would you advice me to handle my moneymanagement as playing with a minimum of $10 would bring me to bets I couldn't even do if it were 6 or higher TC.

    Also: The dealers shuffle the decks again after using 1/2-1 deck.

    Taking your advice I'm not fit to play the game at all under these conditions if I understand everything correctly.

    But honestly I cannot imagine that everybody reading this has a payroll high enough to be able to easily spend $3000 (which you should be willing to if you start this game seriously if I understand this article correctly (or at least something in the area of $1000)).

    Also I cannot imagine that most Casinos wouldn't reshuffle after the approximate amount of cards for 1 deck is played.
    (At least I haven't seen it happen).

    Sidequestion: How do I know how many decks are played, asking the dealer would be suspicious right?

    I'd be happy for any advice on this!
    As far as I'm concerned I'll stick to play basic strategy and try to see it as entertainment since I do not see me winning (or winning enough) in the long run. But for the sake of optimising my play I'd still like to hear your advice 🙂

    Thanks!

  • george said:

    After training the lessons I just started to play my first real session in the casino. Played for about 1:30 hour. (I tried to keep it under an hour but lost track of time.)
    I noticed that as I started winning the pit boss changed the decks and asked the croupier to shuffle manually instead than the machine. When shuffling he checked the cards.
    I started small (changed 50 and the minimum was 2.5 and used max bet 30). I was worried the pit boss started suspecting already so played about 15 minutes more and left after losing a hand. I tried to follow all the advice in the lesson. I actually left with about 130 (which in the exchange rate in my country is not so little). The bad side is the casino requires id for a card you need to use for buying or changing chips so they know who I am. Should I worry? What’s would you recommend? Is there any particular book that may talk about the subject in more length?

    Another question I want to buy your strategy cards but as I am not in the USA I usually big digital books are you planning to sell them in digital format in the future?
    Thank you for this great website

    • If he suspected counting, the first tactic would usually be decreasing the penetration. The fact that he wanted to check the cards (and that’s likely why he switched to hand shuffle for a while) indicates that he was perhaps concerned about the cards being marked. He could have been looking for subtle physical damage or visible ink spots that an unscrupulous player could impart while playing.
      I would not worry much at this point, and would just stay aware of whatever attention you are getting. In many small casinos, the pit has very little else to do, so they’re almost guaranteed to watch your play closely. You asked about a book… At low bet limits, I think spending money on camouflage is too expensive. If you are still interested, a good book on the topic is Ian Anderson’s Burning the Tables in Las Vegas.

      Lastly, sorry, but I have no plans for a digital version of the strategy cards at this time.

  • Gay Card Counter said:

    I have been counting for about three years now using this course and made about 13K. Unfortunately, I have been banned from four casinos. Admittedly, I am constantly helping others and more or less always make the minimum bet . . . no fanny-pack, either.

  • Stephen H said:

    I’ve started playing at several casinos in my area and they all have ‘Rewards memberships’. It seems to me I do not want to join them as that would make it easier for them to track my play. On the other hand every time I sit down to play they ask if I am a member and my answer of no may make me stand out as a possible counter. What do you think?
    Thanks in advance
    Steve

    • There is no one right answer to this question. For most low stakes counters, the free rooms and meals are a big part of the total return from the game. But yes, tracking is a dangerous thing. One reasonable approach is to earn and use the comps at one casino, where you hand in your card every time but play only a breakeven game with a lower spread and more cover. At the other places, play anonymously and more aggressively.

      Fortunately, although it seems like a huge deal when you decline handing in your card, it’s not as uncommon as you think. If you must have a reason, I like the excuse that “I’m not even supposed to be here as far as my wife/girlfriend knows”. But don’t feel compelled to justify everything you do. That is more suspicious than just being quiet in almost every case. In general, just act like it’s not a big deal and say “No thanks”.

  • Michael said:

    Hey Ken, hey all,

    Just wondered what your thoughts were on the following:

    Say you are playing 6 deck Blackjack and card counting. Your betting spread is £10 to £60, and the minimum is £10. Over a few hands, the true count steady rises to 6 or 7, at which point you start betting £60. Then, in one hand, the count drops to 0, but you win the hand.

    Are you meant to reduce your bet from £60 to £10? If so, doesn’t that look a little suspicious?

    Just wondered what your thoughts were.

    Cheers,
    Mike

    • In a 6 deck game using that small a spread, you really need every edge you can get whether it looks suspicious or not. Drop to the minimum immediately in that case. If you were spreading more aggressively and at higher amounts, you might consider being more discreet. But for your specific question, you can’t afford the cover cost.

      • Michael replied:

        Hey Ken,

        That’s interesting because I thought that was the spread you recommended! I simply used betting unit = £10, and bet true count * betting unit.

        Do I have this wrong, or are you just saying that I just won’t make very much with a betting unit as low as £10?

        Cheers,
        Mike

        • See Lesson 8 for what spreads are recommended for the different games. The GameMaster’s advice for 4+ decks is this: “A game with four decks or more will require a spread of 1 to 12 in order to get an edge.” Your 1 to 6 spread is fine for a two-deck game, but it’s not going to be strong enough to beat the 6 deck game.

          • Michael replied:

            Thanks Ken, must have misread the advice.

            I’d better find a place with a £5 minimum or save up another £3k then!

          • Michael replied:

            So going back to my original question, how often do you stick to your betting schedule? If the count is 6 and I bet £120, I win and now the count is 0, is it better to leave the table than to bet £10?

            • Fortunately that kind of plummeting true count doesn’t happen often in 6 deck games, so it doesn’t come up that often. (For example, in the middle of a shoe with 3 decks left, the running count would need to drop 18 points in one hand.) Less extreme drops happen all the time of course. I tend to just drop my bet anyway, regardless of whether I won the last hand. If you feel compelled to leave a bigger bet out for cover reasons, I would try to do so only occasionally, mixing it up.

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