Here’s a post I’ve been dreading to write–the one about blackjack cheating. I don’t like cheaters, and the casinos hate them even worse than I do. Depending where you’re playing, cheating at any kind of gambling is a crime. (In Nevada, it’s a felony.)
But people like to read about blackjack cheating, and my job is to entertain and educate. I’ve tried to put everything you might ever want or need to know about blackjack cheating in this one post. But if I’ve left something out, please leave a note in the comments.
1- Counting cards doesn’t count as cheating.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to define cheating as something you’ve done that affects the normal outcome of the game. For example, if you modify the equipment or find a way to get information that’s not available to the other players, you’re cheating.
Marking the cards is cheating. Changing the size of your bet after the outcome is determined is cheating. Bribing the dealer to give you signals regarding her hole card is cheating.
All these activities give you an unfair advantage that’s unavailable to the other players.
Counting cards, on the other hand, doesn’t change the circumstances of the game. You don’t have any information that isn’t available to the other players at the table. You’re just thinking about what you’re seeing during the game and acting accordingly.
Casinos take action against card counters, yes. They’ll usually ask you to stick with their other games. If they’re especially mad at you, they’ll ban you from their casino altogether.
But they can’t take any legal action, because you haven’t broken any laws.
There’s one exception for card counters. If you’re using some kind of hidden computer to keep up with the cards that have been dealt, you’re cheating, and that’s illegal.
Let’s think about card counting for a minute, too. How does it work?
Blackjack pays off at 3 to 2 if you get a natural (or blackjack). That’s a 2-card hand that totals 21. Such a hand has to have to specific cards–one worth 11 and one worth 10. The only card in the deck worth 11 is the ace. There are 16 cards worth 10–the 10, jack, queen, and king.
Here’s something else to think about:
The composition of the deck of cards changes as the cards are dealt. If all the aces have been dealt, your probability of getting a blackjack has dropped to 0.
On the other hand, if a lot of low cards have been dealt, and a lot of 10s and aces are still in the deck, your probability of getting a blackjack goes up correspondingly.
Rather than memorizing which cards have been played, card counters just keep a running count of low cards versus high cards that have been dealt.
The most basic system for counting cards is to add 1 to the count every time you see a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6. You subtract 1 from the count every time you see an ace or a 10.
When the count is positive, you raise the size of your bets. You want to get more money into action when you have the opportunity to get that big 3 to 2 payout.
The higher the count, the more you bet.
When the count is 0 or negative, you lower the size of your bets. You don’t want to put a lot of money into action when the casino has the edge.
Subterfuge is important for card counters, too. Even though it’s legal, the casinos don’t want to let you play if you’re “too skilled” at this game.
I suggest keeping your playing sessions short, an hour or less. Also, try not to spend all your time playing at the same casino. Switch from casino to casino.
Finally, play at different times of the day. You don’t want to be recognized as a regular. The goal is to avoid getting caught.
I encourage you to learn how to count cards. It will scratch that itch of getting an unfair advantage over the casino. But it’s also completely moral and legal.
2- Cheating is a BAD idea.
Actual cheating is a bad idea, though. I don’t think modern casinos in major casino destinations do this any more, but there was a time when cheating in the casino meant getting your arm broken (or worse). Organized crime might or might not still be involved in today’s casino industry, but I think the security team at a casino might be less than careful with you when it’s time to detain you.
Being arrested and convicted of cheating in a casino can follow you for the rest of your life. It’s usually a felony in Nevada. Getting jobs with a felony on your record can be a trial. Also, if you’re a convicted felon, you lose your right to vote and your right to carry a firearm.
Most importantly, jail time take something away from you that you can never get back–time.
All of us are only here temporarily. We don’t know how much time we have, but we do know that time is limited. Why waste any of it serving time in prison for cheating at a game?
Most cheaters don’t make enough money to make it worth their while to cheat. I want to discourage you from cheating, too.
3- One common way to cheat at blackjack is to mark the cards.
Unless you have a confederate working for the casino, it’s impossible to mark the cards in a blackjack game being dealt from a shoe. You’re not allowed to touch the cards. If you can’t touch ’em, you sure can’t mark ’em.
Most methods of marking cards won’t work in a casino setting. Card cheats often buy marked decks at the local magician shop. That does you no good if you’re playing in a casino, because they use their own cards. It’s unlikely that you’d be able to switch your deck of marked cards for their cards. (Unlikely? Try impossible.)
Marking cards is often done with water, too. If you leave a drop of water on the back of a playing card for a few minutes, then wipe it off, that spot will become visibly dull. Even if you could get a drop of water on a card at a handheld blackjack game, it wouldn’t be in play long enough to create a noticeable mark.
There are also devices which mark cards for you. They’re too big to use in a casino setting, and even if they were small enough, it would be tricky to use it without being spotted.
Really, the only way to mark cards in a modern casino with blackjack is via sleight of hand. You have to be able to crimp the card in some way without looking like you’re crimping it. That’s the crucial part.
One of the nice things about the gambler’s crimp is that it doesn’t permanently damage the card. It’s a temporary mark.
If you can get any idea of what the dealer’s hole card is, by marking some of the cards, you can get a little bit of an edge. That’s what getting an advantage at casino games is all about, anyway–finding and exploiting small edges.
If you’re going to try this–and I recommend you DON’T–practice thoroughly for a long time to make sure you can pull it off without being noticed. I’d bet on the casino’s security over most of my readers, any day. I don’t mean that in a bad way–I have a lot of respect for my readers.
I just don’t want any of them to overestimate how easy it is to mark cards in a blackjack situation. Or underestimate how easy it is to spot a would-be sleight of hand artist who’s hoping to get an advantage this way.
4- Colluding with the dealer is one way to cheat, but it’s riskier than you think.
If you can befriend a dealer, or even find a confederate who’s willing to go to dealer school, you can theoretically get an edge at the table by putting together some kind of system for the dealer to signal you about his hole card.
If you have an idea of the dealer’s hole card, the advantage is obvious.
The problem with this tactic is that the casino security team watches the blackjack tables closely. They might not notice the signals, especially if they’re verbal signals in code.
But they will notice bizarre deviations from basic strategy.
The pit bosses and security teams are canny enough to bide their time and watch for these patterns. Once they feel like they have enough data, they’ll fire your friend the dealer. They might even prosecute.
Another dead giveaway for collusion?
Having the same player at your table repeatedly–especially one that’s making weird deviations from standard strategic play.
5- Sleight of hand is another popular blackjack cheating method.
Sleight of hand includes activities like palming and switching cards. At some tables, you’re allowed to play multiple hands of blackjack at the same time. If you could, without being detected, switch cards from one hand to the other, you could get an obvious edge over the casino.
Here’s an example of how that might work:
You’re playing 2 hands. In one hand, you get an ace and a 8. In the other hand, you get a 10 and and an 8.
You switch the 10 for the 8. Now you have a blackjack in one of your hands, which gives you a 3 to 2 payoff.
You also have a pair of 8s in your other hand, which is a great hand for splitting.
There was nothing wrong with your 1st 2 starting hands in this example, but you can see how your new situation had improved.
Of course, this is a classic cheating move, and the casinos are watching for it.
Some casinos even allow you to switch cards from one hand to the other with a game called Blackjack Switch. But since it’s part of the game, it’s not cheating. The casino also makes other adjustments to the game’s rules to compensate for that advantage.
The house edge is still excellent, on a par with other blackjack games, but you also need to memorize the right strategies for when to switch cards. Also, if the casino has an advantage, no matter how small, you’ll eventually lose in the long run.
6- Past posting is another way to cheat at blackjack.
Past posting isn’t exclusive to blackjack. It’s also common at the roulette table. At least, as common as cheating can be in the hyper-vigilant casino environment that’s become so common now.
Past posting means you change the amount you’ve bet after the outcome has been determined. To pull this off, you have to be supernaturally quick and a master of sleight of hand. Even so, you’re liable to get caught.
Don’t forget that not only do you have to fool the dealer and the pit boss. You have to fool the camera above the gaming area–the eye in the sky.
7- Seriously, please don’t cheat at blackjack.
Unless you want to broaden the definition of cheating at blackjack to include activities like card counting and hole carding, I recommend staying away from cheating at blackjack. There’s not enough of an upside to warrant the great amount of risk involved.
Even good cheaters are probably going to be limited to earning $100/hour at the blackjack table.
Do you really want to risk jail or worse for such a small amount of money?
If you were hoping for a how-to guide about blackjack cheating, this posts probably disappointed you. I’m okay with that.
I think I’d be remiss in my duties as a blogger to advise you how to cheat at blackjack without explaining both the pros and cons of cheating. The risks are too great for cheating to be a good idea.
If you are going to cheat at blackjack, especially in Las Vegas, I’d suggest having a big bankroll with some money set aside for bail bondsmen and attorney fees. You’ll almost certainly get caught.
Then you’ll face legal action, and you’ll need all the help you can get.