While counting cards are not illegal in most locations, it’s certainly not welcomed by the house. There are very few locations where a player has an absolute right to play. In most casinos, a player can be ejected from a game (or even the premises) at the sole discretion of the house (they don’t need to have proof or state a reason) – and a player who is routinely ejected may end up on the infamous “blacklist” of players who are unwelcome in any casino. For that reason, a player who wants to count cards must be discreet. Card counting tips form part of the advanced blackjack strategy.
Blackjack Card Counting Tips
Naturally, someone blackjack card counting should not give any outward indication that he’s keeping track of the deck. Any mention of “counting,” or expressing that the deck is rich or poor in unfavourable cards, is unnecessary and should be avoided. Likewise, a player who keeps the count on his fingers or moves his lips as he counts the cards that are dealt will be identified quickly. You should practice, using a deck of cards or the card counter trainer on this site, until you can keep the count easily, without giving off any visible evidence.
It’s also useful to know the characteristics that will draw suspicion. Most casino personnel, from the dealer and pit boss to the surveillance personnel and house detectives who watch the play through cameras, look for certain characteristics that are peculiar to card counters:
Counters are stone-faced
It’s assumed that card counters will be entirely focused on the game, and are completely absorbed in thought—so they will not engage in idle banter with other players or even look away from the table, or engage in any of the leisurely behaviours of a typical player. With practice, you can keep the count without having to “tune out” everything else, noting the cards as each player makes his decisions and, at other times, acting the part of a typical player who chats with his table-mates, pauses to appraise the waitresses and passers-by, and seems, in general, to be happy at his leisure.
Counters always “bet up” when the deck is in their favour
It’s also assumed that a counter will increase his wager dramatically when the cards are in his favour, betting up to ten times as much. A casino may even use a computer to track the count in the surveillance room, and note which players seem to “bet up” only when the count is in their favour. To avoid suspicion, you may wish to pass on increasing your wager once in a while when the deck is in your favour. Also, using a money-management system that causes you to vary your bets will help provide some cover. A pit boss who’s been tipped on several occasions that a player has doubled and redoubled his bet will assume you’re always wagering according to a system and will be less attentive when your wager increases with the count. It may also help to give off the signs of a hunch player when dramatically increasing your bet, announcing that you feel lucky, or that it’s about time you won for a change when making a dramatic increase.
Counters switch tables when the deck goes cold
A common perception is that a counter will leave immediately when the deck turns against him, usually finding another table. For the short run, it may be the smart move—but unless you plan to leave the casino for another or play many brief sessions instead of a few average ones, it will decrease your playing time, hence profits, and draw unwanted attention. A better practice would be to sit out one hand or place a lower wager when the count is against you, losing small amounts for the sake of remaining in play and casting off suspicion.
Counters never tip
Since the advantage the counter gains is only a few percents, the small margin of winnings is dear to the counter, and it’s perceived that he will be unwilling to part with any of it. Not only is failing to tip suspicious, but it’s also quite rude to the dealer whose income depends on tips—and he certainly won’t be as hesitant to report any suspicious behaviour on your part. Simply put: always tip the dealer, and if you tip according to predictable patterns (when you win a blackjack or a doubled wager), the dealer will be more pleased than suspicious of your success at the table.
Counters avoid alcohol
Casinos lavish alcohol on their customers, figuring that the sloppy play of inebriated players will more than cover the cost of the drinks. Counters know this as well, and it is believed they must abstain completely from alcohol (ordering soft drinks if anything) to maintain their mental focus. To avoid suspicion, while still keeping your focus, accept the “free” drinks, but in moderation. You don’t need to go so far as becoming a habitual drinker to build your tolerance to alcohol (though that will certainly work) but know your limits. Since the average person metabolises one ounce of alcohol per hour, you can drink at about that rate (one per hour) without impairing your mental dexterity.
Counters are obsessive about their bankroll
Another pointless behaviour that’s common to counters is their obsession with their cheques: keeping them neatly stacked, stacking their income separately from their initial wager, having their bet ready even before the cards are collected. A single, sloppy mound of cheques will overcome this perception, as will cheques that are unevenly stacked (five $25 cheques per stack instead of four). Seeming to forget your wager—failing to put in for the next deal or pick up your winnings from the previous hand until reminded by the dealer—will also help to create the impression that you’re a leisure player.
Dealing with Ejection
No matter how careful you are not to give off signals, and how much effort you put into action like a leisure player, you will eventually be identified as a possible card counter, if only by the amount or regularity with which you win. When the time comes, it’s important to handle yourself appropriately:
If another player or the dealer suggests, you’re winning a bit too often, talk about luck—or better yet, some cockeyed playing or wagering system. If they mention card counting, deny it obliquely, as if the mere suggestion is absurd. Declaring that card counting “doesn’t work” or is “too hard” or is even “ridiculous” is an effective way to dissuade accusations. If they persist, sternly object to their accusation that you’re doing something “illegal.” Make it clear that you’re offended by the suggestion, but don’t be so dramatic as to cause a scene. Even if the player is joking around, the mere mention of card counting draws unwanted attention from the house.
If the suggestion comes from casino management—i.e., the pit boss—you should take it more seriously. Ask, outright, if they’re serious or joking around. If they indicate that they’re serious, leave. Don’t wait to be thrown out. It may be worthwhile to ask if it’s “OK with them” if you play craps or the slots or some other game for a while—so that you seem like a leisure player (who wants to gamble, regardless of the game).
Some objection is prudent, as any player who is unjustly accused would be offended, but it is important to exit the game discreetly so that you’re not remembered. Chances are you can return to playing blackjack at the same casino after the shift change. If you cause a stir, you will be remembered, and you may find yourself unwelcome at all in that casino. Worst case scenario, you could be added to their blacklist, permanently banned from playing any game in that house or any with which they share their information.