Posts Tagged ‘counting cards’

IN Supreme Court rules against card counters

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

You probably remember the case from 2006 when the Grand Victoria Casino banned Thomas Donovan because he was caught counting cards. Donovan took the case to court, suing over what he said was discrimination against players practicing a legal strategy. Eventually the case made its way to the Indiana state Supreme Court. Last week, that court made a ruling in the case that favors the state’s casinos.

Last week, in a 3-1 ruling with one justice abstaining from the case, the Indiana Supreme Court upheld a casino’s right to ban card counters from its blackjack tables. As the casino’s supporters – and even me – pointed out, businesses have a common-law right to exclude customers who they feel are detrimental to their business. The Court agreed with that assessment, stating that as long as civil rights are not violated, business (including casinos) have the right to refuse service whenever they deem it necessary.

Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr. wrote that the right of exclusion for “private property owners” includes any casino “that wishes to exclude a patron for employing strategies designed to give the patron a statistical advantage over the casino.”

Not everyone agreed, though. The lone dissenting vote was by Justice Brent Dickson. He feels that casinos, because they’re so highly regulated by the government, do not have the same rights and privileges as other private businesses. In essence, he argues that casinos should have to follow the rules of government or government-sponsored enterprises, which requires them to serve the “general public.”

In Dickson’s dissenting vote, he wrote that allowing a casino to “restrict its patrons only to those customers who lack the skill and ability to play such games well intrudes upon the principles of fair and equal competition and provides unfair financial advantages” to the casinos.

Though the ruling has no direct impact on anyone outside of Indiana, it carries a message that I have been preaching to all blackjack players for some time: If you’re going to count cards, don’t get caught! The casinos frown upon it and will likely ban you. In the state of Indiana, that practice of banning has been upheld as constitutional. Meanwhile, adhering to blackjack basic strategy does not have to be a secret. You can even hold a strategy card while you play if you want.

Card Counting Basics

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

As I said on Monday, I am not an advocate of card counting. Though it is legal, it is frowned upon in casinos and can get you in a lot of trouble, including being banned from the chain. Not only that, but it is impossible to count cards when playing online blackjack. However, for those who want to know about the technique, I have decided to share a little about it.

Card counting is based on the fact that high cards are better for the player than the dealer, due to house rules such as blackjack paying out 3:2. For that reason, a card counter will increase the bet when he determines that a deck is rich in tens. But how do you count the cards?

First of all, there are single-level counting systems and multi-level card counting systems. The single-level system is the simplest and easiest to learn. In this system, every card gets a value of +1 or -1. In this system, high cards are given a value of -1 and low cards are given a +1 value. When the count gets high, that means there are still a lot of high cards remaining, in which case it is wise to increase the bet.

Multi-level card counting systems are a little trickier and take more time to learn. In these card counting systems, instead of having only two values – low and high – you rank the cards by how low and high they are. Many multi-level counting systems will assign values of +1, +2, +3,-1, -2 and -3 to the cards. These card counting systems are more accurate but are much more difficult to do. Also, these systems are more difficult to do covertly and remember that you don’t want to get caught counting cards.

Card counting systems can also be balanced or unbalanced. In a balanced card counting system, the starting total is always zero. In a 52-card deck, there would be 26 positive cards and 26 negative cards that cancel them out. If it’s a single-level system, for example, that means there are 26 cards with a +1 value and 26 with a -1.

Unbalanced card counting systems do not have all of the points add up to zero. Instead, the count starts with a number that is determined by accounting for the number of decks in the game and now far into the deck the dealer is.

There is, of course, much more to learn when it comes to blackjack card counting. I might cover it in more detail in the future, but now you have the basics. Remember that even if you wanted to count cards at an online casino, it won’t work. The computer programs and lack of a real deck make card counting techniques worthless when playing online blackjack. Instead, you should simply stick to basic strategy.

Blackjack Card Counting

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

Okay, I have put off writing about card counting for this long, for a variety of reasons. The most obvious reason is that this website is primarily geared toward online blackjack and card counting does not work online. However, I have covered other topics that are applicable only to blackjack games played in a brick and mortar casino.

Other reasons I have put off writing about card counting is that if you do it wrong, you could lose a lot of money. People often increase their bets when they think the count is in their favor and then get cleaned out because they were counting cards wrong, had the wrong number of decks, or made some other sort of mistake. For that reason, before using it in a casino – if you do it at all – then you should make sure you know what you’re doing.

The other major reason I do not advocate card counting is that casinos frown upon it. It is true that card counting is not cheating and it is not against the law. However, if a casino catches you counting cards, you will be removed from the premises and possibly banned. There are current court battles over whether or not that practice by the casinos is legal. Rest assured, though, that you do not want to get caught counting cards. For that reason, I do not advocate that strategy and instead say to use blackjack basic strategy, which reduces the house edge to a miniscule 0.5%.

Having said that, though, I know that a lot of the blackjack players who visit websites such as this one want to know about card counting, either to simply further their knowledge or so they can try it for themselves. For that reason, I have decided to cover the basics for card counting and will write a series on the subject this week. Here is some basic information just to give you a little background. Again, remember that card counting does not work in online blackjack.

The idea behind card counting is the fact that a deck that is rich in tens is beneficial for the player. Because of rules like splitting, doubling and the 3:2 payout for a natural blackjack, 10-value cards help the player more than the dealer. Therefore, when counting cards you are attempting to discern how many tens remain in play. If the deck is rich in tens then you would increase your bet but if it is low in tens you would be more conservative.

Rain Man introduced most of the world to card counting and in doing so, it perpetuated a myth about the strategy. That myth is the idea that you have to be either a mathematical genius or a savant to be a card counter. That is not true. In fact, if you can count to one, you are capable of card counting. The simplest form of card counting is a high-low count, where each card that is dealt is given either a value of +1 or -1 . You then either add or subtract one from the count whenever a card is dealt and raise or lower your bet depending on how high or low that count is.

That doesn’t sound too tough, does it? That’s because it’s not. Certainly card counting is more complex than counting to one and there are many different types of card counting techniques, though. I will cover the subject in more depth throughout the week.

Shuffle Tracking Online

Monday, April 26th, 2010

A lot of blackjack players use shuffle tracking in addition to card counting in order to gain an advantage when playing at a brick and mortar casino. Shuffle trackers look for slugs, which are an unshuffled group of cards, tack them throughout the deck, and alter their bets when the dealer gets to those slugs, since they will know what cards are coming.

However, neither card counting nor shuffle tracking works when playing online blackjack. The reason for that is simple: There is no real deck. Sometimes the online blackjack games will show a deck on screen and other times they won’t and you will only see the cards in play. Even if you see a deck on screen, though, it’s impossible to track cards in the deck because the deck you see is only a representation and not a real deck. Also, the cards that are dealt are randomized by a computer program called a random number generator rather than an actual shuffle.

The random number generator can be set different ways. Sometimes it has the effect of shuffling a deck every few hands and sometimes after every hand. Sometimes the online casinos tell you when the deck is being shuffled while other times they don’t. Whatever the case, counting cards and shuffle tracking are impossible when playing online blackjack.

In fact, no strategy that players have devised to gain an advantage at blackjack will work at an online casino. All of the techniques are thwarted by the technology. Instead, the best you can do is play with perfect basic strategy and lower the house edge to 0.5%.

Indiana Supreme Court to Hear Card Counting Case

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Remember Thomas Donovan? Last year we reported on his efforts to challenge casinos’ policy of banning card counters. In 2006, he was banned from the Grand Victoria casino in Indiana for counting cards, which is a fairly common practice for casinos. Even though counting cards isn’t illegal, the casinos really don’t like it. Donovan admits that he’s a card counter but says that the casino has no right to ban him for doing something that is legal.

Donovan then filed a lawsuit against the casino in a Marion County court. That court ruled in favor of the casino. Then in October of 2009, Donovan filed an appeal in the Indiana Court of Appeals, saying that his ban is unlawful. In November, the Court of Appeals upheld Donovan’s appeal, stating that the casino had no right to ban him for counting cards. The casino then responded, as you might expect, by appealing the appellate court’s decision. They filed an appeal with the Indiana Supreme Court, which is set to hear the case tomorrow.

This is an interesting case and its outcome will send reverberations across the blackjack community. Do casinos have the right to ban people for counting cards if they are not breaking the law? Both sides admittedly seem to have a good argument, so let’s look at both sides.

Donovan points out that counting cards is not illegal in the state of Indiana (which is true) and that neither the state nor that casino has any rules against counting cards while playing blackjack (which may be true; more on that later). In essence, he is arguing that the casino banned him because he was winning, which he says is not a lawful reason for the ban.

The casino points out that they are a privately-run business and therefore they have the right to refuse service to anyone for any reason. That is somewhat true.  I don’t know a whole lot about Indiana’s laws on the subject, but I do know about the federal laws on this matter. The Civil Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate against certain protected groups. Specifically, it guarantees “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”

Clearly, card counters do not fall into any of those protected groups. Courts have generally ruled that a business refusing service is legal if they had a specific interest in refusing that service, but it is unlawful if it is random or arbitrary. For instance, courts have ruled that businesses can refuse service to people who are not in the proper attire, who are unruly or are intoxicated, for example, because banning them could be beneficial to the business. Someone who does not follow the dress code detracts from the atmosphere of the establishment, someone who is unruly can make other customers decide to leave, and intoxicated people can cause all sorts of problems. Therefore, in those examples, those bans are not arbitrary, because the business has a vested interest in refusing their service.

So the question seems to be whether or not the casino has a specific reason for wanting to refuse service to card counters. The answer seems to be yes, because card counters cost them more money than non-counters. But is the fact that a person is costing the business money a legal reason to refuse their service? Courts have ruled that buffet-style restaurants can refuse service to customers who eat too much or waste food. It seems that the casino’s ban on card counters could be an extension of that same principle. So in this way it seems like the law is on the side of the casino.

Or is it? There is another argument in play here and that is that casinos aren’t the same as other private businesses. They are heavily taxed, regulated and supervised by the state. Some argue that because of that, they should be treated more like government-run businesses, which have fewer rights regarding the ability to refuse service. However, though they are taxed and regulated by the government, the casinos in Indiana are not subsidized by the government. They give money to the government, like any other business, but do not take any. Still, because of the heavy state regulation, the courts could choose to see the casinos as only partially private businesses. If they are seen as a public enterprise, then the rules regarding rights to refuse service are different.

I don’t know which side of the argument the state Supreme Court will favor, but they are expected to make a decision later this week. Legal arguments aside, wouldn’t it be nice to use common sense? Blackjack is a game of skill, so if the casinos are willing to offer that game, shouldn’t they accept that some players will be more skilled than others?

And that brings me back to something else that could impact the entire blackjack community. Donovan says that the casino has no rules against counting cards, but what if they did? Putting aside the above “public enterprise” argument for a moment, casinos are private businesses that can make up their own rules, as long as those rules don’t conflict with any existing laws. If you enter a business you have to obey their rules or the business has every right to refuse service to you. Therfore, if the casinos simply came out and clearly stated that, though there is no law against it, they do not allow card counting, couldn’t they legally ban anyone who does it? It seems like it to me, but then again, I majored in psychology, not law.

Blackjack Mistakes: Counting Cards Online

Monday, March 8th, 2010

As time goes on, the technology advances exponentially. Some people adapt to these advances quickly, while others are left behind. I still buy CDs and am happy to do so (for one thing, they sound better), but a lot of the kids download all of their music today. On occasion, they even pay for those songs!

Casino gambling is another thing that has changed over time. It’s most evident in electronic games like the slot machines and video poker. However, even the game of blackjack, which in its standard table version is virtually unchanged from its original version, has adapted over time. Thanks to the internet, many people now play their blackjack online, which is great because it’s convenient and cheaper than visiting a brick and mortar casino. However, you can get into trouble if you are a card counter and try to apply the same techniques online.

It’s common for experienced blackjack players to try to count cards when they first start playing online blackjack. After a while, the smartest players figure out on their own that it isn’t working. To save those players some time and to clue in some players who might not have figured it out, let me tell you a secret. This is so important that the sentence gets its own paragraph:

Counting cards does not work for online blackjack.

Notice that the above is an absolute, definitive statement. There is no “usually,” “sometimes” or “maybe.” It will never work. Why? Because the outcome of drawing a card is not dependent on the shuffling of a deck of cards. It is dependent on a random number generator.

A random number generator (RNG) is a computer program that uses a complex algorithm to select a sequence of numbers hundreds of times every second. Depending on when you hit a button to take a card or when the computerized “dealer” takes a card, the RNG selects what card it will be. Unlike in casino blackjack, the outcome of that card is totally random and completely independent of every other card that is dealt.

Once a card is dealt, the RNG goes back to work and selects the next card. It does not take into account the last card that was dealt or the card before that. Therefore, in essence it’s the same as re-shuffling the deck after each card is dealt. It doesn’t matter whether you prefer a Hi Lo Count, a KO Count, shuffle-tracking or whatever. There is no card counting strategy in existence that can predict the outcome in online blackjack. You can never tell when the deck is rich in tens because it is never rich in tens and, strictly speaking, there isn’t really a deck at all.

The good news, however, is that blackjack basic strategy works just as well online as in brick and mortar casinos. So memorize your basic strategy, forget about card counting, and have some fun online.

Cheating in Blackjack

Thursday, February 25th, 2010

I recently read an article online about the training of special agents in casinos who are tasked with identifying cheaters. The methodology in their training was very interesting, but my mind kept going back to the basic questions of why do people cheat and is it immoral to cheat?

Both questions are so intertwined that it’s impossible to fully discuss one without the other. First of all, I’ll point out that counting cards is not cheating if you do so using nothing but your mind. Using any sort of outside help, which can range from a digital counter to a rubber band, is cheating.

So why do some people cheat at blackjack and other casino games? First, let’s concede the fact that most people think of themselves as good people. Short of someone with a severe mental disorder, such as antisocial personality disorder, it’s virtually impossible to continue doing bad things, realize that they are bad, know that it makes you a bad person, and be okay with it.

People are not okay with thinking they’re a bad person. A person’s self-concept is formed at an early age and with the exception of extreme circumstances of abuse, as children we come to think of ourselves as good people. Doing bad things contradicts that positive self-image, forming cognitive dissonance, which is when someone holds onto two contradictory ideas simultaneously. One of the ways of resolving that dissonance is by rationalizing the bad behavior.

Yes, I had an affair, but my husband is never home and doesn’t love me anymore. Yes, I spent too much money on this house, but it’s an investment for the future. I would never abuse a child, but it’s the only way to keep him in line.

People invent justifications for their bad behavior that allow them to think of that behavior as okay. This allows them to see what they did not as something bad, but as something that was necessary or acceptable due to the circumstances. In this form of rationalization, they no longer see the bad behavior as being bad. In blackjack, it can take an “ends justifies the means” form, where the player is hurting for money and has bills that they can’t pay. They rationalize that I am only cheating because I need the money. I would never do it just to have extra money to spend on trivial things, but I have a family to support. That rationalization makes cheating not seem bad because not being able to support the family would be worse.

People also rationalize by comparing themselves to others with whom they match up favorably. This is done all of the time in the constructing and reinforcement of our self-image as a good person. We see ourselves as being good by recognizing that we are “better” than people we consider to be bad. After being accused of stealing, football player Peter Warrick protected his self-image by saying “it’s not like I shot the president.” Sure, being a thief is bad, but not as bad as being a murderer. People rationalize buying an expensive TV that they can’t afford by pointing out the average debt of American households. Sure, I might have spent too much, but not compared to those other people! Have you seen the size of our neighbor’s boat?

In this way, players can justify stealing from a casino because, compared to murder, rape, child abuse and countless other crimes, what they’re doing isn’t really that bad. Also, it’s not like the casino can’t afford it!

And that is probably the most common rationalization behind cheating at blackjack. Another way in which people resolve cognitive dissonance and preserve their self-image of a good person is by making the victim out to be the villain. That way they deserved it. Yes, I killed my wife, but she was having an affair. Yes, I lied on the witness stand, but I know that man was guilty.

Casinos are easy targets for this. Sure, they provide basically any amenity you can ask for, are a great place to have fun, and will willingly pay you when you win fair and square, but let’s face it, they’re greedy and like taking my money! People rationalize that since the casino takes everyone’s money and the games have odds unfairly tilted in the house’s favor, there’s nothing wrong with cheating them out of money. I’m like Robin Hood. I’m stealing from the rich and giving to..well, not the poor, but me! Since the games all have a house edge, people can see cheating as simply evening things out to make them fairer, ignoring the fact that anyone who gambles in a casino accepts the fact that a casino is a business that needs the revenue from gamblers to make money and stay in operation.

Though stealing something from another person is always equally bad, people are able to justify it so that it’s bad if you steal from someone poor but okay if you steal from the rich. It is much easier to rationalize stealing from a millionaire CEO than from a homeless person. Why? Because the rich person can afford it!  Look, it’s not like the casino will even miss this money. They have billions! In this weak economy, though, many casinos are losing money and some have even had to close. That doesn’t matter to the cheaters, though, who justify their actions by looking at the glitz and glamor of the casino and assume that they’re making money hand over fist. They can afford to lose this money. They have plenty of it and I’m barely scraping by.

The mind is a powerful thing. Through rationalization of bad behavior, people can resolve their cognitive dissonance and still see themselves as a good person. Sometimes they do so by justifying the bad behavior so it is no longer seen as bad, while other times they recognize that it was bad, but necessary. They hold onto their self-concept as a good person by admitting that sometimes a good person does bad things.

Blackjack Myths: What Size Blackjack Table to Play

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010

Gamblers are a superstitious bunch and are a group of people who are always looking for an edge. That’s why there are so many ideas out there of how to increase your odds of winning. Every time someone finds a strategy, tries it and has success, they think that validates the strategy, rather than being a coincidence. Since they think the strategy works, they stick with it and tell everyone they know about it. Those other people hear about the strategy and have a testimonial that it works. Therefore, they try it themselves. If it works for them, the cycle continues. This is why betting systems and other useless strategies last forever.

Today I want to look at the blackjack table size and how it affects your odds. I have heard many people say that you want to play at a small table or a table with a lot of empty seats. Some “experts” even put a specific number on it, saying something like “don’t play at a table with more than 3 people.” The truth is, the size of the table does nothing to improve your odds.

The odds in blackjack are constant. Whenever you or anyone else (including the dealer) take a card, it has the same odds of being a 10, ace, 4 or whatever based on which cards have been played in the deck. If there was a limit to the number of cards that are dealt, then having more players could affect your odds because those players could take the cards you want. However, at a blackjack table once the cards are all dealt, a newly shuffled deck is used. Ta-dah! The cards are back!

Regardless of the number of people at the table, each card appears in the same ratio. There are 4 ten-value cards for every 13 cards and that doesn’t change no matter how many decks there are or how many people are playing at the table. Since the ratio of cards is the same, your odds of receiving certain cards are the same. For that reason, your odds are the same.

One thing that is different, though, is that the fewer people there are at the table, the faster the game will go. Fewer people means more hands played each hour. If you’re winning money, more hands is a good thing. If you’re losing, more hands is a bad thing. Since blackjack has a house edge even when you play perfect basic strategy, in the long run, playing more hands causes you to lose more money. For that reason, you could make the argument that you should pick a table with more people. That’s how I like it.

If you’re counting cards, though, you may want to play at a smaller table. While your odds are still the same, it is easier to count when there are fewer people. When counting cards, you don’t only count your own; you count every card that is dealt to every player. Therefore, for some people it would be easier with fewer people playing. On the other hand, a table with fewer people plays faster, so if you’re counting you might rather have a full table because it gives you more time to count. In addition, looking for a more talkative table, where the players are joking with each other and having fun, would be a good idea because, again, it slows down the game.

Whether you are counting cards or not, the blackjack table size does not affect your odds. Your odds of being dealt a certain card are the same and playing the correct strategy gives you the same odds of winning.

A Word on Counting Cards

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Your average person learned everything they know about blackjack from watching Rain Man. They learned that you can make money at a casino by hitting the blackjack table and counting cards. They learned that you need to be a math wiz or a savant to count cards. And finally, they learned that if you count cards properly you can get rich quick and walk out of the casino overflowing with cash.

Of course, none of that is true. I don’t blame Rain Man. That scene played out like most card-counting scenes in the movies and like most movies, the drama of the scene is more important than realism. Real card counting, however, doesn’t take a genius, but it takes considerably more time to make money. Instead of making millions in one night, it would be more realistic for that to happen in a year or a few years of consistent play.

Before I explain card counting, let me say this: I do not endorse card counting. Though it is not illegal, the casinos don’t appreciate it and if you are caught counting cards you will be asked to leave and may even be banned from that chain of casinos. In the old days of Vegas, worse things happened to you than that. Counting cards isn’t cheating, but it’s still frowned upon by the casinos, who don’t like the advantage it gives players. You should also note that it is not possible to count cards online, due to the random number generator acting as if the deck is shuffled after each card is dealt.

So what is card counting? Card counting, when done, should be done in conjunction with blackjack basic strategy. Where the counting comes in is in determining how many 10-value cards are remaining in the decks. Tens are more advantageous for the players than lower cards because more tens produce more blackjacks (which usually pay out 3:2). Therefore, a deck (or decks) rich in tens is good for the player and one that is low on tens is bad for the player. A card counter will usually bet high when there are a lot of tens in play and bet low when there are not.

That sounds complicated, right? So why don’t you need to be a math genius? For one thing, you’re not really keeping an accurate count of the cards that are played. That would require a math wiz. Instead of keeping track of all of the cards that are played and comparing that to the cards in the deck to determine which cards have not been played, card counters usually use a simple plus/minus system.

Instead of keeping track of every card that is played (2, 3, 4, etc.), card counters only track whether a card was high or low. High cards are tens and low cards are everything else. Though I’m not going to go into detail here about how to count cards, the basics are this: Simple card counting systems use a plus and minus one ratio. In this system, high cards are given a value of -1 and low cards are given a value of +1. As cards are dealt to the players and the dealer, the player adds or subtracts from the count accordingly. When the count gets high, there are a lot of tens left to play and the players will bet higher. When the count is low, they bet lower because there aren’t many tens left.

Sorry if I ruined that iconic scene from Rain Man for you. If it helps, the movie was right about one thing: K-Mart sucks.

Random Number Generators

Friday, February 12th, 2010

One of the ways in which online blackjack is different from playing at a brick and mortar casino is how the cards are dealt. In a brick and mortar casino, there is a croupier at the table who deals the cards to each player and shuffles the cards by hand, or using a shoe or other shuffling device. That shuffling ensures the randomness of the cards so everyone has an equal chance of winning.

With online casinos, there is no dealer and, technically speaking, there are no cards. There are only digital representations of cards that are given to you and the dealer. Instead of the decks being shuffled, the randomness is guaranteed by a computer program called a random number generator, sometimes called RNG for short.

A random number generator uses a complex algorithm to determine the outcome of which cards you are dealt. Simply put, the RNG produces a set of numbers hundreds of times every second, including when the game isn’t being played. Each set of numbers corresponds to a certain card. When you press the button to take a card determines what card you are dealt. Whatever number is selected by the RNG at that exact microsecond determines your card. The same goes for the dealer. Therefore, you can never accuse someone else of taking your card, because it would not have been your card.

The random number generator makes the card you are dealt impossible to predict, including by counting cards. When blackjack is played using a deck or multiple decks of cards, card counters can determine how likely they are to receive a 10-value card based on how many of those cards have been dealt already. With online blackjack, however, predicting your cards by counting them is impossible, because the RNG essentially acts as if the deck is being shuffled before every card is dealt.

So if you’re trying to count cards online, stop. It does no good. Instead, accept the fact that you can’t predict what card you or the dealer will be dealt (including the dealer’s hole card) and stick to blackjack basic strategy, which can reduce the house edge to 0.5%.