January 12, 2016

Card Counting

How to count cards at Live Blackjack

Card Counting is the bane of every casino, whether online or in brick and mortar form. Through card counting, players use mental calculations to try and determine the values of cards remaining in a deck or those already dealt, in order to ascertain the chances of obtaining a particular desirable outcome. Casinos have come a long way in their history to destroy card counters, but as can be imagined, there are always newer and more modern methods to overcome on both sides of the fence…

Hello Thorp

Fast forward thirty years from the birth of legalised Blackjack and meet Thorp. Who is Thorp we hear you ask? He is the guy who discovered that there is a quick-fire method to establish what cards had already been dealt and therefore increase the chance of knowing which cards are more likely to be dealt next. Hence, Thorpe was the father of Card Counting, and he published his discoveries in the 1962 publication by the name of “Beat the Dealer”. The book was a New York Times Bestseller and so many people bought it, read it and headed to a casino that casinos all over America were overwhelmed, even though the system itself is not the easiest to use and your average player on the street could not apply it readily. It took only the most disciplined, intelligent and determined people to learn the system well enough to actually beat the dealer. The rest of them failed miserably, resulting in a huge influx of profits for the casinos. This huge wave of people trying to beat the dealers in casinos all over America brought further changes to the game. Naturally, the number of decks increased from 1 to up to 4 decks depending on the casino you were at.

Thorp’s Ten-Count System

So how does this system of Thorp’s work then? Remember that at the time they played with only one deck of cards, as opposed to the shoe that we are playing with today. So, with this ten-count system, you are required to remember two numbers, 16 and 36. The 16 represents the number of cards with a value of 10 in one deck and the 36 counts the remainder of the cards. As each card comes out during play, you subtract it from the amounts of 16 and 36 in your head depending on whether its face value is that of 10 or not. At each turn, you divide the ‘others’ number of cards remaining by the ‘tens’ number of cards remaining. The resulting number is referred to as the Thorp Ratio and is used to determine player advantage and the opprtune moment to raise a bet. Now bear in mind that this was only applicable when playing with one deck of cards. This is one of the reasons why Blackjack nowadays is played with more than one deck. In an eight deck shoe you would have to start with the numbers 128 and 288 respectively making it much more difficult to do your calculations as you’re playing along.

In 1966 a second edition of Thorp’s book was published for a second time, to include Harvey Dubner’s Hi-Lo card counting strategy, which was perfected by a computer programmer known only as Julian. From there on end, counting systems continued to evolve, and in a virtual tug of war between casinos and card counters, both changed their modus operandi to one-up the other.

Card Counting – Casino: Tug of War

In one such move, casinos all over America received a blessing by the name of Robert Griffin. Griffin sold a subscription to almost every casino in America, detailing a regularly updated list of known card counters. The publication included their pictures and other player details which would allow a casino to identify them at the outset. Casinos 1  – Card Counters 0.

As you can imagine the war doesn’t stop there. Card counters quickly found a way to beat the system by working in a team! Imagine the casino watching each of the players like a hawk and your counter is not even someone playing at the table! Clever. Casinos 1 – Card Counters 1.

Enter onto the scene Mr Stanford Wong. In 1975 he published “Professional Blackjack” which detailed strategies ideal for a solo player to beat the dealer. His strategy was deemed even more complicated than that of Thorp, but in a world where everything was evolving into more and more technical and intricate ideas, Wong’s system was deemed necessary by those who wanted to use it. He suggested that players table-hopped from one table to another, while back-counting the tables, and entering a deal on only the positive counts, therefore avoiding giveaways such as large random bets that normally let everyone know when someone was card counting.

It is good to note at this point that the use of computers in casinos only became illegal fairly recently in their history. It was therefore common for card counters to have a home-made device strapped into their clothing through which they entered data using foot or finger taps, and which returned information – mostly on odds – through different taps, ticks or vibrations.

Card Counting Allowed in Atlantic City

Resorts International was the first of many casinos to open in Atlantic City. It opened in 1978 employing an early-surrender rule which had Blackjack players flocking through its doors. Expert Card Counting was obviously a main concern. They decided to tackle it in the most innovative of ways. In 1979 they held a 2-week trial whereby card counters were not prohibited from playing. They were given the freedom to play to their hearts’ content. This two-week trial resulted in huge profits, both for a lot of card counters, as well as for the casino itself! The Casino Control Commission then passed a regulation allowing casinos to tighten their security. In 1982, Ken Uston, a well known veteran card-counter sued Atlantic Casinos and won, prohibiting them from being able to ever evict a card counter from their casinos. This put the casinos even more on edge. Everybody was suspected of card counting, and casinos went through great lengths to shuffle and deal in the most random of manners. This led to an appeal by the casinos, to the Casino Control Commission, which was accepted, to allow a casino to at least restrict the bets of a player who they suspect to be a card counter. Needless to say this wasn’t the sharpest way of dealing with the problem, and many card counters went undetected while other poor innocent souls got called out and harrassed for being wrongly suspected.

Card Counting in the 21st Century

Nowadays, Card Counting is still rife, but like everything else casino, it has developed, merged, and morphed with the times. Casinos do not really spend as much money as they used to paying for surveillance. There seems to be an air of ‘good luck to the ones who manage’. Seemingly the rest of the players more than make up for the ones who go through the time and excessive trouble to beat the very high-tech, and modernised systems that are available in casinos today. Online is an even bigger deal, as there is no end to what technology can come up with to guard against card counting. Randomisation is all in place already, all using an algorithm, no need for any elaborate playing interface as everything is electronic and automatic. When it comes to live casinos, however, the same risks exist as in a brick and mortar casino, but the same apathy is also applied. With today’s safeguards, technology and ever-increasing expertise it would take somebody a lot of time, patience, dedication and initial money to become an expert in beating the Blackjack dealer using anything but the skill of the game.