How to Play Blackjack:
Action: This is a general gambling term which refers to the total amount of money bet in a specific period of time. Ten bets of ten dollars each is $100 of action.
Bankroll: The stake (available money) a player plans to bet with.
Black Chip: A $100 chip.
Burn Card: A single card taken from the top of the deck or the first card in a shoe which the dealer slides across the table from his/her left o the right, and is placed into the discard tray. The card may or may not be shown face up (which can affect the count if you are counting cards). A card is burned after each shuffle.
Bust: When a hand’s value exceeds 21… a losing hand.
Cage: Short for cashier’s cage. This is where chips are redeemed for cash, checks cashed, credit arranged, etc.
Comp: Short for complimentary. If you wave lots of money around, the casino may give you things like a free room or free food, hoping you’ll keep losing money at the tables in their casino.
Counter: Someone who counts cards.
Cut Card: A solid colored card typically a piece of plastic which is given to a player by the dealer for the purpose of cutting the deck(s) after a shuffle.
Drop Percentage: That portion of the player’s money that the casino will win because of the house percentage. It is a measure of the amount of a player’s initial stake that he or she will eventually lose. On average this number is around 20 percent. That is, on average, Joe Gambler will lose $20 of every $100 he begins with.
Flat Bet: A bet which you do not vary ie, if you are flat betting ten dollars, you are betting $10 each and every hand without changing the betting amount from one hand to the next.
Foreign Chip: A chip that is issued by one casino and is honored by another as cash. A casino is not necessarily obligated to accept them.
Green Chip: A $25 chip.
Hard Hand: A hand in which any Ace is counted as a 1 and not as an 11.
HeadOn: To play alone at a BlackJack table with the dealer.
Heat: The pressure a casino puts on a winning player, typically someone who is suspected of being a card counter.
High Roller: A big bettor.
Hit: To request another card.
Hole Card: Any face down card. The definition most often refers to the dealer’s single face down card.
House: The Casino of course.
House Percentage: The casino’s advantage in a particular game of chance.
Junket: An organized group of gamblers that travel to a casino together. Junkets are usually subsidized by a casino to attract players.
Marker: An IOU. A line of credit provided by the casino to a player.
Mechanic: A manipulator of the cards, typically for illicit purposes.
Nut: The overhead costs of running the casino.
Pair: When a player’s first two cards are numerically identical (ie, 7,7).
Pat Hand: A hand with a total of 17 to 21.
Pit: The area inside a group of gaming tables. The tables are arranged in an elliptical manner, the space inside the perimeter is the pit.
Pit Boss: An employee of the casino whose job is to supervise BlackJack players, dealers, and other floor personnel.
Point Count: The net value of the card count at the end of a hand.
Push: A playerdealer tie.
Red Chip: A $5 chip.
Running Count: The count from the beginning of the deck or shoe. The running count is updated by the value of the point count after each hand.
Settlement: The resolving of the bet. Either the dealer takes your chips, pays you, or in the case of a push, no exchange of chips occurs.
Shill: A house employee who bets money and pretends to be a player to attract customers. Shills typically follow the same rules as the dealer which makes them somewhat easy to spot (ie, they don’t Double Down or Split).
Shoe: A device that can hold up to eight decks of cards which allows the dealer to slide out the cards one at a time.
Shuffle Up: Prematurely shuffling the cards to harass a player who is usually suspected of being a counter.
Soft Hand: A hand in which any Ace is counted as an 11 and not as a 1.
Stand: To decline another card.
SWAG Player: Scientific Wild Assed Guessing player.
Toke: To “toke” the dealer is just another word for tipping the dealer.
Tough Player: a player who can hurt the casino monetarily with his or her intelligent play.
True Count: The running count adjusted to account for the number of cards left in the deck or shoe to be played.
WAG Player: Wild Assed Guessing player.
Card counting? Don’t you have to be some sort of mathematical genius or have a photographic memory to count cards?
Not really. Even if the casino is using multiple decks, keeping track of the cards is a only a matter of counting. All you really need to count cards is the ability to count up to plus or minus twelve or so… by ones.
The first card counting systems were developed by our old friend Dr. Thorp. He determined through mathematical computation that the card that has the most influence on the deck being in a favorable condition (for the player) was the five. When the deck is low in fives, the player has a higher advantage than if it’s sparse in any other card. Logic dictated that for a very simple card counting strategy, simply keep track of the abundance (or lack thereof) of fives. This is the basis of his “Five Count” system which was later improved to include tens and renamed the “Ten Count” system.
Today, there are many different card counting systems. Typically, the more complex a system is, the better your advantage should you master it. However, the difference between card counting System X and System Y is usually so small that ease of using the system becomes more important than gaining an additional .15 % advantage (or whatever it is). This discussion is restricted to a single card counting system: the high/low (also called the plus/minus) point count. This strategy is very easy to master. Two other methods that I recommend if you’re serious are the Advanced Plus/Minus and the “HiOpt I” systems. The former is similar to the high/low but assigns fractional values to certain cards as opposed to integer values which are easier to add in your head. The latter method is considered one of the most powerful counting systems of all time.
The quick and dirty reason why card counting works is this: The player gains an advantage when a deck has a shortage of cards valued 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. When a deck has a shortage of cards valued 9, 10, Ace; the player has a disadvantage. If you can tell when the deck is rich in 9’s, 10’s, and Aces you can do one of the following things:
- Bet more money when the deck is favorable to you.
- Alter your Basic Strategy play to account for the favorability, thereby increasing the odds of winning a particular hand.
Now lets discuss the +/ Point Count. As you can see from the small chart below, a plus value is given to low cards, and a minus value is given to high cards. Notice that 7, 8, and 9 have a value of zero. This is because their overall effect is negligible as compared to the others. Some systems use a value of 2 for the Ace instead of 1 and give a value of +1 to the seven instead of zero.
As you may notice, this is a balanced system. There are 20 cards in a deck that are valued +1: two through six. There are 16 ten value cards and 4 Aces in a deck (20 total) that are valued 1. The remaining 12 cards (7, 8, 9) have a value of zero. At the end of a deck the count should be zero. A good drill to practice is to get a deck of cards, turn them over one by one, and keep track of the count. If you enter a game midway between the deck or shoe, flat bet until the cards are shuffled. Once the cards are shuffled commence counting from zero.
A quick example using ten cards: the following cards are shown in the course of a hand: A, 4, 7, 10, 10, 9, 10, 2, 10, 5. The first value is 1 (the Ace) & the second is +1 (the 4) = 0 (the current total hand count). The next card is the 7 which is zero so disregard it. The next card is a ten so the total count is now 1. The next card is another ten, giving a total count of 2. The next card is a nine which has a value of zero so ignore it, total count is still at 2. Next is a ten, total count is at 3. Next is a two which adds +1 to the minus three yielding a total of 2. A quick look at the next two cards shows that the two will cancel each other out (1+1=0). So at the end of a hand of ten cards dealt to 2 players and the dealer, the point count is minus two. This provides you with the knowledge that your are at a slight disadvantage. Your next bet should either be the same or a unit or two lower.
From this example you see that it would be easier to count cards if you play in a “cardsup” game. That way you can see all the cards as they are dealt and count them as they go by. When the dealer deals fast, just count every two cards. You still count each card but you only add to your total count after every two cards since many times the two values will cancel each other out to give a net value of zero, which doesn’t need to be added to your total. If you play in a cardsdown game, you may want to consider playing at third base. The reason being is that in a cardsdown game you only see the other players’ cards:
- if you peek at their hand (not polite but it’s not cheating like in poker)
- if a player busts
- when the dealer settles each players’ hand.
When there are other people at a table, all this happens rather quickly and you may miss a few cards here and there, which essentially invalidates your count. You can’t control how fast the dealer deals, but you can slow things down when the dealer prompts you for a play decision.
For one deck, alter your wager according to the following table:
Example: After the first hand of a one deck game, the point count is plus four and you just bet a $5.00 chip. Before the next hand is dealt, wager $15.00 (three units of $5.00) as the above table mandates.
What if there are four, six, or more decks instead of just one? I recommend that you perform a “truecount” rather than trying to remember different betting strategies for different number of deck games. By doing a true count, the above table can still be used.
The True Count is found with the equation below. I provide an example along with it for the case of having a running count of +9 with one and a half decks left unplayed. It doesn’t matter how many decks are used, you just have to have a good eye at guesstimating the number of decks that are left in the shoe. I just measured the thickness of a deck of cards to be 5/8 (10/16) of an inch. Hence the thickness of a half deck is 5/16 of an inch. One and a half decks would be 10/16 + 10/16 + 5/16 = 25/16 or a little over an inch and a half. You probably see a relationship here. The number of decks is approximately equal to the height of the cards in inches.
Looking at the table of betting units above, the proper wager would be four units.
If you have trouble keeping the count straight in your head, you can use your chips as a memory storage device. After every hand tally up the net count and update the running or true count by rearranging your chips.
One last thing. There is no law or rule that says a dealer cannot count cards. A dealer may count cards because he or she is bored but more likely is that the casino may encourage counting. The reason being that if the deck is favorable to the player, the house can know this and “shuffle up”. This is also called preferential shuffling (a game control measure) and it vaporizes your advantage.
This is a fairly new technique that has not been publicized very much. The best definition I have seen is this one: “‘Shuffletracking’ is the science of following specific cards through the shuffling process for the purpose of either keeping them in play or cutting them out of play.” The concept of Shuffle tracking appears to have resulted from bored mathematician’s research and computer simulation of shuffling cards.
Of course, just because someone shuffles a deck (or decks) of cards does not mean that the cards are “randomized”. The methods mentioned in the two previous sections (Basic Strategy and Card Counting) assume a random order of cards. (According to some authors, a single deck of cards must be shuffled twenty to thirty times to ensure a truly random dispersion. If a Casino is using a 6 deck shoe, that’s 120 to 180 shuffles!) As in the Card Counting section, I am going to restrict the discussion to the basics of shuffle tracking as the combination of references listed at the end of this section provide a complete discourse of the topic.
A beneficial (to the player) shuffle for a one deck game is executed by dividing the deck equally into 26 cards and shuffling them together a minimum of three times. This allows the cards to be sufficiently intermixed to yield a fairly random distribution. An adverse shuffle prevents the cards from mixing completely.
The simplest example is the Unbalanced Shuffle. As its name implies, the dealer breaks the deck into two unequal stacks. As an example, let’s say you are playing two hands head on with the dealer and the last 10 cards in the deck are dealt. The result of the hand was that both your hands lost to the dealer primarily due to the high percentage of low value cards in the clump. Note that if you were counting, you would have bet a single unit since the deck was unfavorable. The dealer is now ready to shuffle the deck, and separates the deck into 31 cards in one stack and 21 in the other stack. The dealer shuffles the two stacks. If the shuffle is done from the bottom of each stack on up, the top ten cards of the larger stack will remain intact without mixing with any of the other cards. Those ten cards can remain in the order they were just dealt throughout the shuffle if the process of bottom to top shuffling is not altered. You are now asked to cut the deck. If you don’t cut the deck, the 10 cards that were dealt last hand will be dealt as your first two hands. The result will be the same as your last and you will lose the two hands. However, if you cut the deck exactly at the end of those ten cards, you have just altered the future to your benefit. Those cards will now be placed at the bottom of the deck. Should the dealer shuffle up early, you will avoid them altogether. In addition, if you were keeping count, you would know that the deck was favorable during the first 34 hands since there would be an abundance of tens in the portion of the deck that will be played. You would accordingly increase you bet size to maximize your winnings.
Some dealers will unknowingly split the deck into unequal stacks. However, more often than not, they are required to split the deck into unequal stacks. If they are required to do this, they are performing the House Shuffle. The casino has trained the dealer to shuffle a particular way… on purpose! Why? In the long run, the house will benefit from this because most players will not cut any bad clumps out of play. If you have played BlackJack in a casino, how much did you pay attention to the way they shuffled? Like most people you were probably oblivious to it.
There are a number of shuffle methods, some of which have been labeled as: the “Zone Shuffle”, the “Strip Shuffle”, and the “Stutter Shuffle”. The Zone Shuffle is particular to shoe games (multiple deck games) and is probably one of the most common shuffle methods. It is accomplished by splitting the shoe into 4 to 8 piles depending on the number of decks in the shoe. Prescribed picks from each pile are made in a very exact way with intermittent shuffles of each pair of half deck sized stacks. The net effect is a simple regrouping of the cards pretty much in the same region of the shoe as they were before, thereby preventing clumps of cards from being randomly mixed. If the dealer won 40 hands and you won 20, this trend is likely to continue until you are broke or until the unfavorable bias is removed through many shuffles.
What if the players are winning the 40 hands and the dealer only 20? If the dealer has been mentally keeping track of how many hands each side has won in the shoe, the dealer will probably do one of two things. One is to keep the shuffle the same, but ‘strip’ the deck. When a dealer strips a deck, he/she strips off one card at a time from the shoe letting them fall on top of one another onto the table. This action causes the order of the cards to be reversed. The main consequence is to dissipate any clumping advantages (a bunch of tens in a clump) that the players may have. The second thing the dealer may do is simply change the way they shuffle to help randomize the cards.
If you only read one section of this file, and you don’t already know what Basic Strategy is, then this is the section you should read. Knowing Basic Strategy is critical to you gaining an advantage over the house.
The Basic Strategy for a particular set of rules was developed by intensive computer simulation which performed a complete combinatorial analysis. The computer “played” tens of thousands of hands for each BlackJack situation possible and statistically decided as to which play decision favored the player. The following three charts are the results of this analysis.
Legend: H = Hit S = Stand D = Double P = Split Las Vegas Single Deck Basic Strategy Table
Las Vegas Multiple Deck Basic Strategy
Atlantic City Multiple Deck Basic Strategy Table
Cheating by the house is rare in the major casinos. (The Nevada Gaming Commission may revoke a casino’s gambling license if a casino is caught cheating players.) Granted, there may be a few employees (dealers, boxmen, whomever) that may cheat players, but it is extremely unlikely that any casino in Nevada or Atlantic City does so on a casinowide scale. You definitely should be wary of any casino that is not regulated, such as those found on many cruise ships. However, the fact is that casinos make plenty of money legitimately with the builtin house advantages and don’t really need to cheat players to survive.Some cheating methods are explained here merely to make you aware of the scams. These techniques are still carried out in crooked underground casinos and private games.
The single deck handheld BlackJack game is quite a bit more susceptible to cheating by both the dealer and the player than games dealt from a shoe. The preferred method of dealer cheating is called the “second deal”. As you may infer, this technique requires the card mechanic to pretend to deal the top card but instead deals the card that is immediately under the top card. Imagine if you could draw a low card when you need a low card, and a high card when you need a high card. You could win large sums of money in a very short period. Well, a dealer who has the ability to execute the demanding sleight of hand movements for second dealing can drain even the best BlackJack player’s bankroll in short order.
If someone is going to deal seconds, they must know what the second card is if he or she is to benefit. One way to determine the second card is by peeking. A mechanic will distract you by pointing or gesticulating with the hand that is holding the deck. While you are busy looking, the dealer is covertly peeking at the second card. A more risky method is pegging. A device called a pegger is used to put small indentations in the cards that the dealer can feel. Pegging all the ten value cards has obvious benefits.
Another method is the “highlow pickup”. I like this one because it’s easy for a novice to do, especially in a place where there are a lot of distractions for the players. After every hand, the dealer picks up the cards in a highlow alternating order. The mechanic then proceeds with the “false shuffle” in which the deck is thought to have been shuffled but in reality the cards remain in the same order as before the shuffle. The highlowhighlow arrangement of the cards is death to the BlackJack player. Get dealt a ten and then a 5, you have to hit, so get another ten. Busted. Since the dealer doesn’t lose until he/she busts, all the players who bust before lose. Bottom dealing and switching hole cards are other techniques that may be used to cheat players.
For shoe games, there is a device called a “holdout shoe” that essentially second deals for the dealer. Discreet mirrors and prisms may be contained in the holdout shoe which only allow the dealer to see what card is next. Shorting a regular shoe of ten cards will obviously have a detrimental effect on the BlackJack player.
Player cheating isn’t recommended. However, I’ll quickly list some of the methods for awareness purposes. The old stand-by of going up to a table, grabbing some chips, and running like hell is still done but certainly lacks originality. Marking cards while you play is another popular method. “The Daub” technique is done by clandestinely applying a substance that leaves an almost invisible smudge on the card. High value cards like tens are usually the targets. (One scam involved the use of a special paint that was only visible to specially made contact lenses.) The “hold out” method requires the palming of a card and substituting a better one. This is usually done when there is big money bet on the hand. One of the risks to these methods is when the deck is changed since the pit boss always scrutinizes the decks after they are taken out of play.
Other methods entail playing two hands and switching cards from one hand to the other, counterfeiting cards and/or casino chips, and adding chips after a winning hand. Some dealers may be careless when looking at their hole card for a BlackJack. A person behind the dealer on the other side of the pit may be able to discern the card. The value is then signalled to a player at the table. (Astute pit bosses may notice someone who is not playing that scratches their head too much.) Wireless signalling devices have been used for various purposes but some casinos have new electronic detection systems that monitor certain frequencies for activity.