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Blackjack pro reveals strategies used to avoid casino heat


7 Sep 2018

There is more than one way to skin a cat and along similar lines, there is more than one way to attempt to get ahead through advantage play when in a casino.

All casino games are created with a built-in house edge, which means that all players should technically lose money in the long run.

However, players can enjoy successful gambling sessions from time to time, especially in games where the house edge is more minimal.

A more definite way of leaving a casino ahead more frequently is through mastering advantage play. These are strategies that casinos may consider to be cheating, but are completely legal.

Card counting is one example of an advantage play, where a player uses good memory skills to keep track of the cards already dealt and then adjusts their bets and decisions accordingly.

Hole carding and edge sorting are other strategies that may be regarded as advantage play.

One thing that can be guaranteed is that should a casino suspect a player of any of these actions, they will immediately ask said player to leave.

Yet through good planning, there are things that an advantage player can do to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

In an interview with Forbes, a blackjack professional going by the name of Steve has revealed four of the ways he remains under the radar of casinos:

Spread play across multiple casinos

Obviously, should you constantly drink in the same pub, they will soon be recognised by bartenders as one of the regulars. Buy lunch at the same sandwich shop and staff will soon be asking if you want ‘the usual’.

Casinos may be much bigger, but it won’t be long until pit bosses, dealers and alike begin to become familiar with your visits. They may even be able to put a name to your face and speak to you on first-name terms.

Given that Steve plays in Las Vegas, he is fortunate enough to be able to spread his play across multiple casinos.

In fact, he visits 36 every week and as Steve plays blackjack for a living, he regularly plays five or six out of every seven days.

Be watchful with stake size

“The top bet allowed at 21 used to be $25,000. Those days are over,” revealed Steve.

“Top bet these days is $400 or $500 a hand. More than that and the casino manager is called over and the action pretty much stops.”

Meanwhile, you should also avoid making sudden changes and big shifts to your familiar betting pattern.

A casino is bound to get suspicious if you are sitting down for an hour, occupying one blackjack betting circle and staking $10 a hand.

Then suddenly, out of the blue, you decide to play two circles and push $50 forward into each of them.

This is an action of someone who believes they have found an edge to exploit, especially if you return to their original staking plan following a few bigger wins.

The tricky balancing act for advantage players is betting enough without causing staff to get too twitchy, while retaining the ability to increase bet size in particularly profitable periods. Maximum profitability ultimately has to be sacrificed.

Number of hands played in a session

When referring back to the more advantageous days of card counting prior to the 2008 economic crisis, Steve commented that casinos used to spend more time assessing play before reaching a decision on whether any foul play was taking place.

These days the decision is almost immediate.

Therefore, he limits his gambling sessions to between 25 and 100 hands, which should be short enough to avoid the warming up of too much heat.

The bad news is that this reduces his prospects of ending a session in profit.

Card counting is widely considered to be a slow grind, especially as many casinos now involve more decks in their games. It is rare for players to be able to play blackjack with only two decks in the shoe. More typical is for six decks to be used.

With six decks, players have more information to retain and potentially longer waits for the cards to shift in their favour.

Keep updating your appearance

For a man who has lost all of his hair and takes the best part of a week to grow the slightest stubble for a beard, it is understandably difficult to drastically alter their appearance.

However, have slightly longer hair that can be spiked up, combed over or straightened and there is much more flexibility. This is especially the case when facial hair is grown, glasses are worn and different types of outfits dressed in.

Steve mixes things up with glasses and beards, although draws the line at using disguises. In terms of clothing, sometimes he will wear suits and jeans on other occasions.

There are other ways at maintaining camouflage too, away from physical appearance.

These include the odd instance of behaving like a rookie. This could be achieved by referring to a strategy card during play, high fiving other players when a dealer busts or the odd risky hit when the expected move is to stand.