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How does hole carding gain you an advantage at a casino?


29 Jun 2018

Sit down to play a casino game and there are strategies to be exploited that can give you a legal edge.

Some of these tactics may be perceived to be cheating and should a casino catch you in the act, the likelihood is that you’ll be asked to leave.

But ultimately all they do is exploit advantages that casinos have the capability of preventing.

One such advantage is edge sorting, which is where a player can use imperfections on the backs of cards, caused by the way they have been cut, to track their position in a deck.

This could be invaluable if the irregular card is known to be an ace in a game of blackjack. A more detailed breakdown on the advantages of edge sorting can be read here.

Another advantage play is called hole carding and again can be exposed in a game of blackjack.

What is hole carding?

How much easier would it be to make a decision of whether to stand or hit on a blackjack hand if you could accurately know exactly which two cards a dealer had?

Obviously, their face card can be seen by all, but find yourself in a seat at the right angle with a sloppy dealer and you can expect to get a clear glimpse of their face-down card too.

Dealers are typically taught to shield their hole card so nobody notices its value.

Yet, some will show a slight corner as they switch a card from the dealing shoe to the table or get distracted by events at a table, which can cause them to be more haphazard with their technique.

You would be considered to be hole carding if you are catching a peak at a dealer’s unknown card and using this knowledge to your advantage.

Switching up basic blackjack strategy

Any semi-regular blackjack player will have taken the time to learn basic blackjack strategy.

In theory, this ensures that they are playing perfect blackjack and making the best play at any given point to give them the greatest opportunity to win the hand.

Operating in this way reduces the house edge in blackjack to around 0.5%, making it as close to a 50/50 game as it is possible to play in a casino.

However, if a dealer is flashing you their hole card, this strategy can be ditched. This is because you now know a complete hand value for the dealer, rather than just the value of one of their two cards.

According to Beyond Counting, by James Grosjean, a player who can perform perfect play when knowing a dealer’s hole card enjoys a house edge of 13.06%.

Examples of stiff and standing hands

Obviously, the easiest position for you to be in is knowing that the dealer will be forced to stand on their two-card hand.

If you have 15 and know that the dealer has 17, your only move is to hit and hope not to bust.

A stiff hand is anything between 12 and 16. Should the dealer have a hand of this nature, there is an increased possibility that they could bust.

Should you have a stiff hand at the same time, it makes sense to stand, in the hope that the dealer does hit and bust.

When the dealer has a stiff hand, another good ploy is to get as much money on the table as possible.

Under normal strategy, splitting 10s would be frowned upon. Yet, it would be a viable ploy in this situation to play two hands against a stiff dealer hand.

Doubling down against a stiff dealer hand also makes sense, as you cannot bust by doing so, while the dealer is at an increased risk of doing so.

Improving your chances of hole carding

Not many dealers will be rookie enough to give you a peak of their hole card, but there are methods you could employ to aid your chances of manipulating a dealer to unintentionally flash their card.

One way is to introduce an obstruction that prevents a dealer from laying down the cards easily.

This could be done by ensuring a chip tray is full on the side nearest the dealer, which may mean they have to deal their hole card over the corner of the chip tray.

Players can further cramp a dealer’s dealing space by placing their chips as far forward in the betting circle as possible.

If a player can ensure that both of these strategies are employed simultaneously, a dealer is at a greater risk of being slapdash with their cards.

One final point for a player benefiting from hole carding is to avoid giving any inclination to the dealer that they are being careless when dealing.

A dealer will notice if a player is staring down their hands and this could cause them to make some adjustments to their dealing style. It can be challenging to remain inconspicuous, but it is necessary to make the maximum from hole-carding opportunities.