It was a cold and blustery night on the boardwalk of Atlantic City as the young man started walking to the casino. He had been reading and studying about blackjack card counting for many months. HowHenry Tamburin is the editor and publisher of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter and author of the best-selling Blackjack: Take the Money & Run. He is also the lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course, a feature writer for Casino Player magazine (and 6 other publications); an owner of a casino gambling publishing company (www.rsucasinobooks.com) and the host of www.smartgaming.com. For a free three month subscription to the Henry's Blackjack Insider Newsletter with full membership privileges go to www.bjinsider.com/free. Henry's website is www.smartgaming.com good was he? He could count down a single deck of cards accurately in 30 seconds or less. He could rapidly adjust the count after every hand to compensate for the multiple decks of cards he knew he would be facing in Atlantic City. He knew when to bet more money and when to bet the minimum. He had memorized over 50 card counting indices that would tell him when to change his playing strategy. Yes, this young man felt pretty confident that he knew how to beat the game.
He entered the casino and casually strolled through the blackjack pits all the while scanning the blackjack tables. He would stop at one table and just watch the cards as they unfolded like most casual observers. But the difference is that he was watching every card that was coming out of the shoe and mentally keeping the count. After scanning 5 tables he found what he wanted. On this one table in the middle of the blackjack pit he had seen enough cards to know that the edge had shifted big time to the players. He took a seat, cashed in for $500 and bet two green chips.
He was dealt a 7 and 3 and the dealer was showing a 4. His count was still positive indicating an abundance of tens and aces existed in the undealt cards. He quickly placed another two green chips on the layout indicating he wanted to double down. His heart was racing as the dealer slowly, but methodically, pulled the draw card from the dealing shoe and turned it over. It was a queen. He had a 20 with a hundred dollars bet and a sure win but the dealer still had to go. She turned over her downcard and it was a 10, giving her 14. She calmly reached for the draw card as the young man started to silently pray that it would be a bust card. Yes, it was a picture card and the dealer busted. He wiped the beads of perspiration off his brow as the dealer paid him four beautiful green chips. Winning at blackjack, he thought, was going to be a piece of cake.
The young counter continued to play and bet aggressively. On some hands he bet only $5 when he knew by counting that the casino had the upper hand. But when the edge shifted in his favor he was not afraid to bet up to $50 and $75 a hand. And every time he bet big, he would win. Every time he followed “the book” and doubled down he won. Every time he sat with a stiff hand the dealer obligingly busted. He was winning and winning big.
On one memorable hand he bet $25 and was dealt a pair of 7’s. The dealer showed a 3 upcard. He followed the basic playing strategy, slid another green chip on the layout, and split the 7’s. On one 7, he drew another 7 so he resplit. He had $75 riding on three hands, each one starting with a 7. On the first hand he drew a 4 and he doubled down for another $25. As it turned out, he ended up doubling down on the second and third hand also. He had $150 riding on three hands that totaled 17, 19 and 20 with the dealer showing a 3. And just like the book says, the dealer broke. He smiled as the dealer slid a couple of black chips in his direction.
Unbeknownst to him the pit boss was watching his play and he didn’t like what he was seeing. Once he came over to the table for some idle chatter with the players. Everyone carried on a conversation with the pit boss except the young man who was to busy keeping track of the cards as they unfolded on the layout. But the young man distinctly remembers the pit boss leaving the table and then picking up the phone located at the clerk’s station in the blackjack pit. He didn’t pay much attention to what the pit boss was doing. His mind was on keeping the counting, varying his betting and playing strategy, and winning lots of money.
He continued to play, count, and win when suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and to his surprise there stood the pit boss and a security guard. He was told to pick up his chips and step aside from the table. It was there, in the middle of the casino floor, that he was read the riot act.
“My name is Sam Jones (alias) and we have been observing your play and it’s obvious to us that you are a professional blackjack card counter. Professional blackjack card counters are prohibited from playing blackjack in our casino. Therefore we are asking you to refrain from playing blackjack or assisting anyone else playing blackjack. You are however, free to play any other casino game”.
Stunned and dazed, the young man didn’t know what to say or do. He wisely said nothing and went straight to the cashier, cashed out his chips in the presence of the security guard, and left the casino.
How do I know the facts of this story so well? I was that young man and this was the first time I was barred from playing blackjack.
At the time it happened I was traumatized by the incident. I felt cheated and my rights to play violated. I thought that they had no right to prevent me from playing a game just because I was a skilled at it. Card counting after all is not cheating, you are just using information that is available to everyone (all value of all the cards in previous hands). Yes, I was mad, upset, and frustrated because I knew I was good at the game yet I was beginning to wonder if I would be thrown out every time I played.
Then something happened that changed my whole perspective about card counting. I mentioned my barring to a blackjack pro and he smiled and said this to me: “Son, you knew how to beat the game, but you haven’t learned how to beat the casino”.
What the pro was telling me is that being a successful card counter involves more then just counting the cards. Yes you have to be good at that but you also have to be good at disguising the fact that you are counting.
In retrospect I didn’t do a good job disguising my skills when I got barred. For sure, I was pretty brazen with my betting spread. The greater the advantage I had, the more money I was betting. Mathematically, that’s the ideal way to bet but the problem comes when you jump from say a small $5 bet on one hand to $25 on the next hand especially if the hand lost. Most blackjack players don’t bet this way and by doing so, I was raising the red flag to the pit boss that just maybe I was counting.
Then there was the problem that I was concentrating so much on counting the cards that I was oblivious to everything else. Most gamblers strike up conversations with other players, the dealer, and even the pit boss if he or she comes their way. They are out to have a good time and winning is secondary. I wasn’t very talkative and I certainly didn’t even acknowledge the pit boss when he came over to the table. That was a big mistake.
So what did I do after this traumatic experience? I could have said, “the hell with blackjack. Who needs to worry about getting barred?” But thankfully, I didn’t. Instead I purchased the wonderful book, “Turning the Tables on Las Vegas” by Ian Anderson that taught me how to change my playing style to minimize the chance of being detected as a card counter. This book plus over 30 + years of experience playing in hundreds of casinos here and abroad has taught me that if you want longevity as a card counter you must look like a gambler, act like a gambler, and play like a gambler.
How successful have I been since my first barring? I’ve only been barred one other time and other than getting the shuffle-up now and then, I’ve played more or less unmolested (Note: if pit bosses suspect a card counter, they will tell the dealer to shuffle the cards effectively negating a counters edge). Nowadays I use the new Speed Count counting system with a slightly modified basic playing strategy (details go to www.goldentouchblackjack.com) which also helps keep me under the casinos radar.
It’s very important nowadays to put on a good act and to be careful how you bet. This is especially the case if you are a green or black chip bettor or you prefer single deck games. Pit bosses know that single deck games are easier to beat then multiple deck games so they are more watchful. Likewise a large bettor can obviously win more than a small bettor so pit bosses tend to focus their attention on players who make big bets.Ian Anderson has since written a sequel to his first book. It’s aptly called, “Burning the Tables in Las Vegas”, and it’s a gem. My advice to any “wanna-be” card counter is to read this book to learn how to get away with getting the money. Remember that if “they won’t let you play” all your card counting skills are for naught.
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