All casino games are based on luck. Otherwise it wouldn’t be gambling, right?
But sometimes it’s not as easy as pressing a button or placing a chip on a roulette number.
In some casino games, the way you play can actually decrease or increase the house edge — the statistical advantage of the casino against the player.
As we’ll see in a minute, blackjack is probably the best example. If you don’t know what you’re doing, and play all the side bets (which have terrible odds), the house edge could be well over 5 percent.
But an experienced player who knows basic strategy as well as a few other techniques could bring the house edge down to zero. Or even have an advantage over the casino.
There are five casino games where your strategy affects your chances of winning — here’s why and how.
Casino games that require skill
It’s one of the most popular casino games ever, and the game itself isn’t that complex.
You get dealt two cards face up. The dealer gets two cards, one face down, one face up.
The goal is to get as close to 21 as possible, but not over 21. If you bust, you lose. If the dealer has a higher score, you lose.
If the dealer busts, you win — regardless of your hand. If your hand is better than the dealer’s, you win.
It’s pretty easy to work out the total score, too — aces are 1 or 11, picture cards are 10, and all other cards are worth their face value.
Basic strategy (easy)
As the name says, it is a pretty basic strategy, although you do need to memorize a few hands, and it takes time.
When applied the right way, with no mistakes, basic strategy will bring the house edge down to about 0.5 percent.
The dealer will still have an advantage, but you’ll lose a lot less in the long run.
Here’s an example of basic strategy applied to UK blackjack:
Card counting (advanced)
Technically, card counting is not illegal. Meaning, there are no laws that forbid it.
But casinos don’t like it, and if you know how to count cards with great accuracy, you’ll get banned sooner or later.
There are visible differences between the average blackjack player and professional card counters. To spot them, casinos pay attention to a few things including:
- Placing large bets at the end of the shoe
- Skipping the first hands on purpose
- Playing on more than one box
- Consistent winnings that cannot be explained by luck
- Unusually large buy-ins
Card tracking (very hard)
And for those with a genius IQ and memory, or monk-like patience, shuffle tracking is also an option.
It’s extremely difficult, and the outcome isn’t even guaranteed — it works only if the shuffle is simple and done manually, so that the order of the cards is likely to remain more or less the same.
Players who know how to track patterns of cards, including aces, can gain a significant advantage over the casino.
Just like card counting, card tracking is not illegal, but don’t expect the pit bosses to turn a blind eye on it.
From the player’s perspective, baccarat is even easier than blackjack as the only decision is whether to bet on the player or the banker (this doesn’t refer to the dealer).
There is also a tie bet, also called egalite, and there may be one or two side bets as well depending on where you play.
The croupier deals two face-up cards to the player, and two face-up cards to the banker. Again, these do not refer to you, or the dealer.
The object of the game is to get as close to 9 as possible, and both the player and the banker can draw a third card. However, drawing rules are predetermined — it’s not the dealer’s decision.
Card counting (advanced)
So, which one should you bet on? The banker, or the player?
Theoretically, this doesn’t make any difference — for player bets, the house edge is about 1.2 percent, whereas for banker bets it’s about 1 percent.
However, there are a few card counting techniques which can decrease the house edge, although not massively.
An interesting card counting strategy for baccarat is the one developed by John May, where once enough odd cards (e.g. 5) have been dealt, you know it is more likely to win the egalite bet.
Typically, this bet has terrible odds. But the payouts are very high (e.g. 150 to one).
So in some situations, it may make sense to play it as in the long run you’ll have an advantage over the casino.
Edge sorting (very hard)
In most casinos, you won’t even be able to do this. And if you do, know that it may count as cheating, so you’ve been warned.
Edge sorting refers to a technique where the player spots imperfections in the back of the cards and tries to get an advantage over the casino.
Very, very difficult. But potentially profitable if done the right way.
To give you an idea, poker pro Phil Ivey did this in 2012 in London, and could have walked away with over $10 million.
But the Supreme Court determined that it counted as cheating, and the casino kept the money. Very controversial as Ivey was playing a private game and all his requests had been agreed to.
3. Three Card Poker
As the name says, this is a variant of poker that’s played with only three cards.
Each player gets dealt three cards. You can then look at your cards, and if you think you’ve got a good enough hand, you can place an extra bet on the play box.
This is because the aim of the game is to beat the dealer. However, the dealer must show at least a queen to “qualify” (play, and pay your play bet).
So, where is the skill in this game? Well, the rule says you should only play against the dealer if you have a queen and a seven or higher.
For example, if you get dealt a queen, a ten, and a deuce, statistically you should put a chip on the play box. If you have something like nine, six, five — don’t play.
This is a very easy strategy, and it won’t affect the house edge significantly.
4. Caribbean Stud Poker
Very similar to three card poker. The house edge is a bit higher, but you can bring it down to about 2.4 percent if you play properly.
Typically, the dealer deals five cards to each player, and five cards to themselves, with only one card face up. It is usually not allowed to look at other players’ cards.
You then have to decide whether to fold or play. The decision should be based on your own hand as well as the card shown by the casino dealer.
For example, if you are dealt three of a kind, you should play. If you have king high or worse, you should probably fold.
As always, avoid all side bets as the house edge is much bigger on those.
5. Pai Gow Poker
No real strategy here. You just have to know how to arrange the cards you get dealt so you can maximize your chances of winning.
In this version of poker against the house, you get dealt seven cards, and you must use two cards to make a low hand (such as an ace and an eight) and five cards to make a higher hand (such as two pair).
If you beat both dealer’s hands (both the two-card hand and the five-card hand), congrats — you win!
This is why it’s important to know how to arrange the cards you get dealt. You can learn to do this quickly, and unfortunately it won’t make a massive difference.
Once again, it’s best to avoid any side bets, like jackpot bonuses, as the odds are much worse.
One exception: Texas Hold’em
A bit of an obvious one, but I had to mention it nevertheless.
Of all casino games there is one where, in the long run, skill makes all the difference. It literally determines winning players and losing players.
The game is Texas Hold’em, although all poker variants are a combination of luck and skill.
But unlike, say, Caribbean Stud, when you play against other players it is skill that’s the bigger percentage, not luck.
This is why it’s possible to play poker professionally. If you ever try to play other casino games professionally — that is, make a living off them — good luck.
What casino games can be beaten with skill?
If we refer to techniques and strategies that are allowed in casinos, then the answer is: none.
Techniques that are not allowed, on the other hand, could definitely lower the house edge to the point where you have an advantage.
Some of them, such as card counting, are legal; some are illegal.
But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter — casinos have the right to ban you if you keep winning or if your winnings cannot be explained by luck alone.
Casinos are businesses and cannot lose money. So if management (or even a dealer, for that matter) notices you’re using some advanced tactics, they’ll ask you to leave.
Even if what you’re doing is perfectly legal.