If you’re reading this article, you’re probably aware that some blackjack players count cards to try and have an advantage over the casino.
Although the casino always has a statistical advantage, even if the player uses basic strategy — if the player knows how to count cards, that’s a different story.
But what about the dealers? Do they count cards, and are they trained to do so? In short…
Blackjack dealers do not count cards. Their duty is to simply deal blackjack quickly and accurately, and interact with the customers. However, if they do notice a player is counting cards, they must notify the supervisor.
Counting cards is not illegal. It’s not cheating, either. But it’s not allowed, and casinos have the right to ban any player who counts cards.
Why is counting cards not allowed?
Again, players who count cards are not doing anything illegal. They simply exploit a known vulnerability so they can have the highest possible chances of winning at blackjack.
They don’t use any electronic devices. They don’t mark the cards, or distract the dealer, or try to do anything that could be considered cheating.
So the million dollar question, literally, is: why is it not allowed?
The answer is quite simple and has to do with the fact that casinos are a business and need to make money.
By counting cards and/or tracking the shuffle (more on this in a minute) an experienced player can have an edge of about 1 percent or higher.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but in the long run it pretty much guarantees that the player will win — and the casino will lose.
And management doesn’t like that. Even assuming the percentage of blackjack players who count cards is minuscule, and it probably is, because accurate card counting is quite hard.
The casino cannot lose, and any tactic or strategy designed to lower the house edge to the point where the player will have an advantage, even if tiny, is not allowed.
Another strategy implemented by experienced blackjack players is what’s called shuffle tracking, or card tracking.
This refers to the technique in which you (try to) memorize certain patterns or sequences of cards during the deal, simply because the same exact patterns are likely to reappear after the cards have been shuffled.
Surprisingly, the traditional casino shuffle is relatively simple, and fast. This means that although the order of the cards changes, it won’t be completely random.
So for instance, if a series of four or five aces appear during the deal, it is likely that those same aces, or at least two or three of them, will be in the same cluster after the shuffle. Not guaranteed, but likely.
Keep in mind, when blackjack dealers scoop up the cards and put them in the discard pile, the order of the cards must remain the same (just in case there is a dispute and the hand needs to be reconstructed).
Some players like to track aces only, just because they are basically the best cards in blackjack. Being able to predict when you’ll be dealt an ace gives you a huge advantage.
Despite being a useful technique, accurate card tracking is very, very hard, and that’s why only a few players do it.
How do casinos spot card counters?
Casino employees spot card counters by simply paying attention to how they play. For example, if a blackjack player suddenly increases the bet size, or bets only at the end of the shoe, that’s usually a sign that they are a card counter.
For those who work in casinos, especially experienced blackjack dealers, card counting isn’t so subtle.
There are visible differences between the average blackjack player, who plays for fun, and a professional card counter.
To spot card counters, casinos pay attention to the following signs:
- Placing large bets at the end of the shoe
- Playing on more than one box
- Skipping the first hands on purpose
- Consistent winnings that cannot be explained by luck alone
- Unusually large buy-ins
Card counting countermeasures
As we’ve seen, all casinos have the right to ban any player, or ask them to leave, regardless of how they play.
Technically, card counters do not cheat in any way, but still manage to have a statistical advantage and that’s why casinos usually ban them.
As for potential countermeasures, there are a few. These could be:
- Telling the dealer to talk to the player, or distract them in any way, or deal faster (card counting requires concentration)
- Forcing all card counters to flat bet (betting the same amount every hand)
- Using six or even eight decks
- Changing the shuffle or shuffling more frequently
I’ve never seen or heard of blackjack dealers who count cards. That being said, experienced dealers will be aware of what card counting is, and will be able to tell if a player is trying to count cards.
And even if they don’t, they will still have to report any unusual behavior to management, and that includes all the typical signs listed above.
Both card counting and shuffle tracking require a lot of dedication, and casinos have learned to spot such techniques anyway, so you probably won’t make millions even if you excel at them…