Advanced Blackjack Part 4 Playing Conditions for Counters
In the previous three articles in this Advanced
Blackjack series I described in detail how it's possible to gain a positive
expectation playing blackjack by learning how to card count. However, it's
important that you just don't jump in and play any old blackjack game. You've
got to know what are the most important factors that make a blackjack game
"beatable" or not.
The most important criteria for card counters is the penetration or the
number of cards that will be dealt before the dealer shuffles. No casino will
deal every single card before shuffling because a counter would have a
tremendous advantage on the last few hands. Therefore just about every casino
will deal only a certain percentage of the cards.
Arnold Snyder (http://www.rge21.com/) has studied the effect
of penetration on a counters advantage in great detail. In one study, using
typical Las Vegas playing rules and a 1 to 4 bet spread in a 2-deck game, a
counter playing heads up with the dealer would have a 1.0% advantage if 70% of
the cards were dealt. If 90% of the cards were dealt, the counter's advantage
would increase by 80% to 1.8%. If instead only 50% of the cards are dealt, the
counter's edge would decrease by 50% to only 0.5%.
There have been many other computer studies by scores of other blackjack
theoreticians (myself included) that have proven this fact over-and-over, namely
that the penetration has a major effect on your winnings.
Most counters will not make a single bet unless the penetration is 75% or
more. This means in a typical 6-deck game, the dealer cuts off only 1.5 decks of
cards. Likewise you are wasting your time and money trying to count in a game
with only 50% penetration.
Most casinos are fairly strict about the
placement of the cut card by the dealer after the shuffle and cut. Many have a
measuring device on the side of the dealing shoe that indicates to the dealer
where to position the cut card. However, there are still many casinos that only
give guidelines to the dealer as to how many decks to cut off. It's possible
therefore to find a dealer who gives a more liberal cut, say cutting off only 1
deck instead of 1.5 decks in a 6-deck game.
One way of knowing which casinos give more favorable penetration is to read
either Stanford Wong's Current Blackjack Newsletter (www.BJ21.com) or Arnold
Snyder's Blackjack Forum (www.RGE21.com). Wong lists the number of decks of
cards that each casino cuts out of play and Snyder lists whether the penetration
is bad, good, unexceptional, or varies.
Another important criteria that card counters use to evaluate a blackjack
game are the playing rules. For example, the fewer the number of decks of cards
the greater will be the edge to the player. Also rules that allow doubling after
pair splitting, late surrender, and the dealer standing rather than hitting on
soft 17 are favorable for players. But a word of caution is in order. Some games
with marginal rules can still be beaten if the penetration is good. For example
most counters shun an 8-deck game but if the rules are decent and the
penetration is 75% it would be a better game compared to say a 6-deck game with
similar rules but only a 50% penetration. Likewise a single deck game with bad
rules but 70% penetration is more profitable than one that deals less than 50%
of the cards with good rules.
It's to a counters advantage to play at tables which are not crowded with
other players. The best is playing head up with the dealer. This allows you to
see more cards before making your playing decision. Also, when the count gets
high, you will have just as much chance as the dealer of getting the aces and
tens. Counters can also spread to 2 hands in high-count situations giving them
an even greater chance of drawing the aces and tens. Playing at less crowded
tables will increase the number of hands per hour dealt and a counters win
Another important point is whether or not the pit boss will allow a decent
bet spread. In single deck games you'll need to spread at least 1 to 3-4 betting
units and in 6-deck games, 1 to 8-10 betting units. If you are limited in your
bet spread by a nervous pit boss that gives you "heat" every time you make a
large bet, then your profit potential decreases.
As you can see, learning the theory of card counting is one matter, but
applying it to generate winnings is quite another task. Finding good playing
conditions is very important. But there are other skills that must be mastered
like balancing profits with risk, disguising your skills when you play, and
knowing the typical countermeasures that casinos employ against counters. I'll
cover these other important topics in future articles in this series. Until
then, go out and get a blackjack.