Click bait achieved.
First of all, to all of the internet haters out there, yes… you can count cards. I’m not disputing the fact that it’s possible, I was actually on a team for awhile right when I moved to Vegas, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not really worth it for all but the most dedicated to even attempt. This position boils down to three major factors for me.
Changes to the Game Changed the Odds for Players.
At least in Las Vegas, 3/2 odds, re-splitting aces, doubling down on any two cards, and single-deck games are a thing of the past. The now-standard 6/5 payout and other variations to low-limit games stack the odds even greater in favor of the casino. I’ve always thought this was a strange PR move, considering I can now get better odds on blackjack in Des Moines, Iowa than in Las Vegas, NV (Thanks, Prairie Meadows). And the thing is, these new rules weren’t implemented out of necessity. It’s not like casinos weren’t doing well before they made these changes.
Hang on, It’s pretty scary up on this soap box. I think I’ll try to come down now… I’ve always been afraid of heights.
Basically, if you count absolutely perfectly and bet/deviate from basic strategy accordingly, you get about a 3% edge over the house with standard rules. With these changes in rules… it’s closer to %1. So you’re counting cards for basically a coin flip. If you want to bet on a coin flip, I would suggest to go play baccarat and cut out the stress of counting altogether.
They Know You’re Counting, and They Don’t Care.
“They” meaning the casino.
Unless you’re working in a team, it’s stupidly obvious that a player is counting due to their progressive betting and strategy deviations. Basically… the house knows you’re counting. However, even if you’re counting perfectly, the house still wins 47% (or 49%) of the time. So what they do is let you keep playing to see if you start winning. If you’re counting and losing, they’ve obviously got no problem with that. As soon as you start winning, then they step in and stop your play.
So not only do you have to play/count perfectly, you have to get lucky and hit your 53% (51%) chance to win. If you’re progressively betting with the count like you’re supposed to, as soon as you hit large a hand or two… you’re out of there.
If you do decide to go for it anyways, stick to low limit tables and play at a joint that has a high-limit room. These types of casinos live and die by their high-rollers, and they probably won’t be paying as much attention to a dude/chick pulling in $50-100 blackjacks when they’ve got players betting $10K a hand in the back room.
Daniel Tosh coined the phrase, “Baller on a Budget.” That’s the mindset you should try to embody when starting out counting and picking your spot.
Pro Tip: Card Counting Takes a LOT of Time… Learn Poker Instead.
My whole stance on gambling is this. If you want to have fun, play craps. If you want to make money, play poker. All of the time you devote to learning the +/- system, basic strategy, the running count, the true count, strategy deviations and shuffle tracking… you could be spending on learning poker instead.
Honestly, if I didn’t have to hang out with poker players all day at the tables, I would probably be playing for a living at this point. After dealing for 6 years, I personally just find hardcore pokers players (and most think they are) generally insufferable in every way. Generally.
But, if you’re prioritizing making money over the thrill of other games, poker is the way to go. It doesn’t really take that much knowledge to run a lower limit table (1-2 No-Limit). Also, people make mistakes. The other table games are based off of equations and probability, and will eventually win over a long enough time line. Assuming you’re not a monster high-roller with enough credit to bully the casino around, these other games will eventually grind down the players since the casino has a massive time/money advantage over their patrons.
The bottom line is, it’s a lot easier to capitalize on human error that trying to beat a math problem. It would take about the same amount of studying in order to be effective for either game, but your chances of walking away a winner are much higher with poker than with blackjack. As long as you can find a table that puts enough money in the middle to make up for the rake, and you’re playing at tables within your skill level, poker is the better choice.
That Being Said… Try It Out!
Despite all of this, I still loosely count when I find myself at a blackjack table. Even though I’m not nearly good enough for it to matter that much, it’s fun for me to try. That’s what gaming is all about in the end anyways. Plus, you look super awesome to your friends when you do get lucky and hit a huge hand.
Now that I’ve explained why I think counting isn’t worth it, if you’re in it for the money, be on the lookout for the next blog in this little series… Card Counting 101.
(Yes, really. I mean why not, right?)
– The Las Vegas Son