Those less involved in the gambling world might consider blackjack professionals as cheaters and scammers. After all, they manipulate the odds against casinos and gambling houses to tip the house advantage in their favor. Of all the tactics they use, card counting is the most notorious, delivering consistent wins to blackjack pros when utilized correctly. The truth of the matter is that card counting is a legal form of advantage play. It allows clever gamblers to manipulate the probabilities of a card game like blackjack for their gain.

Undoubtedly, blackjack is one of the most popular gambling games you can find in any casino. Its low house edge of <2% and speed of play makes it an enticing game for any gambler. With card counting, the casino’s advantage lowers even further, and the pros know this. Doing everything in their power to capitalize on these odds. Being a blackjack pro does not come easy however, as casinos take every possible measure to prevent the pros from winning.

After all, under the right conditions, these counters or “advantage” players can take a big chunk out of a casino’s bankroll. Casino operators will use everything from six or eight-deck tables, monitoring systems, or simply deny play to blackjack pros, players like Don Johnson, looking to take a piece of the pie. However, a truly crafty advantage player will often overcome the various obstacles and discouragements in place in order to come out on top. Here is how they do it.

What it takes to be a blackjack pro

how to be a blackjack pro

The golden days of hitting the hot tables of Las Vegas Ken Uston-style are long gone. Today’s casinos are more aware of the problems that blackjack pros can cause in their midst. Many casinos have changed dramatically their management style after the turmoil of the 2008 Economic Crisis. The best example of this today is evident in casino table limits.

Post-recession, many of Las Vegas’s top casinos have reduced their table limits, which once exceeded $25,000 per hand on a single table. Today the average stands around $1,000-$2,000 per hand. There are exceptions of course, but in most cases, casino management must approve of higher stakes.

Furthermore, casino comps and incentives are not what they used to be. The current milieu entails specific conditions, and players with elite status are eligible to receive the best comps worth their weight in gold to a blackjack professional. Since card counting is generally considered a risky endeavor, today’s casino perks might not even be worth the time and money spent playing.

The daily grind

The thing that makes blackjack professionals stand out from the ordinary player is that pros will rotate particular casinos with high frequency; executing methodical game strategies plotted well in advance with laser precision. These pros often work in teams, and with the help of a handsome bankroll, have all the tools they need to take on a casino of their choice.

Perhaps the best example of such a team is in the film “21”, loosely based on the true story of the MIT team that used card counting and computer software to win millions of dollars in blackjack throughout the various casinos of the U.S.

These pros will often spend five days a week, much like a day job, in order to turn a profit consistently playing blackjack and 21 games. Among the blackjack pros, many suggest never carry more than $5,000 dollars on their person per casino visit, and only play 25 to 100 hands in a sitting. The key reason for this is establishing not only a system that works, but also one that goes unnoticed.

Eliminating heat

The idea is to eliminate “heat”; under the watchful eye of the casino pit bosses and security, card counters must carefully evaluate not only how much they play and win, because if you’re winning too much or are caught counting, casinos will ask you to leave.

Illustration of gambler on a blackjack table

Many blackjack pros might will use disguises, or change slightly their natural appearance each time they visit a favorite casino. Different types of outfits or glasses, a suit or casual wear, beard or no beard, and the list goes on. By rotating locations, each with three shifts in a 24-hour period, card counters become much harder to spot by casino security.

Interestingly, counters know that the more decks a blackjack tables has, the more casino staff will monitor play. Six deck games often discourage card counters because they take a longer time to shuffle. The more decks used the deeper the cut card is placed, meaning less time is spent shuffling the cards. This is what advantage players look for.

Taking notes from a master

Pioneering player and mathematician Ed Thorp, author of the groundbreaking 1962 blackjack book, ‘Beat the Dealer,’ which introduced the world to card counting, knows all too well, what the pros have to deal with when they’re up against the casinos.

Beating the blackjack tables and keeping track of the cards, is an investment, an investment of one’s time, energy and without a doubt money. There are no easy wins. Serious players must be ready to be in it for the long haul. Careful preparation and dedication to the mastery of blackjack card counting is of the utmost importance, and cannot be underestimated. The risks are serious, but with the right tools, anyone can walk away a winner.

Thorp knows that computer software is a critical component for advantage players. Artificial intelligence such as this has real world implications, and many professional blackjack players will utilize such computers in order to develop the most effective strategies to take the house from what otherwise might seem like incomprehensible patterns in blackjack. These technologies can process large amounts of data at a rate much faster than humans can.

Mastering Blackjack Strategy

Without computers, we should take a closer look at card counting. By taking a page out of a true blackjack professional’s strategy book, inspecting the various methods that pros use to make a large profit in blackjack.

Essentially, what card counting does is utilize certain advantages inherent in the game. Blackjack is important because as your skill as a player increases, the house edge decreases. The casino advantage in blackjack for an average player is roughly 2.5%, with expert strategy this drops to less than 1%, in card counting, a player can actually create true odds – meaning the house has a 0% advantage.

Blackjack is also the only game in a casino where previous decisions will influence future results for a session of play. It does not take a genius to card count efficiently, and anyone can learn it with the right tools. But it is not however a way of making a lot of money quickly. It takes a bit of math, time, and patience, but with it, you can make real money.

How to count cards in blackjack

Step 1: Hi-lo value system

Illustraion of a gambler placing chips on a blackjack table

Card counting often incorporates a “hi-lo system”, where cards receive distinct values as such: cards 2-6 receive a +1 value, cards 7-9 receive a zero value, and ten through ace receive a value of -1. As the dealer deals the cards, a player must add or subtract a value of 1, or do nothing if the value is zero. These determines a new hand value, which a player uses to establish the running count.

Step 2: Running count

The player uses the “running count” by adding or subtracting every card revealed from a shoe for both dealer and player hands. As the dealer deals more cards, a player must update their running count accordingly. The key to the running count is that if it increases, the advantage shifts in a player’s favor. If the running count decreases, the advantage shifts to the house.

Step 3: Calculating the true count

The true count is the total value a player assigns per deck, which comes from the running count. The concentration of high cards is what matters. The difference between knowing the concentration of high cards for five decks versus one deck is critical and determines the true count. For example, if your running count is 10 and there are 5 decks remaining, the true count is 10÷5 = 2. If your running count is -7 and there are 2 decks remaining, the true count is -7÷2 = -3.5.

Step 4: Betting and playing deviation

In card counting, the playing deviation determines when and how players should bet. A player must increase their wagers as the true count rises based on the information they have collected. When the true count favors the player this can be turned into maximum profit. This form of blackjack strategy relies on mathematical intervals and not hunches. Blackjack professionals often memorize rules based on computed formulas for blackjack card counting.

Blackjack Dos and Don’ts

Don’t Buy Insurance

Illustration of a front view of a blackjack player

When playing blackjack, there is always the possibility of the dealer getting a ‘blackjack’. In other words, when the dealer’s face-up card is showing an ace, you, as player, have the opportunity to buy insurance. This means putting down half of your original wager to bet on the fact that the dealer has blackjack – if he does, your bet pays out 2:1. However, statistically this is a poor bet to make, and in most cases, you will lose your wager.

Don’t Split Tens

Whenever you receive two ten value cards, you are given the option to split in efforts to double your money. However, there is a statistically lower probability of winning on a split pair of ten value cards instead of keeping the cards together to make 20. After all, the only hand that can beat 20 is 21. This means there’s a greater likelihood that the dealer will lose if you decide to keep the cards together.

Don’t play on a 6:5 payout table

This is a sucker bet, and tips the house edge in the casino’s favor. Always play on a blackjack table that pays out at 2:3, instead 6:5. Period.

Don’t chase your losses

Be sure to set a loss limit when you gamble, even for blackjack. Better yet, designate a separate gambling account for yourself where you can play for an amount of real money that will not hurt your actual finances. Keep a number in mind before you sit down to play. And be sure not to exceed this limit if you reach it.

Do follow basic strategy

The most critical aspect that any blackjack pro considers a must, card counting or not, is to follow basic strategy. Basic blackjack strategy should not be underestimated. That’s because it will help determine when you shit hit, stand, split or double down based on a predetermined rules. Have a look at our Planet 7 Online Casino blackjack cheat sheet for more.

Do split aces and eights

Splitting aces and eights is a smart bet due to the statistical likelihood of winning with either. If you split them, the probability of winning increases, regardless of what others might tell you.

Do have fun!

Most importantly, be sure to enjoy yourself! The pros play to make a living, whereas you can play for entertainment and to win real money playing blackjack. With these helpful tips, you’ll be splitting aces and hitting big wins in no time. Play blackjack online free or for real money by signing up for a player account and making a deposit to play. Play today at Planet 7 Online Casino!

Janae Johnson is a staff writer who loves old movies, meeting new people, exploring the great outdoors, and learning with her hands. After graduating from the College of William and Mary, she applied her degree in English to an ever-expanding industry. She has spent years searching for thrills and fulfillment in her work, until she finally found her home at Planet 7.