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Getting the edge with card counting

By Frank Scoblete


If casino table-game players are the judge of the games, then unquestionably blackjack is the number-one table game in the casinos. By far!

Starting in 1962–1963 a revolution hit the casinos, the arrival of a way to beat the game of blackjack. You have Edward O. Thorp to thank for that.

His book, Beat the Dealer, opened the doors to advantage players by introducing the technique called card counting, which allowed players to keep track of the cards and know at what time in a game they had the edge over the house. Then they bet more. They bet less when the house had the edge over them.

Craps had been king up to that time but in a few years blackjack superseded World War II’s beloved game that had been played by soldiers around the world. It also superseded roulette, another favored game that had been in the casinos almost 400 years.

Indeed, craps and roulette are still played in the casinos but they cannot touch the level of play at blackjack. Blackjack does reign supreme.

[Please note: Slot machines had not yet come into their own during these times; those machines were the games of “women.” At least that is what the men believed. “Honey, here’s a few bucks, go play the slots. I’m gonna play some craps.” Slots took over from the table games in the year 1984, in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City. They have been the number one game ever since.]


High Cards, Low Cards

Thorp’s counting system was not easy to play. However, soon more card-counting systems were developed that were far easier than Thorp’s. These dominate the card-counting scene today.

The basic concept of card counting is simple: The high cards favor the player; the low cards favor the dealer. The idea was to keep track of the relationship between the high and low cards. When the high cards predominated, then the card-counting player would increase his or her bet. When the low cards favored the casino, then the player bet small amounts. In this way the player could get an edge—a small edge—over the casino.

The early days of card counting saw some of the best blackjack games to play—single decks with great rules. A card counter could get between a one and two percent edge over the house. That edge is, yes, a small edge but an edge over the casino is an edge over the casino.

Casinos were not happy with this state of affairs and over the years they took steps to make blackjack a tougher game to beat. They brought in multiple-deck games, changed some of the favorable rules, and cut more cards out of play.

Still, the method continues to work, though not quite as powerfully as it did in the past.


Basic Strategy

In order to play their hands properly, players needed to memorize the basic strategy, which is the computer-derived best play of each player’s hand versus every dealer’s up-card. Card counters might even throw in alternative playing choices on some hands based on the count.

[Please note: Even non-card-counting players should play the proper basic strategies for the blackjack games they play. Too many players fail to do this and the house edges can go over two percent on such players. Perfect basic-strategy players face about a one-half percent edge—the lowest house edge in the casino! Too many non-experts who claim to be experts give the wrong advice about how to play the hands. You’ll especially see this on such hands as A:A, 8:8, 16 versus a dealer’s ten up-card, 12 against the dealer’s two or three, and taking insurance on a player’s blackjack versus a dealer’s Ace up-card. Also double downs or hits on soft hands such as A:4, A:5, A:6 and A:7, among others.]


The Numbers Count

In our post-Thorp world, how many card counters actually exist in today’s casinos? How many are actually beating the casinos? Not many I’m afraid. Plenty of players love the game but not many make the leap to trying to beat the house.

While the idea of counting cards is quite easy, accomplishing that in a casino is very difficult for most players. There’s the noise, the other players conversing at the table, the floor person watching the game intently… In fact, it’s not fun to do. It’s work.

Also, most casino players, including most blackjack players, enjoy playing the games as a recreational activity and they don’t want the added pressure of trying to get an edge. That would take away the entertainment value of the game. They play in casinos for fun, not as a source of income. Income comes for real work work, not leisure card play.

Okay, while blackjack has many more players, most are just average casino players looking for a fun time—maybe a winning fun time—but there is no expectation of getting an edge over the house. They accept that and enjoy the act of playing a fun game.

Just because the total number of blackjack players is extremely high, their winning expectations are not. They have a great game to play but they are facing a house edge on every session they play.

All the best in and out of the casinos!


Frank Scoblete’s website is His books are available from, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, libraries and bookstores.

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