Advantage Play in Blackjack

Most casino patrons know well that it is unreasonable to expect that their gambling activities could one day become a sustainable and profitable way to make a living. There are very few gamblers who honestly consider themselves professionals but those who do are nearly all advantage players, except for maybe elite poker pros. Advantage play is what most blackjack players strive to master in order to beat the game and turn the odds in their favor.

Advantage play in blackjack is often associated with card counting but there are many other techniques that could be used in real-life and online games. They could be described as methods for exploiting different weaknesses in the game and making a profit from this. Typically, the techniques used by advantage players are legal and allowed by casinos but there are also various ways to gain an advantage over the house by simply cheating. Whether employing legal or illegal methods, harmless or unethical tricks, advantage players are always looking for an edge in the game they play.

Mathematical Advantage in Casino Games

1Understanding of house edge

In order to master any advantage play technique, players first need to have a good understanding of what advantage is in gambling. Also called house edge, it is expressed as a percentage and it represents the casino’s average profit from a player’s bet. Determined by various unfavorable rules and unfair payouts, it is built within all casino games and it guarantees that casinos will always make a profit.

2Example from Roulette

The so-called even bets in roulette could be taken as a simple example for the advantage of the house over players. These bets are not even, however – the black/red, even/odd, and high-low bets seem to be offering 50/50 odds since almost all numbers are either black or red, either high or low, etc. But the wheel has one or two more pockets, depending on whether we play European or American roulette, and they are neither red nor black. This green pocket is for the zero, which is neither high nor low and neither even nor low.

If we bet on red, for instance, there will be 18 numbers that would win and 20 numbers that will lose. This means that the chances for winning will not be 50% – they will be precisely 47.37%. The payout, however, does not reflect the odds that are stacked against the player – while odds against winning are 20 to 18 (18/20), which is 1.11 to 1, the payout is even or 1 to 1. This suggests that over time, the casino will make a profit by offering this game even though some players may occasionally win substantial amounts of money.

3Example From Blackjack

In blackjack, the house edge is around 1% – 2% and with basic strategy, players can usually reduce it to around 0.50%. It shows that, on average, players could expect to lose around 0.50% of the bets they have made over a long period of time. They may win 5, 20 or 100 games but after several million games, their losses will be closer to this theoretical advantage. The game is, of course, much more complex mathematically than roulette and there is no need to explain in detail how the house edge is calculated.

In general, the casino’s advantage in blackjack comes from several things – the dealer’s hole card, which forces players to make assumptions when deciding how to play out a hand, and the fact that the dealer is the last one to act in the round. Various rules also may increase or decrease the casino’s mathematical advantage.

Card Counting

Card counting has been portrayed multiple times in books and films but it is quite different in real life. Most card counting systems for blackjack are not as complex as people would imagine, yet they are hard to practice for a long time while sitting at the blackjack table. Players do not have to be mathematical geniuses to learn how to count cards and gain an advantage – all they need to do is keep track of the ratio of high to low cards in the dealer’s shoe. The idea is that while low cards are good for the casino, high cards favor the player.

This is an oversimplified explanation, however, and those who want to gain an edge with card counting will need to first master the fundamentals of blackjack. This includes knowing the rules and playing with basic strategy perfectly. Once a player manages to act on each hand correctly without mistakes, he can start by learning the simpler counting systems.

How It Works
Counting Systems
Team Play

Other Techniques for Advantage Play in Blackjack

Wonging Technique
Edge Sorting and Hole Carding
Camouflage Betting
Playing with Comps and Bonuses
Cheating and Collusion

The Risks of Advantage Play

How Operators Prevent the Advantage Play

The potential risks of card counting

There are multiple risks advantage players need to consider, especially if they are planning to use dishonest and illegal tactics like cheating against the casinos. Operators spend millions of dollars to prevent this and nowadays, the vast majority of land-based casinos have 24/7 surveillance with security cameras and well-trained staff.

They also use special devices for detecting phones, miniature cameras, and microphones that could be potential weapons for cheaters. There are also signal blockers and alert systems in use. Still, blackjack players have multiple options when they want to gain possibly unfair advantage over the house. The two most common ways for improving players’ odds include bonus abuse and card counting, both linked with considerable risk.

Most casino players believe that once they are offered an online casino bonus, they can claim it and withdraw their winnings immediately after completing the wagering requirements. According to them, they are not abusing the bonus as long as they follow all rules described in the terms and Conditions of the casino site. Unfortunately, casinos often do not share this opinion. Operators usually consider the practice of claiming bonus funds only for withdrawal purposes bonus abuse. Besides, only a small portion of online casinos actually allow blackjack to be played with bonus funds and most of them will count only a percentage of your bets to the wagering requirements if these bets are on blackjack or other card games.

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