Why Blackjack Card Counting Doesn’t Work Like It used Too
Card counting worked for a while. Books have been written on the escapades of card counters and teams of card counters. Ken Uston spent half of his book, Million Dollar Blackjack, talking about his team and his lawsuit in New Jersey. The M.I.T. team was the subject of Ben Mezrich’s book, Bringing Down the House.
Players from the team are celebrities now, with appearances in the World Series of Blackjack. Millions were won by these teams, and these are just the ones written about. Countless others operated under complete anonymity.
Those days are probably over; just a memory of the glory days. They have been hurt by casino countermeasures and security advances. The casinos seem to have been just behind the counters and shuffle trackers. Now they seem to be running beside them. In a few years they will be running ahead of them.
Blackjack was predominately a game played with a single 52 card deck prior to the card counting revolution. Early casino countermeasures included the introduction of multiple deck blackjack. These games included two deck hand tossed games, and four, six and eight deck shoe games. The effect of having more decks smoothed out the extremes where the count would be advantageous to one side or the other.
You should never try to count cards when playing blackjack at casinos online. Unless the casino itself tells you otherwise, you should always assume that the deck is being shuffled after every deal. There are a few online casinos that will deal as normal for a deck or more, but this isn’t the norm everywhere.
Today’s blackjack software can be used to test the effect of this dilution. The house advantage tells a small part of the story. The house advantage for single deck, 3:2 blackjack is about 0.2%. The house advantage for a six deck shoe game is around 0.6 to 0.7%.
At first glance this seems like a very small change, so it shouldn’t make that big of a difference whether you play single deck or a shoe game. The amount you win when counting cards should only decrease about 0.4%, right? WRONG! Look at the following simulation results.
The player advantage using a basic Hi-Lo system, 3:2 single deck with 100% penetration under current Las Vegas rules, with a 1 to 6 unit spread and a $5 unit yields:
Player Advantage: 3.476%
Hourly Win Rate: $39.99, or 8 units
Using the same rules, same penetration, and same payoff, but playing 6 decks yields:
Player Advantage: 1.563%
Hourly win rate: $13.60
As you can see, there was a dramatic drop seen with this change alone.
The next change was the addition of the burn card. By burning a card in single deck play, the count could be off by one. In a multi-deck game the difference was less. But, the casinos weren’t done yet. The next step was to change the penetration of the deck.
A little piece of plastic placed half way through the deck can make a huge difference in advantage and win rate enjoyed by the player. For example, in a single deck game, just as above, but with 50% penetration yields the following results:
Player Advantage: 1.497%
Hourly Win Rate: $14.03.
You can see the casinos chipping away at the card counter advantage. The casinos, being greedy as they are, also put a cut card in the six deck shoe. It is generally at the 75% penetration point, with 1 ½ decks left in the shoe at the shuffle. So, how much damage did this do to the card counter?
Player Advantage: 0.222%
Hourly Win Rate: $1.59
One would think they would be happy with this. It’s essentially an even game. But No! The greedy bastards (pardon my French) just keep on changing things in an effort to eliminate card counting altogether.
The latest change is to change the payoff for a blackjack. There are variations on a theme, but the most common change is to change to 6:5 instead of the traditional 3:2. In other words, instead of receiving $7.50 for every $5 wagered, the player receives $6.
You will recall that the blackjack payoff is the highest of the “extras”. So the effect was very dramatic. A single deck 3:2 game has a house advantage of 0.2%. A 6:5 single deck game has a 1.6% casino advantage. The effect on counting cards is equally dramatic. Using the same conditions as before, with a 50% penetration, 6:5 single deck game yields:
Player Advantage: -0.068%
Hourly win rate: -$0.64
We have gone from an advantage of 3.476% to -0.068%.
We have gone from winning almost $40 per hour to losing 64 cents an hour. This is why card counting is not working any more. We have great, very effective systems developed, but the rules are changing and there isn’t a thing we can do about it. Remember the golden rule: He who has the gold makes the rules. Unfortunately, we don’t play by the same rules we did years ago.
So, where can a card counter go to get the best game? Probably Reno!