Big Book of Blackjack — Introduction (excerpt)
Casinos have always been battlefields. There is a legal way to beat just about every game in the house, and the casinos know this. They take incredible measures to eliminate the possibility of players getting an edge on them, but they can never totally eliminate that possibility.
Virtually every card game is vulnerable. In the process of play, cards sometimes get nicked, bent, or scratched, giving perceptive players information they’re not supposed to have. Sloppy dealers often flash cards during the process of dealing that are supposed to be hidden from the players. Hand shuffles are often inadequate and “trackable” by players who have trained themselves to follow shuffles.
And any game based on math and/or memory may be leaving alert players with valuable information the house was not figuring into the game. There are professional players who do nothing but hunt for mathematical advantages in new games and ill-considered casino promotions.
Roulette teams have been known to spend weeks looking for wheels with “biases” for certain numbers. Some casinos have lost millions to players who have discovered such wheels.
Slot players have formed teams to beat “progressive jackpot” machines, especially at video poker. In the old days, there were players who knew how to “pop the handle” on the mechanical reel slots in order to line up the cherries for a jackpot.
New games are especially vulnerable to professional attack. I have three different books, all recently published and by different authors, that describe the relatively new game of Three-Card Poker. Every book states that players should look for dealers who flash the bottom card when removing the cards from the shuffle machine. Why? Because sloppy dealers tend to do this. With the correct strategy, a Three-Card Poker player who sees just one of the dealer’s cards will have better than a 3 percent edge over the house. There are players today who make a living from playing Three-Card Poker.
In the old days, there were crap players who taught themselves to slide one of the dice in order to get an edge on certain numbers. Casinos in Nevada made regulations against dice sliding, and many casinos now require shooters to hit the backboard when they throw the dice.
There was a keno player who won hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Casino de Montreal some years back when he discovered that the computer program that was used to pick the numbers had a flaw that made the numbers predictable.
Any player who makes his living beating casino games does so by finding a weakness in a game that the casino does not know about. There are slot players who look for machines that overpay. There are players who live on cash back bonuses from players clubs. There are sports bettors who find odds that favor the players.
So, the situation with blackjack being a game that professional players can beat is not unique. The only unique thing about blackjack is that it is so easy for so many players to beat it. There are dozens of books on card-counting systems for beating blackjack. There is really no reason for any smart player to play blackjack in a casino without having an advantage over the house. But, in fact, fewer than one out of one hundred blackjack players ever apply themselves to beating the house. Blackjack remains the casinos’ number one money-making table game. Even so, the casinos hate the fact that there are some blackjack players who can beat them, and they spend enormous amounts of money on blackjack game protection. In fact, there is more money spent on protecting blackjack games than on all other casino games combined. Casinos are wary of new players at their blackjack tables, and especially players who place big bets. You may be a customer, and the dealer may be smiling and acting friendly, but if you’ve got a big bet on the table, you are being watched and your play is being scrutinized and analyzed by people who are being paid to be suspicious of you.
For a lot of casino managers who must answer to casino owners and stockholders, blackjack is a never-ending headache. In no casino game is the house money more vulnerable than at blackjack. And what’s worse, it’s not cheaters or thieves who are threatening the casino profits; it’s smart players who are following all the rules—breaking no laws, but just happen to be a bit smarter than the casino’s “game protection” staff.
©2006 Arnold Snyder