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HOLE CARDING 101-Part 1

by Eliot Jocobson

Eliot Jacobson, Ph.D. is the author of the new book "Advanced Advantage Plays" (www.advancedadvantageplays.com) and "The Blackjack Zone." He also hosts www.apheat.net which contains the latest information on beatable games, side bets, and promotions. This article is reprinted by permission from Dr. Jacobson.

One of the largest leaps a young advantage player makes early in his career is the realization that ordinary blackjack card counting is an essentially worthless pursuit.  Seeing his first hole-card opens a panorama of potential income never before considered. The first question is if it's legal; few advantage players want to cross the thin blue line into cheating.  At the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas on November 22, 1983, Steven Einbinder and Tonly Dalben were caught hole-carding, with Dalben signaling the hole card to Einbinder. The Supreme Court of the State of Nevada found that:

Dalben was lawfully seated at his position at the blackjack table, that he did not use any artificial device to aid his vision, and that he was able to see the dealer's hole card solely because of the admittedly sloppy play of the dealer. Respondent Dalben then communicated his information to respondent Einbinder. The district court ruled that respondents' conduct did not constitute a violation of the cheating statutes. We agree.

In Nevada, a team of APs can legally sit at a table game with one of the players viewing the hole-card and communicating the information to confederates at the table. Similar conclusions have been reached by courts in other gaming jurisdictions. There is no legal issue in a team approach to crushing a hole-carding opportunity. The casinos might not like it much, but it is no more against the law than eating an apple in a meadow with butterflies circling.

This leaves three problems for the hole-carding AP:

  • Determining the games are vulnerable to hole-carding, the edge and hole-card strategy.
  • Finding a game with a hole-carding opportunity.
  • Slaughtering the game and getting the hell out of there.

Plenty has been written on hole-carding and blackjack. I read about it for the first time in Million Dollar Blackjack, by Ken Uston.  Many other sources are available that contain useful information and strategies. Foremost among these (of course) is Beyond Counting, by James Grosjean. In my own experience, the most common blackjack hole-card read was paint/no-paint, that is, the ability to distinguish the cards Jack, Queen, King from the other cards. Grosjean refers to this as "PNP." It is not a coincidence that PNP strategy is absent from Beyond Counting.

In this article, I have focused on hole-carding proprietary games. The proprietary games that are vulnerable require that a strategic decision take place after the initial wager is made and the hidden cards have been dealt. Such a decision is typically to make a "Play" or "Raise" bet in an Ante-style game. Nearly all of the popular proprietary games have this type of structure. However, not all can be effectively beaten by hole-card play.

Vulnerable Games

Of the most popular proprietary games, the ones with the greatest potential for hole-card exploitation are Mississippi Stud Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold'em Poker. The reader may wonder why Three Card Poker is not in this premium list. Three Card Poker has long been the easiest opportunity to find. It also has the easiest hole-card strategy to master, by far. But in practice, Three Card Poker is very tough to beat, giving only a 3.48% edge to the AP under perfect conditions. See this post for more reasons why APs avoid Three Card Poker.

There are other games where an edge seems possible, but unless the hole-card exposure is extreme, no practical edge can be gained. Among games in this category are Caribbean Stud, Crazy 4 Poker and Four Card Poker, where multiple cards must be viewed to get an edge.

Here is a list of hole-card opportunities covered in this blog, along with the edge that can be obtained using perfect hole-card strategy...

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