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THE GIG IS UP by Ariande

Ariande has over 15 years of experience dealing and supervising casino games in multiple states for diverse companies.

The purpose of blackjack tables is not to redistribute wealth from the foolish to the skilled, although windows of opportunity can open for the skilled player to capitalize. Counting cards is not illegal, so long as you are using your brain and not a device, but it is an activity that is not exactly welcomed by casinos. We've discussed elsewhere about how people increase their chances of getting caught. What this article will focus on are real-world examples of counters being caught.

Gone are the days of hammers crushing fingers in the back room and being tossed through doors head first. The new way of dealing with confirmed counters is to alter rules to limit the benefit of counting. When you see these rule changes enacted, it is likely that you, or your team, has been caught. I'm going to discuss what this involves.

But first, I saw someone get caught counting this past week in a way that was just stupid. Picture the translucent discard rack on third base (the last spot cards are dealt before the dealer.) What the counter did was create a barber-poll of black and white chips that he slid right up against the discard rack. After every five black chips, he'd put a white chip, then another five black, then a white, and so on up to a total of $2004. The player appeared to be a blatant Kenny Rogers rule violator (you never count your money when you're sittin at the table), but in truth he was getting an accurate count of the number of cards stacked in the discard rack. (In the past, people have tried a similar trick with a pack of cigarettes.) As soon as the supervisor saw this, a phone call was made and the player was confirmed within two shoes. His precision to accurately calculate the true count (by placing his stack of chips next to the discard tray) actually got him caught. Tip: Never place anything near the discard rack. If you can't estimate the decks spent, you need more practice. Period.

What happens next if the casinos suspect a player is counting? Things get ugly. The confirmed counter is usually informed that new betting limits will be put in place, even in the middle of shoe. I have seen the actual table signs changed, or if it is digital, the minimum and maximum display is changed. Usually, the minimum is the maximum. What? Yes, that's exactly what I said. The counter can play the hand however he or she likes but cannot increase his (or her) bet. What's the point of continuing to play at this point? If management thinks a team is involved, these limits can apply to everyone at the table or just a single individual. Is this fair? NO, but this is how it is. At this point, your run at this casino (and quite possibly its affiliates) may be over.

Occasionally you will see a supervisor or pit manager whisper something into a dealer's ear. Before the next shoe, the dealer cuts off half the shoe instead of the 1-2 deck cushion. Unless it is the end of the night and the staff is eager to go home, someone on the table has been made. Protesting the fairness of this is going to get you absolutely nowhere. Tip: Say nothing. Casinos are not obligated by law in Nevada (and also elsewhere) to only cut a certain number of decks. With fewer cards in play, there is less of a chance for a significant positive true count to develop and the counter's profit potential decreases significantly. Find an excuse and quietly leave.

Usually the entire table gets up and leaves in the above scenario. Individual players may re-settle on other games. A persistent counter might leave one pit and go to another. Surveillance may have followed this person. A few minutes later, a phone rings. It's the middle of a shoe and a supervisor orders a shuffle. What? The cut card isn't out yet. The casino is under no obligation to maximize your profit potential. You have definitely been caught in this situation.

What can you really do as a player in this situation? You probably stayed too long in one place or you got too greedy along the way. You could ask why the dealer is shuffling or why the rules have been changed. I recommend against this because you're likely to get the dreaded response you hated to hear when you were a kid, "Because I said so," or "Management made this decision; it's beyond my control." Asking to speak to a higher authority isn't going to improve your situation any either. If they come out and say that you were confirmed as a counter, there's not a whole lot you can do. "But I wasn't counting..." The casino isn't going to take such drastic steps unless they are extremely confident that you are counting; in fact, they're willing to lose you as a customer if they've gone this far.

The casino is a unique kind of business where they do not have to serve everyone in the way that a supermarket, bakery, or bank does. It's not discrimination; it's just the business. If you are winning, the casino wants you to keep playing to lose the money back, but if it decides the odds are not in the casino's favor, they can decline your action or limit your effectiveness. If you don't like the rules, don't play. Your only leverage over the casino is that you are still entitled to your winnings, so long as you didn't cheat (i.e. use a device).

We talked last time about the positive and negative risks and rewards of being rated. When caught, comp dollars can be frozen, credit lines can be suspended, and you will likely never get another discounted offer to stay within a particular chain of casinos. Not being rated can also throw up a red flag. Anyone not being rated that is betting significantly more than the table minimum is going to attract attention. More attention means a higher likelihood that surveillance will get film or at least a picture of you at the table, at the cashier, and/or on your way to the parking garage. Just like gambling, risk and reward are always related.

Casinos have catalogs of confirmed counters and are constantly monitoring the casino floor. Some even share pictures and other data on confirmed counters with their competitors for reciprocal information. Teams that involve the same people are easier to catch. Friends often do play together, but teams employ advanced strategies and betting progressions. You know the personalities on a blackjack table. "Why didn't you hit that 12?" "The dealer would have broken if you'd hit..." You can try acting or you can shrug, but in essence you were trying to maximize your profit potential with multiple hands and in doing so, you have more exposure. There are cameras everywhere and facial recognition software continues to improve.

The win/loss for every table is calculated every day, sometimes every few hours. Supervisors are often relating significant wins and losses to their managers. The threshold for this varies, but if you pay attention to the suits, you can get a good idea when the alarm bells are beginning to ring. After a great shoe, you may keep playing at the same table. But why give them more time to film you?

Most casinos don't sweat the money. Best business practice requires a positive attitude to enhance the allure for more loyal patrons. Superstitious gamblers have dealers, tables, and times that they prefer, but getting too familiar can be dangerous if you are counting. "It's uncanny how that guy always leaves after one big shoe." Alarm bell... Does your schedule only allow you the same time for you to return to that same location?

The counter has one great thing on his or her side: volume. The vast majority of players who are watched are not in fact counting and playing advanced strategy. You'll never know when the eyes in the sky are focusing on your table, but you can notice how closely supervisors and other pit staff are watching. The higher the minimum, the more people are watching. But a conundrum presents itself. Higher minimum games often have more favorable rules. How do you weigh the benefit? Carefully...

Counters too often get caught because they play "perfectly." Disguising your strategy to make yourself appear to be an unskilled player is not mathematically optimal, but if you end up becoming branded "skilled," the imposed rules will no longer make blackjack profitable and if you are labeled "play prohibited," you won't be playing there at all. Consider misplaying certain hands intentionally to throw anyone watching off the scent. Take your 11 against an Ace. "I don't think you have it. Give me a 10!" Don't do this every time as your positive expectation drops about 3%; however, if you do it with a small bet, it won't look as suspicious when the true count goes to +1 or higher (and the double down becomes the more profitable play).

If you think you might be caught, leave quietly and directly, and do not cash out at the cage. Cashing out allows a record of an exact transaction, and there is no law about you bringing your chips home. You can give them to someone you trust to cash them in for you. So long as you're not dealing with extremely large amounts of money that have IRS implications, no one will care.

Even if you are not caught and are playing at a place semi-regularly, what do you need the currency for? You're only going to buy in again. Coming up to the game with a small amount in chips can help throw supervisors off the scent. "Do you want to be rated?" "No, I got killed the other day and I don't want to lower my average. Can I give it to you later?" If you only give the card when you lose, it's a red flag... But this strategy doesn't hurt. Any time a supervisor approves a buy-in, they have the chance to see your face. With fewer transactions, you can trigger fewer alarms.

I have never personally witnessed a casino intentionally shuffle just because the count became positive. If it were done routinely, it would be cheating the customers. There is integrity to the game that the casino should want to preserve. If you were counting and found this to be a routine occurrence not related to anyone playing advanced strategy, this information should be shared. Getting aggravated or arguing isn't going to help since it is within the casino's powers to exercise such measures when players are counting. Escape and try again another day, in another outfit, in another pit, or in another casino. Keep your sessions on the shorter side and make the most of the fluctuations.

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