We were recently approached by a casual blackjack player who had been running home games of blackjack and poker. These were games between friends and neighbors, but there was money at stake. He suspected that one of the players had been counting cards, something which they had all preciously denied knowing how to do. Without wanting to upset the atmosphere and make an accusation without any proof, this player asked us if there was a way he could find out.
Spotting a Card Counter
The truth is that this is not an easy task. You have probably heard of casinos zeroing in on card counting players immediately, but the best ones avoid blatant detection and are often discovered purely because they win a lot. However, it is unlikely that this casual player can be listed as one of the best and there and probably some telltale signs he is displaying.
To understand these you first need to understand how card counting works. It is a very simple system that anyone can do, providing they can run a basic count in their head. It is all about increasing chance, as opposed to guessing the next card. For instance, a card counter may have a good idea that the next card they will be a face card (with a value of ten) or not. A face card is a big deal in blackjack and if the odds are well in their favor then they may have a good chance of getting two, putting them on 20 or 21 (if one is an ace).
This means that there are two ways they can play. They can either sit out for a few hands and then jump in, winning big off the bat, or they can play steadily and with small bets, before upping their bet when the odds are in their favor, which is what many counters do. In the first instance a card counter will be paying very close attention to the game playing out before them. They will be monitoring all of the cards being dealt and they may seem distracted as they do this. When they decide to play, they may also bet more than the others and they’ll probably get a good hand or two, before lowering their bet (when the count is poor) or sitting out again.
This is a very amateurish way of counting cards and one that should be very blatant to other players. If you suspect a player of doing this but don’t want to accuse them, then simply distract them or tell them that if they want to play they need to be involved in every hand.
Of course, the best card counters are usually involved in every hand anyway. They will bet small when the count is against them and they will increase the bet when it is looking good. They might do a bit of play-acting when they increase their bet, pretending that they think their luck is in or even that they’re annoyed and are betting aggressively. Either way, if they land a great hand and then lower their bets before they land a poor one, then this is a great sign that they are counting cards.