Blackjack is among the few beatable games on the casino floor provided that you play optimally and use techniques that give you a mathematical advantage over the house. Card counting is the most broadly used method to achieve this. Savvy players have been implementing it to great success at landbased casinos over the last seven decades.
The question arises is this strategy applicable at online casinos with live dealers and if yes, is it effective? The following article covers the topic in detail. But before we get to the subject of effectiveness, we shall briefly explain what card counting is and how it works.
Card Counting Basics
First things first, card counting is a form of advantage play rather than a cheating technique and as such, it is perfectly okay from a legal perspective. It gives players an idea of the composition of the remaining deck(s), i.e. the ratio of high to low cards that remain to be dealt. A deck or shoe rich in low cards favors the house, while more high cards work to the advantage of players.
Counters use this knowledge to size their wagers proportionately. They bet less or nothing when at a disadvantage and increase their stakes when the remaining cards favor them. Contrary to popular belief, there is no need to be a savant or excel at math to count cards. The only requirement is to have some basic knowledge of addition, subtraction, and division.
So Can You Effectively Count Cards at Live Dealer Casinos?
1Unfavorable Table Conditions
The short answer to this question is no. Card counting is theoretically possible at live dealer casinos but unfavorable table conditions render it ineffective in practice. Live casino operators are familiar with the technique as well and take all possible precautions to protect themselves against card counters.
2Unfavorable Rules Grind Down Your Advantage
You need player-friendly conditions when counting cards for the practice to be effective. If the rules are very poor, card counting will not suffice to help you beat the game. Rules such as no resplitting, no doubling after a split, and doubling only on totals of 9, 10, and 11 are too disadvantageous for card counters to overcome.
Blackjack payouts of 6 to 5 are also offered at some live dealer tables, further worsening the situation for advantage players. The vast majority of live tables implement eight decks, which significantly takes away from card counters’ edge.
3Too Few Rounds per Hour
No matter how savvy you are at counting, you will not see adequate results in terms of expected value unless you play enough rounds per hour. Counting cards at live dealer tables is generally not worth your while due to the incredibly slow pace of play. Tables are often full and you have to wait for other players to make their decisions.
There are also intervals between rounds (approximately 13 seconds) for players to post their next bets, which further slows the action down. Successful counters normally play at least a hundred rounds per hour but the most you can manage at online live dealer tables is fifty rounds per hour. This snail pace grinds down your hourly expected value and renders counting a waste of time.
4Insufficient Shoe Penetration
Card counting is only effective if the dealer gives you sufficient enough deck or shoe penetration, i.e they must deal enough cards before the reshuffle. This is not the case at online live casinos where blackjack dealers usually reshuffle in the middle of the shoe at best. With eight decks in play, the best you can hope for is four-deck penetration.
For reference, dealing four out of six decks in a six-deck game is considered bad penetration. Savvy counters look for dealers that show at least four and a half to five decks at six-deck tables. Respectively, a live dealer must show at least six and a half or seven out of eight decks to give you adequate penetration in eight-deck games.
Needless to say, this never happens. It is theoretically possible to extract some value under such conditions. However, you will be generating minuscule hourly profits because you will rarely see high positive counts. The bottom line is you will be better off collecting aluminum cans for recycling than playing live eight-deck blackjack with 50% penetration.
5Continuous Shuffle Machines
Counting cards to an advantage becomes completely impossible at live blackjack tables that use continuous shuffle machines (CSMs). The dealers in such games deal out a couple of rounds, collect the discards, and load them back into the machine for a reshuffle. The CSM constantly shuffles the decks, rendering it impossible to keep track of the cards and count effectively.
Continuous shufflers are bad news for both counters and basic strategy players. They speed up the pace of the game because the dealer never pauses for a manual reshuffle. Basic strategy players thus go through more hands per hour at a disadvantage, losing more money in the long term.
Online Casinos Do Not Tolerate Advantage Play
1Specific Clauses in T&C
Similarly to landbased gambling businesses, live dealer casinos frown at advantage play (AP) and have little tolerance for card counters. Apart from the countermeasures described above, online operators incorporate specific clauses in their terms and conditions to protect themselves against advantage players.
2Live Dealer Casinos Refuse Service to AP Customers
“[…] Frauds, cheating and collusion practices which are used in the gambling and gaming industry (including but not limited to ‘Wonging’, ‘Perfect Pair’ card counting, Dragon Tiger ‘Suited Tie’ card counting, and any other card counting techniques)[…].”
This is one of many examples as most online gambling companies frown at these practices.
Apart from withholding the winnings associated with counting, players might have their accounts terminated and their deposits retained in favor of the casino.
3The Casino Software Also Tracks the Cards
The live casino software enables online operators to closely monitor the gameplay and track all cards dealt out at the live blackjack tables. It is difficult to avoid detection when card counting because the practice requires you to frequently change your bets. Casinos observe for such irregular betting patterns and use them to quickly identify advantage players.
What You Can Do Instead of Card Counting
Now that it is clear card counting is largely ineffective at live dealer casinos, the question arises what can online players do to improve their situation. There are several ways to achieve this, including using perfect basic strategy, finding variations with favorable rules, and managing your bankroll adequately.