Is Card Counting Illegal?
No. As of this writing, it is still unconstitutional to outlaw using your brain inside casinos. At it’s core, that’s all card counting is. As long as you only use your brain and play by the rules the casino has set, you are not doing anything illegal. We do not condone anything illegal on our site. An illegal way to count cards would be using an app on your phone to keep track of the cards and calculate your advantage. It is illegal in most countries, including the US, to use any sort of machine or “device” to help you gain an advantage in a casino.
But isn’t Card Counting Cheating?
No. Most states define “cheating” as something that fundamentally alters the nature of the game. Card counters are accepting the challenge casinos offer when they deal games of Blackjack that are beatable. A card counter beats Blackjack using the rules the casinos set using nothing but their brain. They are not changing the way the dealer plays their hand or switching their bets after the play has ended or doing anything else that fundamentally alters the odds of the game. All they are doing is using their brain to predict when the game will be more favorable to the player and placing larger wagers when those moments arise. Every player a casino could offer the game to has a brain, so to suggest that a player who uses their brain more effectively is a cheater, would imply that everyone in the casino is cheating unless they are stupid. You want to try something fun? Call up any casino and ask them if counting cards is “against the rules.” They will usually hem and ha and say something about how it is not “technically” against the rules, but you shouldn’t do it anyways. We don’t listen to them.
Can You Really Make a Living Counting Cards?
The answer to this question really depends on the person. Can WE make a living counting cards? Yes we can and did for over ten years. We’ve also had many people come through our training course and are now making their primary living as advantaged players.
So if you’re asking whether or not it’s possible, then you have your answer. Whether or not YOU can (or should) do it depends on a lot of different things that you will have to decide on for yourself. We created a page for this very subject, complete with a video: Can you really make a living counting cards?
How do you know when you’re good enough to beat the casinos?
Training to become a card counter is hard work. We estimate that it takes anywhere from 100 to 200 hours of at-home practice before the average person has the skills necessary to beat the casinos. Even after that much practice, we don’t recommend playing in a casino with a very aggressive strategy until you have 40 or 50 casino training hours in. That means you’re playing low limit tables to cut your teeth, erase mistakes, and get used to counting in a casino environment before you crank up the spread and beat the living tar out of them.
Assuming you’ve put in an amount of training that approaches what we’ve just described, now you have a legitimate question. One of the safest ways to know if your ready is to attend a Bootcamp and have a professional tell you if you’re ready or if you need to work on some things. If that option isn’t in the cards for you then read this blog post about knowing when you’re ready and watch this video from our premium video course called how to know you’re ready for the casino.
How much bankroll do I need to make a living/make some more money/supplement my income/break even playing blackjack?
People have a variety of goals when it comes to beating blackjack, ranging from making a living to just breaking even at the tables. Whatever your goal is, a bankroll is essential if you want to do more than lose playing Blackjack. The question of how much bankroll you need is, simultaneously, one of the most asked and most difficult questions to answer in the entire advantaged-play world. Many people get frustrated when we don’t offer a straight answer to what seems like a straight question. To use an analogy, asking, “how much bankroll do I need to do ____,” is almost the same as asking, “What’s the best restaurant in town?” That’s a simple question but, depending on who you ask, you will get a range of responses that are all correct (for the person you asked).
The amount of bankroll you need depends on how much money you need to make. How much money you need to make depends on what your goals are and what your living expenses are each month. Your living expenses depend on what level of lifestyle you consider acceptable. It also depends on your risk tolerance and how much time you have to put into blackjack and how willing you are to travel.
We can offer principles but we can’t offer answers to this question without knowing a lot more about your situation. That’s why we offer Bankroll Coaching. A Bankroll Coaching is a personalized strategy for the casinos you play and the goals you have. For a good overview of the principles at work here read this blog post called Recommended Blackjack Bankroll and 7 ways to build a blackjack bankroll. These premium member, forum threads may also be helpful to you: My first 1000 hours and Blackjack books and impending doom.
THIS IS A SCAM!!! I learned everything on this site about how to count cards! Why am I still losing?! I’ve been to the casino 3 whole times and lost $$$$$$$$$$$$$ dollars since I joined you’re site! Card counting is a scam! You’re just feeding the casinos! It doesn’t work AT ALL!!! If your system works WHY AM I LOSING EVERYTIME!?!?!?!?!
We wish we got this question less often. We can definitely relate to the frustration of losing but the facts of the matter are we only get this response from people who have chosen to ignore just about everything we teach. Remember that question about three paragraphs ago when we answered how to know when you’re good enough to beat the casino? People who wonder why they are still losing after only 3 trips to the casino (and probably fewer trips to this website) are not well suited to become card counters and are probably prone to gambling addiction and we encourage them to find help.
If you’ve spent less than 200 hours at the tables then it is premature to use your results to determine if you’re a winning player or not. The only surefire way to see if you’re losing because you suck or losing because of variance is to have your game evaluated by a professional. That’s why we offer Bootcamps.
If you’re still losing after a significant amount of practice and diligent training we assure you the problem is not the math. The math will work out for the player after hundreds of hours at the tables. This has been proven mathematically. The math works, but the system has to be executed like a computer. Human beings are not computers so there is a very real challenge built into the execution. Most people overestimate their skills and underestimate the amount of training that’s necessary to beat the casinos at their own game. We wouldn’t have built a premium training course if this stuff was easy or something you could master after 3 trips to the casino.
How can I make a living counting cards without getting backed off?
The short answer: You can’t.
The long answer: If you’re making a living counting cards that means you’re spending a significant amount of your time in casinos and you’re playing for an hourly win rate that can support the livelihood of at least one human being. Those two facts combine to create a natural incentive for casino personnel to disallow you from playing blackjack at their establishment. Remember, casinos are offering blackjack for the same reason you’re playing it. If you’re actually beating the casino, it doesn’t matter how much cover you use or how stupid the casino is; you will inevitably get “the tap” and be asked to leave if you’re a winning player. It’s never a matter of IF it happens it’s always a matter of WHEN. It could be many hours or many months, but every pro card counter experiences back offs. Generally, the advantaged players who come to terms with this fact and don’t let it bother them, tend to make the most money. Read this fun forum thread by one of our most successful students about reasons he’s been backed off (and reasons he wasn’t backed off): You’re not a counter because…. You might also enjoy his perspective on back offs in general: Not all Back Offs are Bad.
What’s the best card counting system to use?
The short answer: Hi-Lo
The long answer: There are many counting systems out there and they all do the same thing; tell you when you have the edge so you can raise your bets, change how you play your hands, and ultimately beat the game of Blackjack. Some systems are mathematically more powerful than others, but with great power comes great responsibility. The more powerful the system the more mental energy it takes to implement and the amount of errors you tend to make goes up. The simpler the system, the easier it is to perfect, but you stand to make less money. Generally speaking, if you need to ask what the best counting system is, you probably have not already learned one and should start with the industry standard (Hi-Lo) and the happy middle ground between effectiveness and ease of use.
Hi Lo is what all the teams use, it’s what most of the authors write about, it’s been proven, and will work on any beatable game of blackjack. There are other systems that will also beat the game of blackjack but they are either, more complex and harder to do, or they are equivalently difficult and just less mainstream without a lot of people that could test your skills or provide you resources. We don’t use or teach the other systems because we took roughly $4 million from casinos by sticking with the tried and true. Why fix something that’s not broken? Read this page and watch the video if you want to know more about why we use Hi Lo.
I’ve learned everything except for ______. Can I still beat the casino?
We get this question a lot. The blank is filled in with whatever part of the person’s game they haven’t perfected or that they are having the most trouble with. There are one or two things you can skip and, mathematically speaking, you could, technically, MAYBE, be able to beat the game of blackjack. Deviations are the best example. You can still beat the game of blackjack if you don’t use deviations but it can erase 20% of your potential profit and the rest of your game has to be 100% perfect.
The problem is, at the core of this question is a desire for a shortcut. Blackjack is one of those things where, if you take a shortcut, it can potentially cost you your entire bankroll. Generally speaking if you’re looking for a shortcut you haven’t taken your game seriously enough for the rest of your game to be perfect and thus the answer becomes, “no you can’t beat the casino if you haven’t learned ____.” If you’re serious about beating the casinos at a game they rigged for you to lose, we don’t recommend taking shortcuts. It’s a slippery slope that usually doesn’t lead to success and the casinos are lying in wait, hoping you make that slippery choice.
Is it better to play rated or unrated?
The short answer: Yes
The long answer: What this person is really asking is, “is it worth giving up my identity to the casino and expose myself to potentially being added to OSN and get flyered in exchange for the comp benefits I will get?”
This really depends on what’s important to you and how good the comps are. For people who aren’t trying to make a living, getting a $15 buffet for free might be worth the risk of casinos having your real name. Some casinos have better comps than others. Some people don’t care to make a lot of money and would love to get treated like a king by the casinos and giving them your name is just part of that. Other people might not care about comps and having their identity out there can seriously impede their ability to get hours in. There’s no right answer.
How do I join/start a team?
We wrote a separate blog post all about this topic: How to join a blackjack team
There are a lot of resources on this site. What’s the best way to train to become a card counter?
You’ve come to the right place! We built this website and our premium video course because we honestly believe it’s the best way to learn this skill. We have training drills, a member forum with a community of students in the same place as well as professional players that can answer questions as the come up. We have a directory of casinos and the games of blackjack they offer with reviews written BY card counters FOR card counters. We do exclusive podcast interviews of Blackjack Hall of Famers like Tommy Hyland and Richard Munchkin that you can’t get anywhere else. If you’re ready to take your skills to the next level grab a premium membership and start the course. If it’s not what you were looking for we have a 30 day money back guarantee.
What’s the best camouflage/cover?
This is hotly-debated topic in the AP community. We generally don’t encourage cover plays or camouflage that will cost you EV. Most cover plays involve making a decision that is less than mathematically optimal in hopes of showing the casino that you are not counting cards. The problem is, we make money by making optimal plays. Blackjack is hard enough to beat without giving money back to the casino. Usually the people who are asking about cover are trying to find a way to last longer in the casino or to avoid back offs in general and we applaud the problem-solving attitude. But, in our experience, it’s never a matter of IF the casino finds out you’re counting, it’s always a matter of when. Our philosophy is that we’re not willing to give up real EV in exchange for the “hope” of longer playing time. Did we come to the casino to spend time in the casino or did we come to the casino to make money? There is no way of knowing how long the casino will let you play. Since you don’t know, you might as well be as aggressive as possible.
To use an example, let’s say a casino is offering a game you can make $100 bucks an hour from. You decide you want to “milk it” instead of burning it down and you use cover strategies that take it down to $25 bucks an hour. You go into the casino and play for 5 hours and the casino backs you off. Did you make the right choice? Technically you got $125 in EV but it also took you 5 hours to do it. What if instead you went into the casino and used the $100 spread and got backed off in an hour and then drove an hour to the next casino and played another hour and then drove another hour to another casino and played an hour. You spent the same 5 hours either way but in the second scenario you made $300 bucks in EV. It doesn’t always work out like this, so it’s not a black and white subject, but those are the factors at play here.
We played very aggressively when we were running the Church Team. We once tried to implement an elaborate cover scheme crafted by Ian Andersen in his landmark book Burning the Tables in Las Vegas. We ended up abandoning it and went back to blasting the casinos with both barrels. Why? Because when we were using cover, we were still getting backed off and now we had less EV per hour. At the end of the day you can only make money if your bets are rising and falling with the count and that’s how casinos detect card counters. They don’t care if you never hit your 16s or don’t split 10s. Nobody in the casino knows how to play proper basic strategy in the first place.
Cover plays sound very appealing at first but for most people it isn’t practical. It requires a very large bankroll in comparison to the stakes you’re betting and requires you to only play casinos with the very best rules and conditions. It’s also not necessarily going to make you more money. It might reduce back-offs but that comes at a cost. We were in it to make the most money we could in the shortest amount of time and expensive cover strategies didn’t fit with that goal. Other players would disagree with us and they are welcome to!
The best kind of cover for a card counter is the kind that’s free. For instance, back counting a table and wonging in when the count is good is a great way to camouflage your bet spread. Acting like you’re comfortable and belong at the table and being polite can also be forms of camouflage that don’t cost you anything.