Blackjack card counting risk analysis: poor gains at huge risk

It’s possible to win at blackjack by counting cards, but most fail. The mean is positive, but the variance is mean.

Cardsharps, Caravaggio c. 1594.

Always optimal strategy

Always use an optimal strategy adapted to the rules of your casino. Here is an example blackjack strategy. Every time you deviate from the optimal strategy – because of hunches or fear – it depletes your funds.

Count cards

If you find a casino with good rules, and if you play with an optimal strategy, the odds are still against you – but the house edge can sometimes be as low as 0.5%.

Card counting is simple. If there are many high cards in the deck, the odds are better for the player: then you should bet more and play with a more aggressive strategy. The proportion of high cards is estimated by starting to count after each shuffle.

The right casino

In addition to good basic rules, card counting requires that the casino uses few decks of cards, preferably one or two, and deals deep into the deck. Directly after shuffling, the proportion of high cards is always the same – too low. Furthermore, betting limits must be wide enough so that you can play aggressively when it pays off.

Few mistakes

Most card counting systems are simple but require a lot of practice and must often be adapted to local rules. You must be able to count without being noticed and with few mistakes. Practice at home first, it’s cheaper that way.

It’s difficult to manage a job with alcohol in your blood: the number of mistakes increases and it becomes harder to follow a strategy. Know yourself and know your error rate.

Big funds and plenty of time

Blackjack is a game with very large variance. You will meet both high peaks and long deep valleys. If your money runs out the game is over.

A long-term expected hourly income of a few hundred dollars typically requires $100,000 in funds. If your goal is $1000 per hour with reasonable risk, you need millions. It’s not uncommon to lose for an entire week, even with a strategy with an expected profit. Playing blackjack on your vacation is a bad idea.

Keep a low profile

You’ve done your homework: you know your system, know your limits, have found a place where you can work and have sufficient funds.

Now the cat-and-mouse game begins. If you only place big bets when deep into the deck, it’s discovered quickly; and if the casino doesn’t like your playing style, you’re not welcome back. Most likely, you will be forced to work in a team, where one person counts and the others enter the game when the odds are right.

You must get everything right

To win at blackjack, you must manage all the points above. If you miss one, you end up a loser.

Most casinos have closed the holes a long time ago. Many casinos even have slot machines with a statistical structure similar to blackjack: a “secret” and simple playing strategy with high bets gives a small expected profit.

The casino knows that few have the funds, discipline, and time required – and the ones that still manage, do it with low hourly wages in a dismal working environment with poor gains at huge risk.

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