Cheating at Blackjack
If a game’s been invented, then someone’s tried to invent a way to beat that game. While uncommon and difficult, cheating at the casino does happen. It’s less common than it was in the early days of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, before casinos became more heavily regulated with more sophisticated surveillance equipment and techniques.
Nevada State law defines cheating as “to alter the elements of chance, method of selection or criteria which determine the amount or frequency of payment in a game, the value of a wagering instrument, or the value of a wagering credit.”
The real question is who is cheating whom; is it the blackjack players who cheat the casinos or vice versa? Since it takes a cheater to spot a cheater, listed below are methods and terms people use when rigging the game in their favor
Ways Blackjack Dealers Can Cheat Players:
Stacking the deck: A good dealer will have developed the kind of hand dexterity that makes sleight-of-hand manipulation of the cards seem like child’s play. There are many different ways the dealer can affect the outcome of the hand by slipping in the “correct” card at the correct time. Two of the more common methods are dealing from the bottom of the deck or dealing the second card from the top (second dealing). These work when the dealer has had a chance to sneak a peek at the bottom or top card, depending on which method is in use.
The high-low pickup: Another method of stacking or setting the deck is to pick up cards in a round in alternates of high and low cards. A savvy (and sketchy) dealer will have developed a fake shuffle move that keeps the cards in the order the dealer picked them up. Then when the cards are dealt out to players they come in pairs of high and low cards, the type of hands that are more likely to bust.
Swapping hole cards: With quick hands, a dealer may replace a low hole card with a high one, and even if this type of cheating is rare in regulated casinos with decent surveillance, it is probably good strategy to assume the dealer has a ten as the hole card, as a matter of form, since there are more cards with that value than any other in the deck. There are only four cards of each value one through eleven, with the exception of ten. There are twenty cards in a standard deck that count as ten.
Mishandling Money or Chips: A dealer could fail to pay off a winning bet correctly or give the wrong change back. This is not necessarily cheating and could be the result of apathy or inattention. Players can help avoid this and be better at casino games by remaining vigilant.
Holdout shoes and other devices: Since much of the above can be counteracted with shuffling machines and dealer shoes on the part of the casino and keen observation by the player, devices such as holdout shoes are particularly insidious. Nearly identical to a normal dealer shoe, a holdout shoe will second-deal a card. A prism or mirror is positioned in such a way in the shoe that the dealer can see the top card, but no one else can. Other devices use the same basic premise, combining second dealing with a mirrored surface. Some shoes are designed to allow a dealer to shorten the deck as well. Using a holdout shoe or any of these devices is also a sure way to lose a gambling license so that regulated casinos will stay far away from this practice. However, it is best to remember that not every gambling environment is strictly regulated and be certain you know what authority does regulate games before you play.
Pegging: Pegging is a catch-all term that refers to dimpling cards subtly to mark out various high cards. Casinos that change decks frequently make methods of card marking on the part of either the dealer or players a difficult grift to sustain.
Ways players can cheat the game, the dealer, or the casino:
Palm and switch: Grabbing winning cards and swapping them out with losing cards used to be one way in which players could cheat their way into money, but casinos are wary of palming methods and have many eyes trained on the tables, and many casinos will not allow blackjack players to touch the cards, rendering this method obsolete.
Daubing: This one is old and, like the palm and switch, nearly extinct. Daubing is another method of marking cards (see pegging above), but this one uses dirt or ink or whatever is available to mark the high cards. A more high tech variety involves marking cards with a substance only visible with a special kind of eyeglass worn by the cheater.
Two-man teams: Two-man teams have many variations but all involve one person to spot the dealer’s hole card and signal it to the other player who makes playing decisions accordingly.
Spooking: This version of a two-man cheat has the spotter lurk behind the dealer like a ghost or a spook and signal to the player from there.
First Base Play: The spotter sits in the first place that the cards are dealt – first base. The player sits at the anchor or any other later position.
Front Load: To front load is to spot the dealer’s hole card when it is slid over the up card rather than when the dealer peeks at it.
Card counting and advantage gambling: The number of high cards in the deck – twenty valued at ten (K-10) and four at eleven (the aces) for a total of twenty four out of fifty two cards accounts for nearly half the deck and when you add in the four nines as well than it is just over half the deck. Card counting need not be as complicated as it might seem to the uninitiated, since most methods of card counting involve calculating the ratio of high cards to low cards rather remaining in the deck rather than determining the exact suit or ranking. Whether this is cheating or not is often in the eye of the beholder. Is it a skill to be be developed alongside playing strategies in order to be a better player or is it another way of gaming the system that is itself predicated on the notion that the house ultimately wins? The debate may rage on, but many casinos watch for signs of card counting and will ask you to leave if you are caught and put you on a list. They may even share that list with other casinos. Even if it is not cheating, casinos also have the right to refuse service to anyone.