If you're a serious blackjack player then you've probably read more than a few of the books written on how to beat the game legally, including the more famous titles like Beat the Dealer by Dr Edward O. Thorpe, who first introduced the basis of card counting.
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Prior the publishing of this book (which was over 50 years ago) there were many players who tried to the beat the casinos at blackjack in less than legal ways, yet only a select few managed to produce a mathematically sound blackjack strategy that ensured consistent wins.
Blackjack games of old that were played in rogue casinos in Las Vegas and Reno in the 30's and 40's were difficult to beat, often carrying house edges of up to 5%. Not only did the players take a few liberties but the dealers cheat too and occasionally quasi-cheating also occurred wherein the dealer would use a single deck and shuffle early when no aces had been dealt, then would keep on dealing when all aces were out and players wouldn't be able to achieve blackjack and win.
In modern times, many blackjack scams still take place, although many are well documented and are more easily spotted. Here we look at the most common ones.
Intelligent gamblers generally can pick up on if quasi-dealing is going on after a few rounds and as such many increase their bets when the aces are still in the deck or take advantage when they recognised dirty or bent cards in play.
In the 40's a group of Las Vegas players would wipe the side of their noses as they played and apply the oil from their skin to the short edge of 10 value cards and Aces. The residue was hard to see but not if you knew what you were looking for!
There were also a few notorious players such as Lefty Larry who was an early proponent of tipping the dealers. He would also warp the cards so that he could read them. This meant that in practice he would get the dealers to shuffle or deal an additional hand with a simple tip when he knew the next card would be an ace for him.
Chicken George was another infamous card marker who would eat fried chicken while playing in Reno. It took a while for Harold's Club Casino to pick up that he always bet more at the end of the deck by which time he had gotten the cards well and truly marked with his chicken fat fingers.
George Cannon, on the other hand, developed a more intricate scam wherein he exploited a minor defect in the manufacturing of playing cards to take casinos for a fortune. He wore a variety of disguises, his favourite of which was said to be a woman and would then take advantage of marking flaws in the designs on the back of blackjack cards to figure out what was coming his way next. Years later, poker pro Phil Ivey was also implicated in a similar complaint by two casinos when he experienced two very similar $10 million wins ‐ could it be that he picked up a trick or two from Cannon's book?
In recent times, card marking is something that casinos are on the lookout for and as such two new techniques which include turning half the deck during each shuffle and requiring the dealer to keep his/her index finger straight across the front of the deck while dealing so that the edges and markings cannot be seen have become the norm. Single deck blackjack dealers are also now taught to hold the deck up higher so that the players cannot see the deck before deciding whether to hit or stand.
In blackjack players win 3:2 on their bets when they get blackjack so know when you're going to be dealt a blackjack hand can be a considerable advantage. In single deck games, players may be able to identify an unusual bend at the corner of the Ace cards in order to anticipate when they will be dealt an Ace.
This has seen many players working in pairs, with one bending the corner of at least one Ace card and then simply waiting for their turn to cut the cards, then placing a cut-card a single card above the Ace, knowing that the dealer will burn the first card and deal their co-conspirator their Ace next, giving them a 65% chance of being dealt a winning blackjack hand.
Like card counting, shuffle tracking is a favoured pastime for many blackjack enthusiasts. In Single deck games, and multi-deck shoe games, cards can often be predicted with great accuracy if you know what you're looking for.
While shuffle tracking cannot take place in games using a continuous shuffling machine, some automatic shufflers and dealer shuffled games can allow players to recall the order of cards and where the aces sit.
The famous MIT Blackjack Team took advantage of both card counting and shuffle tracking methods to attain their now infamous wins. Of course, shuffle tracking like card counting is "frowned upon" by casinos and if you are suspected of doing either you will generally be asked to leave.
The answer is that cheating is illegal while shuffle tracking and card counting are merely "frowned upon". Obviously, casinos do everything in their power to prevent being scammed. This includes camera and visual surveillance of all players and if they see you marking cards or pick up that you're tracking Aces you will generally be removed. Often they will inform other casinos of your practices, supplying them with your photo and details so that you are barred entry at other venues. In addition, if the State Gaming Control Board is alerted to the matter you could be prosecuted if you are found to be cheating.