If you have read the stories of famous blackjack cheaters and the millions they made, you might have been inspired to try it for yourself.
The most famous tales are always glamourised to a point, and have an unrealistic veneer that makes it seem exciting, when in truth it is simply dangerous and dishonest.
This is not something we recommend of course, as you can get in some serious trouble if you are caught, and casinos are pretty darn good at spotting cheaters – many old pros have quit the cheating game in the past few decades because it has become so difficult.
That said, it is nevertheless interesting to learn about, and the skill required to pull off some of the cheating methods people have used in the past is impressive, even if the act itself shouldn’t be applauded.
A Brief Note on Card Counting
Before discussing the various cheating methods, it’s worth pointing out that counting cards is not the same as cheating, so it won’t be covered in detail here.
We have an article dedicated to card counting if that’s what you are interested in, so you can jump across and read that.
Briefly, card counting is a system professional players use to give themselves an advantage during long term play. It can reduce the casino’s edge to a negligible percentage, and in some cases can even flip the odds in the players favour depending on the specific rules of the game.
There are many variations of the card counting system but essentially, the player keeps a running count in their head by assigning each card that is dealt a value. Cards that are worth 10 are given a -1 value, cards 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are given a +1 value, and cards 7, 8, and 9 are given a 0 value.
The more high value cards left in the deck the better it is for the player, so when the count is high the player has more chance of winning the hand, and they will adapt their stake accordingly. The idea is that the player bets big when the odds are heavily in their favour and bets small when they are not.
Dealers are trained to spot this so it becomes incredibly convoluted trying to disguise what you are doing, and although not illegal it is not allowed in the casino’s rules, so they will ask you to stop or leave if you are caught.
It’s not technically cheating though, so we will say no more about card counting in this article.
Cheating Methods for Blackjack
There have been many ingenious cheating methods dreamed up by would be millionaires over the years, but when you look at all of them together it is possible to split them into three broad categories; teamwork or dealer corruption, sleight of hand, and devices.
The one method that doesn’t really fit into one of these categories is simply lying.
Players have been known to pretend they said stick instead of hit and vice verser once their card has been dealt or not dealt. This gives them the advantage, if they can convince the dealer they have made a mistake, as they can cancel a bad hand or claim a good card was supposed to have gone to them.
Players can lie about all sorts of things in this way, and to avoid a fuss casinos may well let them get away with it once or twice, especially if they are betting big.
Amazing isn’t it?
For more sophisticated methods of cheating though, read on.
Teamwork and Dealer Corruption
Many blackjack cheaters work in teams, or manage to employ the help of the dealer to aid their scam. The dealer would obviously be paid a proportion of the winnings at a later time.
A dealer can often find ways to quickly glance at the cards being dealt, and then subtly signal to their accomplice at the opportune moment.
The dealer can also stack the deck favourably after collecting cards from a previous round, making sure to place high value cards where their accomplice will be dealt them. This can be achieved with a fake shuffle.
The second deal is another tactic, where the dealer flicks the top card in the deck up and takes the second instead. This is only useful if they know what the top card is though, so they need to find some way to peek.
Really, if you have a dealer on your side you can come up with almost any method of cheating, and even incorporate some of those mentioned in the sleight of hand section below, with the dealer playing dumb.
Cheaters working with another player could use the ‘spooking’ approach, which is what you might see being done in the movies. One player sits at the table and the other positions themselves somewhere behind the dealer; either at another table or stood at the bar, etc.
They can then catch glimpses of the dealer’s hole card as it is drawn, and will give signals to the player at the table.
A very similar routine can be played out with two players at the same table. In the right seat, it can be possible to catch out careless dealers and see the cards, so a player betting minimal amounts can help another player who bets larger amounts. The small time player can even burn low value cards on purpose if they are organised enough, increasing the chances of high value cards being dealt to the big money player.
Sleight of Hand
A very famous method of cheating is marking cards.
This is quite hard to do though, because the mark needs to be significant enough for you to recognise without being obvious to anyone else, and you need to mark the cards as you play too.
People have used invisible ink and special glasses, they have used fingernails to make small indentations on high value cards, they have even pre-marked identical decks of cards and tried to smuggle them into the game as it is being played.
This leads on to another sleight of hand trick, which is known as hand mucking. This is where a player manages to keep hold of a valuable card from a previous round and then bring it back into play when it most benefits them. Effectively then, the player always has 3 cards instead of two, unbeknownst to everyone else.
The next method doesn’t involve the cards, but the betting chips.
A player with a strong hand might use the cards to mask the introduction of an extra high value chip after they have been dealt their hand, so that when they win, they win more. Equally, when dealt a bad hand, they can use their cards to quickly knock a chip from the bottom of the stack and back into their hand, thus reducing their losing bet and saving themselves some money, minimising losses.
Some cheaters might use a combination of all of these methods.
Devices could be used in combination with some of the methods above, for instance a cheating pair could use an electronic device to signal between each other, but they can also be used alone.
One example could be a device that counts cards for the player electronically. We did say counting cards is not technically illegal, and that’s true, but using any sort of device in order to gain an advantage is classed a breaking the law. So this is a case of ‘it’s not what you did but the way that you did it’.
This could be done by an individual or by a duo, with one player keeping track of the count and then electronically signalling the other player to bet big when the count was high and the deck was loaded with high value cards.
Tiny cameras are another device that have been used, mostly unsuccessfully in the past.
One man who did use a camera, or his ‘belly telly’ as he called it, was Ketih Taft. The camera would get a slight angle on the dealer’s card as it was being dealt, transmit the feed to someone in a specially rigged up fan outside the casino, who would then remotely signal what the camera was seeing to the player in the chair.
The Trouble with Cheating
Before we end the article, let us reiterate that cheating is illegal and can even land you in jail… or worse if you try it in less civilised countries.
The reason so few people attempt it these days is that casinos not only have high tech security systems in place with cameras everywhere, but dealers are trained to spot cheating and pit bosses exist solely to intervene when someone looks suspicious.
It’s not really possible to be successful and stay under the radar either. Anyone who starts winning a lot will find themselves being watched closely, quite literally over the shoulder in some cases, adding pressure and increasing the difficulty. So even if you manage to get away with it for a while you will attract so much attention that you are bound to be caught if you carry on.
This makes it a huge risk for relatively small rewards, so take our advice and enjoy the stories of famous cheaters like Dustin Marks, but don’t try this at home.