You won’t make much money counting cards in a casino unless you learn how to get away with it. Avoiding heat from the casino involves more than just not moving your lips while you’re counting, too. No matter how good a blackjack player or counter you are, humility needs to become your new watchword.

Pit bosses are people, just like you and me. They don’t enjoy being made a fool of. They also don’t like arrogant blackjack players swinging their weight around while they’re winning.

The first rule of getting away with counting cards in a casino is to try not to anger anyone because of your arrogant demeanor. If you come in there with the personality of Harvey Weinstein, don’t expect to get away with counting cards for long.

Having a humble and unassuming demeanor is only the first step you can take. Other steps might be just as important. This post lists some common tactics card counters use to avoid heat from the casino.

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Limiting Your Time at the Table and at the Casino

One of my favorite blackjack books of all time is Sklansky Talks Blackjack. David Sklansky is, of course, best-known as a poker player, but he understands the ins and outs of blackjack just fine. And he has some easy-to-implement insights into avoiding heat at the casino when you’re counting cards.

The first and easiest of these is to avoid playing at the same casino at the same time each week. He suggests that you limit your number of sessions at a particular casino to 3 per week.

But don’t play at the same time during each of those 3 sessions. Play one session during the day shift, one session during the night shift, and play the 3rd session during the graveyard shift. This will make it harder for specific dealers to notice you.

On top of that, you should limit the amount of time you spend at the table to 45 minutes or less. The longer you hang around, the likelier it is that you’ll get caught.

Mixing up where you play and when is one of the most powerful techniques for avoiding detection. And it’s far more practical than trying to wear a disguise—at least for most people.

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Look for Card Counter Friendly Casinos

This sounds impossible, and it might be, but if you’re lucky, you can find a casino run by a manager who’s read Bill Zender’s book Card Counting for the Casino Executive. Zender works from the premise that if you focus on getting in more hands per hour from more players, your profits will increase.

That sounds like a no-brainer, but many casino executives spend more time trying to thwart would-be card counters than they do trying to maximize the amount of action at their tables. In fact, most would-be card counters aren’t skilled enough to get an edge over the casino anyway.

The correct approach for management to take is to wait before backing off a card counter. Many times, if the casino executive knows card counting well enough, he can ascertain that this card counter isn’t good enough at blackjack to get an edge over the casino anyway.

How do you find such a casino? Hang out on blackjack forums and subscribe to insider newsletters aimed at card counters.

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Understand How the Casino Spots Counters

The casinos have you under surveillance the entire time you’re playing blackjack. There’s a camera in the ceiling called “the eye in the sky.” Casino staff members are monitoring the videos in real time while you play.

What are they looking for? For one thing, they want to know if you’re using correct basic strategy. They won’t bring you any heat for doing that, but they do know that players who aren’t using basic strategy aren’t a threat.

Then they want to know if you’re raising the size of your bets periodically. And if you are raising the size of your bets, is it because the count is positive. Make no mistake—the casino has card counters on staff watching you closely. They also watch you to see if you deviate from basic strategy based on the count. Someone who takes insurance when the count is positive is often counting cards, for example.

How do you overcome this? After all, if you don’t do these things, you can’t get an edge at all, right? That would provide you with perfect cover, though. The casinos don’t back off losing blackjack players—only winning blackjack players. The trick that most card counters try is the strategy of making occasional mistakes, but not so many mistakes that they lose their edge.

For example, if you’re betting your minimum, you might try doubling down on a hard 12. This is not the correct play, but it’s close enough to correct that you don’t stand to lose much by making it. Sometimes it will even pay off. It will also give you the image of being a gambler.

Sometimes, when the count is appropriate, it’s correct to split 10s. This is a signal that you’re counting cards, but in the right situations, it’s worth doing. You can camouflage this easily by splitting 10s half the time you get them when you have small amounts of money in action. Now you just look like a random sucker who’s not sure how basic strategy works with a total of 20.

The trick is not making so many mistakes that you eliminate your edge. Blackjack is a game of inches, after all. If you make a mistake every hour, you will wipe out your entire edge, depending on how much money you have in action. Before you start making mistakes on purpose, be sure that you’re 100% on your basic strategy knowledge and implementation.

Kevin Blackwood, in his book Play Blackjack like the Pros, suggests that pretending you’re superstitious can be effective camouflage, too.

How do you do that? Talk about hot streaks and cold streaks. Ask the dealer to play out the shoe if you’re on a hot streak. Sit out if the dealer keeps winning. Of course, in both those situations, the counts should be positive or negative respectively.

Also, when you have a borderline hand, ask the dealer or the pit boss for advice. One of the easiest ways to look like you don’t know what you’re doing is to ask for a lot of help.

I took a date to a casino in Oklahoma a few weeks ago. It was her 1st time in a casino, and she had no idea what she was doing. She was also a little drunk.

Here are the kinds of things she did. Feel free to imitate this behavior if you want to look like you’re a little clueless:

  • She asked me how to play her hands.
  • She asked the dealer how to play her hands.
  • At one point, I suggested she stand, so she stood up. (That earned a laugh.)
  • She sent me to get her alcohol.
  • She went to get me a soft drink and almost walked into the pit. (She was confused about where the walkway was.)

Of course, she wasn’t counting cards, but if she HAD been, no one would have ever believed it of her. And we had a lot of fun.

I’m fond of alcohol, and I have a really high tolerance. I’m notorious for pretending I’m drunk. I’m not above spilling a little whiskey on my shirt to smell more like alcohol. I do this both at the blackjack table AND the poker table, by the way.

The problem is that I sometimes do get a little drunk. Then I make mistakes. I was counting cards in a Harrahs once, and they started shuffling up on me really often. I didn’t notice they were shuffling up because I was so drunk, so I kept raising and lowering my bets based on the count—which was useless, since the deck had just been shuffled.

So be careful with the “pretending to be drunk” method of camouflage. It can cost you money.

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Keeping Your Mouth Shut

One mistake a lot of aspiring counters make is to share with too many people or with the wrong person that they’re counting cards. You might be really good at keeping your mouth shut in front of the casino staff, but what happens when your date for the weekend says something at the tables that gives you away?

For the most part, no one needs to know about your card counting hobby unless you’re playing on a card counting team together. It’s just a risk you don’t need to take. And it’s an easy risk to avoid.

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Another Form of Camouflage

Another way to camouflage your skills as a counter is to play games where you DON’T have an edge, like baccarat and craps. Professional gamblers and advantage gamblers never spend time playing games where they can’t get an edge.

The trick with this strategy is to watch your losses and potential losses closely so that your camouflage doesn’t cost more than your winnings.

How much should you be willing to give up? If it means the casino and its staff welcomes you with open arms, it might be worth giving up 25% of your edge. If you’re on pace to make $100,000 a year counting cards, maybe it’s worth it to lose $25,000 on baccarat and craps as camouflage.

You can also deliberately make multiple basic strategy mistakes. Sometimes these “mistakes” are actually the correct play when the count is positive. If you make these mistakes every time, you stand to lose less when the count is 0 or negative, because you’ll have less money in action. When the count is positive, you’ll have more money in action, which will help mitigate some of the effects of the mistakes on your bankroll.

Tipping the dealer is a good idea, too. Professional card counters are notoriously tight with their tips. If you’re counting, the best move is to place a bet for the dealer when the count is positive. That way the dealer gets more money, too.

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Wearing a Disguise

I read an article on a website that said you should avoid wearing a disguise. The implication was that you could get into big trouble with the casino. It also suggested that facial recognition software is so advanced that it can see through a disguise anyway.

I’m not convinced that either of those things is true. If the casino catches you wearing a disguise, what are they going to do to you? Have you arrested? Last time I checked, it wasn’t illegal to wear a disguise in public.

I’ve read conflicting accounts of how well facial recognition software works. If you’re just using a fake mustache or beard, wearing a different hat or different outfit, or acting a part, you increase your chances of avoiding detection.

If you’ve never seen the movie Superman, watch how Christopher Reeve acts when he’s portraying Clark Kent, and contrast that with how he acts when he’s portraying Superman. His voice, his posture, and his entire manner is different.

When we were kids, we’d joke about how it was possible for Superman to fool the world by wearing glasses. When we got older and saw Superman, it made a lot more sense.

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Avoiding detection is just one thing card counters need to worry about it, but it’s as important as any of the others. Professional gamblers have been fooling the casinos for decades now. There’s no reason you can’t also succeed at fooling the casinos.

You can do this by pretending to be superstitious, by making mistakes on purpose, and by avoiding spending too much time in any one casino. Just be careful that your attempts at camouflage don’t hurt your hourly earnings by too much. It’s easy to do when you have such a small edge to begin with.

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