Is it possible to card count a blackjack computer?

The header picture is a five dollar blackjack machine in Las Vegas (at the Palazzo), and a very good game it is too. I spent quite a few hours playing it (basic strategy). I did see another version of the machine – at Monte Carlo and Mirage, and I actually prefer those machines as they seemed a little slicker, but that is purely a personal preference.

When playing the machine, the question I had was “There are all these people using phones whilst playing blackjack, what is to stop them running an app and card counting?

After looking at the rules, I realised how the casinos have this covered. The computer uses four packs of cards (so 208 cards), and shuffles after 80 cards have been dealt. If you know anything about physical blackjack you’ll know that penetration is around 75%. That is about 75% of the cards are dealt before the cards are shuffled. Although casinos usually use six or eight decks in their shoes, if they used four decks, they would deal about 156 cards before they shoe was shuffled.

The fact that they shuffle when round 38% (80*100)/208)) of the cards have been dealt effectively makes card counting irrelevant. At least, I think it does, I have not done the maths, but it certainly means that any card counting strategy is not as effective if 156 cards were dealt before a shuffle.

But you can’t blame the casinos. The machines fill a need. There are players that want to play blackjack for $5 a hand, whereas all the tables (at least in many of the casinos on the Las Vegas strip) have a starting minimum of $10. Presumably, it is not cost effective to open a physical table with a $5 minimum and so a computer meets that need. At least it does if you don’t have to have somebody man it, which you would if you had to monitor for card counters.

So, whilst it is interesting to look at the card counting potential, it is also good that the casinos, even the higher class casinos, are willing to offer a $5 blackjack game.

As an aside, if I was to offer one suggestion to the manufacturers, I would change the video a little. Not sure how many times I saw the same cocktail waitress with a try of the same drinks and how many times I saw the guy in the red suit (he’s there now, as is the cocktail waitress!) walk up to the bar, look around and then walk off. I saw these images hundreds of times (as they repeat every thirty seconds or so). It can’t be that hard to make the video more interesting?

As a further aside, you might be interested in a paper I wrote on blackjack a few years ago.

I also published this post on LinkedIn.

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