Edward O. Thorp published the book Beat the Dealer in 1962, in which he presented the Hi-Lo model as the first mathematical method for blackjack that gave the player an edge over non GamStop casinos. He presented the method in a more refined way in the second edition of the book in 1966. At that time, he was a lecturer at the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and then pursued a career as a mathematics professor at various universities. Later, as a hedge fund manager, he applied his knowledge of the “predictability of happiness” to the financial markets.
MIT Blackjack Team
The story of the MIT blackjack team became known, among other things, through the film adaptation in the blockbuster “21” in 2008. Between 1979 and 1993, the MIT team and its successors operated successfully in non GamStop casinos in the USA and Canada. One of the founders taught a formal course at MIT in 1979 that included the Hi-Lo card counting method in the curriculum. Together with other students, the team that then applied the method was formed. The members of the team did not operate alone but together. This allowed multiple tables to be counted at the same time, providing a distraction to distract the attention of croupiers and casinos not on GamStop security from the active card counter.
Another successful team that has been active since 1979 and may still be active today is that of American Tommy Hyland. The professional player and his team achieved success in the USA, Asia and Canada. Among other things, the preferred method was ace sequencing, with which it can be observed that certain packs of cards before and after an ace remain together despite shuffling. There were also regular arrests or at least ugly encounters with the casinos’ security staff in the back rooms of the casinos not on GamStop. There were also several fraud charges against Hyland and members of his team, all of which ended in acquittal. Which brings us to the question:
Can you do that at Non GamStop Casinos? Is Card Counting Legal or a Crime?
If you want to count cards at blackjack in a casino, you should practice doing this as inconspicuous as possible. But not because it would be cheating. Counting cards is not forbidden and certainly not punishable. Using smart methods and using your brain doesn’t carry the penalty of jail, which is how pro gamer Tommy Hyland and his team have always managed to get out of trouble. In a nutshell, this means:
QUESTION: Is counting cards at non GamStop casinos illegal?
ANSWER: No, card counting is legal – but…
However, counting cards does not make you popular – not with the other players (even if it is not a “cheating game”, but just think of the ending caught in many old Western films) – and certainly not with the casino operators.
Blackjack is simply a game of chance with a slight edge on the house side – and the business model of casinos not on GamStop is not that there should be as many winners as possible. Typically, getting caught in casinos ends with the person caught being at least emphatically asked to leave the table or even the casino. Under certain circumstances, he can also be banned from the house. The casino operators have domiciliary rights and may forbid that methods are used to their financial disadvantage. Which doesn’t change anything: card counting is not fraud in the sense of the law.
Defenses: What Casinos Do to Prevent Card Counting?
If faster hunters develop in nature, faster prey animals will prevail in the long term. This is called co-evolution – and the same applies here in the relationship between casino and player. Ever since Edward Thorp’s book was published in 1962, casinos have developed countermeasures to eliminate the player advantage of counting cards in blackjack – after all, the operators want to make money.
What Makes Card Counting at Non GamStop Casinos Stand Out?
Now you might be wondering: What makes blackjack card counting stand out? Well, for one thing, croupiers and security guards are trained these days to unmask individual or team card counters. Beginners, for example, often involuntarily count silently but visibly. There are also telltale characteristics, such as when someone watches a table for a long time and then sits down as a player in the middle of a half-played slide. Teams also often have distinctively distributed roles, such as observer, active player, and team member responsible for distracting security. Trained casino staff recognizes this – in some casinos, their own observers sit at the monitors of the surveillance cameras.
In order to undermine the late informative value of the counting systems, in some casinos it is not permitted to wait until the shoe has already been played down a good deal, but only at the beginning of a new complete deck.
Another countermeasure is that nowadays, the relatively high number of six decks, i.e. 312 cards, is usually used. Before 1960, fewer decks, sometimes as few as two, were common.
A sophisticated monitoring tool used by non GamStop casinos is computer programs that, in turn, count the cards. They then compare their true count to the players’ betting patterns, also helping to catch card counters.
Incidentally, surveillance is also a factor if someone tries to technically support card counting with corresponding smartphone apps that exist. The fact that the mobile phone camera is conspicuously inconspicuous looking in the direction of the map is definitely noticeable.