Blackjack dealing jobs usually start at minimum wage. At 90% of the casinos in the United States, the pay rate stays there, year after year. So dealers can only increase their income by being the most accommodating and friendly ambassadors of the casino they can be.
Counting cards at blackjack is a fun, simple way to get an advantage over the house. But counting cards for a living is a tough row to hoe and for one simple reason—the casinos are fully aware of this technique and allow it to continue for their own selfish reasons.
They enjoy the word-of-mouth advertising that goes along with the 'counter culture' but they don't want serious winners taking up space at their tables. With the heat that inevitably results, if all you do is count, you'll just b-a-a-a-r-e-l-y eke out a profit after expenses. You need more. You deserve more. You can get more by exploiting dealer error (DE).
However, some people in the 'counter culture' object to accepting any of the fruits of dealer error. They take the position that this is akin to accepting change for a twenty at the supermarket when you handed the cashier a ten.
I feel this is a misguided analogy for several reasons, though I can respect that point of view. But these people must recognize they are relegating their play to amateur standing. Every advantage play in blackjack beyond simple card counting, from holecarding to steering to shuffle tracking, involves exploiting dealer or house error in one form or another.
Professional advantage players have few qualms about exploiting dealer error; it's the part-timers that seem to object. Professionals seem to agree with Stanford Wong who wrote in Basic Blackjack: 'When a dealer makes an error in the casino's favor, speak up and get it corrected.. When the dealer makes an error in your favor, overlook the error and forgive the dealer.'
In fact, most pros have a trick or two up their sleeves to unsteady the hand of the dealers they face on a daily basis. This can be quite lucrative for an alert player, and will be the subject of this article.
The casino gets to choose their opponents. If they don't think they can beat you, they'll show you the door. When possible, you should exercise the same discretion. Here are some desireable traits in a casino:
Once you've chosen your casino, and enter the belly of the beast, you still have several choices to make. You get to pick out your table, your seat, and your dealer. Perhaps 90% of dealer error earnings comes from choosing the right dealer. Try to choose a dealer with one or more of the following characteristics:
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A word about fast dealers: Inexperienced counters may find rapid-fire dealing unsettling, but as you gain experience, you will find this a lucrative source of revenue. These people deal fast to escape from boredom, and often they are bored because the possibility that they could be making blunders right and left has never occurred to them. Here is my favorite story about a fast dealer:
Somehow, I found myself in this real dump of a casino. They have opaque covers over the shoes and the discard trays just to thwart card counters. They truly deserved this high and mighty dealer who pumped out about 700 hands a minute and honest-to-god believed she never made a mistake in her life.
The guy sitting next to me hits hard 13 and gets a 9. He waits for dealer to sweep up the cards, but instead he hears, 'Sir, you have to make a hand signal.' The guy just replies 'Look at the cards!' Dealer says 'Yes, I know sir, but you have to give a signal.' .. 'What signal? Just add up the cards!' .. 'Sir, if you don't give me a hand signal, I'll have to call over the pit boss.' .. At this point, I'm getting ticked off, because this is holding up the game. In unison, he and I together practically screamed 'LOOK AT THE CARDS!!'
You guessed it—she didn't look. She was sure it was 21. Instead, she called over her boss. I swear on a stack of bibles, neither pit boss nor dealer ever once looked down to add up the man's hand. Boss looks this guy straight in the eye and intones: 'Sir, the dealer can not move on until you give a clear hand signal.' He shook his head while making frustrated waves in the air, which they took to mean stand.
The dealer eventually broke and payed off the 22. Man said: 'I don't want this. I don't deserve it.' They practically crammed that $20 down the poor man's throat.
But whatever dealer you choose, if you sit there for thirty minutes and don't observe a single error in any player's favor, you're at the wrong table. Professorial types may be surprised to learn this factor is even more important than penetration.
If you're in an unfamiliar casino, you may be wondering just how to tell whether a dealer has been working there for three months or three years. There's a less obvious way to ask besides just coming out with 'How long have you worked here?' (although there's no law against asking it like that). However, it involves telling a little white lie. I'll leave it to you to figure out, and to decide whether white lies fall within your moral calculus.
While you're picking out a dealer, you also get to:
The ideal seat is to the right of an attractive player, and to the left of an obnoxious player, or that flashing neon sign I mentioned before. You want the dealer to rush past you to attend to the hottie sitting next to you.
All else being equal, it's generally best to sit at first base or third. It's an uncomfortable viewing angle for the dealer, and he may be distracted by action at an adjoining table. Also, several DE ploys depend on sitting at first or third.
Once seated, the general idea is to tally all your totals, plus every dealer total, and watch every payoff like a hawk to make sure no errors work against you. If you are very quick at this, you may save the dealer the embarrassment of calling over her boss to fix the goof. (A grateful dealer may be subconsciously motivated to make future errors in your favor. She may even relax a bit, if she has the impression you're watching out for her.)
But just staying on your toes is only the tip of the iceberg. In Cheating at Blackjack, Dustin D. Marks (you gotta love that handle) describes a few 'OEMs,' which stands for 'Oh, excuse me.' He claims there are hundreds of them.
Now, being a crook, Marks has a guilty conscience and instictively gravitates to the illegal types of OEMs. He describes them as 'a con game' where you 'play the part of a beginner.' But for most OEM, there is a perfectly legal, moral variation (advantage ploy?), assuming you agree with the court rulings that say it's legal to take advantage of dealer error.
I don't have a guilty conscience. I never say 'Oh, excuse me.' I say 'Oh, I noticed the dealer made a mistake, but I didn't want to embarrass him.' For example, Marks describes a con where he places a large bet half-in/half-out of the first base betting circle. Then, if the dealer mistakes this for a bet and the first card isn't to his liking, he claims he 'asked for change.'
There's no need for that. What you do (while sitting at first base) is wait until the dealer seems distracted, then place the large bet clearly outside the circle, but also outside her viewing angle. Then when you get a bad card, you're clearly entitled to bow out of the hand completely (though it would be a courtesy to place a minimum bet, so the next player isn't stuck with your bad card). And if you get an ace or ten, there's a chance your dealer will call over her boss. But whether she does or she doesn't, there's an excellent chance you'll be able to bet whatever you like—even more than the change amount—on that hand.
There's no need to lie; no need for a guilty conscience. Merely placing the bet outside the circle constitutes a request for change in every casino I've played. It certainly doesn't constitute a bet. If asked, you honestly, legitimately reply that you never intended to bet that amount.
I'm not sure there are 'hundreds' of ways to encourage dealer error, but I have have dozens on file in my computer. I will only list those executed successfully by myself or other advantage players I know.
It may simply be poor test design, but in any event it can't hurt to project the thought, the image if you will, that you deserve the benefit of dealer error.
Although you're a nice guy(irl), you're not so obviously great that the dealer wants to spend all his(er) time on you. You don't need the attention.
Any time the dealer deals an extra hand, or misses a hand, or any of a number of other things, the pit boss will be called over, and generally you will have the option to play your hand, or call it dead. Over half the time, your hand will be a net loser, so you should drop out.
This is like surrender without having to surrender anything. Many people are surprised to learn any hard 17 is a loser, even against a 5 or 6 (so toss it in!). Any 18 should be abandoned vs. a 9, T or A, and soft hands below 18 should generally be dropped unless basic says to double down. And other than T-T and 5-5, pairs that aren't supposed to be split should be abandoned. Also abandon 8-8 vs. 8, 9 T and A. The precise strategy for handling the dead hand decision is given in Basic Blackjack.
Any cards exposed during the shuffle, the cut, or the play of the hands other than player hands and the upcard is a dealer error. There are strategies for playing exposed cards in several places, such as Basic Blackjack by Wong, Beat the Dealer by Thorp, and Beyond Counting by Grosjean. It's possible to get an edge over 10% with optimal hole card play.
One card that's often neglected is the bottom card after the shuffle and just before the cut. For example, if you know the bottom card is a ten, in a 1d game, and you can cut exactly in the middle, you know the 26th card dealt will be a ten -- and that can be very precious knowledge. Even if you can only cut to within one or two cards of center, you could profit handsomely.
Occasionally, the dealer will expose the hole card in plain view for all to see. In this case, don't be shy about hitting your hard 19 vs. the dealer's 20! If the dealer's two-card total is eleven or less, you should follow basic strategy for the corresponding upcard. Eg. if the dealer has 2-3, then you should play as if he has a 5 up. And if the dealer is stiff (total hard 12 - 16) you have only yourself to blame if you bust.
Much has been written about hole card play. James Grosjean has determined that perfect hole card play can net you +13% against the house, but that assumes you have perfect knowledge of the hole card 100% of the time, and you never make cover plays. If you forego the obvious giveaways, like hitting hard 17 or higher, you should net around 10% with perfect play.
If you know the top card of the deck or shoe you also have extremely valuable information. For example, if you're sitting at third base, and you know the next card is a ten, there are many counter-intuitive situations where you should stand, rather than hit.
Any faulty equipment can put the dealer off kilter and increase errors. My favorite is a broken card reader—often advertized by tape over the hole. You may have thought the information in Read The Dealer by Forte was obsolete, but the first thing I look for as I case a casino is that tape.
You have a dealer with zero experience in hiding her reactions, manually peeking at hole cards. They won't know the procedures, so you can be quite brazen. If you have a questionable play after a peek, look them straight in the eye and say 'what do YOU think?' They won't tell you, but if they like you and their hand is poor, they will look pleased. More likely they will hate you, since you're a counter, so if they think you're in a spot, they won't be able to supress a slight grin.
There are many players with a good knowledge of basic strategy who aren't professional card counters. The dealer begins fitting you into one of her pigeon holes the minute you sit down to play. But you are going to be a square peg. Once the dealer has you down as a nice guy .. knows his way around the table .. unlikely to cause any problems .. she will relax.
Here are some plays you should try only after the dealer has you categorized. They involve a higher level of deception than previous ploys, and may have more serious legal and moral implications. We list them for purely educational purposes without recommending them. They can work only once per dealer.
In general, every picayune procedure, every little nit you observe in the most paranoid of casinos, has a reason borne out of experience with the small con artist. If you think about those reasons, you will know what to do when you encounter a dealer who takes short cuts.
There's not much in the literature on DE because mathematically it's, well frankly it's uninteresting. It's also uninteresting if someone just hands you $25 an hour because you look pretty, but that's no reason to turn it down. Nor is it a reason to stop shaving.
Over time, maximizing dealer error can have quite a salutary effect on your bankroll. In general, the win rate is increased with little negative consequence in the variance column. In fact, if you know for sure the dealer is a klutz, you may be justified in increasing your bets by 20 - 50% across the board.
Christmas comes early when the dealer is on your side. Always remember: 'If the boss didn't see it—it didn't happen.' ♠
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While you’re playing blackjack, you’ll probably think of the dealer in terms of how well they interact with you. A friendly dealer can make a game feel more social, while an unfriendly one can put a damper on the mood. In a higher limit game, a serious blackjack dealer can add to the atmosphere of the game.
But there’s a lot more to being a blackjack dealer than just interacting with the players. Of course, if the dealer is doing their job well, you won’t even notice all the things they’re doing at the table. But the dealer needs to know rules for all sorts of contingencies, understand how to pay out all bets quickly and accurately, and how to deal with mistakes when they occur. They also need to be on the watch for players looking to cheat or otherwise take advantage of the casino or their fellow players.
Most blackjack dealers get their start by going to a dealer school. At these schools – many of which are run by the casinos themselves – dealers learn all the skills they need to deal games such as blackjack in a casino environment.
Even having gone to dealer school, however, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get a job as a blackjack dealer. After applying for a dealer job, you may need to audition in front of casino personnel to prove you’re capable of handling the job. Even after that, you might need to attend some in-house training to learn the specific regulations and procedures used in that casino.
Another route to becoming a blackjack dealer is to work in a casino in another capacity before moving on to the lucrative dealer position. For example, you might get a job assisting in the pit, and then apply for a blackjack job when one opens up.
As a blackjack dealer, there are benefits and drawbacks. The pay can be quite good, especially when considering the tips you’ll get from winning players. On the other hand, the hours are often erratic; dealers may be sent home early if there’s less activity in the casino than usual, while they may be forced to deal mandated overtime if the casino is busier than expected.
Many skills are required to be a blackjack dealer. For one, you must be comfortable on your feet; you’ll be standing most of the time you’re in a casino, other than on breaks. On the bright side, breaks are more frequent than in most jobs (dealers usually get 20 minutes off after each hour of dealing). You should be able to count and do basic math quickly, both in terms of keeping track of hand scores and in paying out bets. It’s also important to be accurate in fast in everything you do at the table.
One other important thing to do as a blackjack dealer is to make sure you don’t give players information that they’re not supposed to have access to. This can happen in several ways. One common way a dealer can slip up is by allowing players to see cards when they shouldn’t, such as exposing the dealer’s hole card for an instant before placing it down on the table. In games where the dealer must physically peak at the hole card, there are two ways that the dealer might unwittingly help the players; they may once again allow the players to view the hole card momentarily, or they may give away information based on their reactions to the hole card.
During a blackjack game, there are a number of rules the blackjack dealer must follow. In most blackjack games, dealers must hit with any hand of 16 points or less, but must stand with any hand of 17 or more. In some games, dealers are also instructed to hit on a soft 17.