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Best of Mark Pilarski

Gaming Guru

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Counting's wins and woes

12 May 2006

Dear Mark,
Can a casino shuffle-up early, even on a multi-deck game, before the cut card appears? Are they trying to stop card counters? I’ve had this done to me on different occasions and was wondering if it is legal. Pat P.

Ordinarily a dealer inserts the cut card anywhere from the halfway point to 75% from the top of the deck(s). Because counters gain their advantage the deeper they can penetrate into the deck(s), casinos will thwart a counter’s profit potential by inserting the cut card closer to the front.

Since counter profits dwindle when the cut card is inserted closer to the front, which by the way is legal, consistent winning for the card counter becomes much more difficult since counters can capitalize on higher plus and minus counts when they were allowed to access the deck deeper.

Casinos everywhere may also legally shuffle the deck(s) before the cut or burn card presents itself. If management suspects a player of card counting, they may “shuffle-up” on him without warning, even after just a few rounds have been dealt on a multi-deck game, or even after the first round on a single deck.

Premature shuffling destroys the advantageous situation counters typically enjoy. The successful card counter avoids the early shuffling countermeasure by camouflaging his play and remaining undetected by pit personnel.

Dear Mark,
It has been well established, even by you in this column, that you can gain a mathematical edge counting cards in blackjack. Do you believe the same holds true for baccarat? Danny R.

Baccarat is a card game with one major similarity to blackjack, Danny. Once the cards are dealt, they are then placed in a discard rack and do not reappear until the shuffle. In theory, knowledge of the remaining cards can be used for an applicable counting system. Because counting does work in blackjack, some believe a card-counting system can/should work for baccarat, being that the effect of removing any given card from the game favors either the player or the house.

That said, personally I’m not willing to expend my already depleted brain cells and count down eight decks of randomly shuffled cards for a hypothetical, minuscule off-balance in my favor, especially when playing baccarat either drunk or stupid the house only holds a 1.17 or 1.36% house advantage on the bank or player bet.

Even two leading authorities on counting systems, Peter Griffin and Edward Thorp, believe baccarat is not a countable game. As a matter of fact, Griffin’s analysis showed that a card-counter could earn less than ten cents per day by using the strongest possible count system. Talk about minimum wage!

Likewise, I’ll band with Thorp and Griffin, even though I once learned a supposedly simple counting method that an old-time pit boss named Dennis taught me when I first learned to deal mini-baccarat. I’m sure it was for my amusement and not to protect the casino’s war chest, since we seldom saw a wager over five bucks, but he told me to count the 4s and 6s as they left the shoe. He said when 4s exit the deck, statistically the player should be betting on the banker, and when 6s come out, the player wager is the smarter bet.

Is this count method practical? Hell if I know, but one thing Denny was always good for was free after-shift drinks at the casino bar.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "If winning at poker rewards your soul, then you're fine, but if losing at poker rewards you in your soul, you'd better change to checkers." –John Vorhaus, "Killer Poker"

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.