5 Ways to Win at Blackjack Even if You Don’t Count Cards
But did you know that counting cards isn’t the only way to get an edge against the casino while playing blackjack?
The 5 blackjack tactics for winning play if you don’t count cards on this page can be used to play with an advantage. They can also be used in conjunction with card counting to achieve an even larger edge.
1 – Ace Tracking or Ace Prediction
Some of the advanced card counting methods incorporate a separate count of aces. But ace tracking doesn’t have anything to do with counting cards.
Aces are the most important cards in blackjack. When you receive an ace you have a four out of 13 chance to hit a natural blackjack. The higher than one to one payments for natural blackjacks play a big part in reducing the house edge.
Aces are also valuable because you can use them as a value of one or 11. This lets you draw to a better hand without the chance of busting in many situations. Any hand you have with an ace is played with an advantage over the casino.
So if you can figure out a way to determine when you’re going to get dealt an ace you can bet more o those hands.
Ace tracking is a method you can use to help you get an idea of when an ace will be dealt soon.
At the end of the deck or shoe the dealer shuffles the cards. This mixes them up, but rarely are they shuffled well enough to truly randomize the results based on the way the cards were put in the discard tray.
Even automatic shuffling machines only randomize the cards to a small degree.
This means that if you know a few of the cards put into the discard tray immediately after an ace you can predict when an ace is coming.
Ace tracking isn’t perfect, but with practice you can start learning how to do it. And even if you don’t do it perfectly it can still give you an edge at times.
The basic idea is when you see an ace you pay attention to the next few cards that go into the discard tray. After the shuffle when you see these cards dealt, usually with one or two cards between them, you can expect the ace to come soon.
If you watch the three cards put on top the ace and they come out with two cards between them you predict that the ace will be dealt two cards after the last of the three are dealt.
Most players that stumble onto ace tracking notice two or three cards that are easy to remember.
Here’s an example:
You’re playing in a double deck game and see an ace of spades put into the discard tray followed by a king of clubs, a king of diamonds, and the other king of clubs.
After the shuffle you see a king of clubs followed by two other cards, the king of diamonds followed by two other cards, and finally the other king of clubs. This is a good indication that after two more cards the ace of spades will be dealt.
This example is fairly simplified, but sometimes tracking aces is this easy.
Once you realize how this works you can learn more about how particular dealers and even automatic shuffling machines randomize the cards. Though it’s rare, you can find dealers that shuffle in almost the exact same way each time, which leads to the same gaps in tracked cards time after time.
While it’s fairly easy to track similar cards put into the discard tray after an ace, you can learn how to track random ones as well. An ace followed by a two of clubs, seven of hearts, and jack of diamonds is as easy to follow as any other group as long as you can remember the order, rank, and suit of the cards.
It can be confusing to track every ace when you start, but with enough practice you can learn how to track most of them. In a six deck show there are 24 aces, so it can be a challenge to keep everything straight.
Start by tracking aces of a single suit. Track all of the aces in spades or heats to get started.
Keep practicing with one suit until you can track them all and add a second suit. Keep working until you reach the point where you can’t track more. Even if you find you can only track one or two suits it can give you an advantage.
Just like counting cards, this is something you can do at home to improve your skills. All you need is a discard tray and six decks of cards.
Start by using a single deck. Try to shuffle the same way you see dealers shuffle where you play. Once you’re comfortable with a single deck add a second one.
Keep adding decks until you can work through a six deck show tracking a single suit. Then add a second suit and continue improving your abilities.
It takes quite a bit of time to get good at it, but once you learn how to do it, and more importantly prove to yourself that you can do it, you’ll find that you start automatically doing it when you play.
Card counters find that they reach a point where counting is automatic, which lets them do other things while counting. You can get to the same point tracking aces.
Once learn how to do it you’ll find that even if you take a break from playing for weeks or even months you can pick t back up quickly with just a small amount of practice and review.
It’s also helpful to watch for a group of aces that go into the discard tray together. When three or more aces go into the tray close together it’s easy to watch for them after the shuffle.
Ace tracking works even better is you’re working on a team. When two or more team members are playing at the same table and you know an ace is coming soon it increases the odds that one of you will get it.
This is simple math and helps overcome the inexact science of working through the shuffle. If you’re playing heads up the odds are roughly 50 / 50 that you’ll get an ace that you know is coming soon.
But if two team members are playing against the dealer one of you will get the ace roughly two thirds of the time. And if three team members are playing along against the dealer the odds go up to 75%.
The actual percentage is higher than 75% because in most cases you can predict the aces in fewer than six or seven cards. Three of you receive six cards before drawing so if you’re accurately predicting aces one of you will usually get it.
In the event you track an ace and one of you don’t get it the odds are high the dealer has it. This isn’t as valuable as if one of you receives it, but it’s still valuable. If the dealer is showing a 10 value card and you know the odds are high their down card is an ace you can take insurance to reduce your losses.
2 – Shuffle Tracking
Shuffle tracking is somewhat like ace tracking, but instead of looking for cards close to an ace you look for small sections of the discard tray that have a high percentage of high cards and track the clump of cards through the shuffle.
As you play watch for hands that have a large amount of aces and 10 value cards. Watch where the clump of cards is placed in the discard tray and then try to follow the clump as they’re being shuffled by the dealer.
As the dealer starts dealing the shuffled cards you can raise your bets when the clump is getting ready to be dealt.
Here’s an example:
If the current hand has five 10 valued cards, three aces, and only two lower cards you know that this group of 10 cards has eight high value cards. You watch where this clump of 10 cards goes into the discard tray and watch what happens to it as the deck or shoe is shuffled.
Then when this clump of 10 cards is getting ready to be dealt you make a bigger bet than normal. You do this because you have a better chance of receiving high cards.
This works for the same reason that card counting works. When the deck, or a portion of it, has more high cards than low cards the house edge is reversed and you play with an advantage.
Shuffle tracking is difficult, and some dealers shuffle in a way that makes it almost impossible. But the word is full of poor dealers and lazy dealers, so many opportunities still exist.
The only way to know if a dealer makes shuffle tracking possible is by watching every one you see. Look for poor shuffling techniques and dealers that don’t shuffle as many times as others.
You can practice this at home with a few decks of cards. Create a clump of cards for practice and track it through a shuffle and deal. It’s helpful to take a black marker and color the edge of the clump. This way you can visually track the clump easier.
As you practice you can see where the clump goes through the shuffle and tart getting a feel for how it separates as it gets shuffled.
Once you build your skill practicing with a clump of colored edge cards start trying it without colored edges. Eventually you’ll be able to do it well enough to try your new skills in the casino.
You’ll make mistakes and sometimes you’re going to get the lower cards mixed into the clump, but this method can create a long term advantage if you get good at it.
This is the best method on this list to add to your arsenal if you already count cards. It doesn’t create another number to track so you can do it without getting confused. Simply keep your normal count and watch for shuffle tracking opportunities and use them when they come up.
You don’t have to know the exact number of cards in a clump, just that it contains a high number of high cards and where it’s located in the discard tray.
When it comes time to track the clump through the shuffle you’re finished counting the deck or shoe so you can concentrate on the shuffle without interfering with your counting system.
You can even burn through the poor section of the shoe by making minimum bets and drawing more cards than normal to get to the part of the shoe rich with aces and 10’s. You need to be careful drawing too many cards in some situations because it can raise a red flag to the casino.
You don’t want to be so obvious that the pit or eye in the sky starts watching you too much. Though you won’t be doing things exactly like a card counter, any time you raise your bets significantly it can make it look like you’re doing something the casino won’t like.
I’ve never tried to shuffle track through an automatic shuffling machine, only in a hand shuffled game, but I’ve read that a few advantage players have bought a machine identical to the one used where they play and tested the results with some success.
While this is possible, it’s also an expensive way to try to find a small edge. Most players only try to shuffle track in hand shuffled games and this is the main area you should consider when you get started. If you find that you can do it profitably you might consider investigating tracking through an automatic shuffle machine at that point.
3 – Hole Carding
Sometimes if you’re sitting in the right position and see the value of the dealer’s down card when they deal it you see what’s called a hole card. One you recognize a dealer that flashes hole cards you can try to see them more often.
Most dealers don’t flash hole cards and some of them just do it occasionally. Some dealers are sloppy all of the time and some just get sloppy when they get tired.
When you see the value of a hole card it can be valuable. The most common decision it can help you with is taking insurance. If the dealer has an up ace and you saw they have a 10 value card in the hole you can take insurance and save your original bet. This alone can make blackjack a break even game or better when you combine it with proper basic strategy and good rules.
Other ways you can use this information include making decisions whether to hit or stand based on what the dealer has and use the card in your count if you’re counting cards.
Here’s an example:
If the dealer has a seven showing and you have a hard 16 the normal basic strategy play is to hit. But if you know the dealer has a nine as her down card the correct play is to stand. You stand because the dealer has a hard 16 and has to draw, creating a situation where she’s likely to bust. Only five out of the 13 possible cards make her a winner, so by standing you win eight out of 13 times.
It’s also useful to know the dealer’s hole card when you’re deciding whether to double down and split. The way to keep the house edge low is to get more money on the table when you have an advantage. Doubling down and splitting double the amount of money you have on the table so if you can do it when you know from the dealer’s hole card that you have an advantage you can shift the edge into your favor.
Here’s an example:
Basic strategy says that if you have a hard nine against a dealer eight you should hit. But if you know the dealer has an eight in the hole for a hard total of 16, the correct play is to double down. The dealer will bust five out of 13 times, and even when she doesn’t you’ll still win or tie sometimes depending on what card you receive after doubling.
When you draw a 10, jack, queen, or king and the dealer draws an ace or two you still win the hand, and if the dealer draws a three you tie. In this case the only way you lose the hand is if the dealer draws a four or five.
Because playing with good rules and using proper strategy reduces the house edge, even if you can only see a hole card occasionally it can make enough long term difference to swing the edge in your favor. This can create a long term profit.
If you’re a card counter you already should be playing with a long term edge. When you add hole card play to your game it can quickly increase your edge and help you make even better playing decisions.
The best way to find hole carding opportunities is to watch for them. The best places to sit if you want to see hole cards are directly in front of the dealer or in the first or last position depending on which hand the dealer deals with.
It helps to be close to level with the felt, but it can be obvious if you do too much to get lower in your chair. Short people have an advantage over tall people, but many players slouch while playing.
Try a few different ways to get closer to the level of the table without being obvious to see if you can find a way that isn’t too uncomfortable.
Most casinos are aware of hole card play but don’t worry about t too much. As long as you don’t bring attention to what you’re doing you can get away with a great deal.
An important thing to do if you want to start looking for hole cards is to train your eyes and mind for the possibility. Often you just see a flash of the card or a small part of the card so you can make mistakes.
Often fours and aces look the same if you just see a small part of the card. The best way to start is to look for face cards and non face cards. Simply identifying a face card in the hole from time to time can offer a nice advantage.
The best way to train at home is by getting someone to deal card to you and teach them how to slightly flash the hole card. Keep working at it until you train your eyes and brain to process the information in just a split second.
As you improve have the person dealing do it faster to improve your skills.
You can also use a mirror and deal facing the mirror. But realize that everything you’re doing in training is backwards of what you’re going to see in the casino. If you’re training for face cards this isn’t a big deal, but if you’re trying t learn about every possibility it can be confusing to train in a mirror and then try to do it well in actual play.
Hole carding can be more effective if you can work as part of a team. Two people are all you need, and only one needs to be able to see the hole cards.
One of the things casinos watch for to catch card counters is players who vary their bets based on the count. If you work with another player one of you can watch for hole cards while always making the table minimum bet and relay the information to the other player.
The other player can always bet at a higher amount ad use the information to get an edge. Casinos don’t look too hard at flat bettors because you can’t get an edge counting and flat betting.
Of course you need to be careful about exchanging information so the casino can’t figure out what you’re doing. Remember they probably have you on tape so they can go back and revue your motions so the system you develop needs to be subtle and look natural. You can even use chip placement for a signal.
A combination of key words you can use in a normal conversation and subtle hand placements or signals can be difficult to detect.
Here’s an example of a relatively simple system using a combination of words and hand placement.
If the hole card is a 10 value card use your right hand to hold or play with some chips from your stack. If it’s an ace use your left hand. When the hole card creates a hard dealer 15 or 16 hold your cards in your left hand and if it creates a dealer hard 12, 13, or 14 hold them in your right hand.
A dealer hard total of 10 or 11 can be signaled by holding your cards in both hands. And a lower hard total can be signaled by laying your cards on the table and not touching your chips.
I don’t recommend using this exact system, but you can develop your own using the same ideas.
If you decide to use words as part of your signaling system make sure you use words that are commonly used. Common words you can work into most sentences if needed and avoid using in others include it, was, and, or, and why.
You might also be able to use hole carding in games other than blackjack. Let It Ride is a game where you can play with an advantage if you can see one or more hole cards and the casinos don’t watch it as closely as the blackjack tables.
4 – Edge Sorting
Edge sorting is the process of turning cards based on their value so you can see the value of the next card to be dealt. Some card backs are designed in a way that the edge of one side is slightly different than the edge on the other side.
Faulty card backs usually have a design with lines of some sort that run diagonally and cross forming x’s. This can create smaller gaps between lines on one side of the card than the other.
In blackjack, if you can turn all of the aces and 10 value cards one way and all of the other cards the other way it can help you in three ways.
The first way is by seeing if the next card is an ace or 10 value card or a lower card. This is valuable if you get the first card dealt in the hand because you can bet more if you’re getting a high card and less if you’re getting a low card.
The second way it helps is by helping you make decisions on whether to stand or hit. If you have a hard hand total of 12 to 16 you know you need to stand if the next card is a high card.
The third way is it helps you make insurance decisions. If you know the dealer has a down card that’s likely to be a 10 value card and an ace up you can take insurance. I realize that the dealer down card may be an ace because they’re included in the high cards that have been sorted, but only one out of five high cards will be an ace.
Insurance pays two to one, so it’s still a good bet in this situation because two to one pays out better based on the odds created by one out of five being an ace.
Edge sorting sounds like a great way to get an edge against the casino, but actually making it happen is hard.
The two biggest issues with edge sorting are finding a casino that still uses flawed card backs and being able to sort enough of the cards to get an edge.
Fewer and fewer casinos are using flawed card backs. Some of them are lucky that they’ve never used them, and others have been made aware of the issue by things that have been in the news over the past few years.
Poker pro Phil Ivey and a female accomplice won millions playing baccarat by edge sorting a few years back. But the casino figured out what they did after the fact and sued Ivey, claiming he cheated.
Even though the casino agreed to the playing conditions ahead of time and Ivey and his accomplice didn’t do anything that wasn’t agreed to, the courts sided with the casino.
Ivey didn’t face any criminal charges, but didn’t get to keep the money he won. This was big news in the gambling world and made the national news on television and in many newspapers.
This alerted many casinos about edge sorting and caused them to review their card backs and procedures and eliminate many edge sorting opportunities.
Ivey got the casino to agree to let his accomplice deal the cards and then collect them and put them into the discard tray. As she collected the cards she sorted them so after they worked through the first shoe Ivey was playing with a large advantage.
Even if a casino still uses faulty card backs if they train their dealers to rotate half the deck or shore before shuffling or during the shuffle it eliminates edge sorting.
The biggest problem with edge sorting in blackjack, even if you find faulty card backs and the dealer doesn’t rotate half the cards during the shuffle, is that you can only sort half the cards or less if you’re working by yourself. If you’re not playing heads up you can’t even sort half the cards.
This means that the only way to effectively edge sort blackjack is to work with a team. You want the team to control all of the spots at the table. If four team members are the only ones at the table they can edge sort 80% of the dealt cards.
As they work through the shoe a couple times they can sort almost the entire shoe. This can give the team an edge.
All of the issues and challenges that I’ve covered make edge sorting something that challenging and the small profit margins available using it in blackjack make it not worth the effort. It’s often easier to simply count cards and get an edge than finding and exploiting edge sorting possibilities.
If you find a casino using faulty card backs look for opportunities in games other than blackjack.
The other four tactics on this page probably offer better and / or opportunities, but advantage players always keep their eyes open for possible plays. Now that you know more about edge sorting you can watch for opportunities as well.
5 – Warped Cards
I first read about warped card play in a book I read years ago by Stanford Wong. The book was titled Winning Without Counting, and it’s been out of print for quite some time.
When dealers check for a blackjack they bend the cards up to see the value of the bottom card. This only happens when they have a 10 value card or ace facing up, so the 10 value cards and aces get bent the opposite way of other cards in the deck. This is where the term warped cards comes from.
As a deck of cards is used the warps become more pronounced and sometimes you can start seeing the difference between the high and low cards before they’re dealt.
This creates the same advantages I covered in the last section about edge sorting. If you know the first card to be dealt the next hand is a high card and you’re sitting at first base you can bet more, because high cards are more valuable than low cards.
It also is useful when you need to decide whether to hit or stand and when the dealer might have a blackjack for insurance purposes.
The decks of cards that get warped are usually paper based cards, not the newer plastic ones. And the casinos have eliminated the possibility of using warped cards by using better cards and replacing the cards before they get worn.
This makes it harder to find games with warps, but you can still find them from time to time.
The only thing you can do is watch for the possibility every time you play. If you find a casino where warped card play is available you can keep coming back and using the information until they do something to change it.
You have to train your eye to identify the warps, because they aren’t usually pronounced. You can practice at home with a deck of old cards.
Looking for warped cards works best in single and double deck games that are hand dealt, but it’s possible in shoe games.
You can use these 5 blackjack tactics for winning play if you don’t count cards to look for opportunities for advantage play. They aren’t easy, but they can all work if you learn what to watch for and how to do them.
Start with ace tracking and shuffle tracking. With enough practice combined with finding the best situations you can start using these quickly. And always keep your eyes open for hole carding, warped cards, and edge sorting opportunities.
By combining two or more of these tactics you can play with an even bigger edge. And if you add one or more of these tips to card counting it can quickly increase your profits and make it harder for the casinos to identify you as a counter.