Hole Carding 101
Casino game players can generally be divided into one of two groups. The casual player wants to win, but doesn’t do much to try to win.
The other group of players takes steps to try to lower the house edge as much as possible. A small percentage of this group is willing to take steps that can give them a small edge over the casinos at times. This small group of players is often called advantage players.
This takes quite a bit of work and involves a few dangers, including being asked to leave the casino if they get caught.
Advantage players usually start by finding games that offer the lowest house edge and learning the perfect strategy to use while playing. Blackjack is the game the players often start with. It has a low house edge and you can play each situation a certain way in order to reduce the house edge as much as possible.
The next step for most advantage players is to learn how to count cards while playing blackjack. If you learn how to count cards you can play with a small advantage over the house while playing blackjack.
This edge is usually 1% or less, but an edge is still better than the alternative.
But blackjack card counters quickly learn that in addition to playing with an advantage by counting being hard, they also often get caught and asked to stop playing. So they start looking for other ways to gain an advantage over the casinos.
This is where hole carding comes into play. It offers many advantages over card counting including a higher edge, a larger variety of games, and it’s harder for the casinos to figure out what you’re doing.
Keep reading to learn what hole carding is, how to do it, and what games to use it with.
What Is It?
Hole carding is when you see one of the down or hole cards dealt by a casino dealer. In most blackjack games the dealer has one down or hole card and one up card. If you can see the value of the hole card you can use the information to help you make smart playing decisions.
The casino also offers other table games with down cards, like Mississippi Stud Poker and Let It Ride. I cover more of these games in one of the following sections.
Dealers who show their down cards are often called flashers, or flashing dealers. These dealers have a flaw in their dealing procedure that lets some players, if they’re paying attention, see some hole cards.
How to Do It?
The first way to start seeing hole cards is to pay attention and start watching for them. Most players never pay enough attention to see a card if the dealer flashes every card dealt.
Most dealers who flash cards don’t do it every time and you can’t see them from every position at the table. Some dealers have such a small flaw that you can only see if a card is a face card or not. But even this small amount of information is often enough to gain a small edge.
The best places to sit while trying to see hole cards are directly in front of the dealer or at first or third base, depending on if the dealer is right or left handed and the dealing procedure of the game.
You need to always keep an eye out for sloppy dealers and sit in different seats to see if you can find the proper angle. It helps if you’re short, because the closer your eyes are to the table the better your angle and chance to see a card.
Some players slouch to get closer to the felt and others lean back in their chairs. You need to appear to be acting naturally though so you don’t raise suspicion.
Blackjack and Other Games
While blackjack is both the most popular table game in the casino and the first one most players think about when it comes to hole carding, it doesn’t offer many of the advantages that other table games have.
- Let It Ride-Let It Ride has two hole cards and if you can see either of them it gives you a strong edge over the house. By seeing the first own card your edge is over 8%. If you just see the second down card your edge is over 24%. If you see both hole cards your edge is over 40%.
- Mississippi Stud Poker-Mississippi Stud Poker offers an absolute gold mine situation for hole card play. If you can see just the first card you can play with over a 50% edge. This goes up to over 100% if you can see the third down card. If the casino where you’re playing offers this game you need to check every dealer for possible flashing.
- Three Card Poker-Three card poker is a popular table game in most casinos, but it offers a low advantage for hole card players, just like blackjack. The edge when you see a down card is only a little over 3%, and that’s only if you play the perfect strategy with the information you receive. Of course a 3% edge over the house is great, but not as good as the other games in this section.
- Caribbean Stud Poker-Caribbean Stud Poker offers an edge over 11% with perfect hole card play.
- Ultimate Texas Holdem Poker-Depending on how any dealer cards lop cards, and river cards you see in combination, Ultimate Texas Holdem Poker offers an edge over the house of 20-35%.
Eliot Jacobson determined the player edge with proper hole card play for the above games.
As you can see, many table games offer a strong edge over the house if you can see at least one hole card. When you combine the casino’s belief that these games can’t be beat, resulting in them not watching these games as closely as blackjack, and you’re often better off not playing blackjack.
Another nice thing is many dealers rotate from table game to table game so if you find a flashing dealer at one game, pay attention to where they go next. Remember them so the next time you come to the casino you can look for where they’re dealing.
If you learn the rotation schedule for the casino you can figure out where the flashing dealer will be next so you can join the table where they’re headed. This makes it less suspicious than sitting down where they are now and then following them around.
One of the important things about finding an edge over the casino and exploiting it is you have to be able to get away with it. The casino can ask you to leave even if you don’t do anything illegal.
So not only do you have to find an edge, you have to use it in a way that the casino doesn’t figure out what you’re doing.
I discuss this more in the next section, but always remember that the casinos won’t tolerate it if they figure out you have an edge. So do everything you can to blend in, act normal, and stay under the radar.
This goes along with everything you’re learning here, but there’s one rule you should always follow. Never tell a soul if you find a flashing dealer. Use them as your own personal gold mine, but don’t share. The more people who know about a flashing dealer the higher the chances the casino is going to figure it out.
The casinos also spend more time making sure their blackjack dealers don’t make mistakes than they do with dealers at other games. The casinos are comfortable that other table games can’t be beat unless someone cheats so they don’t watch the games as close.
This is good news for you because you’re more likely to find a sloppy dealer at another table game and you’re less likely to be caught because they aren’t paying much attention.
What to Do With the Information
Once you’ve been able to find a dealer or dealers who flash their hole card you have to determine the best way to use the information.
It’s easy to think that you can just use the information in every situation, but this is dangerous. A flashing dealer is quite valuable, so you need to do everything you can to keep them dealing as long as possible.
I don’t mean that you need to try to get them to deal longer shifts, because doing this only raises a red flag for the pit boss and casino. What I mean is that as soon as the casino finds out a dealer is exposing their hole cards they’re instantly going to take action.
The casino is either going to train the dealer to deal in the proper way, eliminating the opportunity to see hole cards, or fire the dealer.
Neither of these help you win more in the long run.
Because of the desire to keep the dealer employed with poor dealing skills as long as possible you also need to be careful about how you use the information. If you make plays that are too far off from normal play too often it can alert the pit and surveillance personnel that something isn’t right.
Here’s an example:
If you’re playing blackjack and have two sixes and the dealer has a 10 showing the basic strategy play is to hit. But if you know the dealer has a six in the hole, for a hard 16, the most profitable play is to split the sixes.
The dealer busts with any card higher than a five, so she’s going to bust more often than not. So you want to get as much money on the table as possible without risking going over 21.
The problem is if the casino personnel are paying attention, they know that splitting sixes against a 10 up card almost never happens.
So when you do this it may make them start paying attention to your play. And once they start looking at all of your decisions it quickly becomes obvious that something is up.
If you’re an advantage player you play perfect basic strategy for each situation so when you’re not seeing hole cards you play a certain way. If the casino has surveillance footage of you playing one way and then you start playing another every time a certain dealer comes into the game it’s easy to see they have a problem.
Even if they don’t know exactly what the problem is, they’ll start taking action quickly.
The other side of the argument is that when you find a dealer flashing hole cards other advantage players will quickly find the same dealer and burn out the game quickly. If you believe this then you have to take every advantage possible as quickly as possible because you assume the advantage will be gone soon.
I believe this is short sighted, but you need to make your own decision.
This reinforces the point I made in the section above discussing blackjack verses other games.
Blackjack is the most watched table game in the casino by surveillance because it can be beat by card counters. Casinos are terrified that card counters are going to clean them out so they keep a close eye on the blackjack tables.
But you can do all kinds of crazy things while playing Let It Ride or Mississippi Stud because the casino is convinced the players can’t beat the game. So if you can find a flashing dealer at one of these games you can play with a strong edge and play for a long time without raising suspicion.
Another thing that many players forget is how they should act when they win and lose. You don’t have to go crazy, but if you sit with a stone face no matter what happens it can lead the casino to think you’re an advantage player.
Celebrate a little when you hit a big hand and grumble a little when you have a run of bad luck. Act like you’re surprised when the dealer turns over what you already know is coming if it should be unexpected.
One way advantage players try to avoid being detected by the casino when hole carding is by using a team of two or more players.
Here’s an example:
You and your buddy Bob work together to try to find and exploit advantages against the casino. You find a dealer who flashes the hole cards while dealing Let It Ride if you’re sitting directly in front of her.
Bob sits directly in front of the dealer and plays the table minimum while making the proper basic strategy plays and looks like any other tourist. You sit down at either first or third base and don’t pay attention to the down cards as they’re being dealt.
Your playing partner Bob uses discreet signals to let you now the down cards while you play with the maximum table stakes. This way Bob loses the minimum amount while you play with an advantage and use the highest possible stakes to maximize profit.
You and Bob are never seen together in the casino other than at the table and you never act as if you know each other.
Blackjack teams have been in operation for years, often with a number of players attacking the casinos. The most common team concept is a group of counters who sit at different tables playing for minimum stakes. When the count gets good they signal a player, often called the big player or gorilla, to join the game.
The big player sits down and plays for maximum stakes and leaves at the end of the shoe.
Team play offers a way for you to camouflage what you’re doing, but the casinos are aware of teams and watch for them.
But they almost always watch the blackjack tables with the most scrutiny, so you can run team play at other table games without being caught for a long time if you’re smart and careful.
True advantage players look at every possible way to get an edge against the casino. Hole carding is just one of the ways to learn, but it offers a powerful edge when you can use it.
Finding a dealer who flashes hole cards is challenging and many trips to the casino will go by without locating one. But when you do find a dealer who flashes cards it can lead to a nice run of profit.
Learn how to recognize and exploit hole carding opportunities to add another tool to your box of advantage play techniques.