26 Sep

FAQ: Live Dealer Blackjack & Card Counting

Myth or Miracle: Can you count cards at live dealer blackjack?

Blackjack is the world’s most famous casino game for one very good reason. It’s the only game everyone knows can be beaten, if you play your cards right. Casinos have implemented and altered every rule in the book to stop players from gaining an edge over their tables, but it still happens.

Myth or Miracle: Can you count cards at live dealer blackjack?

It’s not just a matter of knowing how to play each hand, but being able to size your bets higher (or lower) at the most (or least) opportune moments. For this, a player must incorporate a proper card counting technique.

Blackjack pros have relied on card counting for decades to beat land-based casinos. When the internet delivered the first online blackjack games, it was quickly understood that counting cards was not a viable strategy. Computerized online blackjack games use a continuous shuffle protocol, reshuffling the deck after every hand. But now, with the ability to play live dealer blackjack over the internet, a very important question is being raised…

Can You Count Cards at Live Dealer Blackjack ?

Live dealer games are a perfect meld of land-based and online casino blackjack. You have a real dealer, issuing real cards on a real table. There are real players participating in the games. The only difference is that they’re doing so from a remote location, viewing the action live on their computer or mobile screen via sophisticated live casino streaming technology.

So in answer to the question above, the short response is, “Yes”. So long as the dealer is not using a continuous shuffling machine (CSM) to reshuffle the cards after each hand (common in single-deck games), it is possible to count the cards. However, there are a number of factors that will inevitably diminish a player’s ability to make a profit (of any notable size) while doing so. These include:

  • Unfriendly Blackjack Rules
  • Limited Deck Penetration
  • Low Rate of Hand Per Hour

In the following paragraphs, we’ll take a closer look at these issues, why they matter, and how they impact the efficacy of card counting at live blackjack tables.

Unfavorable Rules Imposed by Live Dealer Casinos

As I said in the beginning, casinos have spent years imposing and altering rules to ensure most card counters won’t be able to beat the house. Live dealer casinos are no different, and the easiest way to “counter a counter”, as the case may be, is to set the rules just far enough against the player that card counting won’t garner a positive expected value (+EV).

Two of the worst rules in this department are “blackjack pays 6 to 5”, and “no double after split”. These rules will increase the house edge (decrease the RTP) by -1.39% and -1.91% respectively. If either one – or worse, both – is present, don’t bother counting cards, because it won’t get you a +EV.

Deck Penetration Doesn’t Exceed 50%

In all my days of internet gaming (predating live dealer casinos), I have yet to see a live table that deals beyond 50% of the deck before a new shoe is brought in by the pit boss. The smaller the deck, the earlier you can expect it to be shuffled. The best I’ve seen is an 8-deck shoe shuffled after dealing through about 4 decks (50%).

As any professional card counter knows, it’s not until 50% deck penetration is reached that counting cards actually becomes effective. To have the deck you’ve spent all that time counting whisked away and replaced with a new one at that very moment is disenchanting, to say the least. Sure, it’s possible to hit a lucky high count in that amount of time, but that’s a lot of mental work for something so improbable.

Low Rate of Hands Per Hour

Of all the ways to play the game, live dealer blackjack has the slowest turnover of hands per hour. Online RNG games are the fastest, where a single player can easily average 300+ hands per hour. But without card counting, it’s a bankroll leak waiting to happen. Land-based casino players often experience an average rate of about 100 hands/hour; more at a short table. Live dealer games don’t come anywhere close.

At a live table, each player has a clock counting down their time to act. Any player that’s distracted will take more time, and unfortunately for those paying attention, it happens excruciatingly often. The end result is an average hand rate of anywhere from 20 to, at most, 50 hands/hr at live dealer casinos.

If you do come across a live blackjack game with favorable rules, and get lucky enough that the count is remarkably high prior to 50% deck penetration, it’s still not going to be worth your effort. If you’re not seeing a significant number of hands per hour, it’s not going to net you anything better than maybe a $2 profit per hour.

Live Blackjack Lacks Profitability for Pros

Blackjack pros don’t play the game because it’s so much fun for them. They play to earn money, either as a part-time supplementary income or full-time career. And for that, you need to be pulling in high rate of cash per hour. Even with a $50k bankroll and $100 bets, and a fast live table that sees 50 hands/hr, the best you can expect to make is between $1-$3/hr.

The truth is, you’d be better off flipping burgers at a fast food joint than trying to count cards at live dealer blackjack. If you want to make any notable income from it, you’re going to have to get up, get dressed, and get out into the real world of land-based casinos.

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