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Published on August 11th, 2019 | by Jerry Doby

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Blackjack – Myths and Reality

Blackjack is a world-wide casino classic and the beauty of the game is that it’s so easy to pick up and play. The majority of people who walk through the doors of a casino know how to play the game at its simplest level, whether that’s down on the Vegas strip, on the island of Macau, or on any of the numerous casino sites that are dotted around the internet today. Blackjack has always been renowned as a casino favorite with many tales of big wins and successful winning streaks by players over the years. However, a big turning point for the game took place in 1994 when a specialized MIT blackjack team took to the casino floors. This team of trained experts was equipped with a blackjack strategy that would soon change the face of the classic casino game forever, and this, in turn, is where the infamous card-counting strategy was thrust into the public domain. Blackjack would never be the same again.

News about the MIT team’s strategy and huge winnings soon caught on. This led to an author by the name of Ben Mezrich writing a book based on this new and intriguing strategy and the team behind it. ‘Bringing Down The House’ was published in 2002 and the money-making strategy at the core of the book started to generate interest in the general public soon after. People were convinced that card counting was the new ‘get rich quick’ scheme. However, as with most novels, the book naturally took on some poetic license to enhance the storyline and so here is where the card counting facts start to blur. In 2008, Mezrich’s book was adapted into a blockbuster Hollywood movie that went by the name of 21. The writers of the movie were once again given a poetic license to enhance the story, and so now we can see that in fact the reality of counting cards and the strategy played out by that notorious MIT team is not quite as it seems. The stark reality is quite far removed from the cinematic action played out in the movie and the hyped-up book.

Card counting has never been an ‘easy win’ strategy

The book and the movie made out card counting to be easy, a quick way to make huge amounts of money with little risk. Blackjack was suddenly this glamorous Hollywood star that everybody wanted to be involved with, but in truth, a big shock was in store for anyone who decided to try this new and fashionable casino strategy out. Professional card counters only gain around a 0.5% to 1% edge over the casino. So this immediately shows that you need to be in the game for the long term to make any considerable amount of money. A 1% edge will mean that you’ll need to play through many downswings in order to come out on top. To be able to ride the ups and downs of the game you’ll need a large enough bankroll to begin with, what does $25k sound like to you? $25k is the suggested amount to start with if you’re serious about using the strategy. Look beyond the Hollywood stars and you’ll start to notice the complex and gritty truth of card counting in blackjack.

The other major talking point to come out of the movie is that there doesn’t seem to be much resistance at the tables. Now, card counting is not illegal but pit bosses and casino managers nowadays are quick to stop any suspected card counting players in their tracks. The book and movie are both based on the 1994 MIT team events and this was a time when there was a lot less awareness and monitoring going on. Nowadays, casino workers might not be able to count cards themselves but they know all of the ‘red flags’ that occur when the strategy is in use. Add in today’s modern surveillance technology and the cold hard truth is that you don’t stand much chance at all when using the strategy.

Counting cards in online blackjack is a non-starter

Nowadays, many of us play blackjack games online due to the quick and easy playing potential. But card counting is not something that crossed over well into the online landscape. Simply put, it’s just not possible due to the ‘random number generator’ system in use. The arrival of the ‘Live Dealer’ tables has, however, given new light to those who want to at least attempt the strategy or practice their skills for use in a real casino later on. Counting cards is not an easy strategy to pick up. It might sound simple enough but it takes a lot of patience and a clear mind to keep on track without making mistakes, especially in a live casino environment. 

The strategy needs to be studied at great lengths in order to fully understand it and unfortunately, you won’t learn this skill during a 90-minute film or by reading a novel, unbeknown to many opportunists out there who are convinced they now know how to beat blackjack, all because they’ve watched 21 and Rain Man a few times. Showbusiness is all smoke and mirrors so don’t be fooled by the glitz and the glamour, the reality of card counting is a lot more challenging in real life.


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About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, and internationally published arts & entertainment journalist. Member of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture as well as the United States Press Corps.


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