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On the evening of May 11th , Marty Taft made his usual journey to the Blackjack tables, but this time things were different, the casinos were on to him. It was very tense. MARTY TAFT: I still remember the security guard sitting there and telling me, "you're in a world of hurt boy, you're going away for five years minimum, now get talking.
As they couldn't be certain that he'd used the device for cheating, Marty was off the hook. But the real trouble had only just begun. If card counters were going to use hidden machines to help them win, then the casinos had no choice but to strike back, hard.
So in the casinos used their power and lobbied to change the law. The new Nevada Devices law made it illegal to use any card counting machine. If a computer counter was caught, they could face ten years behind bars. It should all have been over for the card counters. But then a very different type of player entered town. They're obviously very bright people. They're lingua franca is, mathematics and science. That's a very M. And in one such maverick student in search of a thrill was Semyon Dukach.
Sounded good to me. But in reality it was an underground club run by secretive investors. When Semyon met them he learnt they had a new take on Ed Thorp's original card counting system. One that would allow counters to go undetected in a casino. But it had nothing to do with hidden computers, it was a revolutionary new approach. In the past card counters had failed because the casinos invariably spotted them. This was because all counters followed a procedure known as bet spreading, that's betting small when the deck was bad, and only switching to big bets when the deck was favourable.
The club realised card counters would be practically undetectable if they avoided bet spreading by working as a team of people, each following a different betting strategy. If you assemble a team of people who know how to count cards, and also understand the ins and outs of the gaming, what you can do is assemble a group of people who are much more likely to be successful over a long period of time.
Semyon's team revolved around three M. First there was Andy Bloch, a computer prodigy with a degree in electrical engineering. He played the role of the spotter, it was his job not to make money but to count cards, and watch for the critical moment when a deck turned positive. Then there was Katie Lilienkamp, student engineer and probability expert. Katie was the controller.
Her job was to bet small, confirm the spotter's count and calculate the perfect moment for the big attack. Lastly there was Semyon, computer science and internet guru, the big player. He'd wait for the controller's secret signal, then land the table with a massive wining bet at just the right moment.
Central to the strategy was the big player's ability to look like a lucky loner, and bet vast sums without arousing suspicion. To carry this off Semyon had to adopt a new identity. And I typically had a couple of younger women at my sides, and I was acting a little arrogant, a little cocky, so I played to their current stereotype of the Russian Mafia. We'd bet probably a total of like a million dollars in bets, or more. And couldn't believe that they weren't kicking us out almost.
But you know over time I realised how well it had all been thought out, and how hard it really can be for the casino to spot us and how much we can camouflage what we're doing. Because here you had organised groups that had lots of money, that were figuring out things before hand, it really wasn't seat of the pants attack, it was, it was highly choreographed, get the money attacks, with large sums of money.
But despite doing all the work the card counters themselves weren't getting rich, most of their money was going straight to Strategic Investments mystery backers. So in Semyon, Andy and Katie broke from the original group and formed the Amphibians. And they were convinced they could develop a system that was even better. For the M. They began by writing a powerful computer program that ran thousands of simulations of every hand they'd ever played.
And just a lot of analysis, a lot of people brainstorming and thinking, saying hmm may when this kind of card is coming maybe you should trying playing this way instead of that way. NARRATOR: By re-analysing precisely when to stick, when to twist, and exactly how much to bet in any given situation, they worked out the most efficient strategy yet for maximising their winnings.
Their combination of flawless counting and an improved playing strategy meant the Amphibians were playing almost the perfect game, they seemed unstoppable. Then the arms race entered a new and decisive phase. In the summer of the casinos brought in the Griffin Investigations team, to wipe out card counting once and for all.
And we'd have names that they had given, sometimes real, sometimes not. Many of the big winners had given addresses from around the same area, Boston. Then she noticed something else, most of her suspects played only at weekends, and they were all around college age. Beverley made the connection.
Could these card counting team members be students at M. To find out Beverley checked the M. Looking all scholarly and serious and not at all like a card counter. Beverley now realised she was up against some of the smartest minds in America. So the casinos began to develop facial recognition technology, for quick and accurate identification of team play suspects. The basis for the database were the M. From the moment a suspected counter entered a casino they could be monitored by the hundreds of cameras on the casino floor.
Snapshots could then be downloaded for computer analysis. This would be the perfect shot, he's directly in the centre of the photo, all we see is his face, he's looking straight ahead in to the shot. As individual as a fingerprint this information could be run through the Griffin database of suspected card counters, and an identification made.
At last, the casinos had a weapon to catch the teen counters. At least in Las Vegas. But the Amphibians weren't worried, when Vegas became a problem they simply took their team play strategy on tour. We spent some time in London, in Paris, in a bunch of different European destinations, playing a very, very strong game and winning quite a lot.
And one of our stops was the famous casino at Monte Carlo. They were armed with a near flawless system, honed over some forty years. Then at one point Katie got up from the table and she was going to take a break. What happened next took them completely by surprise.
ANDY BLOCH: There was a security camera up on one, the opposite wall, and they had the three of us getting closer together so they could get one nice shot of the three of us. They pick up the phone and they're talking in French, and I can make out a couple of words that they said, "Griffin Investigations, Las Vegas, Nevada".
They were basically taking our pictures, sending it over to Las Vegas so that they could check us all out in the Griffin book. Within an instant the Monaco Casino security guards were able to positively identify them as known card counters. He was threatening, he basically made it clear they're going to beat us or probably kill us if we ever entered the country. The brilliant students from M. ANDY BLOCH: Once your face gets in the database as a known card counter unless, unless you want to have surgery you're career is pretty much over from any place that subscribes to this database.
The casinos had triumphed after an arms race that had lasted over forty years. Edward Thorp's beautiful mathematical system had finally been rendered useless, by advances in surveillance technology. The original members of M. T's most successful team are no longer active counters.
Breaking Vegas was only ever a hobby to them. Andy Bloch still plays Blackjack, but only occasionally. ANDY BLOCH: So I can still play but it gets harder and harder and you don't want to have to keep moving around, and you're making less per hour and you just want to be able to express yourself, and you can't do that when you're playing Blackjack, you're trying to act like you're a fool.
Katie Lilienkamp has returned to study engineering at M. Well he's taken his knowledge of how probability really works to the biggest casino of them all, the stock exchange, and has made billions. Documentary Description In the mids, a team of American science students took on the might of the Las Vegas casinos, and came home with millions of dollars.
Hardworking engineering students during the week, they became high-rolling gamblers by the weekend and proved that, in one game at least, the house doesn't always win. Their audacious winnings marked the climax of an arms race between casino and player that began 40 years earlier with maths professor Edward Thorp.
He realised that the one feature of blackjack that made it different from other casino games also made it possible to beat. In most gambling games - roulette, dice, slot machines, the lottery - events in the past do not determine the future.
The odds are the same on every roll of the dice or spin of the wheel. Winning streaks or losing streaks may occur, but they are only one possible result from the set of all possible outcomes. Casinos and bookmakers make certain that the odds are always stacked slightly in their favour.
In other words, over time, the house will always win. Changing odds Thorp realised that because of the unique way blackjack was played, the odds were not always the same in every round. After each hand is played, the used cards are put to one side, and not shuffled back into the deck. They are effectively removed from the pool of available cards in the next round.
So in any given hand, the odds of getting an ace will decrease if an ace has been played in previous rounds. Aces are beneficial to the player, so having a smaller proportion of aces in the deck shifts the odds further in favour of the house. Previous gamblers had realised this fact, but no one had the insight to come up with a practical system to take advantage of this phenomenon. The basic rules of blackjack are simple.
To win a round, the player has to draw cards to beat the dealer's total and not exceed a total of The dealer must draw cards until a total of 17 or greater is reached. Thorp calculated that as the game continued and cards were removed after each round, if the remaining deck became richer than average in certain types of cards, it became advantageous to the player. Although the winning margin is still subject to the luck of the draw, this meant that using perfect strategy, with a large bankroll and playing enough hands, the player was more than likely to come out on top.
A player would start off each deck playing minimal stakes. Then by keeping track of the cards leaving the deck, they would determine a point when the odds switched in their favour and lay down larger and larger bets as the deck became more and more favourable.
Playing perfect basic strategy without card counting, the player's average expectation is between Testing the system Thorp announced his strategy at the American Mathematical Society in and news quickly spread. He was approached by the mysterious 'Mr X', a gambler and businessman with strong links to the underworld, who was eager to see whether his strategy could make real money.
Unaware of Mr X's mobster links, Thorp agreed, and playing according to his strategy in Reno casinos, managed to more than double his bankroll in two days of play! Immediately casinos in Nevada were inundated with wannabe card counters, eager to make a quick buck. Four years later, the second edition outlined the new high-low count, a system with just as much power but easier to use. The casinos, terrified of losing money, decided to change the rules to make life harder for the card counters.
They increased the number of decks, they shuffled more often and at one point even changed the winning payoffs. Dealers and pit bosses learned how to spot card counters, and asked anyone suspected of counting to play another game or leave the casino. Life for card counters became increasingly tough, and the counting systems became more complicated in order to try and keep up a marginal edge over the casinos.
Card counting became a hazardous and unprofitable occupation. In , Keith Taft, an electronics engineer from California, was frustrated at his low winnings from counting. He decided to develop a portable computer that could count cards for him.
With his son Marty, he built 'George', probably the world's first portable computer, specifically to count cards at blackjack. The player tapped in the value of each card played using their toes, and the computer would buzz back the amount to bet and whether to stick or twist each round.
The computer was able to calculate precisely the advantage or disadvantage each card gave to the player, and thus accurately predict the optimum playing strategy. The Tafts' computer allowed them to move back to the winning margins that Thorp had enjoyed 10 years earlier.
But it didn't take long for the casinos to catch up with the Tafts. In May , after a long winning streak, Marty Taft was escorted into the backroom of a Nevada casino. Security guards forcibly searched him, found his computer, and sent it away to the FBI. Soon after the law was changed to ban all computing devices in casinos. Raising the stakes In the early s, however, a new breed of counters emerged.
They had a greater level of resources, training and attention to detail than the casinos had ever encountered. MIT had a history of card counting. Indeed, Ed Thorp himself had developed the original system whilst at MIT, using one of the most powerful computers in the world at that time.
MIT counters played in teams, usually of three or more. Each individual was given a specific role. Some would simply watch tables, and wait for favourable situations to appear the 'spotters'. They would call in the expert strategist the 'controller' who would fine-tune exactly when was the optimum moment to play, and how much to bet according to the cards being played.
The controller would secretly signal to a 'big player' who would then join a table and place a massive bet at exactly the right moment. The key was that by only betting when the odds were well in the big player's favour, the big player could maximise potential profit, and also avoid being spotted as a counter.
By watching a number of tables at any time, the team could select only those with the greatest promise of a good return. The big player simply looked like a rich, arrogant young gambler who got lucky on a single bet. The MIT players went to great lengths to conceal both their own identities and their team play. They would work relentlessly to exploit any edge they could find - inexperienced dealers, poor shuffling or lax security. They also recorded exactly how much profit they managed to make from each situation, and honed their skills to be incredibly close to optimum play.
The trio played blackjack all over the world on and off throughout most of the s, making money wherever they played. Their exploits only came to an end when Griffin Investigations, a private agency hired by casinos, identified the members of the MIT teams after months of surveillance. From that point on a team player even entering a casino would be swiftly ejected.
How to Count Cards in Blackjack Whether you are into online Blackjack or hitting the tables in an actual brick and mortar casino, you will need to know how to count cards properly in order to increase your odds of winning. As stated before, it is all about keeping track of the total value of all the cards that have been revealed.
Here are four easy steps that will help you count cards in Blackjack: 1 First you need to assign values to high cards, low cards, and everything in between. If, however, the count is positive then it is advised that you lower your bet. So, how does this give you an advantage in Blackjack? Statistically a perfect Blackjack player still sits with a 0. This makes a massive difference in your odds of winning. Did you know? Counting Cards in Online Blackjack Like we briefly mentioned, counting cards is not only an option at a real-life casino but also a great strategy when playing online blackjack.
There is of course one problem that you may encounter with many online Blackjack games and that is that many online casinos shuffle the deck after every hand is dealt. There are also apps that can aid you in counting cards, but these apps are banned and, in most cases, get detected by online casinos. In fact, it is a great way to practice counting cards before doing so at a brick-and-mortar casino. The best way to become confident and practice counting cards is by using our online free Blackjack games.
This way there is also no risk of losing any of your real hard-earned money. Simple Strategy for Counting Cards The Hi-Lo strategy is the most popular strategy for beginners, and it is the strategy that we offer in our simulator.
This is the easiest strategy to use when starting to count cards. Every time the dealer deals a card, make a mental note of its value and keep adding and subtracting to and from that figure until the deck is shuffled again. If for example the dealer deals a Queen, then subtract 1. This leaves you with a total of If the next card is a 4 then add 1, bringing your total to 0.
This adding and subtracting happens every time a card is dealt and only restarts when the deck is shuffled. Once you have managed to master this strategy, you will move on to more complicated strategies and techniques. Let us go over these advance card counting strategies: Omega II The Omega II strategy was created by Bryce Carlson who was the author of a card counting book back in This technique consists of a balanced system which is similar to Hi-Lo but more advanced.
All face cards and 10 are assigned -2 9 is assigned -1 8 and Ace is assigned 0 2,3, and 7 are assigned 1 4, 5, and 6 are assigned 2. If your running count is positive then you increase your bet and if your running count is negative, then decrease your bet. Wong Halves Stanford Wong founded this strategy which was named after him. In this advanced card counting strategy, fractions are used in order to equate a running total.
Group Play Everything is easier in a group, right? Well, so is counting cards. This strategy allows players to count multiple decks across multiple tables at once. When a player is seated at a table where the count is negative which indicates big bets, they can signal other players secretly to join, thus massively increasing the odds of winning big. Multiple Decks You may have heard of this strategy in the Hollywood movie titled This movie is based on a true story where a group of MIT students and alumni won millions of dollars from many casinos over the course of a few years.
Counting Multiple Decks Using multiple decks is one way that casinos popularly discourage players from counting cards as it makes the practice increasingly difficult to keep track of the running total. Despite this, the Hi-lo strategy can still be used in cases where multiple decks are present.
The only amendment is to divide the running count by the total remaining decks. So, in cases of multiple decks we work with true counts instead of running counts. This total will determine your advantage or disadvantage in cases where multiple decks are used. Of course, running totals still form part of the true count equation and these must be accurate in order to calculate an accurate true count.
If the running count is 5 and there are 2 decks in play, then the true count is 2. Is Card Counting Legal? Therefore, we take extra effort when researching gambling laws in order to protect our users. In our research we came across some laws that you may want to consider before using card counting strategies at casinos.
Nevada, where Las Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, is located, has a state law that makes the use of mechanical or electrical assistance in card counting illegal. This includes but is not limited to smartphone apps and calculators.
If you attempt to use such aids in the state of Nevada, you can be arrested when caught. However, if you count cards using your own arithmetic skills then there is no law that can stop you from doing so. Unfortunately, while no law prohibits you from counting cards in your head, most casinos will remove you from the premises if they suspect you of doing so.
In fact, there are law firms in the United States that employ legal teams to handle cases specific to Las Vegas casino incidents. Casinos take several measures to avoid and deter card counting on the premises. These measures include an abundance of surveillance cameras that watch for signs of card counting among other security concerns. Another popular practice is switching dealers when a table is hot. Hot tables are also often faced with a forced shuffle where the dealer is instructed to shuffle the deck when by instruction from the pit boss.
While counting cards is a great way to improve your odds of winning at Blackjack, it is also important to play responsibly and respect casinos and their rules. Tips for Counting Cards Keep Track of your Chips When you are counting cards, it is easy to lose track of your wins and losses.
It is therefore important to remember that while counting and focusing on the cards is important, it is also essential to make wise betting choices and keep track of how much you have won and lost. Discretion is Key Even though counting cards is not illegal, it is definitely frowned upon.
Land-Based Casinos Offer More Success Unfortunately, due to the random reshuffles at online Blackjack tables, counting cards online is very difficult. Therefore, while an online casino is the ideal place to practice counting cards, you will be far more successful in your winnings when you do so at a brick-and-mortar casino. Use a Card Counting Strategy We shared some of the most popular card counting strategies in this article which you can try out.
Of course, it is recommended to start with the Hi-Lo strategy, but when you are comfortable, move on to some more advanced strategies like Omega II. You should find a strategy that suits you best. Thus, when you find that the odds are in your favor, such as in cases where the running total is negative, increase your bets to boost your chances of winning big.
Card Counting does give you an advantage; it does not however guarantee that you will win. Never, ever, play with money that you cannot live without. In fact if you are seriously considering learning to count cards, it is a very good idea to put money aside that will not be used for anything other than your exploits at the table.
Bet Spread Before going any further, it is necessary to define a very important concept — bet spread. Bet spread is the difference between the lowest and highest bets you will place at the table. A bet spread is necessary in order to overcome the changes in advantage a player will experience as successive decks are dealt. An advantage player realizes the importance of betting low at times the deck favors the house and progressively higher as it swings in favor of the player.
This is a simplistic way to explain bet spread that will serve as a general rule of thumb; it is far from perfect. Your bet spread in practice will be affected by many conditions including the rules of the game, the penetration being offered and the tolerance of a particular casino to large bet spreads.
You should place your maximum bet of 5 units at a TC — after adjustment for the house advantage — of 5 or greater. Now you are aware of what your maximum bet should be and when to place it — it is easy to work out what your correlating minimum bet should be and any bet increments falling between the two extremes. To calculate your minimum bet simply divide your maximum bet by whatever spread you intend to use.
It was only when J. Under the guidance of both, soon various teams were set up and these teams earned millions during the next ten years. Semyon later became the leader of the team and the founder of Amphibian Investments. This team's experiences were chronicled in the famous book Busting Vegas. The team was also referred to in the famous book, Bringing down the House which had later been made into the movie Life Semyon Dukach had been the main character in the book, Busting Vegas.
Another interesting fact is that he was the only member who had been referred to by his own name in the book. Dukach was born in in Moscow and had later moved to US. He had been trained and coached to use the card counting techniques and had been made a member of the Strategic Investments team in Semyon Dukach had been an important member of the MIT Team and had been greatly successful in the early years of the team.
Once Strategic Investments ended, he still continued to play blackjack. He then formed his own team in with a few players which was named Amphibians Investments. Other than the card counting techniques, Dukach's team also made use of various other advanced strategies and techniques like card sequencing. Dukach finally quite playing blackjack professionally towards the end of s and since then he has not been very involved in the game. However, Semyon has continued to speak at events and offers various courses and seminars to teach people the techniques that had been used by his team.
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