How Blackjack Teams Try to Cheat the House
With a low house edge and skill element to the game, blackjack draws the attention of advantage players like no other casino game. Over time, many people have attempted to work in teams to turn the house advantage into an advantage for the players. While modern technology means that this is more difficult than it used to be, there are still teams out there who are trying to make blackjack games pay.
This article looks at team advantage play in blackjack in three different ways. First of all the subject of spooking is covered. After that the possibility of the dealer being in on the act. Finally, card counting teams are covered.
Team Play in Blackjack – Spooking
Knowledge of the dealer’s down-card in the US version of Blackjack would be extremely advantageous to the players. A skilled player would be able to switch his own strategy based on what card the dealer was showing, gaining a house advantage in the process.
The process involved is known as ‘Spooking’. Usually, someone who is not involved in the game would sit or stand somewhere that they could see the dealer’s down card as it was dealt (or sometimes as the dealer peeked for Blackjack). This would then be signaled to a player, who would use this knowledge to their advantage.
Casinos are wise to this idea nowadays, and will be on the lookout for anyone standing in an unusual position – which you would have to do to see the card. Signaling methods (scratches, yawns or stretches) are also well known. In the big regulated casinos, spooking in this way would be virtually impossible. There are alternate methods of team play related to this including having a player in the first position sit in such a way as to see the dealer’s down card.
Team Play in Blackjack – Dealer Involvement
The dealer is in a much better position to cheat than the players in blackjack. Players are not allowed to touch the cards, and the dealer is far more likely to be skilled and experienced at handling them. Team play in this context can involve stacked decks, or even quickly switched cards. A player would come to the table, be dealt a series of winning hands, and then disappear with the money before the casino or the other players started to suspect that anything had gone wrong.
Dealers have also been known to use specially designed shoes. These show the first card (next card to be dealt) and allow for the second card to be taken instead of the first if this would be more favorable for the members of the team. Of course, if the dealer was an insider of the casino, this could also be used to keep all the players losing.
Team Play In Blackjack – Card Counters
Card counting can be done individually, however there is a big risk of getting caught. The reason is that the counter needs to suddenly increase their bets when the deck goes ‘positive’. This is obvious to experienced casino security staff, who can check the tapes and identify the counter. This also has the downside of taking up the time of the counter while waiting for the deck to become positive in the first place.
Teams work better in this context. One player can count the cards while keeping their stake consistent. They can then signal to another player to come and join the table with big bets when the deck goes positive. This looks more natural to the casinos and dealers, and ensures that the big bets are played when the edge is in favor of the player.
This was the technique employed by the famous MIT Blackjack team, which operated during the 1980s. Under the leadership of the infamous JP Massar, this team were able to make millions from the casinos of Atlantic City and Las Vegas by using card counting with a team setup.