View RSS Feed

Modern Blackjack nth Edition

What Are the Ethics of Advantage Play?

Rate this Entry
Is advantage play ethical? There are actions that some players have taken that are clearly unethical – sneaking extra chips onto a bet when doubling, bending cards, hidden cameras, and other such cheats. This is actually rare these days. What I am talking about is normal advantage play, as follows:

Wonging: If you only enter a shoe only when the card count is in your favor, and/or exit when it is not, then you leave unaware players with worse odds then they would normally expect. They may think the odds are according to the published numbers for the Blackjack rules at hand when they are actually worse. Is this ethical? Personally, I don’t have a problem with this. When a player enters a casino, he has the responsibility to understand the odds. If his only study is neighborhood games or poor books, he will be less skilled. If you are less skilled at either the basic strategy of a game, or of other very common situations that affect your odds, this cannot be the responsibility of the advantage player. I will add a qualification. This is one of the reasons many of us attempt to educate the public. There are so many, so many, bad Blackjack books, that it is a wonder that anyone manages to select a decent book. So, it is a bit difficult to blame a poor player for ignorance. (This is why I don’t use derogatory names like ploppy.) In any case, Blackjack is a game of skill, despite what some lawmakers may claim, and the skillful will experience better odds.

Let me take this a bit further. If you are playing Poker, and a player enters the game that you know you cannot beat, you have the right to leave. You always have the right to leave, although in some cases (Craps bets, tournys, player wins all) you may not have the right to take your money off the table.

Dealer Errors
: If the dealer makes a payoff error in your favor, should an honest person tell him. Certainly if the dealer makes an error against us, we will point it out. We have all seen players point out when a dealer has overpaid another player. (To the extreme anger of most.) In my mind, errors are a part of the game. This is not a supermarket, where I would point out an error. Blackjack is a card game. If I have the responsibility of not making errors, and of catching dealer errors that go against me, why is it also my responsibility to correct dealer errors in my favor. I think it is obvious that players make far more errors than dealers in general. The house makes far more than the published odds through player misplays. This is why my software tests people on catching dealer errors — particularly important in newer casinos.

Having said that, attempts to force dealer errors I don’t like.

Shuffle Tracking
: This one is easy. Blackjack shuffle tracking rarely harms and often aides unaware players.

Ace Tracking
: This is a bit more complex. Altering your bets or play to take advantage of the fact that you know an ace is about to appear is fine in my mind. You are using information that is available (albeit with a great deal of work) to anyone. OTOH, spreading to multiple hands to ensure that you get an ace (and an unaware player does not) does bother me. This is not Poker where you play against other players. In Poker, they know you are against them. In Blackjack (in theory), you are playing against the dealer. The unaware player doesn’t know that you are taking something from him. On the other hand, it could be reasoned that you are really playing against everyone else in the casino. The casino must make a profit for it to continue. If you want to make a profit, other players, in aggregate, must lose. In that sense, even at Blackjack, you are playing against the other players.

Hole-carding, Next-carding
: Now it gets trickier. Here, you are using information that the rules say you shouldn’t have. OTOH, it is the dealer’s job to ensure that you do not have that information. In Poker, this is outright unethical. But, in Poker, you are clearly playing against specific other players. I am divided on this issue. In my mind, the dealer in a casino Blackjack game has enormous advantages – professional training, enormous bankroll, power to eject you, hundreds of cameras and personnel watching the action, the basic odds of the games, an atmosphere of intimidation, regulators (and courts) that nearly always side with the casinos, and more and more, personal information about the player. With all that going for them, if the dealer is so sloppy that a person can easily obtain additional information, then it would be idiotic to ignore that information.But, note the word “easily.” When one uses overt tricks to obtain that information, I personally think this is going too far.

: This is the method of extracting money from online casinos by maximizing the gain from bonuses. Much less valuable than in the early days. I’ll make this brief. Most any method of extracting money from online casinos is acceptable. I may alter this belief in the future.

Scavenger Play AKA Hand Interaction
: These methods involve negotiations with other players. Buying split hands, buying doubles or insurance, etc. As far as ethics go, I see no reason not to talk a player into buying an insurance bet or convincing him to split when it makes sense for him. But, in many cases, this harms the player. Talking a player into doubling when he doesn’t want to, and taking the double bet, harms the other player. Now, yes I said that it is their responsibility to have an understanding of the game. You didn’t talk them into sitting down at the table. And frankly, anyone that walks into a casino and thinks strangers are on their side is a fool. Here you are personally talking the player into making a bet that is bad for him. Frankly, this makes me uncomfortable and I don’t do it. But, I don’t call this unethical any more than I would call it unethical to not help the other side in a business deal. And, this is a
business deal.

In any case, it can draw extraordinary attention to you and slow the game considerably, which runs contrary to my style of play.

Card counting
: Finally, we get to card counting itself. If you count cards correctly, then you have an advantage over the casino. For the casino to maintain a reasonable profit, some casinos believe they must change the rules to make them less attractive for all players. They are wrong. But, it happens nonetheless. Does this make counting unethical? In this case, I most emphatically say NO. Card counting is the correct way to play games like Blackjack. It is not in any way an unusual methodology. For centuries people have paid attention to the cards that have gone by in games. How can you play Bridge or Rummy while ignoring the passing cards? Who would try to improve a pair of aces at Stud Poker when other players have folded the other Aces? What kind of idiot makes a large bet at single-deck Blackjack, hoping for a Blackjack, when all the aces have been dealt? Seriously, what is unethical has been the, largely effective, campaign by casinos to call card counters cheats.

Submit "What Are the Ethics of Advantage Play?" to Google Submit "What Are the Ethics of Advantage Play?" to Digg Submit "What Are the Ethics of Advantage Play?" to Submit "What Are the Ethics of Advantage Play?" to StumbleUpon

Tags: None Add / Edit Tags


  1. Fate's Avatar
    Especially enjoyed reading the last paragraph and last sentence.

About Blackjack: The Forum

BJTF is an advantage player site based on the principles of comity. That is, civil and considerate behavior for the mutual benefit of all involved. The goal of advantage play is the legal extraction of funds from gaming establishments by gaining a mathematic advantage and developing the skills required to use that advantage. To maximize our success, it is important to understand that we are all on the same side. Personal conflicts simply get in the way of our goals.