From Push to Shove: The Difference Between Blackjack Heat and Back-Off
May 17, 2014
Blackjack heat and back-off are two separate but closely related concepts; it is important to know what they mean and what to do about them.
Blackjack advantage players, especially card counters, face a constant struggle to stay under the radar. Use of these techniques isn’t illegal, they aren’t even considered cheating, but no casino will knowingly allow players to count cards.
Advantage play tips the edge in favor of the player and away from the house, and casinos depend on a relatively high house edge in order to turn a profit. In affect, allowing players to count cards is like a restaurant giving away food for free.
So dealers and pit bosses are trained to identify and distract counters as much as possible. When things get out of hand (the player is way too successful) the pit boss escorts them out of the casino.
The term “heat” is a loose word for unwanted attention from the pit boss. Heat is intended to do two things: gauge your reaction to see if you are in fact using a card counting system, and distract your ability to count. The latter involves several tactics which will be discussed at length later.
The former usually means the pit boss imposing himself into your line of site, giving an unwelcoming stare. This is referred to as glare. The point is for you to notice that the boss is onto you and react in a flustered way. If you look nervous or uncomfortable, or worse, immediately change your betting behavior, it gives a clear indication that you are counting.
There is another form of glare, which is intended precisely to make you feel uncomfortable. This involves several large, muscular employees of the casino gathering around the table to scrutinize your play, making a point to be noticed.
Once the pit boss becomes reasonably certain that you’re counting, he’ll make moves against you. These are usually pretty subtle, the casino doesn’t want to make a bad impression among the other players by chastising you for winning at blackjack.
The most obvious one is to instruct the dealer to immediately reshuffle the deck. This wipes away the positive count you’ve built up, forcing you to start again at zero. At this point the pit boss is hoping that you will give up counting for the evening or just leave the casino altogether. Like I mentioned, they don’t want to make a scene.
Another, more drastic action is for the boss to take you aside for a little chat. Contrary to what you may have seen in the movies, you are not going to be violently interrogated in a basement somewhere. In most cases the conversation is actually quite polite.
The boss will tell you that he knows you’re counting, and that if you want to keep playing, you have to flat bet for the rest of the evening. This defeats the purpose of counting, solving the casinos problem. If he isn’t such a nice guy, he might ask you to leave of your own accord before he makes you leave of his accord.
This is the last resort in the bosses bag of tricks. They don’t want to do this, precisely because it doesn’t look good in the eyes of the other players. But if the heat doesn’t work, the boss won’t hesitate to give you the boot altogether.
The boss you come over to your seat and politely ask you to join him for a walk, at which point you’ll be escorted to the door. This usually means that the casino is banning you for good, so your identity will be taken down and put into a registry.
What you can do about it
If you become skilled enough in blackjack tricks like counting you should able to play without catching the bosses attention. Always act natural, even play dumb to a certain degree. The most important thing is not to jump your bet as soon as the count gets high.
This means increasing your bet by a large amount, say going from $10 to $100, on a single hand. This is a pretty obvious sign that you are up to something. It is better to increase gradually, especially after you have won a few hands.
Another useful technique for avoiding the pit boss is to play at a few different tables in a single evening. The shorter amount of time you spend in each place the lower the chance that you will be recognized.
Many experienced counters play a few tables at a given casino, winning some money at each but avoiding notice. After they have exhausted the place they move on to another casino, and start the whole process again. This is easiest to do in cities like Las Vegas, Atlantic City and Macau which have a lot of casinos.