Card Holing – Advantage Play in the Game of Blackjack

Across the spectrum of casino games players, you’ll find two extremes. The first is the very casual player who would like to win, but really doesn’t care and will play without rhyme or reason. He wants to have a good time, and even though he knows virtually nothing about the strategy, rules or the game play, will take a seat at the casino games table to enjoy himself. At the other extreme, we have the player who are determined to win by any means necessary. He would have studied all the moves in basic strategy as well as being an expert in his chosen game. He has a deep understanding of the effects of the house edge on possible outcomes. And he probably knows about the dark art of card holing.

He is doggedly determined to find any edge over the casino even if it borders on the edge of cheating. He is, what they call in the industry, an “advantage player.” The means of how to win at blackjack are of little consequence. To be an advantage player takes a huge amount of work. And all with the possibility that, thanks to the management, you may have to leave the casino at any point during your endeavour.

Introduction: Card Holing in Blackjack

The most common technique used by advantage players that the public is aware of, though it’s less used today, is card counting. Playing blackjack with this technique will bring you a possible 1% – 2% advantage over the house, but it’s more than enough for some players. But there’s a basic problem with card counting, and that’s the fact that it involves a very obvious pattern of play and betting. This is easily spotted by the dealer. Within just a few hands you’ll have to leave and may suffer the indignity of a total banning from the premises. So, as an advantage player, you really want to find a method of gaining the upper hand, but without drawing attention to yourself.

Welcome to the world of hole carding. It’s an old technique that can be used in many casino table games where cards are involved. It offers a much higher edge over card counting, with some hands gaining up to a 13% advantage. It’s also much harder for the casino dealer or pit boss to understand what you’re doing. So, let’s have a look at hole carding and whether it’s something you can use the next time you visit a casino.

What is Card Holing?

Essentially it’s when you’re able to get a sneaky peek at one of the face down or hole cards. As you already know, in blackjack, the dealer will deal himself one face down (hole card) and one face up. So if you can see the card that’s face down, you can then use this information to help you make better decisions. You can also benefit with this technique with other casino table games that feature a hole card, such as Let it Ride Poker and Mississippi Stud Poker. A dealer who inadvertently shows their hole card is known in the industry as a “flasher” or “flashing dealer.” For one reason or another, they have a flaw in their dealing technique. One which allows an observant player to see what should normally remain hidden.

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Hole Carding Technique

It goes without saying that the first thing you’ll be needing to do, is simply to pay attention. Many players are focused solely on their own cards as they receive them from the dealer. But you need to start looking at the way the dealer is dealing. A dealer who accidentally flashes the cards will not do so every time. But that’s not important. As long as he does it, then you’ll be able to take advantage of that round.You need to be sitting in the right spot as well as keeping a keen eye on the dealer’s actions. By far the best seat for this is either directly in front of the dealer or at second or third base. But this will also depend on whether the dealer is right or left handed. 

As you walk the casino floor, be on the lookout for a sloppy dealer. You’ll then need to find the seat that’ll give you the best angle of view. Let your stool down so that you’re seated in a lower position. The closer your eyes are to the table, the easier it’ll be to spot those hole cards. You can also slouch or rest your head on your elbow. But keep in mind that all these actions should appear to be absolutely natural.

Hole Carding Casino Games

Though blackjack remains the most popular card game in the casino, card holing with the game doesn’t offer as many advantages as when it’s used in conjunction with other cards games. 

Let it Ride Poker 

This game features two hole cards. Seeing any one of them will be a huge help. By seeing the first hole card, you’ll gain a house edge of 8%. If you can spot the second card, then it’s up to 24%. But by being able to see both cards, then your edge goes up  dramatically to 40%! 

Mississippi Stud Poker

With this game there are any number of ways and opportunities for card holing. Now, if you can sneak a peek at the first card, then your edge is a whopping 50%. If you manage to get a view of the third card down, then the same edge goes up to 100%. If the casino you’re in is offering Mississippi Stud poker, then you owe it to yourself to walk the casino floor looking for less than accurate dealers. 

Three Card Poker

Just like blackjack, three card poker doesn’t offer a spectacular edge over the dealer. But it’s still a worthwhile exercise at 3%. But you’ll also need to be playing perfect blackjack strategies when you are making use of the information gained by card holing.

Caribbean Stud Poker

Provided that you’re playing perfect strategy, then you can find an edge over the house of around 11%.

Ultimate Texas Hold’em Poker

A lot will be dependent on how the dealer deals the flop card and the river. With the right combination, this game variation of poker can supply a 20% – 35% over the house edge.

As you can see, there are many table games which offer much more to the player via spotting the hole cards. More than he would receive if he were solely to stick with blackjack. And another point to keep in mind, is that, more often than not, the casino is not expecting players to hole cards on any other games other than blackjack. So utilising this technique with Poker, for example, may be a better bet to avoid being asked to leave.

One thing to watch out for is that casinos will play their dealers on rotation. This helps mitigate any possibility of the dealers and players being able to play underhand. So, if you spot a sloppy dealer, get to know his schedule. That way you’ll know where they’ll be dealing the next time you visit the casino. You’ll be able to join the table where the flashing dealer is going to be dealing. This way you avoid any suspicion that might be gleaned by management from the fact that you are following him to the next table.  

When Card Holing, Be Cool!

Of course, being able to find an edge over the casino is one thing. But it’s being able to exploit it, over a period of time, that really counts here. There’s nothing to be gained, if after a couple of hands, the pit boss steps in. And asks you to leave the premises, and never come back. This can happen even if what you’re doing isn’t technically illegal. After all, it’s their casino and their rules. To that end, not only do you have to find an edge. But you have to make use of it without alerting the casino to your card holing efforts. No one said it was easy!

Essentially you’ll need the skills to blend in. That may sound easy. But when you have a less than honourable purpose in mind, then your actions can appear strange. This is because you’ll tend to subconsciously over-compensate. So learning how to remain totally relaxed and calm under pressure is going to serve you well. On another point, you don’t have to share any of your findings. If you happen to stumble across a flashing dealer, then keep this information to yourself. The last thing you want is to have someone else at the same table also trying to hole card, when you’re trying to do the same. It gets awkward very quickly, and will not help you remain under the casino’s radar.

Sloppy Dealers Are Best

Because blackjack is so popular, the casinos tend to concentrate their efforts on making sure that the blackjack dealers are dealing correctly, and then miss out on card dealers with other casino table games. So to that effect, blackjack dealers make less mistakes and are less likely to provide opportunities for card holing. So, though you might of come to the casino to hole card with the game of blackjack, you may well improve your chances with another table game.  

For those of you who play online blackjack for real money, because you’re in effect playing against a machine, there’s no possibility of  of card holing. And it’s the same story for live dealer games.

How to Use Card Holing Information

So, now you’ve found a sloppy dealer and can see the hole cards clearly, what on earth are you meant to do with this information? The first important point is to realise that you can’t use this knowledge in all situations. After all it’s in your own interest if the dealer carries on flashing the cards for as long as possible. If either the dealer or the pit boss becomes aware, thanks to your game play, that the dealer is flashing, then the party is over. The very last thing you want to do is to alert the casino as to what you’re doing. 

Imagine you’re seating at the blackjack table. You have 2 x 6’s and the dealer has a 10 showing. Then basic strategy would tell you to hit. But if the dealer has a 6 in the hole, to total his hand up to 16, then you’re better off to split your 6’s. As the dealer will go bust with any card higher than a 5, they then have a bigger chance of going bust. At this point you should up your wager. But we immediately hit a problem with the casino. They never have seen a player split 6’s when faced with a dealer’s card of 10. It just doesn’t happen. If you were playing perfect strategy, then you would never make this play. You know it and the casino knows it.  

Check The Casino’s Security

Keep in mind that the casino has the eye in the sky. It’s watching all the tables, all the time, and analysing all the game plays. If something stands out, they will spot it and start to zoom in to see if there’s a problem. And once they start looking, then it’s going to be an early night for you. There’s a counter argument which says that the moment you spot a dealer flashing, you’ll not be the only player who sees it. At that point everyone piles in and tries to make the best of the situation before it comes to a grinding halt. Because the advantage is only fleeting, you’ll need to jump onto it pronto, before it’s gone. 

Blackjack Is Your Game

This all brings us back to the point of whether blackjack is really the casino game for making use of card holing. With blackjack, the game already has the casino’s beady eyes looking for card counters. So your actions on seeing a hole card will only stand out even more. If you were playing a card game with a stronger edge, then you could be taking advantage of card holing until the cows come home, and no one would be the wiser.

Another factor that gives the game away is how the players who are card holing react when they have a win or a loss. Because they are essentially under a huge amount of stress, their behaviour is unnatural and forced. There’s a stiffness about these players in their use of hand signals and how awkwardly they sit, that will instantly draw attention to them. It’s very difficult to act natural when the dealer turns over a card that you already know the value of. 

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Card Holing Team Play

If you go card holing at the casino, then you’re much less likely to be detected if there are a couple of you. Here’s how that could work. Let’s say that there’s you and your gambling buddy, Mike. He sits directly in front of the sloppy dealer. You can sit wherever you want as it’s Mike who’ll be doing the heavy lifting. There’s no need for you to pay any attention to the dealer as he deals.  Now, whenever Mike sees the whole card, using a set of predefined signals, he’ll let you know what that card is. You can then play with the maximum table wagers. Though this will result in Mike losing a tiny stake, you’ll be able to clean up using your insider knowledge to the best advantage.

Make sure that you and Mike are never acting together in the same casino. You both have to act as if you don’t know each other. No interaction, period. Having blackjack teams attack a casino in this manner has been going on as long as there have been casinos. The most common practice is that almost all members of the team will sit at different tables and play for minimum stake. The second one of them spots an opportunity. Then they secretly signal to the big player, who’ll then join that table and win. They will play with big stakes and complete the shoe before getting up and leaving. 

The Casinos Are Not Fools

But beware, that casino’s have years of experience at spotting advantage players who are using the most common blackjack tricks. We suggest that you stay away from blackjack tables if you’re card holing. After all, these are the most watched games by the casino. Many casinos have changed their rules to negate the effects of card holing. For example, in the US, as standard practice, all casinos now require the players to act on their hands before the dealer deals out the second card. There’s also another method that’s becoming more popular. The casino takes away any advantage by showing the dealers two cards face up from the start. As there’s no card holing, then there’s no advantage for the player. 

Is Card Holing Legal?

The short answer to this question is “yes it is.” The longer answer is “it’s complicated.” A hole carder was caught red-handed in 1983 whilst playing at the Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas. The casino decided to make an example and go ahead and prosecute. The case went all the way up to the Nevada Supreme Court. It ruled that what the player had done by sneaking a peek at the dealer’s hole card, “did not constitute a violation of the cheating statutes.” In other words, card holing doesn’t fall under the heading of cheating. The player is just watching the dealer deal. If the dealer is sloppy, then that’s not the player’s fault. And he’s perfectly entitled to take advantage of the situation.

But a player using a mirror or another device to see the dealer’s hand would clearly constitute cheating. In many places that would lead to a criminal complaint. With the gambler facing possible prison time. For the casino, card holing is unsportsmanlike and unsportsmanlike behaviour. Though not illegal you have to keep in mind that the casino is private property. As such they can ask you to leave, for whatever reason and whenever it suits them. The back off can be embarrassing. Though not quite as bad as being permanently banned. So, if you decide to go hold carding, be aware that the consequences can be serious.