I had no idea that live blackjack online tables feature a “shoe” and not an automatic shuffle machine! I noticed it today when I checked my balance of my (almost forgotten) account at an online bookmaker that advertised their live casino games in their home page. I thought that maybe skillful gamblers can make money by card counting at these games, so I joined and tried my “luck”. The short answer is that card counters may be able to make money in the long run playing live blackjack online, but due to the slow speed of the games and the very bad penetration, they should better look for better investments elsewhere.
At first it was a pleasant surprise to find out that I could once again practice my card counting skills! It has been 10 years since the last time I visited a real casino and counted cards (read some stories about my blackjack career). Fortunately I still remembered the basic strategy and the Hi-Lo counting system, although I seem to have forgotten all the variations according to the true count. Anyway, long story short, I decided to sit down at one of those live blackjack tables, while I would be searching online for other card counters’ opinions related to these games.
It turns out that most of them complain about the speed of the games. True, just 20 hands had been dealt during the hour I spent playing live blackjack online. What is even worse is the fact that the 7-seat tables are usually full, even the ones of high stakes (50 euros minimum!). That really slows the game down.
Another discouraging fact is that players are only allowed to bet on their own hand or spot. At real casinos card counters usually bet the minimum on their hand when the odds are against them and place more bets (bigger as well) on other people’s hands when they have an edge versus the casino. In order to make money at blackjack, we need to increase our betting substantially when the “true count” number is more than two. At live blackjack online tables I wasn’t able to place bets to hands dealt next to me, or open another spot (or “box”).
To get you an idea, I would very much like to bet 5 euros per round when the casino’s edge is 0.5% against me (costing me about 2.5 cents per hand) and bet 50 euros at 3 different spots (for a total of 150 euros) when my edge is 0.5% against the casino (winning 75 cents per round). If the true count reached over 4 (more than 1% edge versus the casino), I would be willing to risk 300 euros on a single round for a nice 3-5 euros net profit in the long run!
True count is the number card counters calculate when they divide the “running count” by the number of the remaining decks. For example, if the running count is +8 and there are 4 decks still in the shoe, the true count is +2. Card counters use that number to decide how much money they would bet and whether they need to change the basic strategy. Hitting or standing on 16 against the dealer’s Ten is one of the changes that comes to mind.
Therefore, one of the most important parts of the game is knowing how many decks there are on the blackjack table. I estimated that it must have been 6 decks of cards at the table I was playing at. What’s even more important though is where the dealer places the cut card, which will signal the end of dealing the “shoe”. If they place the cut card towards the bottom of the shoe allowing 5 decks of cards to be dealt, the penetration is 16.6% (1/6) and is considered a favorable situation for the players. Depending on the penetration, the players’ edge vary accordingly.
Penetration is important because if the running count is, say 12 and the cut card is about to be dealt before the last remaining deck, we know that there are a lot of high-value cards (tens, kings, aces, etc.) in the remaining 52 cards. On the other hand, if the cut card is placed at the last 2 remaining decks, the high-value cards are scattered over 104 cards. For all we know, they can all be found at the last deck!
It turns out that most online casinos set the penetration of their live blackjack games at 50%! That means 3 decks of cards won’t be dealt out of 6! If the decks were 8, four decks wouldn’t be dealt! That is a very big disadvantage and combined with the slow speed of the games, it made me stand up and leave the table. Not before though I was dealt three 7’s!
The odds of that happening is 0.04%! Once upon a time when I was playing blackjack at brick and mortar casinos, I was dealt that very same hand twice the same night! The casino was offering a bottle of wine to any player hitting three 7’s, so I and my friend certainly didn’t leave the blackjack room empty-handed!