Card counters vs the casinos. It’s a tale as old as time. But can we play the blame-game with Hollywood? Here’s our thoughts on card counting in the movies.
The Obsession with Card Counting: A Product of Hollywood?
Card counting is a rather controversial blackjack strategy that’s been around since 1957. The process of card counting was created by a group of engineers called the ‘Four Horseman’ who published a paper describing a method that was designed to beat the dealer every time. In 1962, mathematician Ed Thorpe continued building on the card counting method in a book titled Beat The Dealer, where he used computers to prove that the original card counting strategy created by the Four Horseman would give players a bigger edge over the casino.
The strategy of card counting has been rather glamourised in many Hollywood movies, with many iconic films featuring successful card counters who beat the dealer and won big through calculated and smart play. In these movies, card counters always seem to come on top, which is why many believe that the obsession with card counting is very much a product of Hollywood.
The idea of card counting is that with repeated practice, you can beat the odds of blackjack. Card counting is quite a complex strategy that requires a lot of practice and memory to get a hang of. The basic strategy involves keeping a count of how many high-value and low-value cards are dealt. High cards are considered to be an advantage for the player, while low cards are assumed to benefit the dealer. Using this information, players can then estimate whether they’re at an advantage or not and adjust their bet size accordingly.
Whether card counting works or not is rather disputed, but it’s a known fact casinos certainly did not take kindly to card counters. It’s somewhat of an unwritten law that card counting is not allowed, and many casinos have often been known to indirectly ban players suspected of card counting. For this reason, card counting is very difficult to try out at a land-based casino, but what about online blackjack real money games?
Well, counting cards when playing online blackjack is rather tricky because the software that casinos use for online blackjack games shuffles the cards with every new hand. This means that if you’re thinking of pulling a classic Hangover move to sweep in thousands, you might need to reassess your strategy when playing blackjack online.
Movies That Feature Card Counting
Let’s take a look at the iconic blackjack movies with card counting scenes that have undeniably shaped many ideas about the real chances of winning by using the card-counting strategy.
The Hangover is a movie about many things, but this comedy is heavily centred around the game of blackjack and more specifically, card counting. It all starts when Alan, played by Zach Galifianakis, finds ‘The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book’ wedged under the sofa. Due to a series of mishaps that lead to the gang owing thousands in debt, they decide to attempt counting cards at the blackjack table to win it all back. Keeping a tally of how many high and low cards have been dealt, Alan manages to win precisely the amount they owed to pay off their debt and save their friend.
The Rain Man is predominantly a blackjack movie where card counting is the way to sure success if done right. Starring Tom Cruise as a shady businessman and his autistic brother played by Dustin Hoffman, the two sweep up big wins thanks to Hoffman’s ability to count a higher number of cards than the average person.
21 is based on the most famous group of card counters of all time, known as the MIT Blackjack Team. Their real-life story was turned into a movie starring Kevin Spacey who teaches his students the card counting strategy which is designed to help them beat the house every time. One of his star pupils, an MIT student who can’t afford to pay his tuition, uses his teacher’s card counting system and it works like a dream, earning him thousands of dollars in a short time.
The Last Casino
Similar in plot to the movie described above, The Last Casino is about a professor that gets banned from the casino after he’s caught counting cards. As a result, he decides to form his own blackjack team made up of three students who take big risks using the card counting strategy combined with the Martingale strategy and high bets that ultimately win them big sums of money.
It’s pretty clear to see that card counting in these iconic Hollywood movies is really portrayed as an unbeatable system that guarantees massive wins every time. In reality, however, card counting is considered more a waste of time rather than a way to beat the system by many professional blackjack players.
Card counting is not as easy to learn as it’s made to seem in movies like The Hangover or Rain Man. On the contrary, card counting is very difficult to learn and required a lot of focus to execute successfully, which can be hard to maintain if you’re under pressure. Although counting cards can give you the slightest advantage over the casino, many blackjack experts will tell you that you’re better off using basic strategy to give yourself the best odds of winning at the blackjack table.