A blackjack player’s skill isn’t always mathematical. Some expert gamblers also know how to read the dealer and exploit this to their advantage. The tells and body language of the dealer can say a lot about their hole card. Although this is a tricky move, there are no casino blackjack dealer rules that say this is illegal.
Subtle gestures and expressions from the dealer can reveal what’s on their face-down card. Although this isn’t 100% accurate, many blackjack players attest to its potential.
Spotting the “tells” that the dealer consciously and unconsciously sends to the players isn’t an easy task. There’s no strategy chart here – just pure focus and talent.
You need to be sensitive enough to pick up tiny details and piece it together. It requires focus, but my friend, don’t look like you’re trying to bore a hole on the dealer’s face with your solid stare.
The dealer’s job
As you know, the dealer serves the blackjack table. They are tasked to deal the cards, manage the winnings and losses, and host the whole game. Although they work for the casino, they still have rules to follow.
If you want to decipher their tells, you need to know the rules they abide by. First, they will also deal the first two cards for their hand. If the up-card isn’t an ace and everyone has played their hands, the dealer will reveal the hole card and play it.
However, the dealer can’t strategize his play. Depending on what’s indicated on the felt, it’s typical that the dealer will stand at Soft 17. Regardless if there’s a high chance of busting, s/he has to draw another card if the hand is lower than Soft 17.
Once the dealer finishes playing his hand, he then checks who won and lost. The dealer will pay and retrieve losses accordingly and the round finishes.
Basically, this is how the casino blackjack dealer rules go.
Reading a blackjack dealer
Now that you know the standpoint of the dealer, it’s time to read his ways. Spotting tells includes observing the mannerisms, behavioral patterns, or even inconsistencies in such patterns.
Some dealers who have good cards can become chatty or out of mood if their hands are bad. It’s a matter of paying more attention. Take note that you need an intensive focus to observe and master these hacks:
🃏The low card tell
According to players who have successfully read dealers, 2-6 cards are difficult to read than other faces. With this, the dealer has to bend the cards a bit higher than usual. Some dealers would even do a double take to ensure that they don’t have an Ace.
The low-card tell is more prominent in 4-value cards. Since the strokes of number 4 are similar to an ‘A’, many dealers will look twice or bend it over higher.
🃏The high-card tell
If there’s a low-card tell, there’s a high-card tell. It’s the opposite of the first point where the dealer is said to read 6 and up cards easier than others. This is very true, especially for face cards. With this, they will bend the cards lower and they will rarely take a second look.
If the dealer takes a little peek and brings his attention back to the players quickly, there’s a high chance that s/he has a high-value card. Still, always follow casino blackjack dealer rules to evade trouble.
When the dealer places the card slightly to the right, there’s a chance that he or she is preparing to deal another card. The hole card could be low. But if the hole card is placed on the center, it’s likely to be a good card and the dealer doesn’t need to hit. Still, consider if the dealer is right or left handed.
I advise that you look for the most blatant dealer and the one who wears glasses. Not to stereotype, but since their vision is compromised, they would likely bend the cards higher to be sure.
How to find a dealer that gives tells
The only way to find a dealer that gives tells is to actually play on different tables in the casino. More often, you’ll need multiple trips to the casino before you can spot a flasher (we’ll discuss this later on). It takes patience, but once you find one, it’s a good way to make some decent profit.
Take note, though, that some casinos know what players are up to. With that, they train their dealers to limit any physical cues that may send an inadvertent advantage to the players.
Also, don’t rely on tells alone. Actions can be misleading, especially if the dealer knows you’re closely watching him. Master a strategy and just do “dealer reading” as a side technique. After all, tried and tested strategies are stronger foundations on playing rather than the actions of the dealer.
Flashers are the dealers who are unconsciously showing their hole cards to other players whenever they have to peek. This happens when the dealer has poor dealing skills or has procedure flaws than exposes their hole cards to other players.
If you pay enough attention, you can spot the hole card of a flasher and use it in your advantage. God forbid the pit boss informs the dealer about the said flaw.
The process of catching a flasher is also called hole carding.The players will look closely whenever the dealer peeks on the hole card with the hope that they can get a sneaky glance at it.
As you know, a blackjack table is shaped like an oval. And since the players will surround the dealer, you need the best spot to have a better chance of seeing the hole card as the dealer peeks. According to casino blackjack dealer rules, you can’t choose where to seat when the table is packed. You’d have to wait.
The first and third bases are the best seats for this. However, you’d have to check whether the dealer is left or right handed to reverse the seating positions accordingly.
You can try each seat on the table to determine which spot is best for hole carding. It’s also an advantage if you’re short since your eyes are closer to the table. You can slouch too, but try to appear normal so the pit boss won’t suspect you for being shady.
In this trick, you’ll team with an agent called “spook” as they are called in the blackjack community. The spook will then stand behind or any spot where they can see the dealer’s hole card in plain view. After getting the information, they will communicate this to the seated player through codes or secret gestures. The spook can be another player on the table with a better view or a seemingly by-stander.
Take the case of Golden Nugget Casino back in November 1983. Two players namely Tony Dalben and Steven Einbinder were caught hole-carding and spooking. The casino escalated the concern through a legal case which was then resolved in the Supreme Court of Nevada.
But is spooking illegal? Definitely, no.
The ruling? Einbinder and Dalben are off the hook. The court ruled that the two players are seated lawfully on the casino and it just happens that the dealer is playing sloppy. Even if Dalben communicated the hole card information to Einbinder through hand signals, the court doesn’t find the conduct to be violating any cheating statutes.
Another ruling was given to a 2013 case in Illinois when two players, Isam Kejbo and Christopher Yaldo, are caught communicating through hand signals. Although they were arrested and charged, the prosecution let them walk as free men.
What to do with the information
You should always maximize the moments when the dealer flashes his cards or whenever he does tells. The more rounds dealt the better it will be for you.
Based on the dealer’s up-card and the information you got from hole carding, you can adjust your playing strategy. Here’s a good example:You have a 6-6 hand and the dealer has a 10 up-card. If we are to base on basic strategy charts, the optimal move is to hit. But when the dealer flashes his hole card and you saw a 6 (which gives the dealer a hard 16), the best move is to split your two 6s.
Why is this so? Well, with the current hands, the dealer is likely to bust when he deals another card. Your hunch will be cemented if there are already many low-value cards on the table. In this case, you need at least six to bust the dealer. If he didn’t bust, there’s still a chance that your split 6s will yield better hands – more profitable, in most cases.
Will the pit boss know that you’re hole carding?
As much as pit bosses can spot a card counter, they can also observe if something is up on your playing. If you keep changing strategies when a dealer peeks on his or her card, you’re a subject of suspicion. Even if the pit boss can’t point out exactly what’s wrong, he or she will make a way to stall your game.
Some pit bosses will back you off or alert the dealer of the possible hole carding. Even if you’re not noticed, the other players will soon realize what you’re doing. They will also try to hole card, and since some of them aren’t experienced, your table will invite the attention of a pit boss.
With this, you need to maximize the advantage while it lasts. Soon enough, the pit boss or the dealer will realize that you’re winning more than what they want you to. And as you know, casinos aren’t oblivious to the ways of players to increase their winnings. They’ll likely shuffle the cards, use the other hand to peek on the hole card, or distract you by giving drinks and starting a conversation.
How not to get caught hole carding or reading tells
Let me ask you this: if a person is stone-faced staring on your wallet while you’re getting some money, what will you think? You’ll suspect him or her of dark plans, right? The same goes for the dealer and the pit boss.
If you always ask the dealer to run extended sessions, it will catch the attention of the pit boss. Usually, players leave the table when the sessions end. If you insist on playing, you must be onto something.
Remember: about 38% of blackjack dealers will notice their flaws once you start making lots of money.Even if they don’t, they will automatically change their ways to ruin whatever you’re doing. Also, if you remain relaxed and unalarmed during an ugly hand paired with a big bet, you’ll definitely raise suspicion. Try to act the part – wince, look distraught every time an ugly hand is dealt, or screw up some hands in purpose.
Also, don’t stay too long on the table. Take breaks especially if the dealer or pit boss is starting to give you snide looks. If you can, screw up some hands before walking away to make it look like you’re losing hope.
Remember that if you keep winning on a certain dealer, the casino will surely train him more. So try to slow your roll so you can make the benefit last longer.
What if the dealer doesn’t peek until everyone played their hands?
If this is the case, you won’t have any chance to hole card or spot tells. Still, when the dealer is dealt with an Ace up-card, s/he has to peek. This is your chance to bank in on insurance bet and possibly save your losing hand. In some variations of blackjack, the dealer peeks for a blackjack if the up-card is 10 or a face card.
Some tell spotters suggest that you hesitate for a bit to let the dealer’s mannerisms show. This can help in reading his hand.
Just remember that as long as you follow casino blackjack dealer rules, you’re on the right track. Still, the casino has the right to back you off the table. Nevertheless, spotting tells is a great way to make money while it lasts.