Card counting has been around the since the 1950s. It first hit casinos in the 1950s when a group of army veterans known as the “Four Horsemen” began using it.
But these weren’t exactly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, because they weren’t even winning money. Casinos didn’t begin fearing card counters until the mid-1960s.
It wasn’t until Ed Thorp refined card counting and presented his system in Beat the Dealer that casinos started sweating. The gambling industry can thank Thorp, though, because they used his book to understand how blackjack can be exploited.
Casinos have only gained a better understanding of card counting and thwarted numerous advantage players in the process. Some consider counting cards to be largely dead as a result.
However, a new documentary shows that this thought is far from the case. Inside the Edge: A Professional Blackjack Adventure reveals that card counting is still quite profitable.
More importantly, Inside the Edge takes a gritty look at the lifestyle of a blackjack pro and the struggles they deal with.
If you’re looking for a documentary that embodies the spirit of the hit film 21, then you’re looking in the wrong place. However, if you’d appreciate a realistic take on professional card counting, then you’ll definitely want to find out more about this riveting documentary.
Cross Country Blackjack Adventure That Results in Big Wins
Inside the Edge revolves around “KC,” a blackjack pro who visits casinos from Atlantic City to Northern California. He frequently changes locations to take advantage of different casinos and finds new targets after getting thrown out of old ones.
KC started playing blackjack as a young man and was immediately hooked. He dreamed of beating casinos for profits and read numerous books on the subject.
Eventually, KC became good enough to win and made regular trips from his California-based college to Las Vegas. He did so well that he decided to play as a full-time professional.
One good aspect to Inside the Edge is that it doesn’t present card counting as a guaranteed path towards riches every night. However, it does show how profits can roll in during a hot night.
For example, KC makes $30,000 in a three-day span during the Northern California leg of his trip. He also has plenty of other lucrative nights thanks to his skills, experience, and huge bankroll.
Tricks of the Trade
Inside the Edge: A Professional Blackjack Adventure features some of the interesting tricks that advantage gamblers can pick up. For example, KC found a way to game casinos using the very RFID chips they use to track gamblers’ betting patterns.
Too large of a spread tips casinos off to when somebody is counting cards. The RFID chips give gambling venues an easy way to detect wide bet spreads.
KC figured out that he could still register chips as being wagered even if he held them under the table. He used this discovery to his advantage by strapping chips near his knees and putting them underneath the betting circle area.
This trick made it appear as if he was always betting between $2,000 and $3,000 per hand. In actuality, he was risking much less than this when the count wasn’t in his favor.
Furthermore, KC also learned how to add shuffle tracking on top of card counting. Shuffle tracking helps him gain an even bigger edge and makes it harder for casinos to figure out if he’s an advantage player.
Card Counting Isn’t an Easy Living
Casinos don’t make it easy on KC and other professional counters. They use other technology beyond the RFID chips to catch counters and ban them.
For example, they have facial recognition technology that can identify card counters who’ve been entered into certain databases. KC uses a variety of different looks and disguises to get around this tech and avoid being recognized.
Nevertheless, he’s frequently backed off or even kicked out of casinos during the documentary. He has a particularly tough run of getting kicked out of Vegas casinos.
“I’m not welcome in this city,” says KC. “I’m finding myself playing in poor casinos and off-shifts at low limits […] Now I’m a known entity and can’t play in Vegas anymore. I’ve come to crossroads in my blackjack career.”
“I need to determine if I want to go down this road further. I’m going to have to leave Las Vegas, travel around the country, and hit other casinos.”
KC chooses to continue playing blackjack for a living. However, he’s forced to embark on the aforementioned cross-country journey to make it happen.
Beatdowns From Security Are Still a Threat
Casinos once had a reputation for taking advantage gamblers in backrooms and beating the crap out of them. Of course, this reputation was largely earned when the mob ran Las Vegas from the 1930s to ‘70s.
These days, the corporate-owned gambling establishments aren’t known for using such heavy handed tactics. But some of the card-counting legends appearing in Inside the Edge note that this is still a distinct possibility.
Max Rubin, a gambling expert who holds the secretive “Blackjack Ball” every year, has had some really bad experiences with casinos.
“In the past, I have been drug in the back, I’ve been punched,” said Rubin. “Friends of mine have been burned with cigarettes, friends of mine have had their jaws broken, friends of mine have been threatened to be murdered.”
Luckily, KC doesn’t encounter any physical altercations or serious threats during the filming. But a Mississippi casino trespasses him without letting him cash in his chips. KC has to contact a Mississippi gaming agent just so he can reenter the casino legally and exchange his chips.
Downswings Are a Reality
Even the most successful card counters don’t have huge advantages over casinos. They can suffer major downswings as a result.
KC experiences this firsthand as he regularly loses thousands of dollars in certain spots. For example, he has a really tough time in Connecticut and drops his limits some to “regain confidence.”
Overall, KC makes hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of his blackjack adventure. But even at this rate, the short-term losses hit him hard.
During these rough patches, travel only adds to the difficulties. KC’s journey took him to the United States’ West Coast, South, North, and even the Bahamas.
“Travel is a big part of the game,” says advantage gambling legend James Grosjean. “Moving around constantly. It’s an aspect of the game that makes it difficult for some people. At first, the travel can be fun. But sometimes the travel is very grueling.”
Luckily, his long trip ended on a high note in the Bahamas. KC not only won plenty of money without being harassed, but he also got some relaxation by the pool.
His father, a former backgammon world champion, even joins him at the very end of the journey. The father and son count cards in the Southwest region to close out the trip.
Altogether, KC winds up with almost $500,000 in three months’ of play. He was up over $600,000 at one point lost around $300,000 in the middle of the trip.
KC was able to recover a good portion of these losses and end up around $500k in the black. He cut down on expenses too by sleeping in his RV most of the time (outside of the Bahamas flight).
Many people believe that card counting is dead. Both Rubin and Gambling Wizards author Richard Munchkin state that they’ve been hearing this same thought for four decades. However, KC proves that this is far from the case.
“Blackjack players will always be smarter than casino operators —fact of life,” says Rubin. “[Casinos] are watching somebody else’s money, we’re playing our own.”
“While the casinos are sleeping and those guys are at home, we’re thinking. […] Right now, people in blackjack are making as much money as they’ve ever made five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago.”
Card counters and advantage players alike can win playing real money blackjack. However, gamblers need to take things a step further to achieve KC’s level of success.
KC used shuffle tracking on top of standard card counting. He also wore a variety of disguises and carefully learned gambling laws, such as not having to show casino employees your ID.
Beating the casinos for big blackjack profits isn’t easy. But as KC’s journey’s shows, this feat is definitely still possible today.