Most people, when they gamble, are gambling with a mathematical disadvantage. The odds are against them in the long run. Where that disadvantage comes from varies based on your gambling activity of choice.
If you’re betting on sports, for example, your disadvantage comes from having to wager $110 to win $100. If you’re playing poker, your disadvantage comes from the 5% of each pot that the casino takes as a “rake.”
And if you’re playing casino games, the disadvantage comes from the difference between the payout odds and the odds of winning the game. For example, in roulette, a bet on black pays off at even money, but you have a slightly lower than 50% probability of winning.
Advantage gamblers, though, only place bets when they have a mathematical advantage. The techniques they use to get that mathematical edge are called “advantage gambling techniques.” Some of them are harder than others, but most of these advantage gambling techniques are within the realm of possibility for the person of average intelligence who’s willing to put in the effort to learn them.
Here are the top 10 advantage gambling techniques worth trying.
1 – Expert Poker Play
Possibly the easiest way to get an edge when gambling is to play poker at an expert level. Everyone knows that poker is a game of skill. Here’s how expert players get an edge:
They only put money in the pot when they have a mathematical edge.
Think about it this way. If you played in a poker game with no rake—like a house game—with eight other players, you’d break even in the long run if all the players were of the same skill level as you.
But if you played in a game where you’re twice as skilled as all those other eight players, you’d show a long-term profit.
If you play in a game with a 5% rake taken from each pot, you not only must beat the other players, but you must beat them often enough to compensate for the somewhat smaller pots you’re winning.
In fact, if you played in a game with a rake with eight players who were all of the same skill level as you, all of you would lose money steadily over the long run.
There’s a lot to becoming an expert poker player, but most experts agree that the starting point is becoming a tight and aggressive player. This means you fold most hands, but when you do decide to play a hand, you bet and raise with it.
When you’re only putting money in the pot when you have a good chance of having the best hand, and you combine that with putting money in when you do, you get an edge.
2 – Card Counting in Blackjack
Generally, blackjack has a house edge of about 2.5%—at least the way most people play. If you learn and master basic strategy, though, you can cut that edge to between 0.5% and 1%. Basic strategy is just the mathematically correct play in every possible blackjack situation.
But if the house still has an edge, even if it’s much lower than usual, you don’t have an edge. It’s only advantage gambling if YOU have an advantage over the other party—whether it’s the casino or the other player or whatever.
The most common way to get an edge over the casino is by counting cards in blackjack. The unique qualities of blackjack are what make it a game where you can gamble with an advantage.
- You get paid off at 3 to 2 any time you get a two-card hand totaling 21
- The composition of the deck changes as the cards get dealt
Think about this:
The only way to get a blackjack—a two-card hand totaling 21—is to get an ace and a 10. If you took all the other cards out of the deck besides the aces and 10s, you’d wind up with a situation where you’re more likely to get a natural.
As hands of blackjack get played, these lower cards sometimes outnumber the higher cards disproportionately, and vice versa.
You can track this by simply assigning a running tally of -1 or +1 for high cards and low cards, respectively. For example, you might subtract 1 from the count every time you see an ace or a 10. You might add 1 to the count every time you see 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6.
If you bet more when you’re more likely to get the 3 to 2 payout, you turn blackjack from a game where the casino has an edge of 0.5% or 1% into a game where you have an edge over the casino of 1% or maybe slightly more.
The only problem with counting cards is that most casinos consider it cheating. They’ll bar you from playing if they catch you in the act. They might even ban you from the casino altogether.
Counting cards isn’t the hardest thing to do, but it’s not the easiest thing to do, either. Anyone of average intelligence who’s willing to put in the practice can pull it off, though.
3 – Hole Carding in Blackjack and Other Casino Card Games
Another way to get an edge at blackjack is to see what the dealer’s hole card is. (The dealer’s hole card is the face-down card.)
If you’re using a mirror or some kind of device to spot that card, you’re cheating, and there’s a difference between cheating and advantage play.
But if the dealer is accidentally exposing her hole card, and you’re smart enough to spot that card and take advantage of it, then you’re just using the best available information to get an edge over the casino.
Hole carding is commonly used in blackjack, but it can also be used to get an edge at some other casino card games. Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker are also games where you can get an edge via hole carding.
4 – Shuffle Tracking in Blackjack
Shuffle tracking is a technique where you track specific cards or runs of cards through the shuffling process. It’s mostly used in blackjack, although shuffle tracking also has applications in other casino card games.
It’s easier to use shuffle tracking in games with simple shuffling procedures. This makes shuffle tracking more effective in a game with 6 or 8 decks being dealt from a shoe. Ironically, when counting cards, you prefer fewer decks.
But shuffle tracking is also a way to enhance your existing card counting strategy. It’s also often used as a team technique. One player keeps count of a section of the deck, or a “zone.”
When you find a zone which has an advantage for the player—it’s rich in aces and 10s—you can change the size of your bets when cards are about to be dealt from that zone.
Ace sequencing is another use for shuffle tracking. Your goal in ace sequencing is to try to find out when an ace is due. If you know that the first card is going to be an ace, you know that you should raise your bet because of the probability of getting a blackjack and the corresponding 3 to 2 payout.
With an ace as your first card, you have a 1/3 probability of getting a blackjack.
You start by identifying the zones where the discards are probably going to stay intact after shuffling. Then you pay attention to the aces as they go into the discard tray and try to remember which two or three cards are put on top of that ace.
Those cards on top of the aces are called “key cards.” When you see the key cards getting dealt, you know that an ace is on its way, too, and you can raise the size of your bets.
5 – Edge Sorting in Blackjack
The backs of some decks of playing cards have subtle differences. These differences can be spotted and used to decide whether a face-down card is either high (an ace or 10) or low (anything else).
One of the questions that comes up with advantage play techniques is whether they’re illegal or cheating. Phil Ivey was ruled against in a UK High Court as a cheater, and the court decided that the casino didn’t need to honor his winnings.
Not all decks of cards make edge sorting possible, but many do. It depends on the manufacturer. Such differences are usually subtle and require a certain amount of practice and sophistication to spot.
The backs of most playing cards are identical, but the edges on the long sides of each card are often different from one side to the other. So if you know that most of the high cards are oriented in one direction, and the low cards are oriented in another, you can change your decisions accordingly and get an edge.
One way edge sorters get an edge is by pretending to be superstitious and asking the dealer to rotate the high cards because they think it will make them luckier. Dealers aren’t usually superstitious, and they work for tips, so they’ll often accommodate such a request.
Eventually, you wind up with a deck where the edges of the high cards are facing one direction, and the edges of the low cards are facing another direction. Different shuffling methods can affect this. When the deck gets washed, the cards get shuffled in a way where they change how they’ve been rotated.
Casinos, where the dealers are well-educated in advantage gambling techniques, won’t accommodate these player requests, of course.
6 – Expert Video Poker Play on the Right Games with the Right Pay Tables
One of the cool things about video poker is that you can calculate the expected return for a game based on the pay table. This is what separates video poker from slot machines. You know the probability of getting a specific card in video poker, which is something you don’t know when you’re looking at symbols on a slot machine game.
This isn’t something the average person can do with a pencil and paper, though. Luckily, you don’t have to. Computer programmers and video poker experts have done the math for you already.
And even though there are dozens—maybe even hundreds—of variations of video poker available, the number of pay tables are limited. The best pay tables, combined with the mathematically best decisions, combine to create a game with an expected return of over 100%.
By identifying and finding those games and playing them with perfect strategy, you’re giving yourself an edge over the house.
Another technique for getting an edge over the casino is to find a game with a close to 100% payback percentage and only play when the rewards program is offering bigger payouts than normal. This additional 0.4% or so in rebates can turn a game with a 99.7% payback percentage into a game with an effective payback percentage of 100.4%.
The edges you get when playing video poker as an expert are generally too small for you to make a living at it. Casinos and slot machine manufacturers can do the math on video poker pay tables, too, so they’re less likely to manufacture and install games where they don’t have an edge.
7 – Progressive Jackpots
Some video poker games feature a progressive jackpot. Since the payback percentage for a video poker game (or a slot machine game) is a function of the payouts combined with the probability of achieving those payouts, you can calculate the size of the progressive jackpot needed to make a video poker game into a positive expectation game.
For example, if you’re playing 9/6 Jacks or Better, you’re playing a game with a 99.54% payback percentage. But if the jackpot for a royal flush grows over time, that number rises.
The payout for a royal flush is normally 800 for 1.
Once it grows to 976 for 1, the game becomes an even money proposition.
As the payout grows even larger, the game becomes a better deal for the player.
The breakeven points change as the rest of the pay table changes, too.
Most progressive Jacks or Better games have 8/5 pay tables instead of 9/6 pay tables. You need a much higher payout for that top jackpot to hit that break-even point—1733 for 1 instead of 976 for 1.
8 – Online Gambling Bonus Hunting
When you sign up for an online casino, you usually get a bonus added to your account. This is an incentive to sign up at the casino. It’s basically free money you can use to play the casino games there.
If you play games with a low house edge, you can turn this free money into a positive expectation experience.
But only if the wagering requirements at the casino are low enough that you can achieve them and still expect to have money left over.
This advantage technique worked beautifully for years, but casinos online have gotten better at stopping this from happening. They’ve increased the wagering requirements to a point where it’s impossible to get an edge this way. They’ve also eliminated the possibility that you could play the games with the lowest house edge, like blackjack.
The formula for calculating whether a bonus is a positive expectation proposition is easy enough. You just calculate the wagering requirements and subtract the expected loss based on the house edge.
If you deposit $100 and get a $200 bonus, you’re working with $300.
If you’re playing a game with a 5% house edge, and you’re required to wager your bonus plus deposit 15 times, then your expected loss is $300 x 15, or $4500, multiplied by 5%, which is $225.
You’ll have $75 left after achieving the wagering requirements. Since you started with $100 of your own money, this is still a negative expectation experience.
But if you could find a casino where the wagering requirements were just 10x instead of 15x, you’d only have to make $3,000 in wagers. Now you’re looking at an expected loss of $150, leaving you with $150.
That’s a predicted profit of $50.
Keep in mind, though, that these are predicted long-term numbers. You might do better or worse in any given situation due to short-term luck effects.
9 – Expert Sports Handicapping
If you want to win a lot of money gambling, being an expert at sports betting is probably the best way to pull this off. The trick is picking winners 53% of the time or more.
If you can only pick winners against the point spread 51% of the time, you still can’t make a profit. That’s because of the sportsbook’s vig of $10 per $100 bet.
Most sportsbooks require you to wager $110 to win $100.
If you place 100 of these bets and win 51% of them, you’ll still lose money, even though you’re right more often than you’re wrong.
You’ll have $5,100 in winnings, but you’ll also have $5,390 in losses.
Since the handicappers at sportsbooks are really good at setting lines, you must be way better to get an edge. That takes time and experience, but it can be done.
And once you get good at it, it’s worth it.
10 – Dice Control or Dice Setting in Craps
You probably already know that the house edge in craps is really low. When you combine the odds bet, the house edge gets smaller still. You wouldn’t need to be too accurate in terms of influencing the outcomes of the dice rolls to change the odds from being in the casino’s favor to being in your favor.
The problem is that I’ve seen no credible evidence that people can really use dice control in a casino setting. The casinos don’t seem too worried that their countermeasures in craps are being overcome by dice setting experts. Compare their reaction (no reaction at all) to dice control with their reaction to counting cards.
Still, if you want to try this, you might be able to make some money at it. You’ll need to watch some videos and spend hours practicing in your basement or your garage.
Keep in mind that you’ll need a lot of trials before you can be confident that you’re actually succeeding, too. You also need to have ice water running through your veins.
Shooting dice in your basement with perfect control isn’t like shooting dice with perfect control in a casino. In the casino, you have a LOT of distractions.
If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed that even though these gambling techniques can get you a mathematical edge, none of them are easy. Most of them are pretty tough, in fact.
But if you have the desire and the willingness to put in the work, you can certainly get an edge at gambling. I think your best option is to become an expert poker player, but you might have a different attitude and temperament than I have.
Which advantage gambling techniques looked easier and which looked hardest to you? Are you planning to try any of these for yourself?