Advantage Play: The System Behind The Top 1% of Gamblers

Written by: Webster Lupton, Casino, Gambling, and Sports Journalist
15 minute read
Advantage Gambling Featured Image

Like many gamblers, I love to find an edge, angle, or technique that gives me a better chance of winning than an average bettor.

That’s a big part of advantage gambling, a discipline that employs mathematical tactics that can beat a house and set up to profit at our expense.

Don’t get me wrong; I realistically view gambling as a form of entertainment. I’m willing to enter a casino and have some fun with a few spins, deals, or dice rolls just for enjoyment.

But there are ways I can tilt the odds a little more in my favor.

I’ll explain advantage play further in this blog, with examples and my experience with some systems and strategies.

Table of Contents

Everything You Need to Know About Advantage Gambling

What Is Advantage Gambling?

Advantage Play Icon

Advantage play (AP) refers to using legal methods to get an edge when gambling. This concept covers many casino games because there are winning angles at most of them.

Over the years, various techniques have been studied and developed to prove the worth of certain strategies in card games, sports betting, and even perks and bonuses.

Let me be clear: true advantage play is not for everyone. It requires skill, dedication, discipline, and deep knowledge of the numbers.

You’ll usually find AP pros at the highest-dollar games at a casino, counting cards, scoping out a lousy dealer, or card design flaws while dodging a pit boss.

Yes, while these methods are legal, an alert pit boss can ban you.

Types of Advantage Gambling

All the methods detailed below involve close observation and calculation on top of the basic game strategy.

Here are some ways APs take on the casinos.

Card Counting

Card Counting Advantage Play  Method

This is the most popular technique that players use. But it requires discipline and concentration over long periods. The system is usually used for blackjack but works for other table games.

Blackjack card counting involves assigning plus values to low cards, minus to high cards, and zero to middle cards 7-9. 

The player counts each card dealt and keeps a running total throughout a multi-deck shoe. 

When the count gets to a certain level, say plus or minus 5, the player knows the likelihood of getting high or low cards on the subsequent deal and raises or lowers the bet accordingly.

Certain situations prohibit card counting or lessen its effect. If the shoe is larger than six decks, the efficiency is lower. If the dealer reshuffles in the middle of the shoe, card counting goes out the window. 

Casinos don’t like it. Floor managers and pit bosses use cameras to look closely for card counters, especially at high-roller tables. If spotted, a player can be asked to leave or even banned.

The MIT Blackjack Team was renowned for consistently deploying card-counting methods to profit at casinos. The film “21” dramatized their story.

Shuffle Tracking

Shuffle Tracking Advantage Gambling Method

The shuffle tracker tries to observe where dealt cards end up in the deck and predict where they will turn up on the ensuing deal.

It’s also usually applied in blackjack and other card games.

Shuffle trackers look for deals where groups of high cards turn up. Then, they watch for where those discards are placed in the deck.

When that deck is shuffled, tracking makes it easier to predict a high card in a particular section of the deck.

There are some caveats here. One, this method is imprecise; many people have been known to try it and lose big money.

Secondly, shuffle tracking works best only with single decks that are hand-shuffled. Also, it is a technique that requires lots of practice.

It is often used in conjunction with card counting. So, keen observation can combine with concentration to improve an advantage player’s odds.

Edge Sorting

Edge Sorting Advantage Gambling

Casino card manufacturers sometimes print cards with small flaws in the designs of the backs of cards. 

Edge sorting is a controversial technique that involves identifying flaws. The trick is to persuade the dealer to rotate up cards so that you can distinguish between high and low cards after the ensuing shuffle.

The technique is under discussion because poker star Phil Ivey used this ploy for baccarat play and won millions from venues in London and New Jersey. 

He was sued. The incidents forced some casinos to have dealers at high-dollar tables shuffle differently or use new decks after each round.

Ivey lost both lawsuits as courts ruled that edge sorting is cheating. He lost his winnings at the London casino and settled with the NJ company for an undisclosed amount.

Phil kept his original stake at both houses. Edge sorting is not considered criminal, so you can’t go to jail.

Comps

Complementary Perks in Casinos

Most land-based casinos offer complimentary items or services to players for spending more time or money gambling.

They usually issue a comp card to players so they can track their play.

“Comp hustling” is another tool players use. They calculate their expected losses and play to recoup losses and profit in comps.

This works much like taking full advantage of credit card rewards.

You don’t have to lose much to earn decent comps. By playing games with a low house edge, you can wager a high amount without losing more than the value of a comp.

Special Offers

Special Offers Advantage Play

Online and land-based casinos offer occasional special deals to attract and keep players.

The tools houses employ include sign-up bonuses, free spins or chips, cashback offers, and rewards programs.

Advantage gamblers are alert to these specials and make the most of the ones they figure are worthwhile.

They study the offers’ terms, consider their play style, and calculate expected losses. From these factors, they formulate a profit plan.

Sportsbooks associate special deals with championship events such as the Super Bowl, college basketball tournaments, or the World Series.

They are among the most beneficial offers in gambling.

Dice Control

Dice Control

A few shooters believe tossing dice a certain way can influence the outcome. 

Casino craps have a low house edge if you play it correctly, so any extra advantage almost certainly means profit.

But dice control is largely unproven and considered less effective because of the rules of craps.

The theory is that holding the dice at a certain angle and scooting them across the felt keeps them from turning over unpredictably. 

Casino rules require the rolled dice to hit the rail farthest from the shooter, so a controlled roll would have to barely touch the rail to be effective. 

Also, shooters rotate around the table as a point or round changes. A control shooter would have to be perfect to keep the roll.

A study in 2020 used a controlled dice-throwing machine and found no significant benefits under several scenarios.

Tips to Become an Advantage Gambler

If you want a simple answer to the question “What sets professional advantage bettors apart?” this short video from my colleague Bill Krackomberger is for you.


Pro players approach their craft like the games they exploit: with planning, strategy, and technique.

Here are some extra suggestions.

  1. Know the Math

    Some experts believe having a mathematics degree and a statistics background is necessary.

    That is because so much of it involves calculating odds.
  2. Bolster Your Bankroll

    Advantage play works like an investment.

    Because the margins between winning and losing are so small and a lot of play is required to gain an edge, you will need a lot of money to start with.
  3. Master the Basics

    Most techniques are built around knowledge of basic strategies and rules of games.

    For example, card counting is worthless at a table that pays 6:5 for blackjack.
  4. Avoid Being Exposed

    Even though advantage gambling is legal, a casino can boot you if they catch you. That’s why these facilities have cameras everywhere.

    It’s also why professional players are often on the run or in disguise.
  5. Conspire

    Get inside information from a veteran and get someone to accompany you.

    Advantage playing is often executed best when more than one person is working.
  6. Money Management

    Some methods give you profit, but only over the long haul.

    Mathematical edges are calculated over thousands of deals. You can’t toss your whole bankroll into a few sessions.

Casino Games to Use Advantage Play

The strategies mentioned above can come in handy with several casino games. Even if you are not a professional gambler, there may be techniques you can employ that increase the returns on your bets.

Let’s see how professional players apply some of the AP methods in different game scenarios.

Card Counting Icon

Blackjack

Card counting is the most reliable blackjack advantage play method. But it requires concentration and tables with six-deck shoes or smaller.

What you do is start with a new shoe and keep a running count with assigned values to each card – 2-6 (+1), 7-9 (0), and 10-A (-1).

The running count reaches various plus or minus levels as cards are dealt.

When you reach a certain level, you change your bet accordingly.

How you adjust your bet depends on the number of decks remaining in the shoe.

APs also look for a sloppy dealer who may occasionally show a down card by accident. That technique is often called hole carding.

Baccarat advantage play uses the same methods.

Slots Reel Big Icon

Slots

A few machines at most casinos can pay well after a relatively small number of spins. These machines are considered “due,” and advantage players will stroll the casino floor searching for them.

Some machines display accumulators or levels that indicate when a bonus round or big payout kicks in. When you catch one that has all of these accumulators near the limit, that machine is due.

A similar theory is that some slots must pay after a certain jackpot level.

They are harder to spot, but advantage players will sometimes scout a machine that has been played a lot without a significant hit. 

They wait for another player to give up on the machine and move in.

Generally, the RNG nature of the game trips up advantage slot play.

AI in Sports Betting Icon

Sports Betting

Advantage sports betting involves checking bonuses, shopping odds, and playing middles.

Finding a bonus with an achievable rollover rate can reduce the house edge. Shopping for the best odds across sportsbooks for a particular event is also profitable.

If there are significant discrepancies in odds over several books, or a line changes significantly, many advantage players will bet a middle

For instance, if one book posts the Jets -5 over the Giants and another has the Jets -1.5, an advantage player may take both sides – Giants +5, Jets -1.5.

If the Jets win by 4, 3, or 2, the player cashes in on both.

Real Money Video Poker Icon

Video Poker

Video poker advantage play lies in finding the right machine.

Full-pay Deuces Wild was the go-to machine for years, but those machines are nearing distinction. 

Full pay is the most favorable version of any video poker game, and the key to full-pay Deuces Wild is a paytable that shows a 200 payout for four deuces.

Playing full-pay Deuces Wild with good strategy offers a slight statistical edge over the house.

Other full-pay machines deliver 99% to 100% returns over the long run, but it is crucial to use a strategy card and make sure the machine is, in fact, full-pay.

Poker Player Strategies Thinking In Ranges Icon

Poker

In poker, you compete against other players rather than the house, so getting an advantage is as much about intuition as calculation. 

Advantage players try to read the tendencies of others at the table and react with just the right bet. 

A good player knows what cards have potential, what to fold, and when to bluff.

At the same time, poker players must calculate their chances of getting cards to improve their hands.

They know their chances of winning from the initial deal to the final card. 

Rating the hands dealt and determining the odds of getting the cards they need is all part of the game.

American Roulette Icon

Roulette

The closest thing to roulette advantage play is to find a defective wheel.

Roulette wheels with manufacturing flaws or uneven wear may offer a statistical edge. 

An advantage gambler may spot such a wheel, study it, and determine which numbers it is more likely to favor.

The trouble is that it is hard to find flawed wheels and time-consuming to study and calculate the tendencies. 

When I play, I simply look for a single-zero wheel and wager the third column and black.

It covers most of the numbers with a couple of bets.

Real-Life Examples of Advantage Players

Here are some stories of notable advantage players. Keep in mind that most APs aren’t keen on identifying themselves until they quit the practice. 

They are scholars, scientists, and entrepreneurs who often took up gambling as a second career.

Edward Thorp: The Father of Card Counting

Edward Thorp Father of Card Counting

Edward Oakley Thorp became the father of card counting when he and his IBM 704 calculated blackjack probabilities in the 1950s.

He came up with card counting as a way to execute his theory.

Oakley tested his theory at casinos in Nevada with the backing of underworld figure Manny Kimmel, and he won $11,000 in a weekend

Thorp wrote the book “Beat the Dealer,” in 1966 and gained fame as the progenitor of card counting.

James Grosjean: Beyond Card Counting

Beyond Counting Book Cover

Gambler James Grosjean took Thorp’s card counting a step further by applying it to other card games and adding other techniques to help him along.

His book, “Beyond Counting,” describes his methods.

Grosjean has rounded up various teams for card counting, hole carding, and other skills to beat casinos out of millions at baccarat, three-card poker, pai gow poker, and single-deck blackjack.

Grosjean’s exploits got him into lawsuits that forced him to prove his methods were legal.

Don Johnson: Squeezing Casino Deals

Don Johnson Advantage Player

Hustler Don Johnson parlayed high-stakes blackjack play into special treatment at Atlantic City facilities. 

Getting casinos to change their deals slightly gave him an edge in the games. Taking advantage of offers such as rebates gave him a profit.

Persuading casinos to give him this treatment created conditions for Johnson to win over $15 million from three gambling businesses. 

The casinos did not ban Johnson but discontinued the special treatment.

Scott Cao: Everyday Player

Everyday Player Advantage Play

Some advantage players are less renowned but well respected. Scott Cao made more than $600,000 from card counting over five years.

He explains that the practicalities of advantage play require planning and commitment.

Cao takes an under-the-radar approach to his advantage play by going to lower-level tables and appearing as a local resident. 

He is more about making a living and less about punishing the casino.

Pros and Cons of Advantage Play

  • Advantage gambling techniques give players an edge in many forms of wagering.
  • These methods usually require extensive study and practice.
  • It gives you a better idea of how casino games work.
  • AP opens doors to new games and unique insider techniques.
  • It does not guarantee a profit in any single session but over the long haul.
  • Advantage play is legal but is frowned upon by casinos.
  • The fun of gambling decreases since it requires skills and time to learn.

Use Advantage Gambling With Caution and Enjoy

I’m no advantage player. I’ve counted cards through a few shoes at a $10 table and had mixed results. And I have memorized Jacks or Better and Deuces Wild charts for video poker. But that’s about it.

I wouldn’t suggest AP for anyone unwilling to put in the work, put up the money, and put up with an unsettled lifestyle. So, it’s not for everyone, and that’s probably good. 

If everyone were an advantage gambler, casinos would shut their doors.

Still, having more info when you go to a casino is nice, and some of the AP techniques may help you. Combine it with good game strategy and money management, and you’ll stay in the game. 

Common Questions From Our Readers

Here are answers to a few frequent questions about advantage gambling.

What are the risks involved in advantage gambling?

The risks involved in advantage gambling include losing a lot of money in a few sessions and being exposed.

Is advantage gambling illegal?

Most advantage gambling is legal, though court action has been taken to test the techniques of APs.

I’ve never heard of anyone being jailed for advantage gambling.

Can casinos ban you from winning using advantage play?

Casinos can ban you if they catch you using advantage gambling techniques. They usually warn players before giving them the boot.

Are advantage play techniques applicable to gambling sites?

Online casino games employ random number generators and flawless deals, eliminating any edge to card counting or spotting a down card on a dealer’s error.

Even most live dealer games at sites have taken measures to counter advantage play.

Online sports betting is, however, territory for APs because bargain hunting is a top factor for getting the most out of the system. 


Webster Lupton

Webster Lupton Casino, Gambling, and Sports Journalist

Webster Lupton is a journalist and expert sports and casino writer with over 30 years of experience. Webster is a seasoned researcher and a published author. He also enjoys the outdoors and birdwatching.

Learn More About Webster