Card playing has been a military pastime for centuries. While there are classic card games that were played by bored kings or troops betting a month’s wage, modern troops play mostly blackjack and poker.
Counting cards while playing blackjack is applauded as a method to beat the house and yield a big profit in movies. Beating your squadmates is one thing, but taking on a casino is another. Keep in mind that when a player masters the game, they still have a 1-2% disadvantage against the house. That means playing a perfect basic strategy, raising and lowering your bets, knowing the situational decisions and remaining undetected are challenging. Card counting is technically 3 things, so don’t go blowing your deployment savings just yet. It is legal, but frowned upon, to count cards at casinos. But counting cards to shut up your sergeant is totally possible.
- Step 1. Assign a value to every card
- Step 2. Keep a “Running Count” based off of the values of the card dealt
- Step 3. Use this information to calculate the count per deck or “true count”
- Step 4. Change your bets as the true count rises
Counting cards is a skill that Hollywood exaggerates the complexity of. It is often used as a Dios Ex Machina, or ‘suddenly, the heroes win’ because the writers dug themselves into a plot hole. Counting itself is very straightforward if you use the Hi-Lo system:
- 2-6 = +1
- 7-9 = 0
- 10-Ace= -1
As each card is dealt, you will either add 1, subtract 1, or do nothing based on each card’s value. That’s it. You don’t have to be Russel Crowe in a Beautiful Mind to smash your platoon. Follow a basic strategy table available anywhere on the internet, memorize it, and keep the running count above in your head. All the other challenges such as knowing when to raise or lower your bets do not really apply because you will probably have to get up and move which ends the game.
Playing the long game isn’t going to pan out unless it’s a night with the boys. Additionally, never split 10 value cards and only bet high when the count is positive.
Winning hands at poker
Poker is more common to play in the infantry because it’s easy to learn but hard to master. It quickly becomes a game of wits instead of a game of math. Like Blackjack, learning hands using a table is paramount because if you don’t point out your victory, others will not speak up. There’s a saying in the Marine Corps ‘You can trust a Marine with your life, just not with your money or your wife.’ When you are starting out, your squadmates have the advantage that they already ‘know’ you. The advantage goes both ways, even experienced amateur players know bluffing doesn’t work most of the time.
A tip I once heard for poker was ‘you win by playing the least amounts of hands.’ The probability that someone has a good hand increases with each player in the round. A good way to trim the herd is to always raise the bet when you know you have a good hand on the flop but never bluff. Once you have a reputation that you do not bluff is when you can get away with bluffing every once in a blue moon.
Playing at casinos
Don’t. If you do, keep in mind that even if you hired a coach, trained for months, learned the card table by heart, and had a spare $50k budget, you’re still going in with a 1-2% disadvantage against the house. It is possible to have a career as a professional card counter but the internet is filled with myriad stories about people who lost everything.
If you’re going to gamble, do so legally, for fun, and only with money you can afford to lose. However, if you find yourself scheduled to have duty on your favorite holiday you may be able to play your way out of it.