Who Do the Pros Look For?


The beauty of blackjack is that it can be enjoyed by so many players, at so many different levels.

It’s the type of game that can be learned in less than an hour, but can take years upon years of hard work to master!

One thing is for sure, though…

… top-tier, professional blackjack players see the game in a very different way from amateurs.

Those who play because they love to, no matter how great their skills and experience may be, take a fundamentally different approach from those who play to make their living.

The professional approach is not just a matter of being more skilled than an amateur player. After all, someone who loves the game can master card counting and concepts like bankroll management just as well as any pro.

The difference isn’t one of degree, but of kind. The pros aren’t playing for the fun of it. They’re playing to pay the bills!

So what does a professional blackjack player see that an amateur does not? And more importantly, what can all players of all levels learn from their approach?

Deck Penetration

For most blackjack pros, penetration is the foundation of any good game. Why? (And what does this even mean?)

Penetration is a blackjack term that simply means how far into the deck or shoe the dealer is willing to go before re-shuffling the cards. The more cards players see – that is, the deeper the deck penetration – the better.

Because any professional worth his or her salt has put in the time and effort to become a true master of counting cards, the best chance to make serious money comes when the count has turned squarely in favor of players. And even under the best of circumstances, this takes time to develop: all those low cards have to be dealt in order for the count to get high!

And nothing is more frustrating to a pro than spending long hours betting the minimum, biding their time until the count turns their way, only to see all those high cards get shuffled away just when their moment arrives.

These same ideas can be taken advantage of by amateur players, including beginners. If you notice a lot of low cards coming out, especially in a single- or double-deck game, that can be a great time to raise your bets. The high cards are more likely to come out soon: those that mean blackjack payouts for players and bust for dealers!

Most pros would agree that seeing 75% of the cards before the shuffle would make for good penetration. If it’s much lower than that, they’ll likely seek a different game elsewhere.

Preferential Shuffling

Preferential shuffling is closely related to penetration. It consists of the dealer shuffling the deck whenever the count gets high, favoring the players.

The dealer may choose to shuffle because they, too, are counting cards, and have determined that the house has lost the advantage. Or they may not be counting, but notice some serious players increasing the size of their bets, and want to shuffle up just to be safe.

Whatever the dealer’s motivation, preferential shuffling effectively deprives players the chance to play in a favorable deck or shoe. When the pros see this, they promptly exit the game… and you should, too!


One major consideration of pro players that almost never crosses the minds of amateurs is the issue of heat.

In blackjack argot, heat indicates the a given casino’s tolerance for winning players. Understandably, the house doesn’t like winners… at least not those who win day after day after day! They didn’t get into the gambling business to lose money, and while most casino games always favor the house over time, advantage blackjack players turn that proposition on its head.

And while card counting isn’t illegal, it isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms either!

It’s a tricky balance for professional players: if they are banned from a casino, they can no longer extract any value from the house over the long term… but if they don’t extract enough value over the short term, they won’t be able to pay their rent.

That’s why heat is never far from a professional’s mind. It’s common for pros to keep records of the win tolerance of individual dealers and pit bosses!

House Rules

At most casinos, players who are in it for fun select tables mostly by the size of their minimum and/or maximum bets. For pros, the opposite is true: it’s all about table rules.

Good rules are to be sought out at all costs: these include players being able to double down on any two cards; being able to re-split pairs; dealers standing on soft 17; and best of all, surrender, especially early surrender.

Bad rules have to be avoided like the plague. Some these are limits on splitting and doubling; dealers hitting on soft 17; lack of surrender; and worst of all, tables where blackjack only pays 6:5. Some special tables, notably charitable ones, have a rule where players lose all pushes or ties… that rule alone makes a table unplayable.

Special Promotions (NOT Gimmick Games!)

The best casinos have mastered the art of attracting new guests, and retaining longtime ones. Part of how they do this is by offering special promotions…

… and these can create excellent opportunities for discerning players.

It may be a short term 2:1 payout on blackjack, instead of the usual 3:2. There may be a special bonus card added to the deck, that confers a special payout when dealt out.

The varieties are endless, but the pros love to take advantage of them whenever possible. You should, too! Value is value, whether you’re a recreational player or the second coming of Stanford Wong.

[Note: Don’t confuse blackjack promotions with blackjack gimmick games, such as Spanish 21. Gimmick games like these almost always come with a massive house edge… you’re better off playing the slots.]