Las Vegas gets most of the attention as a card-counting destination. After all, it offers far more casinos than any other place in the world.
Atlantic City also draws a fair share of card counters. It doesn’t feature the same quality blackjack rules as Vegas across the board, but it still has some beatable games.
Europe, on the other hand, doesn’t carry much clout as a card counting hotspot. This is strange when considering the numerous casinos across the continent.
So, can you even count cards and win profits in Europe? Below, I’ll discuss more on European blackjack games and if it’s possible to make money on them.
Common European Blackjack Rules
For the most part, European blackjack games aren’t that much different from those featured in Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Plenty of similarities exist between its blackjack tables and others, including the following:
- The dealer stands on soft 17.
- You can double down after splitting (DAS).
- Shoes typically feature six or eight decks.
- No re-splitting aces.
- Payouts for natural blackjacks can be 3:2 or 6:5. The latter increases the house edge by 1.39%.
The differences between Europe and elsewhere begin with double-down restrictions. Most European casinos only let you double down on a total ranging from 9 to 11. Other locations, meanwhile, typically allow you to double down on any total.
Additionally, Europe prevents you from splitting 10-value hands when they’re pairs. You can split a pair of jacks, for example, but not K-10.
Double-down and splitting restrictions aren’t completely uncommon in other gambling destination. But Europe differs vastly from anywhere else when it comes to their split-aces rule.
Assuming you split aces and receive a 10, your hand will only be counted as 21 and not a natural blackjack. Every other gambling hotspot counts the same hand as a natural.
How Does European Blackjack Differ From Games Elsewhere?
The rules described above lead to a 0.57% house advantage as long as 3:2 natural payouts and six decks are in play. This house advantage is slightly worse than what you’ll see with Vegas Strip and Atlantic City rules.
Here’s a breakdown of specific rule differences which make the European house edge higher:
- No natural on split aces. You receive a 1:1 payout, rather than 3:2 or 6:5.
- You can only split 10-value cards when they’re pairs.
- You can only double down on 9 through 11.
Any casino in Las Vegas or Atlantic City can offer worse rules and a higher house edge than what’s seen above. After all, more casinos across the world are moving towards 6:5 blackjack payouts.
On average, though, Europe gives you a lower chance to win versus Vegas or Atlantic City. Therefore, you need to find the best possible rules in Europe and/or spread your bets larger when counting cards.
Bet spreading refers to the distance between a table’s minimum bet and your highest wager. You want to bet the table minimum when the count is negative and the odds are against you.
Meanwhile, you increase your bet when the count becomes positive and you have an advantage. The worst European rules force you to spread higher to make counting worth your while.
For instance, you may normally spread from $10 to $80 with good rules (i.e. 1-8 spread). But you’ll want to consider a 1-12 or 1-15 spread in Europe.
The downside, though, is that casinos can more easily identify you as a counter when you have a bigger spread. Therefore, you really want to work on camouflaging your skills before heading to Europe.
What You Need to Watch out for When Counting Cards in Europe
As I’ll cover later, some European countries offer beatable tables. But even in the best spots, you should take the following points into account before booking a plane ticket.
Continuous Shuffling Machines
The biggest enemy of card counters in Europe, as well as elsewhere, is a continuous shuffling machine (CSM). A CSM renders card counting impossible by reducing the amount of deck penetration.
The latter term refers to how far the dealer goes into a shoe before shuffling. Assuming they deal four out of six decks, for example, they’re allowing 66% deck penetration.
You need at least 70% penetration to make profits with any consistency. After all, your plus +3 count is more reliable at 60% to 70% of the way through a deck versus 40 to 50%.
Unfortunately, CSMs are becoming more common across Europe. Belgium, Denmark, Monte Carlo, Switzerland, and much of Germany feature rampant CSMs.
You simply can’t win any money in locations that predominantly use these machines. Therefore, you should leave such places off your travel schedule.
Low Deck Penetration
Most European countries aren’t gambling hotspots. Instead, they’re simply nations that happen to have casinos as a form of entertainment
You shouldn’t go to Bulgaria, for example, and expect to find a Vegas-like selection of casinos and blackjack tables. Most of the nations here only have smaller gambling venues.
As a result, they need to make more money from each table to earn enough revenue. Going further, these casinos establish bad rules at their tables to boost profits.
Assuming you can’t find enough information about a European country’s or city’s blackjack scene, then you’re best off avoiding it.
Trigger-Happy Pit Bosses
European countries that are known for gambling usually offer generous rules (Monte Carlo, Monaco). On the same note, though, they don’t want professional gamblers taking advantage of these great odds.
Pit bosses in such locations will pay much more attention for advantage gamblers. They’re also faster to act than in the average casino destination.
If you’re counting cards or using a high bet spread, you can expect plenty of heat in Europe. Again, you definitely want to work on your camouflaging abilities before making the trip.
Do European Casinos Offer Favorable Card Counting Conditions?
Europe is no different than any other gambling destination when it comes to blackjack. Its casinos have also introduced worse rules to increase their advantage.
However, Europe is a large continent with many different countries. Advantage play conditions in one nation might be totally different from the next.
I haven’t been to every single country in the continent. Therefore, I can’t say with 100% confidence which European nation is the absolute best with regard to counting.
However, I have been to some European countries and done extensive research on others to determine where the best games are. Here are my most recent notes on the matter.
- Poland has shoe games (not CSM) with quality rules and great deck penetration (up to 83% in some cases).
- The Czech Republic used to be similar to Poland in terms of its quality games and deck penetration. However, it has introduced more CSMs lately.
- France and Italy have some shoe games with decent rules.
- Germany is mostly comprised of CSMs, but has the occasional quality game here and there.
- Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Estonia, Monte Carlo (Monaco), and Switzerland have totally gone the CSM route.
Tips for Counting Cards in Europe
The best piece of advice for counting in Europe is to research wherever you’re going ahead of time. You want to learn much about the blackjack scene of whatever nation or city you’re considering.
Plenty of articles and forum posts cover European card counting, but they’re of little use when dating back to 2012.
The blackjack scene has changed greatly across Europe over the past several years. So, you want to know exactly what to expect in terms of CSMs and rules before departing.
The most obvious tip is that you need to brush up on your counting skills. You first want to learn a system and master it. The Hi-Lo is a basic card counting strategy that you can learn quickly and still gain a solid edge over casinos.
You should also spend plenty of time practicing your skills. Online trainers and even dealing cards to yourself at home are decent ways to hone your abilities.
Las Vegas still rates as the number one place to count cards (if you’re not banned everywhere). However, Europe also features some decent spots scattered across its 3.9 million square miles.
You can undoubtedly count cards and win profits on this continent. However, you really need to know where the money is at before booking a trip anywhere.
After all, the last thing you want to do is buy a plane ticket only to find CSMs or bad rules everywhere. Research is definitely your friend when it comes to this matter.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. …