I spent some time today with Bill Zender, gaming consultant and previous co-owner of the Aladdin casino in Las Vegas. After several decades working in the casino industry and writing books, Bill spends most of his time doing private consulting and seminars for gaming managers. His firm, Bill Zender and Associates and Last Resort Consulting have developed a strong reputation as more than a last resort; they teach all types of gaming protection, but specialize in the finer points of card counting and advantage play. That's something he knows very well after working as a dealer, learning to count cards, and spending hundreds of hours practicing and playing.
Bill learned early how much you can make counting cards, and realized that for his bankroll size there was more money on the casino side of the table teaching casino owners how to protect their most precious assets, their bankrolls. I was surprised when he said he felt there are less than 100 truely professional card counters who spend all of their time playing blackjack now in the US.
He bases this on several issues, but I have to agree with him that many card counters moved over to the poker rooms when the boom started in about 2003. For ex-counters there is something quite refreshing and relaxing about playing in a game where you don't have to worry about being thrown out for exhibiting skill.Ace Tracking
Zender also feels that most of the remaining counters have moved on to forms of advantage play (to earn even more money than they ever could following the count) such as ace tracking, a system of following clumps of cards that include one or more aces and taking advantage of poor shuffling techniques by sloppy dealers. This type of advantage play may be overlooked by casino floor supervisors because the trackers' large bets often take place on the first hand of a deck or shoe. Otherwise, the large bets may involve spreading to two hands in what appears to be a random fashion in the middle of a shoe. Clearly not moves made by a card counter.
Of course if you can manage to play as a competent card counter at the same time you are tracking aces and playing perfect basic strategy, well, that's the old triple threat. You'll have to master each phase of your blackjack play individually, but if you learn any part of it you'll likely retain it your whole life and will only need a few minutes retraining before you hit the tables in the future. It can certainly be rewarding, if you have the desire, drive, and the ability!