Last week, I detailed my blackjack binge with Lauren. I received quite a few emails about the trip and about my blackjack play, so I’ll answer some of those general questions here.
Also, a while back, I wrote a short piece about creating a blackjack card counting system for beginners. I have been receiving questions about the status of that project. I’ll also address that question in this post.
QUESTION 1. DOES CARD COUNTING WORK?
A common question that arose was whether counting actually works. The answer is that yes, it works in theory. In practice, though, card counting is another story. In a practically ideal world for the card counter, card counting would absolutely bankrupt a casino and put it out of business because advantage players would all descend on the casino.
Let me describe this ‘ideal world’ for the card counter: six decks, cut card at 5 of 6 decks, laid back pit that doesn’t care if the counter spreads his bet from $10 to $100. That’s it. Rules like late surrender or dealer stands on all 17s are just gravy that increases the counter’s profits, but those three elements are all that’s needed.
Actually, if you really want to get technical, only one element would make it ideal: The pit not caring. If the casino really didn’t care and offered crappy but standard rules, that’s all it would take.
My advantage player friends might say, ‘that’s not perfect’. Rules like single deck and spread 100 times would be perfect. Hey, I described an ‘ideal world’, not a fantasy world.
A good card counter can obtain a 1% advantage over the casino. Any larger of an advantage means that the counter has to spread his bets more, which would blow his cover. ‘Spreading’, for those who don’t know, is the range of bets from when the deck is unfavorable to when the deck is favorable. For example, if a counter bet $10 when the shoe was poor in tens, and then increased his bet to $50 when the shoe was favorable, that would be a 5x spread. Spreading 10x would bring quick heat, and spreading 20x would just be dumb, but that’s what it would take to obtain a larger advantage.
At first, a 1% advantage doesn’t sound like much. In some circumstances, 1% is a lot, but in some circumstances, 1% is not all that much. It all depends on how fast you can play and how much you bet. If you would like to know more about the good and bad effects of a small edge, check back next week. I have an article that is currently being edited that addresses this 1% issue.
The bottom line is that the casino cares about any potential edge that a player might gain over the house. If they find out that you are effectively counting, they will stop you, somehow. If they don’t stop you, they’ll put up roadblocks to make your counting life hell.
The Earning Power, or Lack Thereof
A card counter can never play at one casino for hours on end. He must move from casino to casino. When he’s moving from casino to casino, he isn’t earning any money. Have you tried to navigate the Las Vegas traffic lately? It’s hell and slow like molasses.
The effect of all this moving from casino to casino means that while your theoretical hourly gain might be $30 an hour, the total theoretical gain at the end of the day might be less than minimum wage. You may have only been able to count at six casinos for 30 minutes each.
On a side note, some of you might be thinking of the New Jersey case Uston versus Resorts International, which was the case out of New Jersey which held that casinos cannot ban card counters. Without getting into too much of a side note, it’s still easier to count cards successfully in Nevada. The problem with New Jersey is that because the casinos are handicapped by the Uston decision, they actively take preemptive steps to stop card counters. Next time you’re in New Jersey, notice where they place the cut card versus where they place the cut card in Las Vegas. That’s just one preemptive step.
The Bottom Line
Bottom line is that yes, card counting works, but in practice, it’s extraordinarily tough to pull off for extended periods. You might get away with it once, twice, or even for a few weeks or months, but eventually, you will receive some sort of heat in the form of an early shuffle, flat bet requirement (meaning you have to bet the same amount from the beginning of the shoe to the end), or they’ll just outright give you a trespass notice.
That’s why counting always works in theory, but will rarely work in practice; however, the point of learning a simple card count isn’t to make a living off the count, but to completely negate the house advantage. Blackjack has such a thin house edge that it doesn’t take much to make the game truly break even.
QUESTION 2. CONTINUOUS SHUFFLING MACHINES
Reader Averell is on the record as absolutely hating auto-shufflers and continuous shuffling machines (CSMs). Auto-shufflers and CSMs benefit only three parties: the casino, the manufacturer, and lastly, the repairman. I found out about the repairman when I had my Deckmate auto-shuffler serviced. It’s not cheap.
Auto-shufflers and CSMs mean that the game moves faster for the average gambler, which means that you will play more hands per hour. More hands means more losses. There’s a reason why the casinos want to play quickly.
These days, it’s difficult to find a game that doesn’t use an auto-shuffler, so there isn’t much point in discussing the issue further. The real culprit is the CSM.
With the CSMs, the house edge is always nearly constant. In a shoe or single or double deck game, even if you don’t count, you can somewhat sense when the deck is poor in tens and aces via a ‘clumpy’ deal. If you see a bunch of aces or tens come out, that’s the perfect time to take a bathroom break or to just sit out until the shuffle. With a CSM, there is never a shuffle and never a time to sit out.
In a shoe game or a pitch game – i.e., any game that doesn’t use a CSM – the remaining cards will sometimes favor the house and sometimes will favor the player. In some situations, it can be easy to tell. If you’re playing a double deck pitch game and one player draws four aces, for sure you should sit out until the shuffle. Don’t fall victim to the ‘what if I would have won’ mentality. Tell the dealer you are sitting out.
Repeat after me: ‘I will not be afraid to sit out a few hands’.
There’s a common superstition among blackjack players that if you sit out a few hands, it will mess up the natural flow of the cards. Let’s assume that this statement is true (it’s not), well, the natural flow of the cards is that you lose about half a percent of your bet every time. So the ‘natural flow’ is a bad thing, even if it exists.
If you sit out a few hands when the deck or shoe is obviously poor in tens or aces, you will save yourself some money. This sitting out technique has a name: ‘Wonging’, named after Stanford Wong, the famous blackjack author.
I wong blackjack games all the time, and it works. If the deck is ten poor, that dealer is much more likely to hit a small card when the house has a 15 or 16. If the dealer turns over a hard 12, do you want the shoe to be rich or poor in tens? You can’t control the deck or shoe, but you can sit out when the deck or shoe is poor in tens.
With an auto-shuffler, none of that matters. With the exception of the one or two round of hands that are sitting in the discard pile, the composition of the shoe is always the same.
The Bottom Line
For the health of your bankroll, avoid blackjack games with continuous shuffle machines.
QUESTION 3. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CARD COUNTING VIDEO SERIES?
A while back, I wrote a quick quip about how I was developing a series of card counting videos to teach newbies how to count cards.
The project was an abject and miserable failure.
Here’s what happened…
I had made two videos of the series. I picked three personal friends as test subjects. I sat them down and had them watch the first video, which lasted about 15 minutes. This video was rough and didn’t have the added commentary and voice over needed to be understandable. So I personally narrated the video as they watched.
That all went well. After watching the video four times over days and following along the exercises, they were able to do some rudimentary mental gymnastics.
Card Counting is Easy in Theory
Card counting, at its’ heart, is easy. All the aspiring counter has to do is learn 1+1 or 1-1. The part where everyone is untrained is doing 1+1 or 1-1 continually. The other difficult part is when the count is negative, so the counter must learn to count -1-1.
The gymnastics part comes when the counter must reverse course. For example, 1+1 = 2, 2+1 = 3, 3+1 = 4, 4-1 = 3.
The last part of the sequence is what I call ‘reversing course’. It’s a little trickier when a player must reverse course from a negative count.
But again, almost everyone knows how to add and subtract 1. Every obstacle I described above is just something that your brain needs to practice and train.
For the counters who are thinking that I should teach the how to ‘clump’ or offset pairs or groups of cards, that came later. It’s important to teach the basics first.
Back to My Test Subjects
So after my test subjects completed their initial training, I gave the next video to them. They were to watch the video once a day and follow along. If they were busy on any one day, then they were to double up the next day. The video was a mere 15 minutes.
I made them a promise to watch the video.
We planned to meet up for a Saturday when I would review their progress.
As Thursday approached, I texted each subject about their progress and received a delayed response from each person. Oh, oh, I had suspicions.
Friday rolled around and I called each one, asking if they had trained on the video. One person had not watched the video at all, and one person watched it once halfway. The final person said they wanted to do all seven days but couldn’t find 15 minutes at any part of her day because of work; so she watched none of it.
Rather than give the videos to each person (again), I then had two come to my house for dinner and drinks. We watched the videos and trained. They complained that the videos were too boring. The complaints paraphrased and summarized were ‘It’s all about counting 1+1 and 3+1 and -5+1, I can’t watch 15 minutes of that. I don’t even watch your RoadGambler videos for that long.’
One of these persons was Lauren, who was motivated to learn to play blackjack, but said that she didn’t mind paying the .5% house advantage, as long as she knew how to play so that people at the table wouldn’t give her a hard time.
Lauren also brought up a good point that I hadn’t thought about. She said that while 6-5 blackjack is terrible compared to regular blackjack, she PREFERRED 6-5 over 3-2 because the players at 6-5 tend to be more casual and not the ‘hardcore’ payers who will criticize. She pointed out that while 6-5 blackjack has a 1.5% house edge, ‘that’s what you pay on the craps game anyways and it’s better than roulette and 3 card poker; and I don’t have some grouchy f*cker giving me a hard time.’
That makes total sense and maybe explains why 6-5 blackjack has taken its’ hold across the country.
It also explains why teaching someone casual counting skills to save .5% won’t work. If the average gambler doesn’t care about the difference between 6-5 and 3-2 blackjack, they surely aren’t going to care about counting.
Finally, Lauren knew that she could rely on me to be her crutch.
The Bottom Line
I have abandoned the whole card counting project because while in theory it sounds simple, in practice, very few people can make it a reality.
Hopefully, I answered most of your emails and questions with this article. The issues in this article were commonly asked, in some form.
I try very hard to respond to all of your emails, but I do receive a ton of emails, and it’s difficult to answer them all. Also, some of the questions are asked enough that it would be most efficient to answer them publicly as a post.
RoadGambler.com is not my main source of income, and right now, I am the sole content provider. I also travel constantly to obtain the RoadGambler craps videos, so if I’m slow on the weekends to answer your questions, please understand the reason.
If you have any other questions or comments, please let me know. I enjoy interacting with everyone and look forward to your questions and comments.