I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advice to new card counters

It seems there are a lot of new card counters on the blackjack boards recently. I don't know if they received blackjack books as early Christmas presents, or maybe the movie 21 has been playing on cable, but for whatever reasons the new posts are proliferating, often with the same questions, and often making the same mistakes.  Here are a few suggestions to those just starting out.

1. Learn basic strategy backwards forwards, and in your sleep.
If your wife shakes you awake at 4am and asks, "What do I do with 13 against a 2?" you should know the answer without a blink. When people tell me they have learned basic strategy I ask them a few questions:
13 vs. 2
A7 vs 10
99 vs 9
If they get those right (which almost never happens) I ask which basic strategy did you learn? The one I recommend is DAS ( double after split) H17 (dealer hits with soft 17) LS (late surrender). I found I had to ask this when I was quizzing my son. I asked him when you double A7 and he said 3-6. I gave him the "incorrect" buzzer and he whipped out a basic strategy card he had been using. Unfortunately it had the BS for S17 and no surrender. That's okay. It's only a few tweaks.

2. Learn the right count.
Which is the right count? To answer that I have to ask, WHY do you want to count cards? Here are three different types of players, and a recommendation for which count to learn.

  • I want to excel at something difficult and challenging, that if viewed in a vacuum could be considered the count that would win the most money for a given session.
    Okay, you want the "hard" count. If an easy count would win $50 per hour you want the hard count that will win $51 per hour. Maybe throw in a side count of aces and 7s. Boost that win up to $51.05. The count for you is one of these - Zen, Uston APC, Revere APC, or Hi Opt II. But make no mistake - if your end goal is to make as much money as possible, these counts are not for you. These counts are for people who will not play lots of hours, and want to play single, and  double deck. These counts are for the type of guy who likes to be able to solve a Rubik's Cube.
  • Vegas Baby! I want gourmet meals, tickets to fights, champagne, and I want them to pay me for it!
    Right on. You want the simplest count possible. For that you want either the Red 7 which you can find in Blackbelt in Blackjack, or the KO which you can get in Knock-Out Blackjack. You should also pick up Comp City, which will help you get the most out of milking the comp system. Your approach here should be that you are making most of your ev from the stuff the casino is giving you, and you do not want to get any heat or barred by trying to earn extra money with a big bet spread.
  • Show me the money! It's all about the Benjamins!
    If you just want to make the most money possible I would recommend the Hi Lo. For that you should read Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong. Hi Lo is a simple strong count, and if you ever team up with someone chances are this is the count they use. The large successful teams of the past like the MIT team or the Hyland team used this count and won many millions of dollars.  I know you are saying, "Why can't I use the "better" count if my goal is maximum earn?" Obviously you can, but I don't think you will earn more money. Making money counting these days means playing shoe games. The stronger counts perform better on the single and double deck games. Playing one of these counts for long hours will cause you to make mistakes, and become mentally fatigued sooner. If you can play just one extra shoe because you are using an easier count then you have more than made up for any gain you would have had with a stronger count.
3. Learn what is important, and what is not.
There are 3 things beginners obsess over that are not important. Which count to use, keeping side counts, and the rules.
Here are 3 things that are important. 

Penetration - how much of the shoe do they deal?  Here are 2 games
6 decks cut 2 1/2 S17, DAS, LS - good rules, less decks, bad cut
8 decks cut 1 H17 no DAS no LS - terrible rules, more decks, good cut
Which game is worth more for the card counter? It's very close but the 8 deck game is worth slightly more.

Game speed - how many hands per hour are you getting?
If you are playing at a full table you might get 50 hands per hour. If you play by yourself you can get 150 hands per hour or more. That means you are winning 3 times as much if you play alone versus playing at a full table. Wouldn't you like to triple your paycheck? Game speed is important. A side count of 7s is not.

Your bet spread - How big a spread is there from your minimum bet to your maximum? Say that you have determined you will bet $100 at a TC 2, 200 at TC 3, 300 at TC 4, and 400 at TC 5 or higher. 
At a $50 table you are spreading 50-400 or 1-8 you win $24.02 per hundred hands
At a $25 table your spread is 1-16 or 25-400 you win $43.70
If you only wong your spread is 0-400 you win $63.37
Look at the way you win rate goes up by increasing your spread. Many new players think that when they increase their spread it increases their risk, but in this example you actually decrease your risk by increasing your spread.

And the most important factor...
Casino tolerance. You could find a casino that dealt 51 cards out of a single deck, super fast dealers that deal 200 hands per hour, and you spread 1-100, but if they won't tolerate your action the game is worthless. Some casinos, like The El Cortez, have a great single deck game. But they have been known to bar people that have not even played a hand! Just the way someone looks at the blackjack table can get them backed off. I know several players this happened to. There are other casinos where a $5,000 bet may get a yawn from a pit boss. If a casino will not take your action there is no way to make any money. 

So the next time you are headed to a new casino venue don't ask your counting friends - "any places with good rules?" Ask them, "Any places that take action, have good penetration, and lots of empty tables?"

And when you are ready to move beyond counting, check out advice to new advantage players.

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