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!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Milk the cow, or butcher it?

Nothing lasts forever.

Write it down, tattoo it on your arm, use the mnemonics you learned when sequencing aces to memorize it. During the course of your playing life you will find some good games. You might find some great games. No matter how you decide to play it, the game will not last. I am sick of hearing people complain that they found a good game, and some "idiot" or "pig" burned it. Those people are not "idiots." An advantage player's job is to find games, and make as much money for himself (and maybe his team mates) as he can. His job is not to preserve it so some low level counters can play it a long time betting small. This is the point where the cliches get trotted out - "It's better to milk the cow than to butcher it." Usually the people arguing this point are betting small, not because they are milking, but because they don't have the bankroll, or perhaps the stomach for betting more.

Which is the correct approach? Is it better to milk the game, or butcher it? The answer is, it depends. The first question to ask yourself is, "What approach is going to make the most money for me, and my team mates?" I don't care if anyone else ever makes a dime from this game. How much competition am I likely to face? This is an important question. If the game is a card counting game in a major casino location like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, then you are going to face lots of competition. Burn it! Bet as much as you can afford for as many hours as you can play because this game is NOT going to last long. You find a promotion where the casino is paying 2-1 on blackjack? Burn it! Word is going to get out and people will be flying in from all parts of the country. Don't even think about trying to preserve these types of games. You live in Bumfuk Nova Scotia, and you found a hole card game with a $100 maximum at your local casino. Now this is a different story. This is a game to milk. First of all, your chance of competition is almost zero. Bumfuk is not part of the pro tour, and even if a pro heard about the game he won't be willing to fly to Bumfuk for a $100 max. You should now think about how much is this casino comfortable losing in a session. Maybe this casino gets antsy when someone bets the max $100 but is fine with 2 hands of $80. Maybe they start to sweat blood when someone gets up $5,000. So bet 2x$80 and quit whenever you get up close to $5k. The more experience you have the better you will get at judging these choke points.

Here are a couple real life examples.

1. My partner and I were given a game that required special skills to play. We thought that there would be very little competition because there are very few APs playing this move. We decided to milk the game. The casino had to call the eye and the shift boss anytime someone bet table max so we limited ourselves to 2 hands of just under the maximum. We decided that the casino was comfortable with a 15-20 max bet win. We never used player's cards, and we played about once per month. This meant that even though the casino had a sense we were winning, they never could track a cumulative win. We milked the game for 14 months, and won far more than we could have if we had just fired away until barred.

2. We found a very good game that required special skills, and took 3 people to play. We were not afraid of competition, but two things happened that made us realize we needed to go for the gusto.  The dealers were talking about how the procedures on the game were going to be changing sometime in the future. Then something happened which turned the level of difficulty of the game from a 10 into about a 5. We might never have had a second opportunity with conditions that good. We burned it. We made a score, but the game was gone.

There you have 2 examples where I think we made the right decision. You can examine the thinking involved, and I hope it helps you in deciding how to approach a game you find.

Here are a couple other questions you might ask yourself.

How desirable is the location? If the game is in a place that is difficult to get to, or just generally unpleasant I am more likely to want to burn it just so I won't have to go back.

How smart is the casino? If the bosses are smart you may only get one shot. They may figure it out after your first trip so get it while the getting is good.

I was talking to a friend about this, and he said that he is never bothered when a game is burned by someone winning a lot of money. What bothered him is when a good game gets wasted. When an amateur burns out a hole card game by putting his head on the rail, or leaning back so far that he is practically horizontal, he makes it so obvious what he is doing that it wakes up the bosses and closes up the game. That is a waste. When someone goes to a shift manager and says, "You know your shuffle is really easy to track. Want me to show you how?" That is a wasted game.

Milk them or burn them, but don't waste them... because

Nothing lasts forever.


David Spence said...

Great post. I couldn't agree more that milking and butchering have their place and time, and, when in doubt--butcher!

For the play described in point 2, we ended up barring ourselves when we thought there was some heat. But I always felt we quit a little prematurely. When I ran into the pitboss on that game a year later, it was clear they had no idea what our move was and probably would've let us keep playing. Though our decision at the time was reasonable, and along the lines of "better safe than sorry," in hindsight we might have won another 50K or so. The point is, rarely will you regret being too aggressive on a game.

Percy said...

Yup great post RWM.


Nice post indeed. Keep them coming, Richard!

David Spence said...

RWM, any interest in doing a post on the issues that come up in doing a chop? Say, when a stranger finds a game and wants a referral fee, when one player isn't bankrolled but is performing some difficult task on the game, when one player develops a strategy for a game but is unable to play for whatever reason, when one player has no skill or bankroll but is just being used as a gorilla to get more money on the table, etc. There are countless other situations, but those are a few that come to mind.

Richard Munchkin said...

That's a good topic, and I will try to address it.