This Blackjack Forum article discusses problems of blackjack team compensation. He provides an example of a professional blackjack team that literally went broke because of its plan for paying team members. Blackjack team compensation, according to blackjack team manager Tommy Hyland, is one of the most complicated problems he's faced in running blackjack card counting teams.
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Big Player Blackjack Teams

professional blackjack card counting team compensation and the free roll
MIT blackjack team The Blackjack Team Dream
    By Arnold Snyder
Tommy Hyland blackjack team Blackjack Team Attack, Part I
    Legal Issues, the Windsor Trial, and
    Conversation with Tommy Hyland
    By Arnold Snyder
Al Francesco and blackjack team Blackjack Team Attack, Part II:
    The Playing Strategies
    By Arnold Snyder
Ken Uston blackjack team How to Kill Your Blackjack Team:
    The Free Roll
    By Arnold Snyder
professional gamblers and blackjack card counting teams The MIT Blackjack Team:
    Interview with Johnny C.
    By Arnold Snyder
MIT blackjack team Blackjack Team Compensation
    By Marvin L. Masters
Tommy Hyland blackjack card counting team Larceny in the Heart
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team Regarding Blackjack Team Play
    By Bob Fisher
blackjack team play The Tommy Hyland Team Trial in
    Windsor: Circus, Caesars, and the
    Hilton Corp. Team Up to Try to Frame
    Players for Cheating
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team Blackjack Teams and Suspicions
    By Arnold Snyder
Tommy Hyland blackjack card counting team Blackjack Teams and Polygraphs
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team A Blackjack Banking Team
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Free Software for Blackjack Card Counting Teams from ET Fan:

Best Internet casino software review


Big Player Blackjack Teams: Practical Advice on Win Rate, Bankroll, Bet-Sizing, Spotters, Camouflage, and Compensation

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Online, March 2005)
© 2005 Arnold Snyder

At What Count Should You Call In A Big Player?

Question from a Player: I am looking for anyone who has experience with big player (BP) blackjack teams. I have been gambling for quite some time, most recently blackjack. I am very devoted and very much of a perfectionist. I've played in casinos solo and done fine, but I wanted to form a team. So, instead of looking for people I didn't know, I found a bunch of players and trained them to count... we're still in the process of learning. I thought it would be better for everyone to learn together, thought it would increase trust, etc.

Anyway, I've read much of the material out there and am still left with many unanswered questions. First, at what counts do blackjack teams call in their big players? Do the BPs vary their bets or do they flat bet—which works better? Also, if the BPs do vary the bet, what spread is needed? I'm assuming not much of one since they are only betting on positive counts.

I'm also looking for practical advice on paying for team lodging, meals, etc. with casino comps.

Arnold Snyder: The count at which you call in a big player depends on your bankroll, the number of spotters you have in the casino, the card counting system you're using, and the house edge off the top.

You don't want to leave your BP in an empty casino constantly circling the pit, waiting to be called into a game. Look up the term "Buzzards" in Cellini's Casino Surveillance Glossary, and see Al Francesco's comments on his preferred number of spotters in Interview with Al Francesco. Al Francesco was the inventor of the big player type of blackjack team, and ran such teams successfully for many years.

If you only have 3 or 4 spotters, you may have to call in your big player at a 1% or smaller advantage. If you have 6 spotters, you may want to call in your BP at a 1 1/2 to 2% advantage. Look at a frequency distribution for the games you intend to play and figure it out.

To understand how to use frequency distributions, see Beat the 6-Deck Game: How to Use Frequency Distributions to Determine Your Win Rate and Fluctuations. Then use Blackjack PowerSim Card Counting Simulation Software, which is provided free here by ETFan, to generate frequency distributions for any game you might want to play.

Essentially, the smaller your bank, the higher the edge you want when you call in your big player, but of course, you've got to look at the cost of paying those spotters.

Should Big Players Use a Spread or Flat Bet?

Question: Should the big players vary their bets or flat bet? Which works better? Also, if they do vary the bet, what spread is needed?

Arnold Snyder: If you must call in your big player at a smaller advantage, he should spread his bets up as the advantage rises. If you have enough spotters to call in your big players at only a higher advantage, they can flat bet. Again, look at some frequency distributions and work out the best plan for your blackjack team.

Using Casino Comps for Blackjack Team Expenses

Question: I'm wondering how the logistics of accommodations work for a blackjack team? Our team is a pretty small one, about half a dozen. Can you get a room for someone and it won't be a problem (as in, the casino won't try to see who's staying in your room)?

Arnold Snyder: Look at Tommy Hyland's remarks on this subject in Interview with Tommy Hyland in the Blackjack Forum Library.

The casinos may well try to see who's staying in a big player's room. If you're not supposed to know each other at the tables, you shouldn't show up together in rooms, coffee shops, etc.

Casino Surveillance and Blackjack Teams

Question: How much heat does a big player usually get, especially if he or she is foreign and has a good act? What about aliases? How necessary are they and what about the legality of them?

Arnold Snyder: The heat your BP gets will depend on your playing plan (again, don't make him a Buzzard), his win, whether your signals are picked off, the casino, crowd conditions, etc. Regarding aliases, see the Blackjack and the Law section of the Blackjack Forum library.

More Advice on Big Player Blackjack Teams

Question: I know this is a lot but I would appreciate as much input as possible from as many people as possible. I am determined to be one of the teams that makes it out there.

Arnold Snyder: Be sure to see the Interview with Johnny C. (of the MIT blackjack team) in the library and work out the math for your team just as you'd work it out for playing solo. Also, check out the articles in the table of contents (at the left of this article) for blackjack team play.

How Many Spotters Do I Need for My Card Counting Team?

Question: If a BP has six spotters, is it still possible to be profitable? I guess what i mean is, is one big player enough for six spotters?

Arnold Snyder: In order to make it profitable to employ six spotters, your BP's bets have to be big enough, and placed at a high enough edge, that the earnings on them will pay for the house edge on all the spotters' bets, plus cover your team expenses, and still return a good profit to you. This means you will need a considerable team bankroll.

Blackjack Teams and Fluctuations

Question: When considering the number of hands being played (for calculating team win rates and fluctuations), do you count all hands (including your spotters' hands) or just the hands the BP plays? Are you able to get the benefits of reduced team fluctuation with only one BP?

Arnold Snyder: There are many different types of blackjack team approaches. With a seven-player blackjack team where all players are betting equivalent amounts (that is, not a BP/spotter team but an every-man-for-himself team), the flux will be cut significantly, as it is unlikely for all seven players to have negative flux at the same time. Players' results on this type of team will smooth out each other's flux.

With the type of team you're talking about, a team that has one big player and six spotters, by contrast, there is no reduction in fluctuations. The flux for the team will essentially be the flux for the BP.

Spotter hands should be played at the table minimum bet, so they don't really count much for anything in terms of team bankroll fluctuations when your big player is playing at a much higher level than the spotters are. However, if your spotters are betting $25 a hand and your big player can only bet $200, you're probably not going to be profitable. If your big player is betting $2000 while your spotters are betting $25, the overall fluctuations will essentially be due to the BP's fluctuations—the fluctuations on your spotters' hands won't significantly affect your team bankroll.

As a general guideline, for every spotter you have at work, you'd like your BP to be able to place bets at least eight times the size of the spotters' bets (or more). So, with six spotters at $25 per hand, you'd want your BP to be able to bet at least 6 x 8 x $25 = $1200. If your bank doesn't support this kind of action, then you should get your spotters onto lower minimum tables.

Six spotters betting $25 per hand, at 100 hands per hour each, is $15,000 in action per hour just on the spotters' hands. If the house edge is one-half percent on these hands, the hourly cost of the spotters' hands is $75. That's not much, compared to what your BP might expect to earn. To keep this simple, let's say your BP is flat-betting $1200 at a 1 1/2% overall win rate and getting to bet 75 hands per hour. He's going to be making $1350 an hour. But you also have to pay all these spotters, whether a percentage or an hourly rate, and you may have to pay investors, etc.

To get closer estimates of the number of hands your big player will be betting, and his overall win rate, the cost of spotters' hands, etc., you need info on exact game conditions, including rules, penetration, etc., as well as your exact betting strategy. Always try to use a strategy that will return a lot more than the minimum you would be satisfied with. Most real-life advantage play results in a lower return than players calculate on paper.

Also, your spotters should have different signals to tell the BP how strong the advantage is when they call him in—that is, their signals should indicate how much he should bet. This way the BP can choose a stronger opportunity when two spotters are calling him in at the same time.

With six spotters, you should be able to keep your BP in action most of the time. If not, then the penetration is probably too poor to make much money, even with a BP/spotter team approach.

With the right crowd conditions, your spotters may not have to play at all. If they can just stand behind tables and watch the games, this would be the most profitable betting strategy. In some crowd conditions, this works better than having your spotters seated and playing. It allows the spotters to move if a table is no good.

It also allows them to concentrate on tables where the BP will likely be able to get a seat. If the table fills up, they can move on. And the spotters themselves are not taking up seats, making it even more likely that a seat for the BP will be available. Obviously, you need the right crowd conditions for this.

Bet Sizing for Big Player Blackjack Teams

Question: When you said "your BP should be able to bet 1200 dollars a hand" ,did you mean top bet or minimum or average? How would adding a BP change this number, if at all? We are hoping to be working on a pretty healthy bank.

Arnold Snyder: I'm deliberately not being specific. Unless we specify the exact penetration, rules,, etc., we're just ball-parking. And even if you do specify these things, then it depends on how well the crowd conditions will cooperate with your goal of getting your BP 75 hands per hour. Can your BP jump in with two hands? If so, that's a plus.

The message is that you want to shoot for a very big spread by having your BP's bets increase as the number of spotters increases. If you add a second BP, you'd ideally like to add more spotters. With two BPs, you will increase the number of BP hands per hour, but you're not going to get 150 hands per hour with only six spotters.

Penetration will be a huge factor in the actual number of hands your BPs can play per hour. The deeper the better.

Calculating Your Blackjack Team's Win Rate

Question: From your books, I am assuming the only way to find the average expectation for a game is to enter the rules, penetration, betting scheme, etc. and run the numbers, right? Put the edge into your profit formula from Blackbelt in Blackjack times hands per hour for the BP times average bet for the BP, to get the team's hourly expectation?

Arnold Snyder: Yes, but remember that the way things work on paper is not always how they work in reality. Some of your spotters may make counting mistakes when fatiqued or distracted, or misjudge the deck penetration. Even a good BP may misread a signal now and then, or miss out on responding to a spotter with a higher count and edge because he's involved at a table where the count and edge are lower. Or a civilian may climb into the only open seat, just before your BP reaches it.

This is why you want to find a strategy that should deliver a huge return, and avoid any strategy that has you thinking, "Well, this should be about enough to make it worth our time and effort..." When you look at the numbers on a potential blackjack team play, you want to be thinking that it looks extremely profitable.

Most pros, including many of the big blackjack team operators, will tell you that they actually get only about half the return in real world casinos that they expect on paper.

I strongly urge you to try a practice play at a low limit casino where your BP(s) and spotters can work out their signal problems and get a feel for the play before you ever try this with big money. If the first practice play doesn't go well, do another one, and another, if necessary. Big Player call-in plays are extremely chaotic when you first try this type of attack. As a result of your first half dozen trials, you will likely be changing signals that don't work, adding new signals that would be helpful to have, etc.

Also, I would again strongly advise you to look at my Beat the 6-Deck Game: How to Use Frequency Distributions to Determine Your Win Rate and Fluctuations and use PowerSim to generate frequency distributions for the actual games you'll be playing, so you can look at how penetration affects the frequency of player advantages, and figure out betting strategies that at least work on paper.

If the frequency distribution shows that a 1.5% advantage occurs only 2% of the time, then you cannot expect your BP to be able to play 75 hands per hour at a 1.5+% advantage, even with six spotters. You need deeper penetration. If you look at a frequency distribution and you see that a 1.5% advantage or more arises 13% of the time, then with six spotters, you might be tempted to think your BP could get 6 x 13 = 78 hands per hour, assuming each spotter is seeing 100 hands per hour. But it doesn't work this way. There will be times when more than one spotter will have this advantage on their tables simultaneously.

In this example, with two spotters, the probability that they would each have a 1.5% or more advantage at the same time would be 13% times 13%, so your BP would not have a chance to bet at a 1.5% advantage 26% of the time, but only about 24% of the time. The next spotter you add will have a chance of having a count with a 1.5% advantage at the same time as at least one of the other two spotters 13% of 24% of the time, and so on as you add more spotters.

You can add big players to take advantage of these simultaneous betting situations that arise, but you will also have one or both BPs standing around quite often when there are not two good tables available. So, even though it might be somewhat more profitable to have two BPs with six spotters, you have to think about how it looks in the casino. You really want your BPs in action, and not looking like buzzards in the pit. Blackjack team success is not just about the numbers. It's about camo too.

Camouflage for Blackjack Team Spotters

Question: Also, doesn't it look suspicious to have a spotter just flat betting the minimum? I don't recall seeing anyone in a casino NEVER alter their bet. Do spotters need a small spread for cover?

Arnold Snyder: I don't think flat betting ever looks suspicious. In fact, nothing makes a player more invisible to the house. If casinos had to start worrying about players who flat bet, they'd go nuts. It's very common for players on a short bank to flat bet at blackjack and many other games.

Big Player Blackjack Teams and Shuffle Tracking

Question: I have a couple of questions about shuffle tracking. In a book about the MIT blackjack team, they spoke of shuffle tracking like it was something the BPs did. I would guess there is no reason why a BP couldn't track shuffles, since he is theoretically seeing only positive counts and hence high cards. Are there blackjack teams that don't do the whole betting with the count thing and only bet where they can cut a favorable slug?

Arnold Snyder: Well, now we know why the MIT blackjack teams never made any money tracking shuffles!

Shuffle tracking is definitely not a job for the big player, since he is generally not at the table throughout the shoe. Don't even think about trying to incorporate something like this into your team strategy.

If you have an interest in shuffle tracking, that's an entirely different approach, and one that I would not advise for most blackjack team attacks. Believe me, I tried training players for such a team myself, and abandoned it.

For now, if you're looking to use a blackjack team approach, stick with the more traditional and proven methods. Keep it simple and very aggressive. If you want to look into more advanced techniques you might try down the road, study this stuff on your own and see if you have the talent for it.

Compensation for Blackjack Team Members

Question: What is the best way to pay members of blackjack teams? How about simply paying BPs a percentage when the team wins?

Arnold Snyder: We've just added an article to the library to help answer your question about compensation for BPs. The title is "How to Kill Your Blackjack Team: The Free Roll".

BPs can be very important to the success of a team, and I don't want to minimize their value. It can actually be difficult to find someone who is actually able to put out the money. Some of the big teams pay BPs an hourly rate as an advance against the percentage they'll get when the team hits a win target. This helps to keep a good BP playing.

But paying a percentage of the win after every play is a terrible idea. Even with an extremely high edge (much higher than you get from card counting), a free roll may not be a good idea. Back in the early 1980s, when Sam Case was playing the Five Card Drop with Crazy Bob's team in Reno, the advantage on the play was huge, and they gave Sam a free roll on the wins for his pay. He ended up making more money than anybody else on the team, with no risk (if I remember correctly, he made all the money), before they realized what a bad idea this free roll on wins was for a team play.

Big Player Team Plays and Simplicity

Question: I was reading the interview with Johnny C of the MIT team and he mentioned how his team started winning like crazy when they stopped using index numbers. Why would you earn more with a less precise strategy? Shouldn't more index numbers be worth something?

Arnold Snyder: The reason the MIT blackjack team started winning more when they used the fixed strategy is not because of any intrinsic value in using fewer indices or fixed indices (in theory you'll make more using every indice you can learn). The MIT team started winning more with a fixed strategy because the BPs made many fewer errors.

Card counters tend to greatly underestimate their error rates and the cost of these errors. Johnny C.'s bookkeeping records provided his team with hard proof of the cost of such errors. When you're a card counter working solo, or you're working with a blackjack team, simplicity is worth money. ♠

For more information on successful blackjack team play, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library, or Blackjack Forum Online Home.

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