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Blackjack Teams: When One Player is Losing Big
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By Arnold Snyder
(From Casino Player, January 1997)
© 1997 Arnold Snyder
Question from a Player: I am part of a small group of friends who have formed a blackjack team. We have been playing now for about 4 months, and have been winning very slowly. Recently, we were going over everybodyís numbers and found that of the six of us, three of us are ahead in winnings, two players are close to break even, and one player is pretty far behind. We have all played a different number of hours on the team, though everyone is between 120 at the least and 200 at the most. We test each other all the time on card counting skills and index numbers, and I know the break even players, as well as the big loser, are capable card counters. Those of us who have been winning, however, are beginning to suspect that our non-winning blackjack teammates may be embezzling from the bank, and just claiming losses.
The big loser on the team, by the way, has the most hours in, almost 200, and he is down about $14,000. We all use a spread of about $25-250, and we estimate about a 1Ĺ% advantage. My ballpark estimate of the big loserís result is that he is about 3 standard deviations below his expectation, which, as you know, is highly unlikely. I am personally up about $47,000 right now (Iím the biggest winner), and I have slightly fewer hours in than the big loser. This is very irritating to me, personally. I donít like mistrusting a friend, but this guyís losses just seem impossible. What do you think of lie detector tests?
Answer: Based on the number of hours you have in, and assuming you play under typical crowded casino conditions, I would guess you and the big loser each have about 10,000 hands of play in. Based on your spread, Iíd guess your average bet to be about $100. If we assume youíre right about your estimated 1Ĺ% advantage, then at this point you should each be about $15,000 to the positive. He is $29,000 below this. You are $32,000 above this. This is to say, he is losing at the rate of about 1Ĺ%, and you are winning at a rate of about 4Ĺ%. You know what? This is exactly why players join blackjack teams!
Both of you are experiencing radical fluctuations in opposite directions. If you were flat betting, then on 10,000 hands one standard deviation would be about 1%. This would mean that both of you guys were about three standard deviations from your expectations. But youíre not flat betting. Youíre using a 1-10 spread. So, you have to figure out your standard deviation on each bet size, and if you do this, you will find that the results of your relatively few big bets skew the overall results quite dramatically ó in fact, 10 times as dramatically as the results on your $25 bets! Iím sure both of you are well within two standard deviations of your expectations. Try to realize that a $14,000 loss is a loss of only 56 big bets (sized at $250). Iíll bet not one out of twenty hands is played at the $250 level, so in 10,000 hands, youíve probably got about 500 of these big bets. It is not at all unlikely to lose an extra 56 units in 500 bets, just due to normal fluctuation with card counting.
It always amazes me how card counters can attribute wild positive fluctuations to skill, but suspect something crooked must be going on whenever wild negative fluctuations appear. If you play blackjack a long time, you will get used to these kinds of results, and believe me, when itís your turn to be the big loser, you will suffer greatly when your teammates suspect you of either dishonesty or incompetence. This type of paranoia has destroyed many blackjack teams (and friendships).
Which is not to say I think your friend is honest. Frankly, Iíve never met the guy. He may be a weasel.
So, with regards to lie detector tests, I am not opposed to the idea at all. Most of the bigger, more successful, blackjack teams have used them. Bear in mind that it is important to test all players, not just losers. I once talked to a player who finally quit team play because he found himself so suspicious of his fellow teammates that he began misreporting his own results, and pocketing team money, to make up for what he thought his teammates were stealing from him! And he never even had any proof! He may have been the only crook on the team!
His method of embezzling, however, was not to exaggerate losses, nor to claim losses when heíd won, but simply to underreport his wins. He was a big winner on this team, so he was the player least likely to be suspected of dishonesty.
You may want to read up on lie detector tests also. They are considered fairly accurate, but they do have limitations. It is a known fact that some con artists (professional liars) can fool the tests. (And wouldnít many card counters ó even honest ones ó fit in this category?) It is also a known fact that innocent people sometimes fail the tests just because they are nervous personality types who are afraid of being accused of something they didnít do.
In any case, what your team is going through right now is a major reason why so many blackjack teams fail. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. ♠
For more articles on blackjack card counting teams, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.
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