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Card Counting Tip of the Day: To Err is Human, and Expensive!
By Arnold Snyder
(From Card Player, June 1996)
© 1996 Arnold Snyder
One of the things that separates the successful, world-class blackjack pros from the struggling masses of card counters is mistakes. World class players simply don’t make many.
Some card counting errors are very costly, while some are negligible. It’s the costly errors the best players eliminate. Let’s categorize errors by type...
The first type — which I call “invisible” errors — are errors caused by purposeful ignorance of the correct play. This may sound pretty terrible to a new player, but this is one of the types of errors most frequently made by the world class players. This type of error, because it is purposeful, allows for cost control by the player.
For instance, the player is dealt a pair of 8’s vs. a dealer ace. He always splits them, regardless of the count, because this is the correct basic strategy play, and he has not memorized an index number for altering his play from basic.
Technically, at extremely low true counts (below -16 with the high-low, for instance), it would be incorrect to split the 8’s, and correct to simply hit. But there is so little dollar value to such a rare play as this that many of the best card counters don't bother to learn it. The reason the play has so little dollar value is that a true count of -16 almost never occurs. And the chance of it occurring when you have a pair of 8’s vs. an ace is even more remote.
In addition, with such a low true count, you will almost positively have your minimum bet on the table (if you are still at the table at all) making an error on this play even less consequential. Assuming you’ve chosen the least costly strategy changes to ignore, invisible errors like these will make very little difference to your long run result.
Most successful pros avoid the much more costly “hunch” errors that less astute card counters fall prey to. Assume a player is dealt a hard 13 vs. an ace—a hand he would always hit, as this is the correct basic strategy play and he has no index number memorized for standing. But, he’s got his maximum bet on the hand, and he hates the thought of busting.
His high-low running count is +22, with only two decks left in the six-deck shoe, for a true count of +11. Since this play isn’t one for which he has memorized an index number, he’s not really sure if a true count of +11 is high enough to stand on this hand or not. So he plays his hunch and stands.
Bad play. The high-low index number for this play is +20 true. He’s nowhere near it. If this player makes many hunch plays like this one when he’s not certain of the index numbers, he will significantly hurt his long-run expectation. This player may think of himself as an excellent card counter, and he may well be excellent at counting itself, but he’d be doing himself a big favor if he eliminated all of his hunch errors.
Even worse than the hunch errors are the “blindfolded errors” — errors caused by unforgivable ignorance of the correct play. For instance, a card counter who has been playing in Atlantic City for a few years takes a trip to Las Vegas. Suddenly, he encounters some games where the players are not allowed to double down after splits. Rather than take the time and trouble to learn the new pair split strategy, he simply follows his Atlantic City pair-split strategy. Variations on this theme would be failing to utilize the surrender option, or the soft doubling option, because the games you were used to playing didn’t allow these options, and you never learned the strategies.
Hunch errors and blindfold errors are both types of errors frequently made by card counters who are otherwise good players. The best way to eliminate these types of errors is to 1) never make a play you’re unsure of; if in doubt, revert to basic strategy; and 2) always travel with a reference book for the card counting system you are using, so that you can look up the proper plays, rule variations, etc., should you encounter unfamiliar conditions when traveling.
Another type of error virtually never made by world class players is the competence error. Miscounting the cards on the table, failing to adjust for the true count accurately, etc., would be competence errors. These are the types of errors that keep the casinos up to their ears in chandeliers. The average card counter makes these types of errors continually, and never even knows it. Nothing can get rid of this type of error except serious practice.
The final type of error, which can be made by almost any player due to fatigue, regardless of talent, is the pure dolt error. Example, hitting hard 17, because you read it as 16. Or standing on soft 13 (vs. anything!). On a hand for hand basis, these types of errors are the most costly to make, but for any half-decent player, they occur rarely.
If you make a single error of this type, it means one thing, and one thing only — it’s time to take a break. Stop for an hour, or maybe for the rest of the day, but stop. It’s time to rest your mind, stop looking at the cards, have something to eat, take a nap, anything.. . . Just stop putting money on the tables. ♠
For More Card Counting Tips
For specific lists of the most expensive card counting playing errors as well as more card counting tips from professional gamblers, see Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack
and Blackjack Blueprint
by Rick Blaine.
To test yourself for card counting mistakes and keep in practice between playing trips, use Casino Verite Blackjack Software. It does a good job of creating realistic conditions—players leaving and arriving at the table, servers bringing drinks, etc.
For more practical card counting tips and analyses at this web site, return to the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library
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