COMPUTER POWER TO THE PEOPLE!!
FROM ET FAN:
A Card Counter's Story
By One More Shoe
(From Blackjack Forum XXI #2, Summer 2001)
© Blackjack Forum 2001
Other than a very brief introduction to casino gambling during a Caribbean vacation over twenty years ago, I caught the blackjack bug during the summer of 1993, more than a year after the areaís first Indian casino opened its doors. Initially, my wife and I would make an occasional visit and play the slot machines, until one day an associate at the office described his inaugural day at the blackjack tables. I purchased my initial blackjack book that very day and I have been hooked on card counting ever since.
I learned basic strategy stone cold before I ever played my first hand of casino blackjack. We made our first sojourn to a casino to play blackjack during a 3-day mini-vacation to Atlantic City during the summer of 1994. Employing basic strategy and adhering to a strict loss-limit per session, I managed to escape the three days with a minimal loss of $76.50 at mostly $5 minimum tables. The blackjack juices were flowing. This was MY GAME!
Since then, I have purchased just about every blackjack and card counting book still in publication and I am always on the lookout for new ones. Additionally, I have some of the latest blackjack software on the market, including John Austonís Blackjack Risk Manager and Karel Janecekís Statistical Blackjack Analyzer.
Finally, in order to create real life casino conditions, I purchased a felt blackjack layout, complete with a 6-deck shoe, discard tray, chip tray and chips. I glued the felt onto a hollow door, inserting a cutout for the chip tray. It now frequently resides on top of my dining room table where I often deal myself several shoes and to really practice casino conditions, my wife deals to me while we converse and I keep the count making the bets and plays.
Having played basic strategy for over a year, I realized that although it was much fun and provided wonderful entertainment, it was clearly a losing proposition. Not an admirer of relinquishing my hard earned cash to the casinos, I proceeded to learn the Hi-Lo count. I started with 18 index numbers and slowly added plays until I reached about 50 plays.
Not having a set bankroll with which to finance my blackjack play, I was relegated to attacking the tables with whatever cash I had assembled for any given visit (usually $100 or $200). Because I had no money behind me, I had to truncate many losing sessions that could easily have turned into winners. Therefore, this style of play, although far superior to basic strategy, was still nothing more in practical effect than break-even play.
Now it was time to move from the minor leagues into the big leagues. I wanted to make some money! Having just paid for my daughterís college education and her wedding and my son attending a private university, I really couldnít afford to put together a bank, yet I felt I desperately needed one.
So, one day with a Fatherís Day gift of $100 and another $100 from our family budget, I started a bank (hour 25). I vowed to add all blackjack winnings to that bank and to supplement the bank with small cash infusions whenever I could, all without endangering the family budget in any way.
Clearly, there was a rather large chance of losing this money, in fact for the very first trip of about 200 hands of play, the risk of losing the entire $200 was 48% for the $5 game I was playing. There also was about a 52% chance of breaking even or better if I didnít lose it all.
My plan was to hope to win and if not, visit the casino only when I had another $200 with which to try again. My reasoning was that sooner or later I would have a winning session to add to my bank such that the chance of losing the next session was less. For the same 200 hands played, doubling the trip bank from $200 to $400 reduced the chance of ruin from 48% to nearly 16%. For this reason it was of the utmost importance to increase the bank.
Fortunately, I ventured on an immediate winning streak (hours 25-40) that increased the bank enough to weather the first run of bad luck I encountered (hours 40-52). In fact, I won enough money such that I have withstood several streaks of poor luck and I am still going strong.
Also, in addition to winnings, I have supplemented the bank by continually adding any cash gifts for Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries or Fatherís Day and about twice a year I would cash in any loose change saved in a large bottle. On occasions, to bring the bank to an ďevenĒ significant dollar amount, I would add a small amount of cash from the family budget.
For example if after a session, my current bank were $2975, I would add $25 to bring it to an even $3000. Fortunately for me, supplementing the bank provided enough cash infusion to prevent near ruin a couple of times (hours 53 & 103).
The above chart depicts cumulative winnings. My actual bankroll is considerably larger.
Even though I was off to a very fine start, I was not satisfied with the way my blackjack card-counting career was going. I didnít seem to be winning enough. I was playing the lowest limit games I could find with no regard to the quality of the game. In short, I was really up against it and was barely posting a profit.
Finally, a decent game opened up in my area (no longer available) and I decided to up the ante to take advantage of it. Insufficient bank or not, I increased the risk and commenced playing higher limit games, mostly $10 and $15 minimums, up from the typical $5 game I had been playing. Also by this time, all of my major family financial responsibilities had been satisfied so that some investment accounts were beginning to grow again.
I decided that I could tap into some of these funds should the need arise, so that I I could play at a risk far greater than could be justified with the liquid bank I had on hand. This was an acceptable risk to me because if I were to tap out and go broke, I could always make a decision to make a withdrawal from an investment account or stop playing completely. Therefore, I started hitting this good game hard and was spreading $10 to $125 and $15 to $200 continuing quite an extended winning streak.
Even so, during this period, I still hadnít learned how to bet big. Many times after losing just one maximum bet, I would call it quits. Also, if I had a good run and made a decent profit on my first shoe or two, I would also end the session.
On one visit, I sat at a $10 table and was able to spread to $125, winning $600 by the culmination of the shoe. I colored up and did not play another hand of blackjack. Instead of quitting, I clearly should have continued play at another table, perhaps in another pit to avoid detection.
Soon, it happened! I hit the longest losing streak of my entire career (hours 39-53). At one point, my card counting bankroll was down to a little more than $800 in total. The great game had gotten the better of me! I still posted a win for the year, but I saw for the first time the devastating effects of negative fluctuation.
I started the new year doing fairly well, then it happened again! I hit yet another spell of negative fluctuation in my blackjack betting, dipping my total blackjack bankroll under the $1,000 mark yet again (hours 96-103). By this time, the good game was gone and I had to complete a self-analysis. I determined that I had been complacent and was settling for poor games and of all things, I was playing ďallĒ far too often! I certainly stopped playing all and developed a strategy to scout for the very best game available. Also, once and for all, I decided not to be wimpy about my betting and I vowed to bet big when appropriate.
Even though a casino has a standard house cut, often, for many different reasons, a dealer differs from the norm in either a harmful or beneficial manner. With the shoe games I play, there is a notch on the shoe for a 1,2 or 3 deck cut. Although the house cut is 2 decks, even with the notch the dealer often misses the target and places the cut at 2.5 or 1.5 decks. I have learned to exploit the beneficial cut and avoid the harmful cut.
Executing my new strategy, even though I was betting big appropriately, I began to find myself truncating some wins be quitting early and exacerbating my losses by staying far too long in an attempt to recoup losses. This asymmetry in session lengths was making it extraordinarily difficult to make my EV and maintain a steadily increasing blackjack bankroll. It was very clear that truncating wins had to stop and I needed to be more careful of how long I played in a losing cause.
Since recognizing this and taking remedial action, I have gone on an extended winning streak with my card counting such that my current liquid blackjack bankroll is in excess of $10,000, allowing me to play $25 minimum blackjack tables spreading $25 to $300 with a very modest and acceptable risk of ruin. It has been a long road with spectacular wins and devastating losses! I havenít been fortunate enough to play the best blackjack games in the world, yet I have been extremely successful in the casinos available to me. It can be done. Go do it! ♠
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