Larceny in the Heart:
By Arnold Snyder
Pitfalls of a Blackjack Team
(From Blackjack Forum Vol. IX #1, March 1989)
© 1989 Blackjack Forum
I bumped into an old card counting acquaintance in the coffee shop at Caesars Tahoe on my most recent trip. I'd initially met Clyde at one of my blackjack roundtables years ago. Then he moved to Reno, then Vegas, corresponding irregularly about his blackjack team. Then he disappeared.
He offered to buy me breakfast, and I accepted. We sat down in an isolated corner.
"Bishop," he said, "I want you to hear my confession."
I thought he was joking. "My fee for hearing confessions is on a sliding scale," I answered. "For a coffee shop breakfast, I can forgive three, maybe four, venial sins.
"I'm serious, Arnold," he said. "You've got to warn your readers not to fall into the same temptations that almost ruined me. Greed is one of the seven cardinal sins, as you no doubt know, Bish."
"That's Catholicism," I informed him. "In the First Church of Blackjack, greed is one of the Two Cardinal Virtues that every card counter must cultivate."
"What's the other one?" he asked.
"Tithing," I said. "And frankly, Clyde, your ten percent is long overdue."
"I'm serious, Arnold," he repeated. "You've got to warn your readers to stay away from teams."
"I presume you're speaking of the Chicago Cubs," I said.
"C'mon, Arnold, I'm serious," he said. "I'm talking about blackjack teams."
"What's wrong with team play?" l asked.
"Larceny in the heart," he said. "I gave up on blackjack teams a couple years ago. But it took me five years, and I don't even want to think about how much money to learn my lesson.
"What I finally did, the day I quit my last blackjack team, I went over all of my playing records. You know I've always kept impeccable records. I divided my blackjack play into team play and personal play, charting five years of my time at the tables.
"All of my biggest losses occurred when I was on teams. I had my biggest wins when I was playing by myself. Now the whole reason you join a blackjack team in the first place is to cut those big negative swings so you can play for higher stakes and make more money. I was having the opposite experience. What would you attribute that to, Arnold?"
"Standard deviation?" I offered.
"Get real," he said. "Let me put it this way: Show me a good, successful card counter, and I'll show you a natural con-artist. You, yourself, have said as much. The act is everything. Now, don't you see the contradiction here? I was always out looking for four or five superior con-artists whom I could really trust with large sums of my money!"
"So, you think your teammates were stealing from you?"
"The day I quit my last blackjack team was the day I found myself conning them out of money. I told you I had a confession to make, Arnold, and this is it. I had fifteen thousand in our fifty thou bank, and in three weeks of almost non-stop play, we were down more than twenty thousand. Everybody on the team was losing, except me. These were guys I'd known for five years. My buddies. My pals.
"I couldn't shake this feeling that they were cheating me. Not me personally, perhaps. Just cheating the whole team. Exaggerating losses. Underreporting wins. We were mostly playing independently, just working off a joint bank. I had one incredible afternoon. I won eighty-five hundred bucks at the Trop. When we got together that night, after I'd charted all my records, I reported a win of seventy-five hundred. They, of course, were ecstatic.
"I'm telling you, Arnold, you take a card counter, you scratch the surface, and you've got a conscienceless scam artist who could as easily swindle a little old lady out of her life savings as tie his shoe laces. Let me put it this way: How much sleep do you think a con artist is going to lose if he pays his rent by conning a bunch of other con artists?"
"I'd say you've lost quite a bit of sleep over it," I said.
He shrugged. "Well, I'm not going to lose any more," he said.
"Clyde," I said, "You're going to have to join my blackjack team."
"I'm through with that," he said. "Humans have larcenous hearts."
"I'm a Bishop," I protested.
"Arnold, I wouldn't trust my own mother at this point."
"I'm not talking about trust," I said. "I'm talking about penance. I heard your confession. Now it's my obligation to assign your penance. If you want your sins forgiven, you have to join my blackjack team. I think you'll like my team. It's different."
"What's so different about it?"
"It's larceny proof," I stated. "I know for a fact that I won't have to worry about dishonest teammates. Even though I know you stole a thousand bucks from your last team, Clyde, it doesn't bother me. My team was designed for crooks like you."
He snorted. "How are you going to keep me from stealing you blind?" he asked.
"Here's how it works," I said. "The First Church of Blackjack is now requiring all members to send in just twenty bucks per week for fifty weeks each year. That's just one thousand bucks annually to join the biggest religious blackjack team in history. Even if only a hundred of my vast flock comply, we'll have a hundred thousand bucks a year in our joint bankroll.
With full time play, I should be able to personally double this bank in a year. No problem. I keep half the winnings and return the other half to the church members. This way, I make fifty thousand a year for my playing time, and each member of my church gets back one hundred and fifty percent of his investment -- or fifteen hundred bucks for every thousand invested. Of course, you can put in any amount you want. If you want to put in ten thousand, fine. You should see a return of fifteen thousand at the end of a year. Nobody touches the money but me. Nobody plays but me. Therefore, nobody can cheat me. It's foolproof."
"One question, Bishop," he said. "How do we know you're not going to cheat us?"
"Faith," I answered. "C'mon, Clyde, I'm a holy man, for Crissake! It's not in my nature to be dishonest. Now, personally, I think you should join our Easy Payment Plan. That means that I'll accept your full one thousand dollar investment right here, right now, no questions asked. Guilt alone should drive you to join my team, since the minimum annual investment just happens to be precisely the amount you screwed your trusting friends out of!"
"I've got three more questions, Bishop," he said. "Number one: is that one hundred and fifty percent return guaranteed?"
"Of course not," I said. "Your return is based on my actual winnings. If standard deviation is on my side, you could get a return of two hundred precept! Maybe more!"
"That's what I thought," he said. "Question number two: what if standard deviation isn't on your side?"
"As they say in Nairobi, Clyde, tough gazongas."
"That's what I thought," he said again. "Number three: what if I don't do my penance?"
"It's unthinkable," I said. "Upon your arrival at the Pearly Gates, that Great Pit Boss in the Sky will give you two choices - Door #1 or Door #2. If you choose Door #1, your limbs will be whacked off with a dull hatchet, then the fluid will be drained from your eyeballs. You'll be thrown into a vat of Pace Picante Sauce for the rest of eternity."
"Pace?" he said. "Couldn't they at least use that sissy stuff from New York City?"
I laughed. "New York City! That really chaps my hide."
"Well, what's behind Door #2?" he asked, trembling.
"Two weeks at the Marina in Atlantic City," I said. "All expenses paid."
He turned white as a sheet.
"Most people prefer Door #1," I said flatly.
He was already reaching for his wallet. "Okay, Bishop," he said. "Sign me up for the Easy Payment Plan. Is there anything else you need?"
I folded the ten Franklins he handed to me, stuffing them into my shirt pocket. "All I need now," I said, "is ninety-nine more believers." ♠
For more information on the trials, tribulations and triumphs of running a blackjack team, see Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro... Part-Time
by Rick Blaine, a former teammate of Arnold Snyder's.
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