Review of Jerry Patterson's Target Blackjack System
Off Target: Jerry Patterson's New Blackjack SystemBy Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum III #3, September 1983)
© 1983 Blackjack Forum
Q. What measures does a pit boss take when he discovers a team of TARGET players?
Okay, gang, dust off your collective sense of humor. Here comes the TARGET system! I'll say right off I have no faith whatsoever in Jerry Patterson's new TARGET system as a winning strategy. The system assuredly has some basis in fact, and what Patterson has attempted to do with TARGET is original, creative, and, on the surface, might be convincing to less sophisticated players. But the success of the system, as a winning strategy, depends on flawed logic, and the acceptance as "facts" of a myriad of old gambling myths.
This is a difficult review for me to write. My difficulty in reviewing this system comes from my deep respect for Jerry Patterson, who is selling the system, and my valued correspondence with a number of the franchisees and instructors with Patterson's Blackjack Clinics.
Some of these instructors, like Jerry Patterson, believe in the TARGET system, and are teaching it to their students. Some of Patterson's instructors lack faith in the TARGET system, and have spoken out against it. It is much to Patterson's credit that he has allowed some of his individual franchise holders to decide for themselves on this issue, and to publicly reject the system.
Jerry has always struck me in the past as honest, fair, and genuinely concerned for his students. I hope he'll consider my objections to TARGET with his students' welfare in mind. I'm not going to pull any punches. In my opinion, TARGET is worthless.
A Brief History of the Target System Controversy
I would like to thank all of my readers who sent me TARGET information, in response to my request for same in the last issue of Blackjack Forum. For those who have not been following the TARGET controversy, let me give a brief history:
Last year, Jerry Patterson, author of Blackjack's Winning Formula and Blackjack: A Winner's Handbook, (both Putnams, 1981) announced a breakthrough in blackjack systems, which he called the Table Research, Grading, and Evaluation Technique, or TARGET. In his promotional material, Patterson was making what seemed to many knowledgeable blackjack players incredible claims about this new TARGET system. He said that players using the TARGET system could win at a 4% rate in multi-deck games, without counting cards, and that TARGET players would win 80% of their sessions.
In the past year, since introducing the TARGET system, dissent has arisen in the Patterson camp. Jerry has produced neither computer simulation data nor mathematical proof to validate the TARGET system, and he has expressed doubts about the possibilities of finding computer or mathematical analyses which would validate TARGET.
Patterson's New York Blackjack Clinic franchise, run by Don Schlesinger and Ken Feldman, has publicly refused to offer the TARGET course to their students because of Patterson's inability to provide any proof that the system works. Mike Schiff, who operates Patterson's Boston franchise, wrote to me that he also was refusing to offer the TARGET system in his area, for the same reason.
Stanford Wong, long a supporter of Patterson, has recently come out against Patterson's incredible TARGET claims. Although Wong admits he has neither attended a TARGET clinic nor examined the complete course materials, he labels the TARGET system "nonsense" on the basis of Patterson's promotional materials, which describe the theory behind TARGET, and also because Patterson has no mathematical nor computer data to back up his claims.
Wong has done extensive computer simulations in search of the "biases" upon which the TARGET system is based. In his recent newsletters he presents his data which indicates that predictable biases do not exist in the way Patterson is attempting to predict them.
In his August issue of Blackjack World, Wong presents convincing computer data that shows that one of Patterson's major TARGET theories is invalid. Patterson claims that a shoe which favors a player will continue to favor the player, even through subsequent shuffles, because human dealers do not shuffle well enough to destroy the "card flow bias." Wong tested this hypothesis by not shuffling at all through one million shoes, and instead dealing the cards for the next shoe in the order that they would have been picked up and placed in the discard tray by the dealer. Winning shoes did not beget winning shoes, even with no shuffle.
In the 3 years since I began publishing Blackjack Forum, I've rarely gotten more mail on any subject than TARGET. Patterson is reputable, yet the claims for TARGET seem incredible. The price ($450 for the class, or $250 for the mail order course) is high, but, perhaps not too high if the claims are legitimate. Everyone wants to know: Does TARGET work? Has Patterson discovered a truly new and incredibly powerful winning system?
If you've been following developments on this for the past six months, you know that in the March Blackjack Forum, I announced that Patterson had invited me to attend a TARGET Clinic, in order to judge TARGET for myself. Then in the last (June) issue of Blackjack Forum, I announced that Patterson had rescinded my invitation because he was displeased that I had referred to the TARGET system as "controversial," and because some TARGET players were unhappy about the fact that I would be reporting on TARGET.
Since I'd received dozens of letters from my readers who wanted advice on whether or not to invest in the TARGET course, I solicited information from any of my readers who might have taken the complete TARGET course. I have since received photocopies of 2 complete sets of TARGET course materials (slightly different from each other, as one is apparently an older version of the course), plus a number of letters from TARGET course graduates describing everything from the TARGET classroom teaching methods, to the casino experiences of TARGET players, to personal theories and evaluations of TARGET.
For my evaluation of the system, I'm using the more extensive 38-page course, which is more recent and more descriptive of the terminology, etc. The major difference between the newer and older TARGET course materials is that the older one advises the player to use a card count as a factor in grading a table, with a high count being a positive factor. One of my readers who wrote to me about the TARGET classroom instruction said the instructor told the class that the card counting aspect of the TARGET system had been eliminated from the "table grading" technique, and to ignore this portion of the written materials. In the newer course materials, this card counting advice has been eliminated.
The Difficulty of Analyzing the TARGET Blackjack System
TARGET is not a card counting method, though a card counter may use the TARGET system simultaneously with his count. The system most definitely poses problems for computer programmers who would want to simulate it exactly. How do you program a computer to base betting decisions on such factors as the presence of pit personnel, the "disposition" of other players at the table, how much other players are toking,,, and, yes, the condition of the ashtrays?
On the other hand, none of these unprogrammable factors strikes me as necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of the system. The table grading factors are used to determine only one basic factor in whether or not the table is on a winning streak. If so, then the TARGET system says that the winning streak will likely continue, until certain other factors indicate otherwise, most notably, the players start losing.
As I have stated in pervious issues of Blackjack Forum, I am not going to reveal the specific methods of the TARGET system. I will limit my discussion to the theory behind it. If you want to learn the TARGET system, in spite of my warnings, you'll have to take the course from one of Patterson's Blackjack Clinics which offers it.
The TARGET Blackjack System in a Nutshell
To play the TARGET system, you must evaluate numerous factors, which have varying degrees of importance, both in selecting tables, and in determining whether or not to continue playing. There is a lot of new lingo introduced by Patterson for the TARGET system—"table grading, " "table biases," "trending tables, building tables," etc.
Much of the TARGET theory strikes me as a bunch of old gamblers' myths, which have long ago been discarded by mathematicians, now updated with impressive sounding terminology. There is an attractive "logic" to TARGET, as most players would see it, and that "logic" is the same basic "logic" which has been proposed by Charles Einstein in his "rhythm betting" system (Basic Blackjack Betting, GBC).
This "logic" says that (a) cards are not randomly ordered during a shuffle, so, (b) "streaky" clumpings of cards will cause wins and losses to clump together rather than randomly distribute themselves and so, (c) winning hands indicate a winning streak, and losing hands indicate a losing streak. In other words, the player need only rely on the fact that wins and losses are "streakier" in blackjack than in other games, and the player can win by riding the streaks.
Analysis of the TARGET System
It all sounds good, but, in fact, it's based on false logic, and not logical at all. (See Peter Griffin's comments on this in the "Letters" section.)
Although it is true that cards will clump together in non-random orderings, and that wins and losses will be influenced by these orderings of cards, it's impossible to predict the order of the wins and losses to come based on the previous wins and losses.
It's also impossible to predict the length of the winning or losing streaks based on previous winning or losing streaks. There is no way that a single win, or five consecutive wins, or even twenty consecutive wins, would predict that more wins are on the way. Streaks can only be seen after the fact.
Some "streaks" only last one hand; some last many hands. But you cannot predict that a current streak will continue (or end) based on the results of previous hands.
Card counting is based on an entirely different theory. Betting more when the deck is favorable because of knowledge of the remaining cards provides the player's advantage. During those times when the counter has his advantage, and is betting on it, winning and losing streaks continue as always, but the counter ignores them. The counter is in it for the long run. His profits acrue slowly from his small, but mathematically provable edge over the house. He's betting on winning an average of just one extra big bet out of every few hundred hands. He is not playing "streaks" that would be discernable over the short run.
Some aspects of the TARGET system are, to be sure, radically different from Charles Einstein's "rhythm betting" system. One particularly strange idea, as far as the accepted mathematical theory of blackjack goes, is what Patterson calls the "integrity of the shoe (or game).." This is defined as "things happening the way they're supposed to..." If a player draws a low card when he doubles down on 11, this is "bad integrity..." If the dealer busts when he has a stiff, this is "good integrity."
"Stability of the game," is another factor Patterson claims is important in maintaining a bias. He says that with a "card flow bias," as opposed to a "clump card bias, " you might maintain the stability of the game by playing a second hand if someone leaves the table, or, if necessary, by discouraging new players from entering a game.
This strikes me as nothing more than the old gamblers' myth that when things are going well you shouldn't change "the order of the cards." Ian Andersen, in Turning the Tables on Las Vegas (Random House, 1976), describes this old myth, and points out how card counters can use it for camouflage purposes. Andersen used to ask dealers to shuffle up (when the count was low, of course) so he could "change the order of the cards..." And (when the count was high) he would discourage new players from entering the game, in reality so he could keep those advantageous hands for himself, but explaining to them that he didn't want to "change the order of the cards..."
But Andersen was describing a camouflage trick he employed to get more advantageous games while appearing to be a superstitious gambler. Patterson is talking about the order of the cards, or as he labels it, "a card flow bias," as if this has some real meaning in the mathematics of blackjack. Yet many players have a gut feeling that there is some logic to this "order of the cards" nonsense, as evidenced by the fact that so many players believe that poor players at the table hurt good players because poor players "take cards" that "by right" should go to some other player (or the dealer).
I don't know how Patterson came to believe that TARGET was a valid system; it's not just one bad idea—it's a conglomeration of bad ideas, pasted together with pseudo-scientific terminology. I know Jerry didn't make this whole thing up out of thin air. He credits a man by the name of Eddie Olsen as one of the inventors of the system.
In my opinion, there has never been such an eloquently presented heap of gambling misinformation as the TARGET system. Most phony systems are simple, one or two pages at most. Many can be described in one or two sentences. With TARGET, it'll take you a couple hours just to comprehend the lingo.
The night I got together with Sam Case to get his input on the TARGET system, he attempted to invent, on the spot, a phony blackjack system more complex than TARGET. He calls it Sam Case's Winning Ouija System; and, yes, you do have to carry a Ouija Board to the tables. I won't go into Sam's definitions of such terms as a "double Ouija whammy parlay, " or the "integrity of the table lint," or the "stability of the hunch," but suffice it to say that, all in all, I think Sam's Ouija system would work just as well as TARGET.
Every blackjack expert from Thorp to Uston to yours truly has made numerous errors in judgment and analysis. Patterson's biggest TARGET error, in my opinion, was in selling this system so soon after it's development. It seems to me he's testing the system by selling it first, then collecting data from the players to find out whether it works.
Obviously, you cannot obtain objective results in this way, since both the players and the system sellers have such a big stake in the success of the system. What you get is the "Swami Pastrami" effect. (See the link at the left.) The only players who continue to report results are those who stick with the system. The only players who stick with the system are those who are winning.
Data from losers just doesn't come in proportionately, or objectively. I wish I had a buck for every crap shooter who's told me he's been winning for years by "riding the streaks," and for every roulette player who insists he always goes home a winner by "playing with the house's money."
I should point out here that many of the premises upon which the TARGET system is based are true. It is a fact that a human dealer does not shuffle the cards well enough to put them into a truly random order. Richard Epstein, in The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic (pp. 160-171), points out this fact. According to Epstein, a "random shuffle" is "an operation equivalent to scattering a deck in a high wind, and having the cards retrieved by a blindfolded inebriate." This is not standard operating procedure in most casinos.
It is also true that "biases" will exist in any shuffled deck(s) which will affect the player's advantage as the cards are dealt. Card counting would not work if this were not true.
The illogical leap in the TARGET theory occurs, as I have already stated, with the premise that a player (or house) bias will continue. Just because a bias has been identified as occurring over some length of time, this fact in no way predicates a continuance of that bias. In fact, the opposite is true. Unless Patterson can offer convincing mathematical evidence that Bayes' Theorem is in error, which would stun mathematicians the world over, I cannot accept "streak-based" blackjack systems as having any validity.
Looking back on my own experiences at the tables, other TARGET factors seem to appeal to reason. My biggest losing streaks have occurred, as TARGET would say, at "player breaking" tables, and my biggest winning streaks have occurred at "dealer breaking" tables. The TARGET system is flawed, however, in advising me to seek out "dealer breaking" tables, because you cannot predict that this bias will continue just because this trend has been observed up to any given point in the game.
Prior to this TARGET system, Patterson's work in blackjack was primarily aimed at simplifying the proven systems of others. He was very good at this, and his students and franchise holders have always praised his work. He's a good teacher.
I see TARGET as a big mistake for Jerry Patterson. He took a chance and put his faith in an unproven system someone convinced him was a winner. Believing him to be an honest man, my heart goes out to him, because I don't think he means to sell trash to trusting students.
There is a strong temptation to blame Patterson personally for TARGET. Let's face it; his name is on it. But I do believe he is a victim as are all those who are putting their faith in TARGET. In his excitement over the possibilities of TARGET, Patterson, I believe, rushed into selling it too soon. He should have sought some outside experts' opinions first.
There is a lack of fundamental knowledge of the mathematics of gambling systems that Patterson displays in portions of his TARGET course. One section of the TARGET material which, I must say, appalls me, is Patterson's explanation of the "Reverse Labouchere" betting progression as having some validity.
Patterson recommends this betting progression, modified with "stop-loss" points, for less serious "action" players. He claims that in his 25 years of gambling research, this particular strategy is the only progressive betting method he has found that actually works. He credits Norman Leigh, author of a book titled Thirteen Against the Bank (Morrow, 1976), for devising this betting system.
Actually, the Reverse Labouchere has been around a long time. Richard Epstein, again, in The Theory of Gambling and Statistical Logic (Academic Press, 1977), referred to it as the "anti-Labouchere" system, lumping it together with the other betting progressions and money management systems which gamblers have tried over the years.
I read Norman Leigh's book, which describes the exploits of a team of professional roulette players (really!?) who demolish casino coffers using the Reverse Labouchere system. What a fantasy!
Again, the (non-reverse) Labouchere progression has been around for hundreds of years. Like all betting progression systems, it has been proven worthless. Leigh's brilliant idea was that if you play the progression in reverse you would force the casino to play the Labouchere system against you. What utter nonsense. Any betting progression system could be played in reverse, but it would still be a worthless progression system.
Leigh figured (and this is Patterson's "logic" as well) that since the Labouchere progression didn't win for the player, that by reversing the progression, the casino would find that the progression didn't win for the house either! Brilliant! So logical! And it's true that if the system won't win for the player, it won't win for the casino. But the casino doesn't need the progression to win. The house has the edge.
What Leigh didn't realize in devising (or, at least, resurrecting) this old scheme, and what Patterson also seems ignorant of, is that betting progression systems don't win, nor do they lose. Whether you're using a Labouchere, or a Martingale, or a D'Alembert, or the reverse of any of these, you're going to lose 5.26% of your money on a double-O roulette wheel, same as any flat-better. The progression system doesn't affect the player or house advantage in any way.
Patterson, by the way, does not advise using the Reverse Labouchere at Roulette, but only at blackjack. For more "serious" TARGETplayers, Patterson advises various building progressions which parlay a portion of the wins, also with stop-loss points for getting out.
I suspect most TARGET players follow one or more of the betting progression systems that Patterson advises since he recommends these progressions even for card counters. This helps to explain one of Patterson's seemingly incredible claims—namely, that players are winning on 80% of their sessions. Using stop-loss betting progression systems which build on partial parlays, this is not at all inconceivable, especially since many TARGET players are probably card counters also, who will be using some amount of intelligent playing strategy.
Such progression systems do win far more often than they lose, and this is why they have always attracted gamblers. All those "testimonials" you read in cockamamie craps systems ads are not necessarily phony. You can win 80% or even 90% of your sessions with some betting progressions, depending, of course, on your bankroll.
But all progressions really do is delay the inevitable. If you've won S10,000 in the past 6 months with such a system, don't be surprised if you suddenly lose S12,000 in a week-end, "stop-loss" or no "stop-loss." That "impossible" losing streak is actually inevitable. Computer simulations have shown time and again that the house advantage will prevail.
Progression systems that size bets by parlaying wins, or portions of wins, as Patterson advises, will also cause some players to experience phenomenal winning sessions on occasion, far beyond what any card counter would ever experience. Card counters strive to reduce fluctuations by sizing bets according to bankroll and advantage. There are thousands of dice players who use various parlay progressions who could tell you stories about turning a couple dollars into a couple thousand dollars in one hot night of craps.
Such experiences encourage systems players to believe in their systems. These same parlay progressions, however, ultimately spell doom for these players who are constantly over betting their bankrolls. It's too bad Jerry Patterson did not recognize the TARGET betting structures as useless betting progression systems, which, by their nature, will instill in players a false optimism in the effectiveness of the TARGETsystem.
In Million Dollar Blackjack, Ken Uston suggests that some sort of "board" should exist for the purpose of "certifying" the curricula of blackjack schools. The existence of such a board would have saved Patterson a lot of grief.
I'm hopeful that Patterson will eventually discontinue offering the TARGET system through his Blackjack Clinics, but so much time and money could have been saved if Uston's idea were a reality. Is there any feasible approach to getting something like this off the ground? I think Jerry Patterson owes his students an apology and his franchise holders an explanation.
This may be just human error on Patterson's part, but unless he has some sort of factual evidence for the TARGET system, other than his personal playing records and those of his students, he should throw in the towel on this TARGET nonsense. I don't see how Patterson can continue selling this science fiction as fact. ♠
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Arnold Snyder Shows Why Jerry Patterson's TARGET Blackjack System Doesn't WorkJerry Patterson, once a reputable name in gambling information, has launched one phony gambling system after another, beginning with the sale of his phony TARGET blackjack system. Arnold Snyder shows why the TARGET blackjack system won't work.