Arnold Snyder writes about the blackjack team strategies used by successful blackjack team managers like Tommy Hyland,  Ken Uston and Al Francesco. Blackjack team play strategies differ based on the size of the team.
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Blackjack Team Attack, Part II:
The Playing Strategies

 
professional blackjack card counting team strategy from Ken Uston and Al Francesco
 
BLACKJACK TEAM PLAY: CONTENTS
MIT blackjack team The Blackjack Team Dream
    By Arnold Snyder
Tommy Hyland blackjack team Blackjack Team Attack, Part I
    Legal Issues, the Windsor Trial, and
    Conversation with Tommy Hyland
    By Arnold Snyder
Ken Uston blackjack team How to Kill Your Blackjack Team:
    The Free Roll
    By Arnold Snyder
professional gamblers and blackjack card counting teams The MIT Blackjack Team:
    Interview with Johnny C.
    By Arnold Snyder
MIT blackjack team Blackjack Team Compensation
    By Marvin L. Masters
Tommy Hyland blackjack card counting team Larceny in the Heart
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team Regarding Blackjack Team Play
    By Bob Fisher
blackjack team play The Tommy Hyland Team Trial in
    Windsor: Circus, Caesars, and the
    Hilton Corp. Team Up to Try to Frame
    Players for Cheating
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team Blackjack Teams and Suspicions
    By Arnold Snyder
Tommy Hyland blackjack card counting team Blackjack Teams and Polygraphs
    By Arnold Snyder
blackjack shuffle tracking team A Blackjack Banking Team
    By Arnold Snyder
Blackjack teams and theft Avoiding the Team Thief
    By Pikachu
 
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Blackjack Team Playing Strategies

By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XVI #3, Fall 1996)
© 1996 Blackjack Forum

There are numerous approaches that a blackjack team might take to beat the tables. There is no "best" approach, as the optimum strategy for any blackjack team will depend on numerous variables, notably: the number of team players, the talents of the various players, the size of the team bankroll, and the specific games that are being attacked.

The scope of this article will be to lead you in the directions that blackjack team strategies might take, not to provide comprehensive instructions on exactly how various team members might function at the tables.

In Ken Uston's books, notably The Big Player and Million Dollar Blackjack, you will find some fairly comprehensive blackjack team attack methods initially invented by Al Francesco, including everything from bet-sizing guidelines to camouflage tactics to the precise sets of team signals employed during the operations.

This type of information is good to read for ideas, but it is important that you learn to develop your own methods when it comes to the details of your precise strategies. You always want to do some things a little different from what others have done.

A blackjack team with little creativity is unlikely to last. Be flexible. Always be ready to change those things that aren't working. Throw around ideas with your teammates. Discuss problems continually, and work out solutions. Try new approaches. Get creative.

The most successful blackjack operations are those that continually change. Conditions vary so much in different casinos that you cannot always use the same modus operandi. If there was one stock blackjack team methodology, the casinos would catch onto it in no time. Look at this article as a starting point for your method of attack. Your ultimate success will depend on how well your blackjack team develops its own approach.

Every Man For Himself Blackjack Teams

The simplest team approach is the EMFH approach, or Every Man for Himself. This approach is viable with virtually any size blackjack team or bank. Because of its simplicity of execution, it's also one of the most popular team approaches.

An EMFH team is dependent on each team member being a competent card counter who is capable of beating the tables. This type of blackjack team approach requires the highest level of trust among the participants, as it is essentially a simple agreement to share a common bankroll and all playing results.

For instance, three close friends, all of whom are card counters, might each contribute $10,000 to a common bank so that each of the three may play off of a $30,000 team bank. They need not play together, nor in the same casino(s), nor even in the same cities, nor at the same time.

Such a blackjack team might make a simple agreement to set a win target of $15,000, and to distribute profits when the target is hit, proportionately on the actual hours of play of each player. This type of agreement allows maximum flexibility for the participants. Technically, they need not ever even see each other. Over a six month period, one California player might get in 80 hours of play in Las Vegas, while another who lives in Florida gets in 65 hours in Louisiana and Mississippi, while the New Yorker gets 110 hours in Atlantic City. Actual playing times will be at the convenience of the blackjack team members.

An EMFH blackjack team can coordinate all operations over the phone, wire--transferring funds if necessary. Such a team has no hassle of coordinating attacks on specific casinos/shifts, no possibilities of signal mix--ups, and no risk of being identified as team players with each other.

The prime requirement for this type of effort is absolute trust in each other. This type of team cannot succeed unless all members are absolutely honest with each other re: hours of play, win/loss results, expenses, etc. There also must be a vigilant effort on the part of all team members to regularly update each other on play results, so that all are kept abreast of the actual size of the team bank.

EMFH teams only work with players who trust each other's counting talents and abilities to assess game conditions for profit potential. Given these criteria, such teams can be operated successfully with as few or as many players as can meet these criteria. Most such teams, however, remain small.

Two Person Blackjack Teams

Another very popular approach to team play is the two-person team. This type of team often consists of players who play together at a table, without any attempt to disguise the fact that they are together. Since it is common for male/female couples to play together, and not uncommon for any two friends, same sex or not, to sit together and play blackjack, a two--person team does not necessarily need to hide the fact that they know each other.

There are many viable approaches for maximizing the profit potential of a two--person team. This type of team need not consist of two card counters. A single talented player can use discreet signals (verbal or non--verbal) to tell the other player how to play/bet. In the case of male/female couples, this can usually be done quite openly, without the need for signals, as couples often help each other play their hands.

Male/female teams can also use their "couple" status simply to increase the betting spread. During uncrowded times, female companions may sit at the table without playing a hand, and this appears very natural (because it is; you see this all the time in casinos). It is also quite common for such a female companion to occasionally grab some of her husband's/boyfriend/s chips and play a hand or two. This can effectively double the betting spread of a single player without appearing to.

Two person teams which consist of two talented players can also utilize their counting abilities to enhance their profits beyond what either might be able to accomplish individually. For instance, at single-deck games, one player might use a traditional point count system, while the other keeps a perfect insurance count (tens vs. non-tens). Or one player might keep a side count of aces. Or one player might keep the High-Low (for betting) while the other keeps Hi-Opt I (for playing strategy). Usually rules such as over/under or Royal Match, which require non-traditional counting systems, can also be more effectively attacked by two-person teams.

More advanced players might also try various shuffle tracking strategies. Having two-players at the table not only mentally frees one brain from traditional counting chores, but it also doubles the probability to getting the cut card.

Two-person team approaches in which the players do not appear to know each other can also be quite effective. A "Gorilla BP" strategy, in which a big money player pays little attention to the game, obviously not counting cards, but in fact playing/betting very accurately via signals from a small stakes "stranger" at the table, is very deceptive and effective.

A two-person team which consists of two talented counters can also use a "rotating BP" approach, in which the players take turns back-counting tables to call each other into hot games; or competent shuffle trackers could alternate shuffle-tracking tables, calling each other in at the hot slugs (or off the top when they can get the cut card), using signals to indicate the size/position/value of the slug.

Two person teams, because they are so often composed of close friends and/or real life couples, have a high rate of success. When two players are using a strategy where they are playing at the same table, they also eliminate worries about win/loss reporting, as they both witness the results.

Big Player/Spotter Blackjack Teams

Larger teams often use a "spotter" approach to team play. A spotter is a low stakes player or often a non--player who is simply watching the games, who "calls in" a big player (BP) via signals. Ken Uston wrote fairly extensively about this approach (The Big Player, 1976, and Million Dollar Blackjack, 1981), crediting Al Francesco with having invented it in the early 1970's.

Despite the fact that this method has been so widely publicized, it is still used successfully today. The only effective countermeasure to the BP approach is restricting mid-shoe entry. This is done in some casinos, especially in Atlantic City where they can't bar counters, but it is one of those countermeasures that costs the house dearly. The vast majority of players who want to enter mid-shoe are just regular (unskilled) players. And many high rollers like to change tables at whim. Restricting mid-shoe entry eliminates a lot of action from the tables, so most casinos (wisely) reject this countermeasure.

BP/spotter teams generally work best during crowded playing times, when lots of players are wandering around. Signals must be both subtle (natural gestures) and easy to see. If a complex set of signals is required, much time must be spent practicing before attempting to engage such a strategy in a casino BJ pit.

I would advise any players considering a BP/spotter team approach to start small (maybe half a dozen players), and allow the team to build gradually. BP/spotter approaches look great on paper, but can be quite confusing in a chaotic casino environment.

When starting out, you must prearrange short sessions (not more than an hour or two), so that you may reconvene with your teammates to discuss problems, missed signals, or any aspect of the approach that seems not to be working. On your initial sessions, you may expect to be devising many new signals for previously unanticipated situations you've encountered. You must maintain flexibility during your initial sessions to work out these fine details.

Because of the success of Uston's blackjack books, the casinos are well aware of this team approach, and do look out for it. Big money players who continually jump in and out of games should expect surveillance. This is one of the more difficult types of blackjack team operations to coordinate, because the combined talents of so many individuals are necessary for success. There is often a great fun factor to participating in this type of team, however, as you will continue to get together with your teammates for discussions, practice sessions, money transfers, etc.

Tempers can flare when the team is losing, especially if any players begin to distrust the talents or honesty of any of their teammates. This type of team, more than any other, requires strong leadership, rigorous testing methods, and meticulous bookkeeping. With a large operation, money transfers may be frequent. All wins/losses and transactions must continually be recorded and updated. You must do this to avoid arguments about who had how much, who gave what to whom, etc.

It is also important that all members of the team understand that they do not know each other in the casino. It is also unsafe to meet in the casino coffee shop or restaurants, or any public areas of the hotel/casino(s) where you are playing, as pit personnel are liable to see you together. In many casinos, it is safe to meet in one of your hotel rooms, provided you arrive separately.

The Gorilla BP

A "gorilla BP" (another term from Ken Uston's books) is a player who is not a card counter (or at least is not paying any attention to the cards during the play), but who makes all betting/playing decisions according to signals. The gorilla BP is often drinking heavily so that his erratic big bets appear to be more due to his Johnny Walker wisdom than anything else.

The danger of using gorilla BP's is that they often really do get drunk, and they are probably carrying a large amount of team money. What do you do if your gorilla's ability to read and follow signals diminishes dangerously? I've heard more than one story of such players who not only failed to heed playing/betting signals, but failed to leave the tables when given the "quit now" signal.

Another problem that sometimes arises with gorilla BP's who really do get drunk, is that even if they can accurately follow signals, they are sometimes very obnoxious, and casinos today are not as comfortable with obnoxious drunks as they used to be. If your BP is irritating other players, spilling his drink on the table, offending the cocktail waitresses, etc., he may be asked to call it a night despite the fact he is betting big money. Casinos are much more image conscious today.

The gorilla BP approach works best when you have a high roller who is not a card counter, and who already has a long history of big money playing with a top rating in a casino. Such a player, especially if a known loser, can often get away with murder at the tables, and the pit will usually be happy to see him winning for a change.

I would suggest using this approach with a gorilla BP who can act drunk, with a drink in his hand, but not necessarily one who is drunk. This approach should probably be avoided with a large team of spotters, as you will continually lose track of the whereabouts of your gorilla, which can be scary if he's really drunk. He might also attract thieves and pickpockets, another worry. He is also unlikely to know anything about his actual play results, how much he won or lost, etc. Gorilla BP strategies work much better with actors than with alcoholics.

Conclusion

Most successful team strategies could probably be categorized as one of the types listed above. Keep in mind that there are virtually hundreds of variations on the methods described, and thousands of possibilities when you consider that these approaches can often be combined with each other.

As suggested earlier, it is quite possible to utilize a gorilla BP approach with a two-person blackjack team playing at the same table. This is probably the safest way to utilize this concept. But it is just as possible to utilize a couple as joint BP's in a spotter blackjack team operation. The variations are endless if you use your imagination. ♠


For an outstanding book on blackjack teams see Repeat Until Rich: A Professional Card Counter's Chronicle of the Blackjack Wars by Josh Axelrad, a player and manager on one of the most aggressive, successful and notorious blackjack teams of the past decade.

Also see Blackjack Blueprint, by Rick Blaine, a former teammate of Arnold Snyder's. For a novel about a player on a blackjack hole-card team, see Risk of Ruin, by Arnold Snyder.

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