FROM ET FAN:
The Blackjack Team DreamBy Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XVI #1, Spring 1996)
© 1996 Blackjack Forum
A blackjack team may be the only legitimate business venture where you would seek partners who are honest, trustworthy con artists. But then, that's what all successful card counters are, and that's why most card counters work alone.
Through the years, we've published a lot of information about the concept of team play at blackjack, from Marvin L. Master's proposal for a more equitable method of disbursing profits to investors and team players (Blackjack Forum, June '83), to the hilarious adventures of Keith Taft's original computer blackjack teams (Blackjack Forum, Dec '85), to our coverage of Stanford Wong's blackjack tournament team (Blackjack Forum, Mar '87).
My Sermon in the March '89 issue suggested, tongue-in-cheek, that I would soon be starting my own blackjack team bank, by collecting $1,000 each from 100 different Blackjack Forum subscribers to fund my own play. Although that Sermon was a joke, written as a warning to players to be wary of dishonest blackjack team scams, I reported in the following issue my surprise at the number of Blackjack Forum readers who contacted me with serious offers to fund my play!
Our reportage on the Hyland blackjack team trial in Windsor in the last issue of Blackjack Forum has similarly resulted in dozens of letters from readers who want to contact Tommy Hyland so they can talk with him about joining one of his teams. Sorry, gang... Tommy's got a waiting list a mile long. And the only way to get on the list is to be personally recommended by one of his current team members. Tommy only trusts con artists who are trusted by other con artists he already trusts... or something like that.
This abiding interest in blackjack team play does not surprise me, however. Anyone who starts to grasp the frightening mathematics of normal fluctuation at blackjack realizes that any solo player taking on a casino is truly an ant versus an anteater.
Ants fare better in armies. To place your hard-earned $20,000 bank against any major casino's net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars is an extremely risky proposition. Many of us can only fantasize about what it must be like to enter a casino with a seven-digit bankroll so that the results of even table limit bets are fairly inconsequential. And to be able to do this with a team of skilled blackjack players who can play more hands in a day than you alone could play in a week — this is the ultimate dream for many card counters.
A relative few — the Al Francescos, Ken Ustons, Tommy Hylands, Johnny Cs and MIT groups and various other known and unknown entrepreneurs — have managed to pull off the blackjack team venture with varying degrees of success. But there are so many factors involved in setting up and following through on a successful team operation that for most players, the concept simply remains an unfulfilled fantasy.
Factors Involved in Running a Successful Blackjack Team
First, where do you find serious investors to fund such an off-the-wall scheme?
Second, where do you find players who are (1) talented card counters, (2) trustworthy, (3) free to play and travel, possibly without compensation for many months, and (4) good enough actors to pull the whole thing off on a grand scale, under the continuous scrutiny of high-tech surveillance equipment?
Then there are the two major blackjack team problems I've heard over and over through the years, which could be loosely categorized as either "cheat" problems or "heat" problems.
The cheat problems may be real or imagined, but they are usually devastating to any blackjack team's survival or potential success. It matters little whether a player or group of players is actually ripping off the team bank, or merely suspected of ripping off the team bank; the result is the same. The remaining players get out fast to minimize the damage, and investors pull out their capital (if they can get it!). Accusations fly, once friendly relationships are ruined, and the blackjack team is dead.
The heat problems arise externally, rather than internally, but the effect can permanently mar playing careers. Once a big money team has been identified by casino game protection specialists, every player suspected of an association with that team can suddenly find himself listed in the Griffin book of undesirables, his mug shot in the midst of common cheats, criminals, con artists and thieves.
This guilt by association can plague a player for years. Some of the worst horror stories I've heard have come from players who first learned they were "in the book" while playing blackjack in a foreign country. To suddenly be detained by foreign police who threaten to arrest you if you don't give back all the money you've "stolen" from the casino can be a terrifying experience.
When confronted with your listing in the Griffin book, portraying you as an "associate of known card cheats," how do you explain to these authorities that this book — which is distributed worldwide among many major casinos — is mistaken, and that you have never cheated any casino, let alone their casino? Like most players caught in such a predicament, you will give them back their money, and often more money than you've won (if you've won!), just to get out fast without the hassle and expense of a trial, and, most likely, jail time while you await trial.
Other serious problems which have plagued many teams in the past are problems which never should occur assuming proper measures are initially taken in forming and guiding the team. These would include under-capitalization, team members who are incompetent, or who have problems with alcohol or drugs, or who have already been identified as card counters in casinos where the team plays, or who are undependable, or even compulsive gamblers.
In this issue of Blackjack Forum, we're going to focus on blackjack team play, and especially on those details which most often spell either success or failure. Despite the fact that many of the most successful players through the years have been involved in teams of one sort or another, my warnings to players about the dangers of team play still stand. The teams that succeed are exceptional.
In fact, there are so many pitfalls on the road to success that only the most dedicated, hard working, perceptive, well-financed, and extraordinarily talented teams make money. To most players, my advice would be: Don't risk it! Dreams are enjoyable, but some dreams turn into nightmares. You wouldn't be the first card counter to wake up from the team dream in a cold sweat, searching for comfort in your empty pockets. Blackjack team dreams are dreams for the brave at heart, not your run-of-the-mill honest con artists, only those who sleep with both eyes open. ♠
For the best book ever written on what it's like to manage and play on a successful blackjack team, see Repeat Until Rich by Josh Axelrad. Rick Blaine's Blackjack Blueprint also contains a useful account of Rick's experience with professional blackjack teams, both as a team manager and player.
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