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Blackjack Winning Strategy Home Study Course7 March 2006
Learning from books is a wonderful thing. I love books. I write books. And in my spare time, I spend quite a lot of time reading books.
But sometimes there's nothing like a little hands-on experience. That goes double with learning to count cards at blackjack, where books can teach you the theory, but it takes practice to apply that theory in a casino environment. You have to be able to count the cards, estimate the number of decks remaining to be played, adjust your bet size with the count --- all as fast as a casino dealer can move the game.
The MIT card counting team proved themselves adept at both theory and practice in the 1990s as they won millions from casinos. And a couple of months ago, when I spoke with team members Mike Aponte and David Irvine about an article they had written for Midwest Gaming and Travel Magazine, they were kind enough to ship me a copy of their Blackjack Winning Strategy home study course ($134.95, www.blackjackinstitute.com).
Irvine says the kit teaches the same methods used to develop card counting skills for the MIT team, and it includes everything you need to practice those skills before you take them to the casino. The theory side is covered by an hourlong DVD and an 84-page booklet that start at the very beginning --- card values and mechanics of dealing the game --- through basic strategy and on to counting the cards, estimating the remaining decks, the true count conversion, managing your money, spreading your bets, playing conditions, comps --- everything a counter needs to know.
On the practical side, the kit includes a blackjack table felt, six decks of cards, a cut card, 100 gaming chips, a basic strategy chart and a discard tray. It seems like a small thing, but that discard tray is a nice touch, for practicing the often overlooked skill of estimating how many decks have already been played, and how many remain.
One thing the course doesn't really dwell on is team play, which some players might expect since the MIT guys became famous as a team. But the foundation for the MIT team was the strength of its counters, and this is as practical a home-study method for learning to become a strong counter as I've ever seen.
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Speaking of team play, Rick "Night Train" Blaine has teams in focus through much of his new book, Blackjack Blueprint: How to Play Like a Pro … Part-Time (Huntington Press, $19.95, 351 pages, softcover).
That's only natural. Blaine's original Blackjack Blueprint published a few years ago was a 48-page booklet subtitled "How to Operate a Blackjack team," and it dealt strictly with team play. His methods are similar to those of the MIT team, and he says he applied them to win hundreds of thousands of dollars at blackjack all while serving as an executive with a Fortune 500 company.
In the expanded Huntington Press version, Blaine covers the full game, from learning basic strategy to counting cards to team play. Along the way, he covers topics beyond counting the cards --- dealing with heat and casino countermeasures, shuffle tracking, backcounting, (counting cards while standing near the table, then joining play when the count is good), Internet resources, comps, international play and more.
Blackjack Blueprint is loaded with practical advice --- but then, so are other good blackjack books. The extensive team play section, on the other hand, is groundbreaking. Blaine deals with team leadership, compensation for team members, even the personal appearance of the team's big players: "Your overall appearance should say 'money.' You're someone who has it and doesn't worry about spending it," Blaine explains before getting into specifics of grooming.
Even if you're never going to play on a blackjack team --- and most of us won't --- Blackjack Blueprint is filled with tools for developing a winning game. For those considering team play, or just interested in the nuts and bolts of an MIT-like experience, Blaine's book is a must.
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Also from Huntington Press, Play to Win: A World Champion's Guide to Winning Blackjack Tournaments ($14.95, 126 pages) by Ken Einiger addresses the little understood realm of tournament strategy.
Einiger is the 2005 World Series of Blackjack champion --- the MIT team's Aponte won in 2004 --- and he gives a full account of how he did it. Tournament strategy often veers away from basic strategy or card-counting betting strategies. In blackjack tournaments, it's not strictly player against dealer, as at regular tables. In tournament play, the player has to take account of the stage of the tournament, his own chip count and the chip counts of opponents.
Play to Win explains the different types of tournaments, how to find them and how to attack them. Books on tournament strategy are rare --- I don't think I've seen a new one since Stanford Wong's Casino Tournament Strategy in 1997. Einiger has given us a fun, informative and needed addition to the blackjack library.
Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at http://www.wbbm780.com/pages/301.php
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