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Best of John Grochowski

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Interview with a Card Counter

2 July 2005

"Paul" is an old friend of mine, and a successful card counter at blackjack.

Actually, one part of that statement is not true. His name's not really Paul, but he doesn't want to give any clues to his identity and, he says, "I don't really seem like a Ringo, do I?"

Paul and I were talking a little blackjack, and got onto the subject of player intimidation of other players. If you've played any blackjack, you know the type. They fuss and snap at other players if they see any unorthodox play. Standing on 16 when the dealer shows a 10 makes them go red in the face. Hitting 16 when the dealer shows a 6 makes them apoplectic --- and they might just leave the table if the card you draw would have busted the dealer.

As for splitting 10s ... don't even think about splitting 10s.

"I love those players," said Paul.

I wondered why. Blackjack's thought police make the world a more uncomfortable place for everyone. Yes, most players would be better off if they followed basic strategy to the letter, but when it comes down to it, the person betting has the right to make his or her own play, and his or her own mistakes.

"Of course they do," said Paul. "But the blackjack police think other players mistakes' mess up the deck somehow, that if someone hits 16 against 6, it's going to cost everyone else money. It does sometimes, of course, but just as often, it's going to help the other players. When someone hits that 16, there's no way of knowing whether the next card is going to be a high card that would have busted the dealer, or a low card that would have made the dealer's hand. We don't even know until the hand is over if the dealer has a high card face down."

Exactly. Sometimes it helps you when another player strays from basic strategy, sometimes it hurts you.

"And there's no way to tell which it's going to be until it's happened. In the long run it evens out. Bad players have no overall effect on your results. It's best just to ignore them and play your own game."

Agreed. So why, I still wanted to know, does Paul love those players who get mad and carry on, intimidating players over plays that ultimately don't matter to anyone but the player who makes them.

"Because I can manipulate them so easily," he said.

Manipulate them? In what way?

"Well, as a card counter, I have a mathematical edge, right? So when I play, I want to get in as many hands per hour as I can."

Understood. Just as the house wants to get in as many hands per hour against most players. Whoever has the mathematical edge on the game wants more chances for that edge to work in their favor, more chances to make money.

"Right. My problem is that I'm not a big money guy. Oh, I have a pretty good gambling bankroll set aside, enough to spread my bets from $10 to $100 a hand. That means I have to play at a $10 table, and those tables get plenty of action. It's not very often that I'm going to get to play head-to-head with the dealer. More players at the table means fewer hands per hour."

OK, but where does manipulating the blackjack strategy cops come in?

"Given that I'm not going to play heads-up with the dealer, the next best situation is for me to play with more players in bad counts, and fewer players with good counts. The full table gets me through the bad counts faster, then in good counts, if a player or three leaves the table at just the right time, I can get in extra hands while I have an edge."

And that's where you start manipulating.

"It doesn't take much with some guys. If someone's been riding people on their strategy and I stand on 16 vs. 10, maybe it's enough to make him change tables. Maybe not. Heck, that's a pretty low-cost mistake. Sometimes I'll do that consistently just for cover, so the pit doesn't think I'm counting. If it gets rid of another player, that's a bonus.

"But you know what the real big one is? Splitting 10s. I trot that one out in the really high counts. If the count is good enough, that's even the right play. If the dealer shows a 6, splitting 10s is the right play with a Hi-Lo true count of plus-4 (meaning four more low cards than high cards per deck have been played, leaving a higher concentration of high cards). But from the reactions of the other players, you know THEY don't think it's the right play."

And that loosens up the table.

"Not always. Sometimes it just gets me a lecture. But sometimes it works like a charm. The best was the time that the true count had gone to plus-7 on a six-deck game. I had a big positive situation in front of me, but it was a full table. I split my 10s, and the others left. All six of them.

"That was sweet."

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski