Thursday, March 23, 2017

Nobody's Perfect

By Carl Van Eton

Image courtesy of Big Game Blackjack
As I have pointed out to players time and again, it doesn't matter how high of a mathematical
advantage a card counting system may purport to offer.  A multi-parameter advanced point count with a 1.5% player's edge sounds great on paper.  But if you have to perform a myriad of mental gymnastics to achieve it, what good is it going to do you.  That 1.5% advantage is based on perfect play.  I hate to break it to you, but nobody's perfect.  Even I make a mistake or two from time to time.  I'm only human.

The sad fact is if you make just 3 mistakes per hour, you are going to be playing even with the house.  Having started off with the Uston Advanced Point Count some 20 years ago, I can tell you that trying to keep up with a variety of card values, count based strategy deviations and a side count of aces will cause your brain to meltdown in a hurry.  I was never able to use the Uston APC for more than 20 minutes without producing the card counting equivalent of the China Syndrome, where my brains would start leaking out of my ears.

The solution was to switch to a simple plus minus count, which was the best bet I ever made.  I also chucked all but 3 count-based strategy deviations and deep sixed the ace side count altogether.  As a result, I can count, bet, play basic strategy and carry on a conversation for an hour with 99% accuracy.  Sure, I only achieve a 1% advantage over the house, but it is an attainable 1% edge.

image courtesy oof
You have to realize that most of the viable card counting systems devised were created by mathematicians.  What works on a chalkboard doesn't always apply in a noise-filled casino.  Add to that the fact that things like strategy deviations aren't only a distraction, they are a tipoff to the pit boss that you are counting cards and you quickly come to realize you are better off depositing these in the rubble heap.  The real secret to making money as a card counter is to follow the maxim known as KISS - Keep It Simple, Stupid.

There's More than 1 Kind of Playing Error

That being said, there are more than one kind of error that you need to be made aware.  The first and most important is the dreaded basic strategy error.  Until you master basic strategy, there is no use in learning how to count cards.  If you need to think about what to do with that pair of fours versus a dealer six, the count will sail right out of your head.  The way I train all my students is by running down basic strategy flashcards until they can successfully complete them in under a minute.  Just like learning to play a musical instrument, you need to use rote learning to memorize basic strategy.  It's only by having basic strategy hardwired into your brain that you will be able to successfully employ any card counting system.

Even once you've mastered basic strategy, you aren't out of the woods yet.  Counting cards at home is different from counting cards in a casino.  When I was first earning my stripes as a card counter, I used to drive to Atlantic City twice a week just so I could back count the tables.  I learned the hard way that it would take a couple months to gain enough confidence before I was ready to start playing for money.  (If you want to read more about my early exploits as a counter, fill out the form below to receive my free eBook entitled Winner in Training.)

Free Winner in Training eBook

Image courtesy of
Just like learning to improve your golf game, learning how to count cards proficiently takes time.  But it's time well spent, since you can start making money at blackjack a lot quicker than it takes you to make money on the golf course.  That being said, all too many card counters derail themselves before they really get started.  They either blow their bankroll the first time they sit down to play, or they get barred because they telegraph their ability to the pit boss.  My recommendation is that you ease your way into the smoke of battle, as opposed to rushing the machine gun nest.

Even once you overcome beginner mistakes, you still need to deal with two other kinds of mistakes: Seen and unseen errors.  If you make a counting mistake, it usually has to do with adding and subtracting minus totals.  If the count is hovering around zero and a bunch of big cards comes out, most card counting systems necessitate that you add minus to munus, which is the number one cause of player error.  In my Express Count I show students how to eliminate this problem.  For the rest of you, it's the cost off doing business because nobody's perfect.

Everybody, myself included makes the occasional mistake while employing a card counting system. Therefore it's a given that you will never be able to eliminate playing errors.   The trick is to minimize  your mistakes and that comes with experience.   Worst that making an occasional error is what happens when you catch yourself making one.

Image courtesy of Max Pixel Free Great Picture
I can remember playing with one of my teammates during my first year as a pro.  This particular player had the nickname of Rocketman, because he worked as a contractor for the aerospace industry. So he had no shortage of intelligence.  What I saw him do during one playing session was make a huge blunder by standing on an ace-4 versus a dealer three.  The reason I noticed it was due to the fact that he had jumped onto the table I was playing and dropped two bets of $50 neext to my two bets of $100.

"You're standing on a FIVE!" I practically shouted as the dealer moved onto the next play, giving him a 6 before turning up her hole card and making 20 instead of busting as she would have had Rocketman hit his own hand.  Even worse, he made a second playing error on the very next hand, which caused me to snatch my chips from the table and head out of the pit.  It was either that or kick the chair right out from under him.

Truth be told, the second error wasn't entirely his fault.  You see, the brain is a mysterious thing. What it tends to do is loop like a computer program run amok from time to time.  After that fateful occasion I issued a standing order which still applies to this day.  It goes something like this:

"Any time you catch yourself making an error of any kind, finish the hand, pick up your chips and beat a haty retreat from the pit.  Do NOT continue to play under any circumstances for at least five minutes!"

Take it from a playing pro who has seen it all too many times.  Catch yourself making a mistake and you are setting the stage for disaster.  Whether you beat yourself up about it mentally or not, one mistake will quickly lead to another and another..  Better to take a couple of laps around the pit to lick your wounds, or walk outside to catch a breath of fresh air than risk dropping a bundle by making even more playing errors.  I don't care if your lead spotter is signalling a plus 18, do not engage the enemy immediately after you catch yourself making a mistake.  Your bankroll will thank you.

Once you understand the importance of playing accuracy, you can start playing to win.  Then all you'll have to worry about is blowing your cover, which I will cover in my next blog.

Learn more from Carl Van Eton by going to  There you will find free videos and much more.

1 comment: