Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Good, The Bad and the Studly

By Carl Van Eton

Image courtesy of Big Game Blackjack
Of all the sports available in this world, blackjack is certainly one of the strangest. In all other sporting pursuits, be it baseball, football, golf, tennis or poker, the best players in the world not only get to bring home the bacon, their pictures are plastered on everything from magaziness to cereal boxes. Yet in blackjack, the best of the best are forced to act like spies not yet in from the cold, hiding their identities and their intentions behind numerous facades, the penetration of which would mean their swift ejection from the game. Like the cold warriors of yesterday, once identified, a card counters days are numbered.


While there are many derivations of style and form when it comes to player personae, in my opinion, there are really only three species of accomplished blackjack player. The first type I'll refer to as "The Good Card Counter." This is the guy who has read all the books and knows every strategy deviation, uses perfect Kelly criterion wagering, flawlessly performs true count conversions to the quarter deck, and keeps a side count of aces on his toes. In fact, this species of player is so good at what he does that he telegraphs his ability a mile away. In other words, he's proud of being able to play the Uston APC to within 99% tolerance, and he apparently wants everyone else in the joint to know about it as well.

The next time you wander into a casino, casually ghost the low limit tables and look for the guy or gal who is varying his or her bet from $5 to $100, or who quickly draws to a 16 versus a ten with a nickel bet, only to stand pat with a quarter on the very next hand. Another dead giveaway that you've encountered the good card counter is to observe a player whose eyes constantly shift from the cards in play to the discard rack and back again, or one who keeps shifting his feet under his chair, but only when an ace makes an appearance. Good card counters can be so obvious that many times the pitboss will throw them a curve, just to liven up an otherwise uneventful shift.

"What's the count," the pitboss will ask from out of the wings, after which the player will mutter under his breath, "Plus six."

I've even encountered situations where I was backcounting a table from the table adjacent while another counter hovered over the very same table like a vulture. When the count began to climb and I sauntered over to take a better look, the other counter seeing my approach would either:
a) practically check me into the boards in his zeal to protect the seat. 

b) or he would mistake my interest in the table for heat and would run, not walk to the nearest casino exit.

A number of professional counters/hucksters have made a pretty penny playing on this theme. They hawk their wares while bragging, "I'm so good, the casinos won't let me play any more."

All I can say about this sort of pitch is this, "If you master the same system that got the author barred, what do you suppose is going to happen to you once you use it in the casino?"

In short, there is no quicker way to wear out ones welcome than to be a good card counter who watches every card intently, never talks or smiles, never asks to get comped, looks suspiciously toward the pit boss, or scurries from one table to another like a cockroach along the woodwork. This type of player might prove technically proficient, but will soon find a dwindling number of casinos willing to take his or her action.


Seemingly the antithesis of the the good counter, the bad player is generally characterized by a lack of poise, grace and manners. This warthog of card counters more often than not can be spotted by noting any individual sporting attire that looks too motley for the average bag lady, is loud and obnoxious, and who not only misplays their hands on occasion, but loudly insists that the other people at the table play their hand the same way. 

Image courtesy of Big Game Blackjack
This subspecies of player exhibits a tendency to parlays their bets, then bang on the table to cause the dealer to bust or to force the dealer to "Paint my ace!" This is the type of player who whether winning or losing, antagonizes the other players at the table to the point that many times by the end of the shoe they wind up with the table all to themselves. In fact, the only attention this type of player does not draw seems to be from the pitboss, who is really much too busy talking to the blonde at the far side of the pit to bother coming over to deal with this bore, even when the dealer belts out "checks in play." In fact, should the pit boss glance their way, this type of player will generally snear openly at the offending manager before shouting, "What are you looking at?" or "Where's my comp?"

However, it should be kept in mind that "Bad Counters," while being obnoxious, tend to be quite successful at getting the cash off the table and into their pockets, even though they are treated like lepers by both casino patrons and employees alike. Their churlish behavior seems to act as a kind of pit boss repellant, where the more obnoxious they become, the more latitude the pit boss will accord them. This does not mean that you need to make a complete ass of yourself to successfully employ card counting in the average casino. But you could do well to take a few pointers from these bulls in the china shop: 

1) The best defense is a good offense.
2) If you're playing with large denomination chips and the pitboss looks your way, demand a comp for the best restaurant in the place.
3) Avoid transmitting the telltale giveaway signs that pitbosses the world over are taught to associate with card counters.


On the other hand, if you find yourself at the same table with a "Bad Counter," your best bet is to relocate to another table altogether. The bad player can be very unnerving to play with , their loud mouth causing even the stoniest counter to lose the count, and most importantly, a loud card counter can get you picked off at the very same table that they seem able to play with impunity.


Image courtesy of Big Game Blackjack
This last phylum of player is nothing if not colorful. Bordering on the stereotypical, the studly player wears expensive if garish attire, sports enough gold chains to moor a battleship, and comes equipped with the obligatory gum chewing blonde. The peacock of players, this type of card counter is on average so ineffective that most casinos tolerate their eccentricities without giving them a second thought. In the first place, this type of player is more concerned with dazzling the crowd than taking the casino to task. They also tend to talk nonstop, being pathological about remaining the center of attention. Their female companions while naturally being knockouts, also tend to whine incessantly which precludes the possibility of maintaining any semblance of an accurate count.

While I suppose that you could turn the persona of the studly player to your advantage by bringing along a bleached blonde who could maintain a sidecount of aces on the double deck game or, what a disguise, teach her how to count, freeing you up to banter away, while she discreetly signaled you when it was time to send in the cavalry, I've never personally given the ploy a try. I've always preferred blending in with the herd to sticking out like a sore thumb. But as they say, it's different strokes for different folks.


While it is clear that you can turn the tactics of the good, the bad and the studly players to your advantage, those of you who consider yourselves competent card counters have to decide right from the get go whether you want to play for ego gratification or if you're in it for the money. Because once you cross the line, there really is no going back.

Carl Van Eton is a professional blackjack player with more than 29 years of experience.  If you want to play better blackjack, check out his Big Game Blackjack website,

1 comment:

  1. Not sure I could ever be a good card play, but this guy seems to know what he's talking about.