...The ULTIMATE Blackjack Advice Blog...
Mystic Ridge Books proudly presents:
Is Your Hand A Loser?
One of the most powerful options a player can have is surrender. Not offered everywhere, I've been astonished, on my East Coast book tour this year (and last) to find out how few players know: a) where to find casinos who offer this; and b) how and when to use it.
That's not the topic of this blog, though. The point is, you surrender when you have a hand that's a big loser. This can be multiplied in effect if you have a larger than average bet on the table (as I've explained to you before - see my Archived columns, for instance, if you're a New Books Club member).
A quick tip, for hands totaling 10 points or less: your hand, in drawing to a 17 or better, your hand will fare no better or worse than the dealer's up card of that point total.
So, for example, if your hand totals 7 points, it will fare no better or worse than the dealer's 7. So if you're up against the dealer's 10, your 7 will lose more than not. See Cutting Edge Blackjack for all the dealer up card stats - unique to my research findings.
Let's Shut Our Minds Down And Be Happy
“Any scientist needs to be open-minded and open to new evidence.”
Imagine if astronomers closed the books on new information after the 1950s and 1960s. Imagine they did so because they thought they had the “perfect” or “correct” take on everything.
If they had, we'd know nothing of gamma ray bursts, pulsars, black holes, planets in other solar systems, neutrinos, and so much more.
Yet this is exactly what the old school blackjack mathematicians and computer scientists have done. They continue to write about theories from the 1950s and ‘60s I and others long ago proved were false. Yet they closed their minds decades ago.
This has led to some really ridiculous claims. A recent column, for instance, posits that you have a .05 disadvantage against the house (FYI: because the old school methods are so ineffective), so it's better to play multiple betting spots because doing so slows the game down (reducing the number of rounds the dealer can deal per hour) and therefore (in playing less blackjack) you'll lose less per hour .
My brain does somersaults trying to wrap itself around that insanity!
And many old schoolers tell you to “assume the hole card is a 10.” But less than 31% of the deck (16 of 52 cards) are 10s! The hole card is more than more than twice as likely NOT to be a 10!
How have so many smart mathematicians come up on the wrong side of that equation?
They also tell you to sit back and “let the dealer bust” when even the dealer's weakest up card, the 4, attains a good score 57% of the time – most of the time. (This baloney is one reason why so many players become bitter, accusing casinos of cheating because the dealer's low up cards didn't bust all of the time as they were led to believe.)
The old schoolers tell you their “basic strategy” is “perfect” or “correct” yet even MIT's Edward Thorp in 1962 admitted it produced only a “ 0.12” advantage (which means it produced more losing rounds than winning) – and that was back when the game was a single deck game, dealt to the bottom. By 1980, with casino blackjack no longer a rosy one-deck game dealt to the bottom, IBM's Julian Braun (whose research was used by the Thorp and many other old schoolers), working with Lance Humble (psychology professor Igor Kusyszyn) and Carl Cooper on the The World's Greatest Blackjack Book , wrote that basic strategy was actually a losing strategy. (Well, you had to read between the lines. They said you will almost break even following it.)
So the old schoolers know their one-size-fits-all basic strategy method is not effective – or even a winning system. But they continue to tell you it's “perfect” and “correct.” Go figure!
Basic strategy was born of an obscure mathematical treatise written in 1953 which Thorp read and developed into his book Beat The Dealer , with the aid of Braun. Since then, all old school writers have followed the exact same dual formula, recommending simplistic and highly ineffective 1960s-era basic strategy and card counting methods. They have shut their minds, unwilling to consider new evidence or explore new territory.
And let's explore the claim (in that old school column mentioned above) that you have a .05 percent disadvantage when playing blackjack. Anyone should recognize this claim as wrong, on the face of it.
Many factors affect and change your likelihood of winning at blackjack, including: the card strategies you use, the betting strategies you use, varying game rules and restrictions at each casino (the availability of surrender, for instance, greatly increases your odds of winning), the shuffling techniques used, the amount of penetration you get, the number of players at the table (which I've proven affects the dealer's busting rate and your likelihood of winning), the number of cards on the table by your turn (with more players you see more cards and get a more accurate read on the dealer's outcome), your seat at the table (the third baseman sees the most cards and therefore gets the most accurate read on the dealer's likely outcome), the mix of the cards (determined by the initial shuffling), the flow of cards to each betting spot (which I've proven tend to repeat in large part, due to standardized casino shuffling), the number of decks in play (even the old school books talk about this) , your relative playing skill - even how players cut the cards (which influences whether good or bad cards are brought into play), etc.
So how can any intelligent writer claim players have a set disadvantage no matter what? Yet this kind of nonsense is epidemic to the old school blackjack crowd. (Their failure to recognize there can be a correct, state-of-the-art way to beat the game – with winning strategies solidly giving players the edge – is also mind-boggling.)
Isn't it time to let the light of truth shine upon the blackjack world and celebrate new knowledge, even if that means we need to shuck the theories of the past?!
Seeing The Trees For The Forest
I'm glad that some of the old school blackjack columnists are finally letting you know that the dealer's lower up cards reach scores more than they bust and attain higher scores more than the dealer's higher up cards. I believe my books were the first to point that out and Cutting Edge Blackjack was the first that I am aware of that presented complete score profiles for each of the dealer up cards.
But the Old Schoolers are still missing the point. It's not smart to make card moves based upon how the dealer up cards, in a vacuum, behave over the course of millions of rounds. We need to determine exactly what the card imbalance at hand tells us about our likely chances, based upon our hand and the mix of undealt cards, against the dealer's likely outcome, based upon the dealer's likely hole and hit cards.
Every analogy has its drawbacks, but here's one that comes close to explaining why the simplistic statistical approach behind the Old School's basic strategy and card counting methods is hopelessly inaccurate and ineffective.
Let's say that instead of dividing millions of rounds of pretend (computer simulated) blackjack rounds by what dealer up card is showing and coming up with an average busting rate for each in order to devise a simple card strategy , we do a climate analysis of our nation, dividing millions of recorded temperatures in each locality over the course of recorded history by what season it is in order and come up with an average temperature for each season to devise how to dress . How well would that work?
I can't say, but I imagine that our nation's winter season average daily temperature would be quite low. So – using the Old School logic - we'd then tell everyone in the U.S. to wear warm outerwear, such as down-filled parkas, in January.
I ask you: How well would that work in Texas ? Florida ? Arizona ? California ?
Is a simplistic statistical survey covering disparate situations really the way to go when it comes to making intelligent decisions? Someone please tell me when that's appropriate. It certainly isn't the right way to go in devising the correct card strategy when we can instead intelligently analyze what cards were dealt so far (in any given shuffle period) and figure out the specific probabilities that relate to our hand and the dealer's hand in the moment at hand. In other words, we want to shoot for pinpoint precision rather than the law of averages, which does not suit the moment.
A smart state-of-the-art player with a 10-point hand would make a different card move for instance in situations where all the Aces had already been dealt (or more than normal) and/or most of the 10s versus situations when no Aces (or few Aces relatively speaking) and/or few 10s had been dealt . In the former scenario, you'd not likely want to double down (unless you ascertained that the dealer was highly likely to bust). Yet in the latter scenario, you would likely want to double down (unless you ascertained the dealer was likely to outscore you).
The point is the math behind the Old School methods is not genius. It's simplistic and inaccurate, and therefore ineffective.
And while I was the first (I believe) to give you the global numbers for how each of the dealer up cards behaves over time (regarding the scores they tend to attain and how often they bust) in Cutting Edge Blackjack , I also then zoomed in with your card analysis microscope so you could go beyond the global picture to see how the cards actually behave within one round. And the possible varying card situations are virtually endless, as I've shown you before, making the Old School one-size-fits-all approach ridiculous.
Unlike what the Old School writers will tell you, my research has proven that the dealer up cards have a wide range of a busting rates. They cannot be said to be predictable in the short term – which is the time span in which you play. You are not betting on the results of millions of rounds. Your money's riding on your ability to figure out what's going on in one particular round. And the odds are very different when looking at things from those two perspectives.
The only valid player perspective is to be in the round .
Another difference between my state-of-the-art methods and the Old Schoolers' is that while they've come along kicking and screaming into the future, by inches, they still miss the point: Now some are acknowledging what I've been telling you for more than a decade. The dealer's lower up cards achieve scores a majority of the time. Therefore you will lose more than not standing on stiffs (12-16 point hands) .
So why are they still telling you to stand on your stiffs versus those cards and “let the dealer bust”?
A state-of-the-art player, wanting to win a maximum number of rounds, understands the equation thusly: You need to learn to determine when the dealer's low up cards will not bust (by using my methods) so you know when you have to hit your stiffs or lose.
And that's just scratching the surface of how to play a more precise game. The Old School can't see the trees for the forest.
Yeah, No Dealers Cheat
I have to laugh. Years ago, I was lauded on a Las Vegas radio show for my strategy innovations. Then, the radio host stopped speaking to me. Before he did so, he told me by phone: "I wish you hadn't included that chapter [in Blackjack The Smart Way] on casino cheating." Someone in the casino industry had told him to stop supporting me. So strange, because every good book on blackjack discusses cheating the author has witnessed. And a casino consultant, Bill Zender, even wrote a book about it: "How To Detect Casino Cheating At Blackjack." Well, guess what? Another story in the news today: "8 Charged in San Diego in casino card scam." Seems the eight were bribing dealers to rig blackjack games, by doing false shuffles and delivering winning hands. More than 30 others, in fact, have already pleaded guilty in the same ring. The ring ripped off casinos in Nevada, California, Connecticut, Mississippi, Canada and elsewhere. But the important thing to remember is: when dealers help their compatriots win through cheating, they have to cheat the other players at the table to hide the money they're feeding to their gang (otherwise the casino bosses would notice a huge outflow of money that would tip them off to the scheme). That's why my chapter on casino and dealer cheating is so important: you'll be victimized by dealers such as those who were in this ring if you don't know what to look out for.
I normally write advice for players but this commentary is kind of for the casino industry. It helps no one that the Golden Goose, the once seemingly endless demand for more casinos and casino games, is on morphine drip. But the evidence is everywhere.
As I pointed out on my New Books Club blog, the economic news is bleak. Vegas' casinos' revenues are down about 15% compared to last year (which was also dismal). Atlantic City revenues were down more than 16% in August (and that's supposed to be a peak month). Foxwoods is reeling under the weight of a debt that exceeds $2 billion.
Yet I saw all of this coming years ago. The seeds were sown in the heady arrogance that came with the seemingly endless plenty being enjoyed by the casino industry. In other words, the current casino malaise was caused largely by the casinos themselves. It's not so much the nation's economic downturn. (And you won't read about this angle of the story anywhere else. Correct me if I'm wrong.)
Did no one witness the cynical way many casinos tried to lure customers into playing blackjack knowing they did not have the slightest clue as to how to play?
"C'mon," I heard a dealer cajole a passerby recently, "if you can count to 21 you can play blackjack." (And if I've heard that bull---- line once, I've heard it a thousand times.)
But he and the bosses who told him to bark that pitch line knew better.
So did the casino types who've had their dealers or pit bosses give so-called lessons to the uninitiated, lessons that offer little in the way of true training but much in the way of false hope. I witnessed one of my girlfriends take such a lesson at the Luxor on the Strip.
Thinking she's actually gotten enough info to play, she asked me for $200 and lost it all within 10 minutes. She never played blackjack again. Did the casino industry notice they turned my girlfriend off to blackjack by that cynical ruse? Did it care?
Did the Luxor make so much money by that small victory that it was worth it to trick my girlfriend into losing that money, the downside being the resulting bitterness would then cost the Luxor her business for a lifetime? Or did they win the battle but lose the war?
The casino industry's placing of shills on TV shows, pretend experts luring unsuspecting players to the table with incomplete and faulty strategies with the promise of easy gains has also backfired on them. Today, as evidenced by jokes I've heard Leno and Letterman tell about Vegas (as the symbol for all casinos) and the disparaging comments President Obama has made about Vegas vacations, it's clear the casinos have earned themselves a bad rep. Many Americans now believe you cannot win. That the games are all rigged. Not a true assessment, but I can see why this player cynicism has set in.
I'm sure if the casino industry looks at itself hard in the mirror, it will recognize it's not been as nice as it should have been to its customers. Especially winners. And why are we, winners, important? Without us, of course everyone will think blackjack is unwinnable.
So when you treat us like criminals with your attitudes and countermeasures, pushing us away from your tables when we're winning, we're not there to show the others that yes, this is a good game.
And when you promote stupid Old School card strategies and your customers lose following your advice, can't you understand their bitterness? I can't tell you how many emails I've gotten from players who tell me stories of times they felt they were cheated at a casino. And they were obviously suspicious of the casino's honesty from the get-go. Yet most times I am able to determine they were not, in fact, cheated. These were players who learned the casino-supported Old School blackjack machine's claptrap and they simply didn't know how to play the game. So when the dealer showed a 4, 5 or 6, they got mad when the dealer didn't bust. They were taught by a casino or Old School blackjack machine writer they should "let the dealer bust" in those circumstances, as if that happens all the time. In other words, another case of how selling disinformation and false hopes has backfired.
The casino industry has also often made the game harder to beat and therefore less desirable. Look at Atlantic City and Foxwoods. I've heard a lot of griping about the multideck games by East Coast players, about how daunting they are. And that's discouraged a lot of players from playing. But even as those casinos head toward bankruptcy, do you think there's one smart mind suggesting they bring in better games to attract more players? Not yet.
I've heard of players recently barred in mid-stream from blackjack tournaments. Blackjack payouts at many casinos have been reduced from 3-to-2 to 6-to-5.
Can the casino industry honestly argue it's been player-friendly? And I can go on from here. The problems are numerous and it'll take a new attitude and a bold fresh initiative to turn things around. Many players and potential players just won't come back. The important thing for the casinos to understand is that maintaining the status quo won't work.
And they've hurt their poker business, too, by the way, by placing pretend players ("prop players") at the tables, lousing up the fairness of the game. This has sent many of us looking for outside games. Honestly. Can anyone defend that practice? That's just pure greed, straight up. But I'm not complaining. I can find outside games. I'm just saying this kind of cynical casino practice has come back to bite them where it hurts.
Hopefully more far-sighted casino owners will realize what I'm saying is true and take drastic and positive steps to improve not just their image but, more importantly, their relationship with players. And they need to improve the blackjack offerings they're presenting. (With increased casino competition overfishing the well, the days of competing with stodgy and player-unfriendly games are through.) Nothing short of such an overhaul will undo the damage done by years of disresepcting players and the game itself. It remains to be seen if the current casino crowd is up to this challenge.
Now I'm just the messenger. I frankly don't care if the casino industry agrees with me. They can ignore me at their own peril. I'm an experienced expert player, I've been in the trenches and I have a valid point of view. But since they look down on players, I don't expect them to respect me any more than the rest. But they desperately need to do a comprehensive and brutally honest player survey and stop blaming the economy for their revenue woes. They'll see I'm right. And if they help themselves by making things better, it could be a win-win situation for all concerned.
The Legend And The Truth
I was playing blackjack at the Mohegan Sun recently (not one of my favorite casinos, by the way; not terrible but it's not got the best games nor do I see it as being as player friendly as it could be) and someone playing next to me made the comment that he'd heard that the MIT teams had taken "millions" from this casino. (I can't prove it, but I suspected he was a casino employee.)
If the story is true, hooray for them. But something about that claim struck me as wrong. Why do I care? Because of the possible motivations for spreading a myth like this, a likely falsehood and the misdirection it might produce among players. If it's disinformation, let's out it.
First of all, the MIT teams, according to what I've read and heard, were no longer active when the Mohegan Sun opened, on October 12th, 1996. Second, this was the first time I'd heard this rumor. If true, it would have been circulating from the get-go. The player buzz would have been immediate and enormous. Third, no book or TV documentary has mentioned the teams having visited the Mohegan Sun. And finally, according to what I've been able to gather (and discerning the truth has been a difficult task, especially given the Boston Globe expose on April 6, 2008, an article entitled "House Of Cards," revealing that Ben Mezrich heavily padded his book Bringing Down The House and movie 21 with fiction), the teams didn't take millions from any one casino. Nor did anyone apparently get rich or why would they not be playing blackjack anymore? I've talked about this before. (See past blogs below.)
All of this is important for one reason. Not to deny the MIT'ers their due - whatever that is (because we've not yet been given the untarnished truth). But players have a right to know the truth.
Could it be that the casino itself wants everyone to believe they were "hit" by the MIT teams, to: a) make the casino seem desirable (at a time when its business is down); and b) give the casino a legendary status it does not apparently deserve?
Could it also be the casino wants players to emulate the MIT teams? Did the MIT gang not, after all, use the pitiful Hi-Lo card counting scheme from 1963, which Jeffrey Ma (under a pseudonym in Bringing Down The House, Kevin something) complained was so inefficient it forced the team he was on to bring exhorbitant amounts of cash to the table ($150K each) in order to hope to win?! (The Hi-Lo promised a paltry 2% "advantage," according to the book.) Would it not benefit the casino industry if all players were enouraged to use that faulty system (which produces more losing rounds than winning rounds) instead of the more effective state-of-the art methods available today, including mine?!
Just a few questions to ponder. The truth will out.
Spread The Word
I received a nice Facebook message from a Las Vegas blackjack player who said, "...thank you for the knowledge that I've received out of your books. All of your Idea's are very fresh and informative about blackjack. It's through books like yours that's made me the success that I am today. Thanks again, one of your many followers."
I mention that not just to relate the fact, once again, that many have used my methods with great success. I also want to discuss my reply which was, in part: "(Spread the word!)"
Now why would I mention that here? It dawned on me after writing it that this is exactly what everyone needs to do.
In the past I've counseled everyone to remain anonymous. But given the current environment in which an old school blackjack machine (with casino support) peddles antiquated and faulty methods while banishing all new ideas from its media portals, I think it's time for players in the know to spread the word. Tell all blackjack players you encounter, friend or stranger, about their need to know the truth; that the old school methods of basic strategy and card counting are based upon old theories born of research done with the wrong data (computer simulations) and strategies hastily thrown together that, even by the old schoolers' own admissions, never did perform well. (Hence Thorp's admission in 1962 that his basic strategy, at most, offered about a "0.12 per cent" so-called "advantage" or edge. This, in the day when the game was exclusively a single deck game dealt to the bottom.)
Why do we want to spread the word? The dissemination of knowledge. But also to calm down the misinformed players who sometimes explode at the table when they see advantage player moves they don't understand. You have something at stake here.
Not that we care what they think. That's not the point. But their wrongheaded explosions make it hard for us to remain anonymous and avoid getting barred. So doing a little in the way of education can go a long way in helping create a better playing environment at the table.
You Need To Rethink Everything
In conducting my numerous blackjack and other card-related research over the course of more than 10 years, I decided to question everything that had been concluded by the old school researchers before me. The old school systems' admitted low efficiency rates (to put it kindly) and low performance in my own computer tests make me realize they'd done something wrong. (I've detailed all the many ways they went wrong in Cutting Edge Blackjack. In fact, I've added significant startling new revelations about glaring old school system flaws in the new Third Edition.)
One result of their failing to use the proper kind of data in their research (they used faulty computer simulations rather than taking the time to collect real blackjack data) is they could not detect card-related phenomenon. For instance, they could not (by using random data) observe the empirical evidence that reveals true phenomenona create what card players might call bad cards, or even bad betting spots.
Once you understand that these are real phenomena, it should dawn on you that part of your job is to find good cards, and good betting spots. This is especially crucial for basic strategy players, who cannot win if the cards are bad. My research has proven this. And bad betting spots can, due to repeating phenomena I identified, stay bad virtually forever.
Given these truths, you should also realize that the old school books who claim their methods can regularly and predictably produce a profit per each hour of play (that amount specified in those books) are totally wrong. This not only ignores the inefficiences of their methods - it also ignores the influence the quality of the cards and/or the betting spot has on a player's likelihood of winning.
But of course those books' authors wouldn't know anything about these issues, having relied upon research based upon random computer models.
In determining your true odds or likelihood of winning at blackjack in any given situation, you must know how to read the cards (using methods and indicators I've developed through years of R&D work, for instance) to uncover how the card imbalances of the moment (based upon what cards have been dealt) affect the wisdom of your move (and the dealer's likely result). It sounds complicated but it's not.
So why are the old schoolers asking you to put blinders on and accept less accurate results? And why do they then claim they have the "perfect" or "correct" solution to every card situation?
It's always instructive to read between the lines. For instance, one fellow who makes money running a gaming web site purports to be a "wizard" at blackjack odds. He calls himself the Wizard of Odds, in fact.
Yet he makes this admission, missed my most readers I'm sure: "The most important thing to know about blackjack is the basic strategy. This strategy is simply the best way to play every possible situation, without any knowledge of the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck." [My italics.]
Without any knowledge of the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck? (First of all, "the deck" is a misnomer since few players can find single deck games.)
In other words, he's saying his is the best information assuming you keep your eyes closed when the cards are dealt and don't form intelligent conclusions (as any player can - and should - using my system, or any good system). Say what?
C'mon! So why pretend this way of playing in the dark is the "best way to play every possible situation"? That's utter bull. Plus - as I've proven, no old schooler can ever claim to have investigated every card situation (there are, for instance, 2 times 10 to the 63rd power ways simply to deal 44 of 52 cards). Nor do they even attempt to do so. They offer a one-size-fits-all solution that only considers the dealer's up card and your first two cards.
Their basic strategy, therefore, is akin to the student who, having been told that half the answers to a true/false multiple choice test are true and half false, chooses to answer "true" to 100% of the questions knowing that will give him a grade of 50%. The student would do far better using his mind to correctly answer the questions but chooses not to. That's essentially what you're doing when you play according to the old school basic strategy methods such as the wizard of odds recommends. (In fact the percentage of winning rounds that produces is LESS than 50%!)
Do your homework. Read the fine print and then ask yourself: "How can the old school methods dare claim they're the 'best'?" And: "Would I really be happy with results this poor?"
Blackjack's Banking Connection
I received this comment in an email from a dear friend last week (we'd been discussing the many years of blackjack research I'd done:
"...your mathematical models sound as though they could be very similar to the modelling we do to determine expected returns of various asset classes, figure out the impact over various 20 yr segments of the markets of differing cash payouts (to help clients see the impact that their spending rate has on the ability of their portfolios to grow, regardless of asset allocation). We use mathematical models all the time..."
I've always said that state-of-the-art blackjack has similarities to Wall Street investing but I'd not seen the banking similarities until she revealed them.
Once again: Smart blackjack is all about the math and science. It has nothing to do with gambling.
The Truth About The MIT Teams
Ben Mezrich, author of Bringing Down The House, was extremely successful at lionizing the MIT teams of the early 1990s. They became demi-gods, capable of raking in millions even as they applied their genius to the game in the face of danger and intrigue.
Trouble is, Mezrich was too enthusiastic in his purpose and too lax in his treatment of the truth. I pointed this out to you a long time ago. But the media has caught on so you don't have to take my word for it. Of course, in today's America, the truth doesn't seem to matter. So Mezrich continues on with an enviable book and movie career, notwithstanding his perpetrating hoaxes - books sold as nonfiction that now appear to be liberally loaded with fiction.
Why does this matter to me? These guys were quickly installed in the Blackjack Hall of Fame yet we can't separate fact from fiction. Were their accomplishments really that worthy? (The Hall of Fame might not be so concerned. They're solidly behind inductees that keep the myth alive that faulty, ineffective and antiquated Old School methods like basic strategy and card counting actually work, when they don't.)
Today's Wall Street Journal's Op Ed piece by San Francisco freelance journalist Paul Boutin, however, shows that at least some blackjack outsiders - those who have nothing invested in selling the Old School books - are upset and perhaps even appalled by the lack of veracity in the MIT teams' tale's telling.
Boutin writes: "Ben Mezrich has a problem and he has no one to blame but himself...(A) common thread in Mr. Mezrich's writing is his unapologetic use of fiction techniques in what is presented as nonfiction. He takes a real-life tale like that of the MIT blackjack team and jazzes it up with narrative embellishments and imagined scenes. In his version of the story, the MIT kids enlist strippers to cash-out chips, and one of the geeks gets an old-school beating - colorful details that, as post-publication media reports showed, had been conjured by the author. Aware that one of the card-counters was robbed of $20,000, Mr. Mezrich cranks up the amount to $75,000. So Mr. Mezrich made stuff up."
The Boston Globe echoed that line last year (in April 2008), in a piece entitled "House of Cards." Globe reporter Drake Bennett wrote: "Bringing Down The House is not a work of "nonfiction" in any meaningful sense of the word. Instead of describing events as they happened, Mezrich appears to have worked more as a collage artist, drawing some facts from interviews, inventing certain others, and then recombining these into novel scenes that didn't happen and characters who never lived. The result is a crowd-pleasing story, eagerly marketed by his publishers as true - but which several of the students who participated say is embellished beyond recognition."
And then Bennett quoted John Chang, one of the MIT players as saying: "I don't even know if you want to call the things in there exaggerations, because they're so exaggerated they're basically untrue."
Mezrich offers a lame defense: "Every word on the page isn't supposed to be fact-checkable." Really?
Author Gay Talese, however, commented that Mezrich's liberal injection of falsehood into the mix was "unacceptable, dishonest and I have little or no respect for people who do it."
Semyon Dukach, one of the MIT players (and a former team leader), who was made out to be a hero in Mezrich's second blackjack book, Busting Vegas, had a a different take on it.
"I actually don't have a problem with Ben bending the truth," he said.
Fortunately, that contrasts with the attitude, it seems, of most of his fellow team players who were interviewed by the Globe, who seemed as appalled by the deception as I am. They were honest enough to come out and set things straight.
The true story of the MIT teams was apparently neither as exciting or as profitable as the Mezrich-inspired legend made them out to be. And how could it be, when they were reportedly using the Hi-Lo card counting system of 1963, a system so ineffective the MIT players felt they each needed to bring $150,000 to the table in order to attempt to profit from it?!
Yet my concern is that those who are unaware of all of this will go out and risk their money on this method not knowing the rocky road they are in for.
Blackjack As A Nontraditional Job
With the current Recession raging, some have suggested that perhaps I should promote blackjack as a means to make money.
And why not? The event that launched my blackjack career was the loss of a job. So there's nothing wrong with that concept. In fact, for some, it's a great idea.
The late Lawrence Revere (pen name of Griffith K. Owens), author of Playing Blackjack As A Business , was perhaps the first one to suggest, at least in his book's title, that players consider pursuing blackjack as a profession. Not that the rest of us haven't thought of that angle but, speaking for myself, I've always shied away from it. (FYI: The title notwithstanding, Revere 's book was primarily about card strategies.)
Now a player could take what he or she learns from Blackjack The Smart Way and Cutting Edge Blackjack and then go out and earn a living – IF he or she masters the techniques before going to the casino. And IF she or he has the talent, intelligence and temperament to be a good card player.
That being said, it doesn't take a genius to have the right stuff to be a professional card player. But, like any other profession, it takes dedication. And like poker, Bridge, skiing, baseball, golf - you name it - each of us comes to the game with varying degrees of intelligence and talent. That you cannot manufacture.
It's true that blackjack as a profession has a lot to offer. Blackjack gives you the kind of freedom few other “jobs” give you. The hours are yours to make. You don't have to even play every day. You can make a living in 20 or fewer weeks out of 52 each year if you're good enough.
So why don't my books take this angle, suggesting they're paths to a great career? Because of the wide variety of players who read my books and their varying: talent levels; psychological make-ups; devotion to learning a subject (seriousness of purpose); intelligence; budgets, and so on.
Some people, for instance, should never consider playing games for money. Obsessive compulsives, for instance. One Las Vegas radio host on whose show I've appeared several times admitted he was one.
“I didn't know when to stop, man.” he confessed. “I'd play until midnight and then go to bed. But I'd wake up at 2 a.m. and go out again to play until dawn. And then I'd have lunch and go right back to the tables. I lost everything.”
Well, for sure. If you play nonstop, you will lose everything. Winning streaks only last so long.
And there are players who don't take the game seriously enough. They don't take the time necessary to master the game and they go off half-cocked.
I'm unusual in that I'm very disciplined. (And that's a trait necessary to the blackjack professional.) I know enough to get up and leave after 15-20 minutes if I observe a winning streak come to an end or I've determined the playing conditions are bad. I don't know many others with that kind of discipline. I also keep detailed notes on my blackjack experiences to fine tune my game, as I recommend in my books and seminars. How many do that?
That being said, yes, the skills and knowledge you gain from Blackjack The Smart Way and Cutting Edge Blackjack are exactly what you'd need to make a living at blackjack. You'd need little else.
But you need to be cut out for the profession. Can you handle the freedom? Many people need the discipline a 9-to-5 job imposes on them. They're not self-motivated and would easily grow lazy or discouraged by the unstructured life of a blackjack pro.
And here's another measure I haven't discussed: You cannot be a pro if you don't love the game. Those who're just out for the money will not succeed. Like anything else, you have to love the game for itself. That creates the passion you need to become a great player. Without that, forget it. And you have to be analytical and observant. A good memory helps, too.
Playing blackjack is an active process. Do you enjoy brain teasers, engaging the brain? The ride is thrilling but you must be into the process. It's not like dominoes or solitaire where your brain can fall to sleep.
(Many readers who write me often cannot remember details of their experiences, for instance. This means they're not paying enough attention to playing circumstances to figure things out. They say great poker players can remember every hand they've played. While this is not necessary for blackjack, you do need to be “in the game.”)
That being said, if you measure up to all the above, go for it! It's certainly been good for me.
Why The Old School Methods Fail
I've talked about many reasons why the methods that predate mine went wrong, but let's look at several more today. (It's amazing just how many mistakes the Old School researchers made. The more you look, the more you find. But don't forget; most of them were mathematicians and computer people who really were not all that interested in the game. To them it was an exercise to impress others with their computer skills.)
I'll never forget the time someone, obviously an Old School writer or web site owner, came to a packed book event at which I'd discussed why it was foolish and lazy of the Old School researchers NOT to have used authentic casino-style data, produced, that is, by the exacting shuffling, dealing and collecting methods done at all casinos. (They instead chose the easy way out and used computer "simulations" - phony blackjack rounds that have little to do with reality.) He sidled up to me afterward and, hoping no one overhead him, he asked: "So if you do your research with computer simulations, all you'd miss was shuffle tracking, right?"
"Wrong," I replied (I'm paraphrasing here; I forget my exact wording). "Your data would be hopelessly wrong, full of artifacts and lacking any real import. You couldn't learn anything about card behavior, repeating phenomena or other predictable elements of the game, intelligent betting strategies, winning and losing streaks and so on."
He left dejected. But I doubt he did the right thing. I bet he used his easy-to-produce yet totally wrong data to sell to some unsuspecting players.
I mean, no wonder the Old Schoolers deny the existence of winning streaks (or as I prefer to call them, winning cycles; a streak implies consecutive wins). How can you investigate that phenomenon (of which all real players are aware) if you're using data produced by a computer's RANDOM number generator? You can't. So they shouldn't even pretend to understand certain aspects of the game of which they cannot possibly be aware.
Look, for instance, at just one of the gazillion winning cycles I identified and analyzed in my mammoth, card-driven multi-year studies into card behavior, shuffling, winning and losing streaks and blackjack in general:
Note how many rounds this winning cycle went on for. I don't identify it here, but this carried on through many tens of shuffles. And my analysis turned up the reasons behind this undeniably real event: repeating cards delivered to this betting spot, from shuffle to shuffle, most of which were 9s, 10s and Aces.
Repeating phenomena are introduced and detailed in Cutting Edge Blackjack (the newest, completely rewritten and expanded Edition of which, the Third Edition, is due out in bookstores by May).
(In fact, I've discovered that 70% of all player wins occur in consecutive wins situations. And casinos are aware of all of this. Why else do you think they replace "hot" cards with new ones when players are on a "sizz" - the casino bosses' term for a winning streak?)
But let's talk about two other major elements lacking in the Old Schooler's lazy approach to research and the creation of a proper game strategy (which I believe was almost an afterthought on their part):
They did not test for nor take into account multiplayer situations and betting variations. And, therefore, their methods fail in those situations.
Don't take my word for it. Just read the fine print.
The World's Greatest Blackjack Book (1980), for instance, admitted this for those who read carefully enough. Written with the aid of computer simulations and strategy theories by Julian Braun of IBM (whose research fueled Edward Thorp's Beat The Dealer and decades worth of others' books), it said this about their failure to take into account multi-player tables (the situations in which players, wisely, play the most):
"Head-on play was chosen to make the one-to-one systems comparisons more valid (extra players complicate the comparison)."
And elsewhere came this admission:
"This is somewhat useful when you are playing at a table with three or more players."
Yeah? Well guess what? If your research did not produce methods that work for multi-player situations, then your methods cannot HOPE to be "valid." And, yes, "extra players" make formulating game strategies harder, but you cannot therefore ignore these most common situations because it requires more work on the part of the researcher!
And the book made this little admission about Julian Braun's (and their) failure to investigate how betting variations impact player decisions:
"In practice, a player's bets would increase gradually, but this is impractical to program and would create distortions in the comparisons."
Well, if that doesn't prove the drawbacks of attempting to do blackjack research with computer simulations, I don't know what does. If it's "impractical" to program in common player factors that greatly affect a player's outcome, then: a) research should not be done with computer simulations; and b) the Old Schoolers should admit they failed in their attempt to come up with a valid approach to the game.
Because bet variations are the name of the game. No one places the same bet every time.
And my studies prove that bet variations affect the mathematical logic that leads to the wisdom of making any card move.
I don't mean to pick on the one book I quoted above. The data used by that book formed the basis for ALL Old School methods - so its admissions apply to ALL Old School books and columns and completely shred their credibility.
I'll just let you re-read the above and really take in how earth-shattering these revelations are for the Old School crowd. It totally invalidates their theories and methods.
Never Say Always
They say, “Never say never!” But in blackjack you should never say always!
Here's a card example demonstrating that principle, in the upcoming new edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack (this example © 2008 by Richard Harvey and reprinted with the permission of Mystic Ridge Books). It's in Chapter 10, showing you how to unmask the identity of the facedown cards at single and double deck games, the best games around.
I'm going to have to short-circuit the process here.
Here, you hold a pair of Aces. The old basic strategy methods tell you “ always split Aces!” But is that wise here?
This example is of second round action at a 7-player single deck table. In the first round, six 10s, one 9 and two 8s appeared; the final count was +4 (we're using my All-Inclusive counting method from Blackjack The SMART Way here just as a tool to identify the facedown cards).
Now, at your turn, our Count Estimate is +1. But how many 10s do we know were dealt? How many are face-up on the table? Five. So, combined with the six of the last round, at least eleven have been dealt (and likely more, based upon what my facedown card identification methods indicate).
Because eleven of fourteen 10s have been dealt, we know there are three left, among the unknown cards. How many unknown cards are there?
Because my studies have shown that an average of 22 cards are dealt per round at 7-player tables and the average player hand consists of 3 cards, we estimate there are 10 undealt cards (do the math) and there are eleven facedown cards on the table , for a total of 21. So three of 21 are 10s – the cards we'd want the most in splitting. Do these odds warrant splitting? You'd have a 14% likelihood of getting a 10 on your first Ace; half the normal 31% odds (based upon the proportion of 10s in a complete deck).
No, here you hit your Aces. (The virtual player here split the Aces, however, and received a 6 and a 2, and lost both hands. No surprise to players with state-of-the-art skills.)
Amazing Repeating Phenomena
Perhaps the most difficult subject I tried to tackle in Cutting Edge Blackjack was my discovery of repeating phenomena . Due to standardized casino shuffling, my studies have proven the existence of many different types of such phenomena. Needless to say, this is big news. But it's difficult to document, because the details could fill volumes and, in the telling, this quickly becomes tedious. But let me excerpt a segment of the upcoming new Third Edition, with just a portion of one example (this comes from my 3-player, single deck studies):
Let's examine rounds 27 through 54. These 28 rounds (encompassing 8 shuffles) include the peak period we're looking at as well as the upswing that led to the peak.
During this period, player #2 drew 70 cards. This amounts to 1.35 decks of cards. Now, if the cards played out randomly, as some would like you to believe, we should find that player #2 had at least one of each of the 52 different cards represented in this bunch. In fact, statistically speaking, you'd expect each card to appear roughly 1.35 times.
But, guess what? That's not what happened!
Instead, notice that 9 of the 52 possible cards were no-shows; they were not dealt to player #2 at all during this prolonged period. That's nearly 20% of the cards!!! Player #2 did not get the 2 § , 3 § , 4 ¨ , 5 ª , 6 ª , 7 ¨ , 7 ª , Q ¨ or A ¨ ! (See this graphically on the following pages.)
More important, there's a clue in something even more convincing. Most of the 13 different types of cards were under -represented in the mix of cards player #2 received! Certain cards showed up repeatedly, well beyond their expected representation: Aces as a group, for instance, were overrepresented to the tune of 149%; 10s, 102%; 9s, 130%; and 8s, 149%. But the 7s, 6s, and 4s were greatly under-represented. Their proportions were 37%, 56% and 56% of what should have appeared if the cards were random .
And so we have our answer for why this player did so well during these 28 rounds:
Not only was there a select group of repeating cards, Aces, 10s, 9s and 8s, but, in combination with each other, this led to strong player totals . And seven of nine of the no-shows were weak cards whose absence strengthened the mix in favor of the strong cards.
From now on we'll refer to the small set of cards that repeats beyond its expected proportion and frequency, thereby creating a consistent personality to the cards dealt to each betting spot as the lead cards . Player #2's lead cards in this example included the A ª , which was dealt to player #2 four times in seven successive shuffles (appearing in 57% of those shuffles); the A © , which was dealt to player #2 three times in five successive shuffles (60% of those shuffles); the J © , which was dealt to player #2 three times in four successive shuffles (75% of those shuffles); the J § , which was dealt to player #2 four times in five successive shuffles (80% of those shuffles!); and, the 8 © , which was dealt to player #2 four times in four successive shuffles (100% of those shuffles!). If you're not convinced yet, consider this:
Of the 70 cards dealt to player #2 in this peak period:
Just 9 cards accounted for 30 of those - nearly 43% of them (if we look at the cards that repeated three or more times)!
Just 3 cards (the A ª , J § and 8 ©) made up nearly 20% of them!
Just 15 of the 52 cards (29%) accounted for 38 of them (54%)! Of these 15, nine were 8s, 9s, 10s and Aces.
No wonder this player was on a winning upswing! Betting spot #2 was not only experiencing a repeating parade of a select few cards, those repeating cards featured primarily the strongest cards. This winning streak was not due to luck but to verifiable repeating phenomena.
Now, this period is by no means an anomaly. It is typical of any winning streak. Therefore, the repeating card phenomenon which leads to a specific and prolonged personality for each betting spot is unmistakably real .
(This excerpt from Cutting Edge Blackjack by Richard Harvey is © 2008 by Richard Harvey. Reprinted by permission of Mystic Ridge Books. All rights reserved.)
Impressed? So what do you do with this information? Build a better betting system! And that's what I did, to detect how the repeating phenomena affect your betting spot so as to adjust your bets appropriately. You want to take advantage of the good phenomena – that is, increase your bet when the repeating cards are good – and use the bad card phenomena information as a signal to lower your bet to the minimum or leave the table entirely.
State-Of-The-Art Betting Tips
I'm very excited about the new Third Edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack , due out early next year. It contains, among other things, my Precision Betting System , previously only available – in part – at my seminars. This is the first time it's all laid out, with color coded charts to make the learning curve easier.
But those that aren't quite ready for a state-of-the-art system can still benefit from the information in my books. And I had some ideas as to how to increase your likelihood of winning by better planning your betting strategy.
By betting strategy I mean your overall approach. For instance:
It's these and other issues that contribute to a state-of-the-art approach to betting from which even a beginner can profit.
Obviously, I'm talking in broad strokes here – general truths that don't require a lot of studying. It goes without saying, though, that the more you know, the more likely you will win – and the more likely your profits will increase.
Let's start with casinos. Should you bet more at some and less at others? Definitely.
One issue is: What degree of confidence do you have in the casino? I don't care what type of business you interact with, when it comes to your money you should always “shop around” for the best “deal.” In blackjack, the best “deal” would be to get the best playing conditions – even perhaps finding places that offer the powerful option of surrender (through which you can fold your first two cards and keep half your bet) – with the fewest number of decks in play, preferably just one or two (those games are the most predictable), that offer a player-friendly atmosphere and allow you to bet as much as you like without getting upset. But also, you want to have a track record to go on. In other words, I usually recommend players exercise caution at casinos at which they're never played before or never won at before. Bet the table minimum. Keep a diary to keep track of how you do at each casino, over time. Bet more at the casinos at which you've had good success.
If the casino offers surrender, increase your personal minimum bet by at least 33% (because that's the boost basic strategy players get with that option). Or double it, because you can always surrender and keep half (that's only if you can recognize extreme losing situations that call for surrender; this might be for more advanced players only).
I recommend you bet more on desirable one and two deck games than on games with more decks, which (as any good book will tell you) offer you a lower likelihood of winning. With each additional deck, the dealer's busting rate goes down and the game becomes less predictable.
About the number of players at the table: Those who've read Cutting Edge Blackjack and NEW Ways To Win MORE At Blackjack know that my studies revealed that your likelihood of winning goes up with each additional betting spot in play. In fact, I'm the only one I know of who's tested for this factor. The Old School systems – correct me if I'm wrong – were tested for and designed for one or two betting spot situations only. My understanding is that they don't work with three or more players, as some of the more honest of the Old School books will admit.
Anyway – with that discovery, I'd recommend that you place the table minimum bet at tables with four or fewer players, because the likelihood is that you'll lose more rounds than win at those tables. Place a slightly larger bet at five player tables – perhaps higher by 25%. Place twice that bet at 6-player tables, where your likelihood of winning is twice that of a 5-player table. And double your minimum bet again at 7-player tables, where your likelihood of winning is twice that of 6-player tables. (Why else do you think some casinos introduced 5-player tables after Cutting Edge Blackjack came out?! They're no dummies! They read my book! The good news is that players using my system will not be hurt so much by those lower-player tables; it's the basic strategy players who will suffer.)
The point is – one way of ensuring you'll be a winner is to bet more in situations where you're more likely to win, and less in risky situations.
And cutting your losses is also important – never, for instance, raise your bet into a losing streak hoping to make up your gains. My discovery of repeating phenomena produced by casino-style shuffling shows that losing streaks, caused by a bad mix of cards, can last virtually forever (or until the cards are changed out).
And you can take that to the bank.
Appropriate Use Of Math
When doing my many years of research into blackjack, card behavior, shuffling, repeating phenomenon, etc., it occurred to me early on that, yes, math would play a part in my analyses and strategy development. But observation would also play a part.
This is key to doing any research - observing your data and coming to intelligent conclusions about what you're observing. This did not, in my opinion, occur when the Old Schoolers developed basic strategy. They were overly enamored with their computers and statistics. Yes, because there wasn't much math to their R&D process, if truth be told. What they did was a simple statistical survey of computer simulations (which isn't even the right data to begin with).
To be fair, it's very easy to go wrong when doing this type of research.
Having been university-trained in the conducting of scientific and mathematical research, I had a very clear idea of what to do and what not to do when doing my many years of blackjack R&D.
Anyway - what I want to point out is: math is just a tool to arrive at the truth. You have to be careful to use it properly. Sometimes math is called for, sometimes not, in observing data and forming the right conclusions.
Poker players seem to have a better grasp on this than the average blackjack researcher. For instance, if they see three to a flush with the flop in Texas Hold'Em, they're going to be very cautious if they don't hold that suit in their hand, and they're likely to fold their hand if someone bets into the pot after the flop, or raises after a post-flop bet - if they believe that player has the flush. Yet, a simplistic approach to the math surrounding the game, from a statistical point of view, such as was used by the basic strategy creators, would argue against folding here.
Follow me for a minute:
If, in Texas Hold'Em, there are three cards of a certain suit in the flop and you hold none of that suit, we know it's a 4% likelihood that anyone would have the flush (two cards of that suit, in their starting hand). At a 10-player table, the odds are, then, that four players should achieve that flush (in the same situation) in each 10 occurrences of the equivalent situations, on average.
Using this mathematical truism as a blackjack basic strategist, then, and applying that logic to poker, you'd say: so at most, in 10 equivalent rounds, you'd be beat right off the bat by a player with a made flush on the flop. (Of course, the four who get the flush in those 10 equivalent rounds might get them all in one round, but let's not go there for now.)
If we accept that generous model (that is, allowing the flush players to be spread out over 10 rounds and not face each other in any one round), then, at most, you'd face a 40% likelihood of being beat. Still not a majority situation.
Let's relate this to blackjack: A basic strategy-type mindset would therefore say you shouldn't fold ever in this situation, because 60% of the time, your hand will not be beat by a flush. (Let's exclude other situations to make this simple.)
But guess what? That's not how poker players use math. If they believe a player indeed has the flush based upon his or her bet or attitude, and that flush likely has them beat, they will most often fold their hands.
How does this relate to blackjack?
You must not consider global statistics when deciding how to act in any specific card situation or round. You must assess the current card reality for how to act:
In blackjack, of course, we don't worry about other players beating us. So, in blackjack, you must instead assess how the dealer will do before you go ahead with your hand. It starts with using my method to identify the dealer's hole card. And it includes state-of-the-art card analysis (a fancy name, but easily done), to determine: what hit cards will the dealer likely get (if he or she needs them), and what hit cards you will likely get (if you need any). You then assess how likely it is the dealer's result will beat your result. If you're beat, then don't put more money into this situation (by splitting or doubling), for example; sometimes, in fact, given this reality, you should surrender (if that option's available).
Some players at my seminars are shocked when they learn this truth. They're so used to the faulty Old School ways they don't know how to spot losing situations and therefore they don't know when they're beat. This is the understanding you must come to.
This is more akin to what smart, professional poker players do than what basic strategy blackjack players do - who, unwittingly, go off on a faulty math model.
All of this is doable. I've trained many hundreds of players and I've seen how quickly the average serious player picks up state-of-the-art concepts. I've designed it all to be easy to learn, after all.
Yes, math has a role in the understanding of blackjack. But an analysis of the cards and an understanding of what they mean to your likelihood of winning in the course of a round or going into the next round is what the game is really all about.
Random Number Generated Nonsense
When doing my many years of card behavior studies, I observed the early data coming in and recognized right away that something was occurring that I'd suspected for many years, as an observant player, was going on, but which no one had ever identified: that is, many different types of unmistakable repeating phenomena were occurring.
Shuffle period after shuffle period, for instance, the dealer would get the same Ace and perhaps even the same blackjack. Or a player would get the same three 9s and wind up with three split hands. I've documented some of these amazing and undeniable events in Cutting Edge Blackjack.
Discoveries like these led me to create cutting edge methods to take advantage of my knowledge of their existence and nature.
So I ask you: could anyone doing research based upon random-number-generated computer simulations ever tap into this reality? The answer is obvious.
If you're a serious player, therefore, you need to move to a system that recognizes how true cards behave, and how to take advantage of every state-of-the-art discovery to maximize your gains. If, for instance, you don't know where to put the cut card when the dealer hands it to you, you're not playing cutting edge blackjack.
There's an intelligent way to cut the cards and it's not the "cut thin to win" voodoo of the past.
When did a simplistic statistical study become higher math?
I'm always amazed when the Old School basic strategy approach, based upon the simplistic summing up of pretend computer data by dealer up card, is presented as a work of genius. The whole method is insane to begin with. No wonder their own studies show their methods produce at best break-even results or, more commonly, losses.
I'll give you one example of why you don't look for averages to produce a winning game strategy. Let's say you were a race car driver and you knew that one competitor's car could go 210 miles an hour, another's 140, and a sad slow poke's, 70. If you want to win this race, would you take the averages of all these speeds and design a car to go that speed? You'd get a car that goes 140 mph. You'd only beat the slow poke, tie with the mid-speed car and lose handily to the fastest car.
And I don't care how many cars you throw into this equation, the end result will always be as ridiculously stupid. In other words: the law of averages produces average results. It doesn't produce winners.
Keep this in mind when choosing the strategy you want to put your money on.
Thoughts On Blackjack Research
If you've never done R&D, to develop a new game strategy in particular, you have no idea how tedious and time consuming it is. And full of dead-ends and traps.
Blackjack, for instance, is such a complex game, and you have to be careful to account for all of its ins and outs when examining research data. The process inevitably involves errors in computer formulas that have to be corrected. And there are days and weeks spent running ideas and numbers through your head that just don't jive with what you believe they should be.
For example, in developing my method to predict your likelihood of winning in the next round, I wanted it to lead to a precise indicator of how you should bet.
Some of the results of this process will be revealed in the forthcoming 3rd Edition of my book and bestseller (thank you) Cutting Edge Blackjack. For the first time, readers can discover the concept of Next Round Probability Indicators. (The current edition contains "Auxiliary Betting Indicators," which is another way of going about this.)
I wrestled for months over what numbers I would finally present to readers to explain how things work.
And I actually got annoyed at one point because I thought I had come up with certain answers that, on paper, seemed similar to what the Old School blackjack guys of the 1950s and 60s had put out. You see, I was very unhappy with the Old School methods, and when I did my research, I was sure I could come up with a better way to play and uncover mistakes they'd made in strategy formulations – all of which came true. But there was this glitch:
It appeared, on first look, they had been right about the 4s through 6s, that those were “good cards” for the player. But, on further analysis, I realized where they'd gone wrong – and why I'd made the mistake of thinking this.
Yes, you can expect positive gains when ALL the 4s are gone, or 5s, or 6s. But, when I examined the numbers closely, I realized this didn't mean what the Old Schoolers thought it meant.
For one thing, the gains came primarily from doubling situations and blackjacks. Losing rounds outnumbered the winning rounds (except for the 6s at 7-player tables)!
But not only that – the “gains” from low card depletion were often LESS than you'd expect if the cards were balanced. That is, while the “normal” gains you'd expect, for instance, from playing my basic strategy (for beginners only, thank you) at a 7-player table, were a bit above 7% when surrender is allowed and above 5% when not, the gains for the 4s being gone were less: 6% and 4% respectively.
So this was no reason – contrary to what the Old Schoolers had said – to raise your bet dramatically when the 4s or 5s or 6s were gone! And it was no reason to increase your bet, as they would have you do, as each of these cards is dealt (which misses the point, too, namely: it's not enough that these cards are dealt; they must have been played in greater proportion than they should have, for player benefits to kick in; a simple count won't turn up this situation!).
I call this an average or normative situation. You should bet your minimum personal bet in this situation.
I think the confusion on my part came from my assigning the normative situation a point total of +1. I could have assigned this imbalance a “0” point total instead and taken things from there. This was one of the decisions I faced – how to describe specific key imbalances with meaningful numbers. A zero would have told the story too. Normative.
But, as it turns out, the +1 count seemed to make more sense when all considerations were taken into account, and so that's what I finally decided upon – with a warning to readers that this situation does not call for a large bet. This calls for a starting-point-type bet, a reference bet that will be multiplied as more positive situations arise.
You'll see how this works in the new book.
And you can take that to the bank.
Posted September 13, 2008
A state-of-the-art blackjack player has the power to take profits to the max. There are so many ways I've given you to increase your winning rate.
For example, in the upcoming new 3rd Edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack, I provide a new indicator that allows you to make scientifically accurate bets based upon knowing your exact likelihood of winning in the next round.
As part of this process, I talk about another way to maximize your gains (and I detail how to go about this). And that is, by being aware of exactly how the number of players at the table affect your likelihood of winning. That is, how your bottom line is affected.
Cutting Edge Blackjack awoke the blackjack world to the fact that the number of betting spots in play affects your likelihood of winning. This resulted in a direct casino reaction, as an attempted countermeasure: the 5-player blackjack table. I laughed the first time I noticed one of these, at Binions, in downtown Vegas.
Anyway, the word of advice I want to give you today is: you should bet accordingly, based upon the number of players at the table! The higher number of players at the table, the higher your confidence level, therefore the higher your bet. Increasing your bet when your odds of winning are greater is one smart way to maximize your gains. Because you also do the converse: you lower your bet with fewer players at the table, to lessen your hit in times when your winning rate is lower.
I let you know exactly how to do this in the new Edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack. I'm not playing coy; you need to understand the new concept of NRPIs (Next Round Probability Indicators) before you can understand how to go about this.
Neutral Cards My ***!
Posted September 10, 2008
A recent televised documentary on a blackjack figure trotted out the usual Old School blackjack "experts" (where do they get these guys?) and one of them pompously pontificated: "The 7s, 8s and 9s are neutral cards. They mean nothing."
To be fair, this guy was just parroting what he read in many Old School books over the past 50 years. But he's totally wrong.
Anyone doing their research properly would realize that these cards are essential to your success. In fact, the new 3rd Edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack, due out soon, provides you with detailed information on just how important these cards are to your success. (This information was only available at my seminars prior to this Edition. And it goes beyond what I presented at my seminars, too.) This is in a new and expanded chapter on How To Predict Your Next Round Success For Precise Betting (or something to that effect; I'm not sure how the editors will change that title, if at all).
Ignore these cards at your own peril.
Reader Question, Reader Confusion
A reader (Charles from Connecticut) who attended one of my book events sent me this question. It speaks of frustration due not to my system but an Old School system he still apparently is using, although I can't figure out why. Since that system is being actively hawked today and taught at a price of $895 per seminar, I thought I'd air this in public:
"I attended one of your sessions in milford,ct in 06/07 ?and found them to be helpful.I have 2 of your books and am now reading in depth CEBJ.It is changing how I view the cards in play.However in your responce to some quiries regarding games that we have opportunities to play ie 1/2 dk or 6/8 dk you suggest that they go to other casinos in the south or west.Id like that but cant afford the added travel expense.The best that I can do is to play BJ locally at Fxwds or in AC at the Borgata. Im presently useing Golden Touch method of play but plan to deviate strategy keeping in mind your cir. 13 inmacking my plaing abd betting deacisions.Id appreciate any input you mat care to give. or in Ac at Borgata.Also I cant afford the high table min. they often impose."
First of all, this question has internal inconsistencies.
If someone cannot afford to book a flight to Las Vegas, how could that person afford to take the Golden Touch Blackjack seminar (which costs $895)? So this reader's claim that he's too poor to fly to Vegas doesn't make sense to me.
Second, if you're following the Golden Touch system, which one reviewer quoted on the Golden Touch web site (Don Catlin) estimates gives a player an edge of just 1.014% (a paltry return that means you'd only win about one round more than you'd lose in 100 rounds of action), you need to ask Messrs. Scoblete and Tamburin why their system is not working for you. Please don't ask me to fix what cannot be fixed.
To their credit, the Golden Touch guys are honest about the small return they promise you. They also admit, on their web site, that their system is even less effective than one of the less effective methods invented in the 1960s, the High-Low card counting method. Though now referred to variously as the "High-Low" or "Hi-Lo" card counting system, it was first introduced in Thorp's Beat The Dealer (which, by the way Golden Touch guys, was published in 1962, not 63). Thorp called it the "Simple Pount-Count System" but everyone calls it the High-Low system now. The MIT blackjack team guys used it in the '80s and '90s and admitted it gave a player a measley 2% advantage. (And Jeffrey Ma admitted that because of the High-Low's ineffectiveness, they had to bring huge amounts of money to the table and make risky large bets in order to hope to profit from it.)
Anyway - to the reader: If you're using Golden Touch and it's not making you a winner, you obviously need to stop using it. If you read my books, why are you not using my system?
I'm always glad to coach players individually, or a private seminar of pals, but this option is typically affordable only to the high rollers and whales; it does not come cheap, so perhaps this option is not available to you. I probably gave my last public seminar last month, so I'm not sure you will have that option.
The point is, if you own my books, you know what my recommendations are and they run totally contrary to those of the Old School methods, now more than 50 years old and horribly antiquated and ineffective, at best. So you know what I have to say about Golden Touch and all the other Old School methods; why use it?
Also confusing is your statement that you're using my Circle of 13 learning tool to make card decisions and bets. This entry-level practice device has nothing to do with betting and cannot be translated directly to game strategy. It's akin to the scales a pianist learns when a total beginner. You learn scales but you don't perform them in public. Same with the Circle of 13, which is a great mind opener and introduction to state-of-the-art concepts, but I really don't see how you could possibly use this to play shoe games. For that, you need the strategies I gave you for the real game.
So, sorry reader. I can't understand why you can afford an expensive seminar but then not afford to play the game or do what most Americans can do: take a vacation in Vegas or other cities that offer great single and double deck action. I also cannot understand that, if you're truly using Golden Touch and not making money, why you'd persist in using it. The idea with blackjack is that, sure, beginners and those with tight bankrolls can't be high rollers from the get-go (nor are you expected to). But you're supposed to learn how to win; and, with your bankroll growing, you can progress to higher limit tables. If Golden Touch did not teach you this, or give you the skills necessary to win and therefore build a bankroll, then why continue to use it?
Again, I think you need to contact the Golden Touch guys and ask them your questions, since you admit you're still using their system. You paid enough money; they should be willing to talk to you.
I began my career in the casinos of Atlantic City. Using my system, I consistently beat the 6-deck games (to play 8-deck games is crazy by the way - especially when 6-deck games are available to you; so I'm assuming you do this when you go to AC). The Old School methods are (by their own admission) far less precise, so the sooner you switch to mine, the better you'll do.
By the way, I believe it's only a matter of time before the East Coast casinos have to bow to increasing competition and the economic downturn by offering the more desirable and attractive games, the pitch games (single and double deck games). With declining revenues, this only makes good sense.
You Need This State-of-the-Art
Posted June 18, 2008
Beat The Dealer by Edward Thorp is now horribly antiquated (it came out in 1962 and was never updated), but at the time it caused quite a stir. It actually brought about the end of the heyday of blackjack.
After that book came out, the casinos changed the game. Among other things, they now required players to place their first two cards facedown on the table when standing, to make it hard on the new breed of player, the card counter. With those cards facedown, card counters could no longer do an accurate job of card analysis.
That is, until I invented the first-ever method to identify those facedown cards (introduced in Cutting Edge Blackjack ). It took more than 10 years to develop, and went through several incarnations before I invented a method that was both highly accurate and easy to use at the table.
I can't overemphasize how important it is for you to learn this method. It's huge. It's the only way for you to play a precise game, against the most winnable games in the house – the single and double deck games.
In the example here, for instance, what you see are one class of what I call “First Category” facedown cards. These actually vary in nature depending on what the dealer up card is. Las Vegas gambling expert Howard Schwartz said I was the first one ever, in so doing, to identify the various categories of facedown cards.
The Old School blackjack types would tell you that you should double here.
But if you knew my method of identifying those facedown cards, you'd know that five of those facedown cards are likely to be 10s and the rest 8s and 9s.
That means the cards you'd want most, in doubling, are unlikely to come your way. They're over-represented.
A state-of-the-art player would know the wise move is to hit.
You Have The Power
Since my breakthrough discoveries and innovations were revealed with the publication of my books, Old School blackjack writers have been spending a lot of time trying to deny that you have the power I've now given you.
For instance, they waste a lot of energy trying to convince you that the cards are not predictable but random. They want you to believe you cannot predict your future success based upon what's been dealt in any given round. They want you to believe that, no matter what cards have been dealt, your likelihood of winning is below 50%. They want you to believe there's no way of figuring out what the dealer's hole card is, and what the dealer's likely outcome will be. They want you to believe you have no way of analyzing the cards to figure out how to make a precise move based upon the realities of the moment. They want you to believe there are no such things as winning streaks, or indicators that let you know how good your betting spot is.
Why do they spend so much time in denial? Because they're afraid you'll read my books and realize that the Old School methods those writers are hawking are sadly out of date. Some are so paranoid about the power my innovations give players like you (and therefore the obsolescence of methods that came before mine) that they go online pretending to post "reader" reviews and then criticize my books for features they do not contain; if you read their reviews you'd think I was actually an Old School hack promoting old fashioned concepts like them.
I take the Old School paranoia as an honor - just as I take all the casino countermeasures intended to thwart my system as an honor. You never saw five-player tables before Cutting Edge Blackjack came out - or continuous shuffling machines, for example. (Five player tables came out because I, unlike any one before me, using casino-exacting card dealing, collecting and shuffling procedures, used real cards in my many years of card behavior studies and tested for the effect each additional betting spot being played has on the likelihood of players winning. At five player tables, I proved that basic strategy players could not win, in the long term.)
In spite of all the disinformation out there, it's important that you know what's come out of my historic studies. I spent years looking for indicators that would help lead to more precise card moves and scientific betting strategies. I also strove to develop scientific loss-limit methods; methods that got you out, in the case of bad cards, long before you lost a lot of money. (I did this research for myself, actually; I had no intention of writing books until years later.)
And I succeeded in doing all of that, and more. And you need to know that, because these state-of-the-art innovations give you unheard of power; power I would think you would want to have, in beating the house. It is no longer true that the house has the edge.
What the Old Schoolers don't know (because they're relying upon faulty studies, theories and assumptions of a half century ago) could fill an encyclopedia. For one thing, their lack of the proper data in doing their studies prevents them from understanding true card behavior.
They were lazy. They wanted to show off their computers - if truth be told (IBM - correct me if I'm wrong - funded Julian Braun's blackjack research, quoted in so many of the Old School books). In overusing their computers, they failed to collect the proper data. The proper data for a card game involves true card trials, with exacting casino standards. Instead, the Old Schoolers used their computers' random number generators and created a model that reflects random data unrelated to the true game of blackjack.
So no wonder they tell you that your likelihood of winning doesn't change no matter what is dealt. (This concept is ridiculous on the face of it, by the way. For instance: how well do you think you'll do hitting your 16 point hands if all the 4s and 5s have been dealt already?)
The truth, too, is that I discovered a lot of repeating phenomena in my research, all of which were caused by standardized casino shuffling and dealing. This discovery changed the face of blackjack - as open-minded insiders and savvy players have noted in the years since Cutting Edge Blackjack came out.
So, yes, believe it or not, many of the same cards are dealt to the same players from shuffle to shuffle, leading to a good amount of predictability regarding the future.
Taking advantage of that, I developed an indicator, for instance, the Win-Loss Margin Unit, that uncovers whether the repeating phenomenon affecting your betting spot leads to a (predictable) good or bad flow of cards. So, contrary to what the Old Schoolers are telling you, you can make some very intelligent strategy decisions going forward based upon certain repeating and predictable elements I have documented and proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
I also tested painstakingly and properly for the effect each of the ten types of cards affects your likelihood of winning going into the next round. The Old Schoolers attempted to do this, but (aside from using faulty data) they forgot to test for how well the dealer does when each card is dealt! They only tested for how well players do; and they only used one-player situations. All of this led to their coming up with the wrong conclusions.
So, along these lines, it's no longer true that you are going into the next round blind; in fact, with my Auxiliary Betting Indicators (soon to be renamed, in the next editions of my books, Next Round Predictability Indicators, or NRPs), you can now make very accurate probability assessments of your likeihood of winning in the following round. (I'll be releasing new game tools to teach you how to use this powerful method, by the way. These will also be in the board game I'm developing, now slated for release in 2009. Keep your eye on the "To Order" page for their future availability.)
The main thing you should understand is that the game is no longer in the Dark Ages of the 1950s and 60s. I've given you the tools to move to a much more intelligent and precise game.
So let the Old School writers stick their necks in the sand. You and I know how out-of-date they are.
Another Old School
It just occurred to me why the Old School blackjack writers these days push so heavily on their antiquated and faulty basic strategy method and rarely if ever discuss the secondary Old School method, card counting. It's not just because most players found that too daunting and ineffective.
Strangely enough, what I'm about to say also explains why these Old School writers prefer to talk about the most inferior blackjack games out there, the shoe games, multi-deck blackjack games, to the exclusion of the best games, namely the pitch games, the single and double deck games, which can be found at all the best casinos.
It's because, to card count with any kind of accuracy you need to know the identity of all the cards on the table. Unfortunately for Old School blackjack writers, casinos, as of the early 1960s, changed the rules to require players to place their first two cards down on the table, facedown, hidden from view, when standing. This was done specifically to thwart the card counter; and it was highly effective in diminishing the value of Old School card counting.
It was not until I broke the code - after years of research - and devised the world's first (and only) highly accurate method to identify those facedown cards, that you could do a good job of card analysis at the best blackjack tables, the single and double deck tables.
In other words - the Old School writers conveniently ignore the single and double deck games and their card counting methods because they know that only players who use my system of identifying the facedown cards can play those games with any precision. You certainly can't card count if you don't know what the majority of cards on the table are.
And - to those who might try to defend the indefensible - please don't email me telling me the ideas Old School writers had on those cards. I've read those books. If you read Cutting Edge Blackjack, you'll see how far off those off-hand guesses were on the part of the Old Schoolers, as to how to identify the facedown cards.
Their answer to those cards was insulting to anyone who knows the truth; knowing they didn't have the answer - and they apparently were too lazy to do the research and development work - the few who realized this issue made their methods useless threw out simplistic solutions that had no bearing on reality. Why didn't they just admit the truth: that they were clueless?
Las Vegas gaming guru Howard Schwartz, in writing two great reviews of Cutting Edge Blackjack, specifically referred to that breakthrough in saying I was the first innovator ever to identify the different categories of facedown cards there are, and give players the tools to expose their identity. He said I was blazing "new territory." Now, that's not to boast; it's to point out that you need to know this method if you hope to play state-of-the-art blackjack. You cannot make moves with precision, choose an effective card strategy against the best, most winnable blackjack games, without it.
Are you up-to-date yet? Can't you see the immense value this breakthrough presents to your game - can't you see how profitable it would be to have this method at your disposal?
If you allow the Old Schoolers to boast (wrongly) that they offer you the "correct" or "best" or "perfect" strategies, or the "only way to play," perhaps you'll allow me to express pride at my blackjack breakthroughs...and to point out that the Old Schoolers can't HOPE to have the "best" or "perfect" or "correct" strategy when they can't HOPE to know the identity of the facedown cards in single and double deck blackjack. And that's just one major drawback to Old School blackjack.
For the single and double deck games are to be sought out by you, the smart player. Those are, by far, the most winnable and profitable games. Perhaps the Old School writers steer you away from those games because of the facedown cards mystery they cannot solve. Or perhaps they're being paid to promote the shoe games. Or perhaps they don't understand that a smart player avoids the shoe games in favor of the much more winnable pitch games.
Answering Reader Questions
Wanted to respond to this reader email, full of questions and misunderstandings. I'm dividing up the email into bite-sized chunks:
I've read all three of your blackjack publications and find them all incredibly innovative and groundbreaking. That being said, my question is about the eight deck shoe games. Living in Queens, NY, i take the two plus hour drive to Atlantic City quite often, especially in the summer, and am restricted to only the eight deck shoes.
A: This doesn't sound right to me. There are 6 deck games too (and 5 deck shuffle machine games) and even some pitch games in Atlantic City (as this reader admits shortly afterward). This premise doesn't make sense - that you are "restricted to the eight deck games." I'm not sure, but I'm suspicious that this question was sent by a casino guy, who wants people to play these games. I might be wrong, though, and I'll keep an open mind. (Sorry if I sound testy, but players don't typically ask these questions. It's the casino guys, who work for casinos that offer only these inferior games, who typically ask the questions, often at my book events, to make it seem as if players have no choice. They HAVE to play the worst games. Well, they DON'T.)
In all of your books you seem to be consistent in your thoughts that we should be avoiding these type of games. Is there an approach in your book(s) that i am either not seeing/ understanding on the 8 deck shoes, or is it possible the books are outdated for todays blackjack games.
A: Again, this seems like someone who is not up front about the true reason for posing these questions. I began my career in Atlantic City, playing the 6- and 8-deck shoe games. I did very well, thank you (and that was before I'd even come up with the even more precise methods and discoveries that came from my most recent years of card behavior studies). No. It's not outdated. In fact, my books are the most state-of-the-art books on the market today, and I'm not the only one who has said that. They've been widely recognized as such.
Now, when I say 8-deck games suck it's because they do. Casinos didn't add decks to the game to make them easier, do they?
Plus, if you read any of the better Old School books, they all warn you that your odds of winning go down with each additional deck added to the game. Your choice to play the 8-deck games is foolish - especially given the fact that you have better alternatives in Atlantic City!!
Moreover, can you not fly? There are great blackjack games to be found in many states nowadays. If you can drive the long distance to Atlantic City, I'm sure you're well enough to fly to, say, Las Vegas, where great games are to be had at many of its 150+ casinos.
I am presently using the Circle of 13, but with eight decks against me... I feel that the shuffle tracking is impossible to follow.
A: OK, this is also a canard, and a mixing of two concepts. The Circle of 13 is a learning tool. I made that clear in Cutting Edge Blackjack. It is simply to teach you some important concepts. The Circle of 13 is akin to the scales and arpeggios pianists learn before they go on to play real pieces. It's a way for newcomers to state-of-the-art blackjack to "get it."
The card strategies you should use - if you're foolish enough to play the 8-deck games - come after that very early chapter, which should be obvious. Did you not read beyond the first few chapters?
This canard has been raised by one or two Old School writers, desperate and unable to find anything to criticize in my books (which make their books antiquated). So they bring up my learning tool, The Circle of 13, and pretend as if they actually read my book and understood this chapter, and then say: "Well, this isn't what you'd use to play." Well, duh. I say that in my book. It's a LEARNING TOOL.
And it's a GREAT learning tool, which apparently threatens some people, people who don't want you to know what it teaches. Just as a classical pianist must learn arpeggios in order to play sonatas and concertos, you, the blackjack player, must learn the Circle of 13 in order to have the proper fundamentals.
Hopefully, I've put that ridiculous twisting of the facts to rest.
Now, with shuffle tracking (you're changing subjects here), yes, it's harder with an 8-deck game than with the better games. That's why I suggest in my books that you don't play the 8-deck games. But, if you're stubborn and want to, then you'd better work on your memory skills and be ready to accept lower profits from a less winnable game. Your choice.
I've seen the pitch games in Trump Plaza but the cards are face down and the dealers only deal themselves one card face up, dealing the traditional hole card face up after all play has concluded. These are games i feel should be avoided.
A: OK. So now you admit you have much better alternatives than to play the 8-deck games. I'm puzzled. I'm taking your question at face value - in other words, let's say that you're not a casino guy with an axe to grind.
Now, if you've really read my books, as you say you have, you know I introduced, in Cutting Edge Blackjack, a huge historic breakthrough method that now allows me (and hence all other players who read my books) to identify the facedown cards you describe. So players no longer are handicapped by this facedown situation, instituted by casinos in the 1960s to try to thwart card counters. Re-read Cutting Edge Blackjack for the two chapters on that method and don't avoid those games. Those are your best bet
The reason I post this Q&A here is that the questions smack of oft-repeated disinformation the casino industry and/or competing authors (with outdated books) throw out. It doesn't stick and hopefully I've just laid it to rest.
Why The Old School Methods Are
...Another in a series of examples showing you why the Old School methods of basic strategy and card counting are hopelessly antiquated and faulty.
First, what is the Hi-Lo count?
The Hi-Lo card counting method is the one the MIT teams of yore used. Created in the 1960s (and not by the MIT teams), it assigned a count of +1 to 2s through 6s and a count of -1 to 10s and Aces and ignored the other cards.
Zero. What on Earth does that tell you? That's supposed to tell you the cards are balanced. But are they really? (Take a good look.)
The cards are not balanced. (Another example of why I say the Hi-Lo system is hopelessly inaccurate.)
The table is heavy in high cards - 8s through 10s (there are already as many 10s as should appear by the end of this round, if this were a balanced situation). These are the cards that would usually be necessary to bust the dealer's 2; now, they're much less likely to come the dealer's way.
And no Aces have been dealt. So they're more likely to come the dealer's way; this is a card that would be highly helpful to the dealer.
Nor have 4s, 5s, 6s or 7s been dealt; these are also now likely to come the dealer's way and help the dealer avoid busting.
Now, my research has shown that the dealer 2's busting rate given this mix is in the low 20-percentile range; well below the 35% rate the Old Schoolers claim is characteristic of the dealer 2. In other words, the dealer is highly likely to achieve a good score here.
My studies have also shown that the dealer's 2 achieves some of the highest scores of any up card. Looking at its score profile, which I developed for Cutting Edge Blackjack, you can see that it achieves point totals of 20 and 21 more than 25% of the time (which is the third best 20-points-or-higher average of any dealer up card, behind the Ace and 10) - and that assumes a balanced card situation (which is true any time you do a global statistical survey).
The probability that the dealer would achieve a 20 or 21 point hand actually would be higher than 25% in this card example, however, given the imbalance.
So, is this a great time for the 3rd baseman to split those 8s?
FYI: 2s and 3s have also been over-dealt and are unlikely to come your way; these cards would have been highly helpful, boosting the 8s to great starting totals of 10 or 11 points. 'Not likely to happen now.
My research has also shown that most of the cards highly likely to come next (because none has been dealt yet) are devastating if you get them on your split 8s - namely the 4s, 5s, 6s and 7s. We don't have to go into numbers here; you can see they create stiff totals (bustable hands) of 12, 13, 14 and 15 points.
And, as you might know, with most of these totals (except the 12 point hand), the Old School basic strategy approach tells you to stand, which almost guarantees that you'll lose in this card situation since the dealer has a nearly 80% likelihood of NOT busting.
Plus - even if one of the 8s draws an Ace (one of the more likely cards to fall on the split hands), 19 points is unlikely to beat the dealer given the mix of cards. The imbalance (in the undealt card stack) being heavy in low cards all but ensures a high dealer total.
So, once again, the Old School methods totally mislead you.
The Hi-Lo count tells you the cards are balanced (wrong), therefore they would tell you to play according to (Old School) basic strategy.
And Old School basic strategy then gives you a double whammy here:
First, it tells you to put twice the money down (to split the 8s) in a losing situation (wrong!). Second, it instructs you to play those split 8s wrong, making it even more likely you'll lose. If you stand on stiff totals (your most likely 2-card hands), as basic strategy would dictate, you'll have a nearly 80% likelihood of losing each of those hands! So basic strategy makes you two times the fool.
Just One Truth Blows
Of all the breakthroughs that have come from my 10+ years of research into blackjack, card behavior, shuffling, etc., one of them alone proves why the Old School methods are based upon a house of cards. And that is this discovery, which came early into my last major card study: dealer up card busting rates are NOT constant as the Old School types claimed. And without this, the Old School assumptions cannot be justified. Their whole claim to knowing “correct” card strategies is based upon the faulty and mistaken notion that you can accurately predict, always and forever, what the dealer's busting rate will be based upon the type of up card that's showing. And this is far from the truth.
For one thing, the mathematical equation that was used to formulate the Old School basic strategy approach is dependent upon the notion that there's a “constant” you can plug in for all dealer up cards, reflecting a predictable busting rate. If there is no “constant,” the whole equation becomes untrue. And this is the case, as I've proven – dealer up card busting rates vary; they're not predictably constant.
And, if you read some of the better (but now hopelessly antiquated) Old School books, you can see that those who developed those systems had an inkling that they were going down the wrong path, but chose to ignore their data. One book, for instance, talked about how his “numbers” (i.e., dealer busting rates) were different than other books, but that's because he ran many more millions of computer simulations.
Hey, buddy. If your “constants” change over time, depending upon how many pretend blackjack rounds you run in your little computer (non-reflective of the realities of true card behavior, by the way) – then you don't have a “constant.”
What is a “constant”? A constant is a scientific term for a number that never changes. For instance, the speed of light is a constant .
So, if you board a space ship going the speed of light, we can always say: you're going 186,000 miles/second. Period.
It doesn't depend on the number of passengers on board, the size of the ship, etc. This is a constant.
However, dealer busting rates – as even newbies suspect – are all over the place. Lately, since I've been making players aware of this, the Old School types are trying to gloss over this severe flaw in their understanding of the game, and in the creation of their strategies. They poo-poo this reality, saying, “well there are short-term vagaries” or some such horse poop.
I've made this challenge before, but no Old School type dares to accept it because it will not only make me a lot of money, but it will also destroy their credibility in the eyes of anyone still thinking of using the Old School systems:
Let's go to a casino that is preferably unaware we're there (so the Old School type can't pre-arrange the results). Or – even better – let's arrange to get security camera tapes from a variety of casinos, from days past, showing hours of blackjack action.
Let's then choose segments reflecting the average number of hours a player would play in any given session, so we can see what the average player experiences, in the way of up card busting rates. For each up card that busts at a rate that fits the Old School mistaken notion, I'll pay the Old Schooler an agreed-upon amount. But, for each up card that does not bust at the “constant” rate the Old School books say it will, the Old Schooler will pay me the same agreed-upon amount, per up card. And we'll go public with the results.
It'd be rare if even one of the up cards busted as the Old Schoolers say it should.
When confronted with this challenge, the Old Schoolers usually grumble something about: “Yeah, well, that might be true, but it all works out when you play millions of rounds of action, blah blah blah.”
Trouble is, none of you reading this column will come close to playing even one million rounds of blackjack. And fortunes are often lost in just one session, using the Old School methods. How could they not, when those methods are based upon “constants” that are not constant, and they don't give players scientific loss-limits methods?
Players don't have a lifetime to try to make up the losses they incur following the faulty Old School methods, which are based upon mistaken notions. And who wants to spend a lifetime chasing inevitable losses anyway? What kind of system are they selling?
If you ever get to corner an Old School yahoo, ask him to explain why he bases his strategies on “constants” that are not constant. As he uncomfortably hems and haws, you will see that you have your answer: the Old School guys make no sense.
Why Basic Strategy Is
I'm fed up with all the Old School claptrap about basic strategy being "The Book," or "perfect" or created through "mathematically correct" computer-generated data. I've proven this to be wrong, many times over, through detailed explanations in Cutting Edge Blackjack, NEW Ways To Win MORE At Blackjack and in countless columns.
I've shown you in excruciating detail how wrongheaded the Old School research was (from the pre-research assumptions - such as the wrong notion that dealer up cards have predictably constant busting rates, to the computer-generated pretend blackjack data they used, to the way they used the data - such as their simplistic and misused application of statistics). And then they took that bundle of garbage and hastily threw together a simplistic one-size-fits-all strategy that fits few situations properly (much as those one-size-fits-all socks fit no one).
OK, but now I've decided to take this a step further:
In the coming days, weeks and months, I'm going to show you LOTS of card examples, starting with the one above, to give you further proof of how incorrect the Old School advice is. Print this out and ask any of the Old School types to explain this. (I demonstrate this kind of thing at my seminars, all day long. It doesn't take long for players to realize how wrong they would be to follow this system; even more wrong to put money down on it!)
Above, the dealer has a 5 as the up card. I've played out all the hands as the "wizard of odds" - one of the Old School types on the Internet, who presents himself as the knower of all - says they should be played.
Yet, playing according to the "wizard's" basic strategy scheme, the last four hands were in fact played wrong!
(No wonder. He writes: “This strategy is simply the best way to play every possible situation, without any knowledge of the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck.” [my italics] The last part of that sentence is the kicker. He's asking you to check your brain at the door. Any good player of any card game does NOT play without any knowledge of the distribution of the rest of the cards in the deck! This is called: failing to pay attention to the cards! Either he's assuming you're too stupid to look at the cards and draw intelligent conclusions or he's trying to gloss over the utter failings of the strategy he's hawking. Basic's not the “best way” to play anything. As they say: you can pretend doo-doo is a lovely sight and anything but what it is - but it still smells. For, take a look: the truth is, in this common card example, the "wizard of odds" basic strategy system completely miscalculates the odds.)
Now, before any of you say, yeah, basic sucks, but that's why you should count cards - look again. (Counting cards doesn't help you here.)
The card count in this situation equals zero according to the half-century old Hi-Lo card counting system the MIT guys used! (This is arguably the most popular card counting system in the world today. But I don't mean to single it out; they all are faulty.)
The count is zero! What does that tell you? Nothing! (And even that assessment - that the cards are "neutral" - is wrong.)
For those of you unacquainted with the theory of card counting, a zero count supposedly tells you the cards are "neutral" or "balanced," and that you should play your hand in this situation according to basic strategy.
But look again at the example. Are the cards really balanced here?
They're off the chart in high cards. And four cards haven't been dealt at all!
Yet, because the Hi-Lo system (and most card counting systems) does not factor in the 7s, 8s and 9s (which they ignore and consider "neutral" - go figure!), the Hi-Lo system is blind to this heavy imbalance of high cards!!!
And the Hi-Lo system did not detect that the Aces, 3s, 4s and 6s have not appeared AT ALL! (Because it wasn't designed to detect this kind of important information, which its creators apparently didn't realize was important!)
For any one card not to be represented is a glaring imbalance, but for four not to be represented (as is the case in this example) is a huge imbalance!
(And, by the way, when the dealer gets an Ace in its hand - either as the hole card, third card, fourth card, etc. - the dealer's overall busting rate is a measley 8 percent! Compound this with the fact that the 3s, 4s and 6s, now overdue, will almost ensure that the dealer will not bust and you'll realize what no basic strategist or card counter can possibly figure out: this is not a player-friendly situation.)
Now, in their (rare) moments of honesty, the Old School types admit that basic strategy ONLY WORKS WHEN THE CARDS ARE BALANCED. Yet, this is almost a mythical occurrence. To be balanced, the undealt cards have to (at all times, for basic to work) have the same percentage of each card in its mix as is the case in a freshly opened deck of cards, namely: each of the non-10s should each comprise 7.69 percent, or roughly 8 percent of the mix, and the 10s should comprise roughly 31 percent. WHEN DOES THIS HAPPEN??? Contact me if you EVER see it!!!
The bottom line:
A state-of-the-art player (using my system) would recognize that, in this not-atypical card example, the dealer is HIGHLY likely NOT to bust. The table is loaded with the cards that would combine with the 5 to bust the dealer. You need to be able to recognize these situations. The Old Schoolers would have you sit on totals of 12-16 points, which would have you lose more than not; and they'd have you double here, where that would only lead to twice your losses (it is not the time to put more money on the table; this is a case where the dealer is exceptionally strong!!!).
You cannot afford to stand on stiffs when the dealer is so likely to score - you won't win very often doing that!!! ...Those 12-point hands especially - why would you stand on those in this situation, when the 10s, which are the only cards that could bust you, are overplayed and highly unlikely to come your way?!
Furthermore, a state-of-the-art blackjack player (using my system) would know not to double here - as two players did, as you can see.
You may say: well, gee, they lucked out, with the hit cards they got.
Really? No. My research shows that the dealer's 5 scores high when it does not bust. For instance, it achieves scores of 19 points or better nearly 34% of the time when the cards are balanced. And here, that number would be much higher, skewed as it is toward low cards coming the dealer's way.
So in this situation, that 18 point hand is a loser.
What about the 19 point hand? A score of 19 is the average winning score, in a balanced situation. Here, where the dealer is going to achieve 20s and 21s much more than normally (normally being 23% of the time) it's not such a great score to have. Nonetheless, the player with the 19 point hand is the only one who really has any kind of chance.
The sad thing is, the four players on the left were led astray by the faulty Old School "logic" behind basic strategy. They were made to lose when they would have had better shots of winning if they'd played according to a modern, state-of-the-art approach, based upon the latest card behavior information.
Get the picture? Both basic strategy and card counting are highly faulty, ineffective and antiquated Old School methods - not to be followed anymore.
Use them at your own risk. It's your money.
Come back for more examples. I'm going to FILL this site with them until no one is foolish enough to follow the now-discredited systems first introduced in the 1950s and 1960s.
(If you want to have some fun, take a deck of cards and lay out the example above. Then see how the dealer does. To make the results correct, play this situation out repeatedly and make a proper statistical analysis of how the dealer fares, over time, in this very same situation. This, in and of itself, will open your eyes. Plus, it's a great way to learn what blackjack is all about. In blackjack, we play the odds. That means, you make the move that wins the most for you, or, in a losing situation, cuts your losses as is appropriate. Here, you'll find the dealer occasionally busts. But not anywhere near 42 percent of the time - as the Old Schoolers say it should. Keep track of the scores the dealer achieves, too, and do a statistical analysis of how often the dealer reaches scores of 19, 20 and 21 points! You'll soon realize you cannot afford to sit on stiffs - hands of 12 through 16 points - here. And, to my knowledge, my system is the only one that: 1) identifies these situations; and 2) lets you know this is something you must consider, in analyzing the cards! For more powerful numbers regarding the dealer up cards, see Cutting Edge Blackjack. Barnes & Noble and other fine stores carry it. Or, if you're on a tight budget - try your library. If they don't have it yet, simply ask them and they'll be glad to order a copy for you. Libraries will order any book you request.)
If You're Thinking of
I'd love to have the MIT teams' publicist...the one who claimed they were geniuses who invented their own fabulous system of playing and then made millions. The truth is - and the MIT guys who worked with Ben Mezrich on Bringing Down The House admitted this freely - they used the oldy moldy Hi-Lo card counting system, now nearly 50 years old, sorely antiquated and hopelessly ineffective.
So, if you were fired up by Mezrich's book, that's great. Just don't use that system! It's hardly state-of-the-art. (If you think it is, you ought to be driving a 1964 Ford Fairlaine, because that's the era that gave birth to both "technologies." If, instead, you prefer today's cars and today's innovations, read on.)
The above card example is just one of many I could show you to scare you off from the Hi-Lo card counting approach. For those of you new to this, Hi-Lo assigns arbitrary numbers to the 2s through 6s (these are arbitrarily named the "low cards" and you count each of them as +1, as dealt). Arbitrary numbers are also assigned to the 10s and Aces (these are arbitrarily named the "high cards" and you count them as -1, as dealt).
For some crazy reason, the Hi-Lo people dubbed the 7s through 9s "neutral cards," even though my 10+ years of research have proven these are anything but neutral. (They are highly important in determining whether you will or will not win in the next round!)
According to the Hi-Lo's creators, it's a great thing when the count is positive - this, they said, was the time when you placed your maximum bets. Zero counts indicated the cards were "balanced" and you then played your hand according to the Old School basic strategy and did not raise your bet.
Yet - and, again, the MIT'ers in Bringing Down The House were totally honest about this - the MIT teams said the Hi-Lo's results were pitiful (my word): it only gave them a 2% advantage, they figured, over the house. With such paltry results, they said, that meant that they had to place HUGE bets (of hundreds if not thousands of dollars) in order to profit from such a low projected gain. So - off the bat - this is not the kind of system your average player should want to use. (If my memory is correct, one of them lost $150,000 in about 10 rounds on one occasion.)
But, let's look at the example above for why you definitely would be foolish to use the Hi-Lo method.
Tell me: what is the count in this example? (Take your time. I'll play the Jeopardy theme music for you while you do the math. Da di da da, da di da, da di da di breeeeep!, da da da da da...I'm trying to hide the answer from your view on this screen, by placing some distance between the question and the answer.)
The answer is:
Zero. So, therefore, according to the Hi-Lo people, the cards should be balanced. But ARE they?
Clearly the Hi-Lo card counting system tells you nothing about this situation (or, more to the point, most situations in general). For the cards are NOT balanced. Far from it.
For one thing, three of the Aces and three of the 6s have been dealt. And just one 10.
With 14 cards on the table, there should be at least four 10s, just one 6 and just one Ace. So, in the next round (assuming this is the first round), 10s are overdue (and more likely to come your way) and 6s and Aces are highly unlikely to appear.
Also way overdue are the cards that didn't even show up in this round: 3s and 5s.
Do you understand what this means, with regard to your likelihood of winning in the next round?
If you played state-of-the-art blackjack you would. (HINT: my Auxiliary Betting Indicators, introduced in Cutting Edge Blackjack - and soon to be renamed Next Round Probability Indicators in the next edition of Cutting Edge Blackjack - would tell you this.)
For now, I'll just leave you with this thought: Play with the Hi-Lo system and this is just the kind of trouble you'll get into. You want your money riding on this?
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