Dear WoV forum:
Today more or less marks the one year point from when I made the active decision to give BJ counting a serious attempt. I had bought about ten books, stalked this forum for a while, and perfect BS with a really neat Android app called Advantage Blackjack (I often recommend it to people who ask me about BJ because it gives you options to practice only soft hands, only paired hands, etc., as well as a nifty number of counting practice features). I had about $5k that I was willing to burn and give this experiment a try. As a student at the time, I had more free time than most, and the commute to Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods was less than two hours each way (free coupons on the buses! $50 match play (used to be $60 but oh well)). I had been at MS a while before, but hadn't really AP'd until now.
In any case, the start was very rocky. I was red/green chipping with max bets of $75 which I only made extremely conservatively, and was mostly even. Sometime in late October, I thought to myself that I wanted to give the green tables a try and so I upped my min to $25, and then $50. I remember one of my earliest $50 shoes -- I won $800 in what was, to me, the most amazing sweep ever. I started building my confidence. A couple thousand bucks up, I started pressing the min bets. And then the crap hit the fan --- I had nearly $10k and was pressing bets of $300 x2 hands. On one fateful day, I split and doubled a $350 bet for a total of nine bets -- it was 77 vs 6 -- and the dealer flopped a 4 and drew an A and I was immediately down more money than I had ever thought was possible to lose. It went downhill from there, me like an idiot trying to chase the loss. Emotions running at an all time high, irrational, playing perfect BS but being way aggressive given the bankroll.
I gave it a break, took it up again in January/February. it was slow at first, but I stayed exclusively at a $25 min table. My max bet was never more than $200. The BR built up again. In hindsight, I was probably on the fortunate side of Lady Variance. Either way, the bennies piled up bit by bit. I had enough to go to the $50 tables, and rationally, I continued on.
It was then that I learned about the awesomeness of $100 pits. You are treated like a god. Your status points and promo points skyrocket compared to the other tables. You generally play alone vs the dealer. I thought, if I'm conservative, I can give this a try -- and I played almost exclusively there, betting very conservatively at $100 x1 up to $300 x3 hands. There was a bump along the way when I lost over 10k in something like five hours. I was almost ready to chase again. That feeling is one of indescribable horror. You feel like throwing up, you're playing 16+ hours a day, you're pissed, you're temporarily exhilarated only to have the hopes kicked out of you by a 7-card 21 with a high bet up. You're tired, but when you go up to the (comped) hotel room, all you can think about is going back down and making back the losses. These emotions got the better of me even during my day job. Instead of working in the lab, I couldn't keep blackjack out of my head. I stopped exercising, my work fell behind (though I masked that quite well...) and I was turning into a type of human being that thoroughly disgusted me.
But a few very important empirical lessons were learned:
1) $100 in the casino feels like $1 in real life. "Oh lucky me, I found $1 on the street!" gets the same amount of joy and recognition as "I won $100 at the casino." Different people may react differently, but this is a pretty good rule of thumb.
2) Because of that 100:1 factor, whatever you do, keep BJ money completely separate from whatever day job you're pursuing. Sure, take a benny out here and there and take a pretty girl out to eat, but do not depend on the money you won. Do not think "I have 20k in the safe, I can plan this vacation to the Bahamas next year no problem" until you locked that amount away and it cannot be used for BJ.
3) Chips are not money until you go to the cage and make an exchange. You haven't won squat until you cash out. Investors refer to this as realized vs unrealized gains.
4) a trip bankroll of 150 min bets was always sufficient for a 3-day trip or less. If you find yourself about half way down, cut your min bet in half and repeat.
So I re-evaluated my strategy and instead went back to the $25 tables and slowly built the BR back up. This wasn't easy because I was once used to winning 3-4k per good session, so what does a meager $750 win mean? Well, you can't think like that. Every session is not in terms of dollars; it is in terms of the min-bet.
Over the following months, I was very successful. I modified strategies a bit and focused on secondary effects a bit more (ace clumps, micro-counts (which is when I would increase my bet after many small cards come out in a row despite a low TC), A-5 awareness, elementary shuffle tracking), and, most importantly, I'm not increasing my stakes anymore. My min bet is no more than $100, I keep 15k in chips and I cash out whatever winnings come out on top. I don't have cash transactions over $10k (no CTRs!), I get a lot of casino points, and, I believe, much less scrutiny than before because I keep coming in with chips instead of cash.
Eventually, I will lose the 15k in chips; that's statistically inevitable because the bets are above Kelly. But it's held on very well so far. I think that conservative spreading (1-8 or even 1-6) at higher stakes with many (MANY!) hands per hour can be very profitable if you add in strategies beyond hi-lo -- perhaps the total advantage is even above 1%. Or I've just had a run of medium-term luck. Don't get me wrong - I have had losses, but the emotional value attached to the 15k in chips is so, so much smaller than an equivalent amount in cash -- so I found that I am not emotionally compromised anymore.
Thanks for sharing your experiences over the last year, arcticfun! I enjoyed reading it.
I think the greatest risk is getting too confident and after some wins at smaller tables, go to bigger tables, not keeping in mind this also means bigger losses.
And indeed, beachbumbabs, in the casino you forget the real value of money. But then again, I compare it to some of my friends having a hobby like road cycling or jet ski racing... then playing blackjack is not more expensive than that, on the contrary! in the long run, you should make some (small) profit.
Arcticfun, did you always go to the same casinos?
Nice read Articfun, thanks for sharing.
Addressing some of the thoughts above:
- I play almost exclusively at Mohegan sun. I was at foxwoods twice and liked MS so much more that I've stayed there since. Over time I learned that they have an abnormally high tolerance for my play - 1BB in fact also told me about how they very rarely flat-bet or ban anyone.
- my bankroll is beyond the 15k in chips. But up till now, I haven't had to buy in for, like, four months. Most of the time I play 100-500 x1 or 100-300 x3 hands.
- I recognize the value of points and status. I'm black-card level at Mohegan, which means lotso free stuff.
- micro-counting has proved tremendously successful for me. I'd even go so far as to say it gives you a > 1% advantage. I think it comes from the shuffle. A weak clumpy-shuffling dealer is worth his weight in gold.
- I Wong out at TC -2 or, if I'm in the no mid-shoe pits, request a shuffle. It's worked every time.
My goal is to have the chips last as long as possible while accruing points and maintaining status. I will cut my min bet in half when I reach 7.5k regardless of the amount of cash I have.
I'm happy to start a separate discussion on the actual betting practices (bet spread and betting jumps) but the point of this post was to highlight some of the low points I've had to go through before reaching the current, relatively relaxed and happy position I'm in now.