In our previous entry, we discovered that there is no casino demand for advantage players, but that advantage players are tolerated to varying degrees depending on what they are doing and how they are doing it. There’s actually one general type of advantage player that is an exception (as we will discuss below) and the rest of this article will focus on advantage players and their relationships to answer the following:
- What is the relationship of a particular type of advantage player to the casinos?
- What is the relationship of a particular type of advantage player to others of that type?
- What is the relationship of a particular type of advantage player to those who don’t do that type of advantage play?
As an aside, just because a person does one form of advantage play does not mean he does not do all, or some, of the others.
The answers to these questions are meant to illuminate the views that different advantage players may have and answer the question: What are their motivations? (Aside from making money)
One characteristic shared between advantage player poker players and other poker players is the fact that they play poker - obvious. However, there is one major characteristic that separates poker players who play at an advantage from other types of advantage players:
In poker, you play against each other.
That’s hardly a groundbreaking concept, but it’s an important differentiation to make here for several reasons that we will get into. Perhaps the most important of those reasons is that, while the poker player seeks to win money (mostly) from other players, other types of advantage players seek to win money from the casino.
Another reason that the differentiation is important is that, in most situations, the casino has no reason to care who wins at a poker game. The main ways that casinos make money off of poker is by charging buy-ins (or rebuys) for tournaments, (of which they generally keep a percentage) or by having a, “Rake,” (money taken out of every pot by the dealer) for cash games.
In other words, advantage play poker players are quite probably the only type of advantage player that the casino has an actual demand for, because in the sense of the casino’s rake, they are no different than any other poker player. The casino makes money directly off of those players as they would any other.
Another interesting aspect of the poker world is that, not only do they not mind, “Competition,” (even though it’s really usually not) poker could not continue to exist without it.
All you have to do is go to YouTube or Google and search, “Poker tips,” “Poker tutorials,” something to that effect, and I promise that there will be no shortage of results. If you’re just becoming interested in poker for the first time...I guess I’ll see you for Part III of this article three weeks from Tuesday, even though it will be out well before that. Many of these tips and tutorials are provided, often for free, from bona fide poker professionals themselves.
Wait, what? Why? Why would they teach you how to play poker better?
The first reason is that they need there to be an interest in poker, in general If there are no, “Fish,” (poker term for bad player) in the sea, then all of the sharks are going to starve. The professional poker community, in this way, not only benefits themselves, but they also benefit the casinos. It’s not as if rakes are no longer taken out of pots because the winner is a professional.
The second reason that they need for there to be an interest in poker is because, even if moderately skilled, professional poker players need players who are worse (preferably significantly so) than they are to play. You can read and watch everything that Daniel Negreanu has ever put out in his life, and yes, that will make you a wonderfully better poker player. What it won’t make you is better than Daniel Negreanu. There are many things that can come only with experience. For example, you can understand the theories behind not giving tells, or subterfuge (!) giving false tells...but it’s going to take experience to apply those competently.
If you watch everything Daniel Negreanu has ever put out and commit it to memory, but then sit down and play a series of, say, fifty gamesheads up with him...you will be completely and mercilessly demoralized. You’ll wonder what the hell you even bothered to, “Learn,” all of this stuff for. You’ll question whether or not you actually learned anything. I would even go as low as ten games with him heads up, but I like the people who read me, so I’ll give you guys tremendous benefit of the doubt and call it fifty.
That’s kind of the point.
While it’s true that poker advantage players compete with one another, they also compete with people who are not poker advantage players. “Advantage player,” is really kind of a tough term to use to describe poker players anyway. Why? Well, whether or not you sit down at a poker table and are at an advantage really depends on who else is seated at the table. THere’s an old adage amongst poker players, “If you look at a table and don’t see any fish, that’s because you are the fish.”
It’s also just fundamentally how poker works. If all poker players were equally skilled, then in the long run, all of them could do nothing but lose money overall because of the rake. In order to be at an advantage, the poker player must be skilled enough not only to beat (on average) the other players at the table, but to beat them for a percentage that overcomes the rake.
Overall, this results in a symbiotic relationship with all parties involved, at least generally:
- The casino needs poker players in order for there to be money to rake.
- Skilled poker players need unskilled poker players in order to be at (or at a greater) advantage.
- Certain professional poker players encourage other people to play poker and help teach them how to do that.
- As poker players rise through the ($$$) ranks, they will be faced with more skilled competition that they were before. That in itself is not a problem because the stakes are also higher. For a deliberate oversimplification: 3% of $1,000 is more than 10% of $100.
In other words, the skilled poker players who share information, for the most part, create players who might eventually become their competition (or lose money to more skilled players than them who might eventually become their competition) enabling them to make more money because they will be more skilled than most of the players who rise up to the “Next level.”
And, again, more players playing in general is good for poker on the whole. And good for casinos.
An argument can also be made for, “Challenge,” extremely skilled poker players probably want to be challenged to become even better. Poker is not unlike a game such as chess, in that way. Just as there are, “Lines,” of chess play (particularly as relates opening play theory) poker hands also have, “Lines.” For some, poker might be strictly a money-making pursuit: Those players do well to play at the highest stakes they can, but in a way that they will not be noticed. They can try to fly under the radar as much as possible and beat players who are significantly less skilled than they are.
For other poker players, it’s an academic pursuit as much as it is anything. There are components of psychology, game theory, statistics and probability as well as any number of other things involved even beyond those catch-all terms. To give a very basic idea, I like these 101 poker quotes, feel free to visit:
I think Quote 35 summarizes this section nicely, so let’s go with that:
35. “No river, no fish.” ~ Amarillo Slim
Table Games Advantage Players
I’m not going to attempt to unpack this entire truck for the purpose of this article, because it’s a very large truck and I’m only somewhat aware of its contents. In general terms, table game advantage play consists of playing table games at an advantage with the goal of extracting money from the casino. Unlike poker, for the most part, other players only matter to the extent that they need to lose in order for the casino to make money, otherwise, the casino won’t have that particular game anymore.
The relationship, loosely defined, goes something like this:
Regular Players’ Money--->Casinos’ Money---.Advantage Players’ Money
While the advantage players are not strictly playing against regular players, they do rely on them as an integral part of this process. This is going to be true for any other casino game or form of advantage play. Quite simply, if the casino does not make money, then neither can the advantage players. Or, if there were only advantage players, the casino would at least eventually run out of money and would have to quit spreading the games.
It is this main argument that, in my view, counters the Moral/Ethical position that some players take that they are getting a sort of, “Revenge,” against the casinos. That’s just flatly an untrue statement. I’m not saying that they don’t believe it, just that it’s not true.
Without the casinos doing what they do, (being expected to win, and winning, money from regular players) advantage players could not do what they do. The casinos would run out of money for them to win, advantage play would be dead.
If the primary goal were actually to get, “Revenge,” on the casinos, then the only real way to do that would be to try to prevent the, “Regular players,” from ever playing in the first place. That would be counterintuitive if one wishes to remain an advantage player. I guess the advantage player could give his winnings directly back to some of the losing players, but that seems equally pointless.
Whether or not the tribe of table games advantage players thinks information should be shared is going to vary to a large degree, mostly due to the nature of the individual, “Plays.”
Card Counting Blackjack
For one thing, there is no shortage of resources out there that explain the tenets of blackjack card counting. However, it is important to understand several things that I will list:
1.) The concept of card counting is already widely known. Card counting blackjack, as a general concept, is probably the most well-known means of advantage play to the general public. There are people out there who have never stepped foot into a casino and know the term.
2.) The knowledge imparted by these sources is arguably good for card counters as well as the casinos. It may seem contradictory, but I would argue that, on net, there have been more losing players who think they can count cards than there have been winning ones.
-In effect, blackjack might be winning more for the casinos because of people who think they can than they are losing to those who actually can. Card counting and playing blackjack at an advantage is a relatively easy concept to grasp, but it’s a hard thing to do well.
How easy is playing blackjack to do at an advantage?
It’s so easy that people do it all the time, often without even knowing it.
The fundamental principle that makes card counting even possible is that of a variable house edge. Cards come out of the deck that benefit the player (on future hands) or cards come out of the deck that do not benefit the player. The question of being a good card counter is not one of creating this opportunity, (it’s fundamentally often there on its own) but recognizing it and knowing how to exploit it to the best possible long-run degree.
Many (most?) people who purport to be card counters will not do this successfully. They will make a bunch of fundamental mistakes, often including losing track of the count to begin with. The most fundamental means of card counting, high-low, is relatively easy to employ by itself. Grab a few decks of cards, when a ten or Ace comes out subtract 1, when a 2-6 comes out, add one.
If you can do that, as I would say most people could in isolation of distractions, you now know the most fundamental principle of counting cards. As a result, you can play some of your hands at an advantage. At a certain point with effect-of-removal involved, an advantage can be had without ever deviating from normal blackjack strategy and the only question to know is when you are at that point.
But, you wouldn’t make very much money.
3.) More difficult aspects of blackjack include different counts, learning the concept of bet-spreading (bet more when at an advantage, less if not) as well as learning what are called, “Index plays.” Index plays are such that, given a particular count and set of blackjack rules, the optimal strategy changes given a particular situation against a dealer upcard.
One example is the phrase every skilled recreational blackjack player knows and loves, “NEVER TAKE INSURANCE,” except, with index plays, you often take insurance. In fact, a good deal of the money that you make in the long run will be because you have taken insurance at the appropriate times.
4.) In the previous article, I mentioned that casinos, at best, tolerate advantage players (except poker players, who are encouraged). “Tolerance,” is a very common term in Blackjack parlance and refers to a few different things:
- How much is one spreading one’s bet in positive counts as opposed to their, “Base bet,” (read: lowest bet) when the count is neutral or bad?
- What sorts of index plays is the card counter using? To what degree is this person extremely obvious to be a card counter?
Some casinos don’t frown upon card counters at all, but those are few in number. Most casinos actually want there to be card counters, just not ones that they perceive as good (read: winning) card counters.
5.) There is also a question of degree. I imagine most table game managers would tell you the precise opposite, but card counters don’t really hurt the casino THAT much as long as they are limited as to the extent that they try to put a beating on them. That all goes back to tolerance:
6.) Playable games are pretty widely available. In other words, game where forms of card counting are effective. Not that many people even card count well-enough and make enough money to even be a major threat. While the Blackjack games (rules) are getting worse, there are still playable games out there and were more when this information was shared to begin with.
Other Types of Table Game Advantage Play
There are many other legal forms of advantage play as relates table games. Some would advance an argument that illegal forms of advantage play are not advantage play at all, they’re just illegal. I suppose I would only agree with that in limited circumstances, given the definition of advantage play that I proposed in the first article of this series.
General other forms of table game advantage play include, hole-carding, edge-sorting, shuffle tracking, collusion (between players) and dealer mistakes. The extent to which these things should be discussed, if at all, varies from one player who participates in these activities to the other. Many players believe that nothing at all should be said about them.
It is generally accepted that casinos are less tolerant of these forms of table game advantage play than they are of other forms. I believe that is because (%-wise) they are more effective and can make more money. In many instances, these forms of table game advantage play are more difficult to identify or prevent than card counting. In other instances, and with certain specific games, they are relatively easy to prevent...it’s just a question of whether or not a casino chooses to do so.
In any case, those are the terms that describe those types of advantage plays and you are free to do what you want with them. For my part, at least for the purposes of this article, I’m not going to any more detail at all as to the methods involved.
In the case of these types of advantage play, the discouragement of the public sharing of information has more to do with not alerting the casino as to them being done, or to the extent that people might be doing them. Competition amongst other players is not the foremost concern, (but could be a minor concern) because there is generally no shortage of tables. Some opportunities are less likely to present themselves than others, so some forms are less likely to be freely discussed than others.
Specific opportunities are almost never openly discussed, (as in, x game at y casino) because those opportunities would be pounced upon and brought to an end fairly quickly. It would create competition, for that specific play, to the extent that it is overloaded and quickly burnt out.
All of these advantage plays, and others, focus on longevity. Do you want to shear the sheep or slaughter it? The answer is generally the former unless a particular play is expected to be available for only a short time, and even then, you wouldn’t want people flocking to compete with you for that play. Secrecy is paramount, if it is to be shared at all, and that is totally understandable.
Illegal forms of advantage play would consist of such things as marking the cards, amongst a few other more specific possibilities that there is no reason to detail at all.
Pastposting (making a bet after a result is known, generally speaking) is most certainly illegal, but I would argue, not a form of advantage play. Advantage play implies that one is actually gambling which implies an unknown result. At best, pastposting is blatant cheating, at worst, it’s straight theft.
Our final general category that we will address is that of machine players. Granted, there are ways to play Live Bingo, Live Keno (Progressives) and to bet on sports at an advantage, but we will ignore those for the purposes of this article. It’s hardly a secret that people can bet on sports at an advantage, but most of the means by which that is effectuated are too detailed to even summarize here.
We’ve also ignored online gambling for the purposes of this article, or at least, will not deal with it specifically as the tenets include many other types of advantage play.
Advantages can be had by playing casino machines both on and off of the machines themselves. The concept of a, “Vulture,” is simply a person who engages in quick turnaround plays that generally are not of huge risk and are perceived to be at a significant advantage. In some ways, the opportunities are getting better for vultures (as we may discuss in a completely different article without getting into too many specific plays) but the competition with other vultures may be getting worse, depending on location.
Other advantages that can be had specific to individual machines are progressives of various types as well as certain video poker games. There also exists the possibility of figuring out some sort of flaw that is inherent to the machine that can either make certain results more likely, or in even rarer cases, change the result entirely.
Players who do one, or both, of these things are also known as, “Hustlers.”
The extent to which hustlers will be tolerated by casinos varies tremendously! Some casinos will go as far as to eliminate opportunities that would otherwise organically exist, as we see in this thread:
(No more hate mail, please! I think we can all agree UX is well out of the bag!)
Some casinos will focus on eliminating specific hustlers themselves, rather than eliminating the opportunities. There is zero demand for hustlers, but casinos would generally be smart not to devote any resources to worrying about them.
It’s true that they are likely to take any winnings and leave, but if they are kicked out and successfully encourage just a few people to avoid a particular casino entirely because of this treatment, “If you find any way to win, they’ll just throw you out completely,” then the casinos themselves lose money in the long run as a result.
As I alluded to in the previous article, hustlers sometimes cause their own problems. For one thing, snooping around for abandoned credits as a primary means:
- First of all, is NOT gambling.
- Is theft in certain jurisdictions.
- Is extremely obvious.
- Is detrimental to the comfort of other players.
Think about it: The guy goes around between all of the rows, walks closely to people, maybe bumps them...he’s just all kinds of in the way.
That’s where we get into:
Mission146’s Nine Commandments of Vulturing
1.) Thou Shalt Be Clean
Be basically presentable, at least, try not to look anymore disheveled than the average customer of that casino. Make sure you’ve had a shower recently, try to smell nice (other than the fact that you smoke, if you do).
Not only is this courteous, but it will also help you not stand out. A completely disheveled and stinky person sticks out like a sore thumb and, I would argue, the casino making that person leave is more of a public service than anything else. Nobody wants to be around a stinky person.
If you’re going to even attempt to vulture a high-limit room in a, “Nice,” casino, look the part. If you see me in my black dress shirt (still jeans, though) at a particular casino in this area, it’s a safe bet I plan to be in the high-limit room.
2.) Thou Shalt Be Quick, but NOT Aggressive
It also draws attention to run from one machine to another like some sort of maniac. Normal players don’t do that, they stop and smell the flowers a bit. I’m not saying you have to put on a huge act (if it’s somewhere you go regularly, they probably have some idea and don’t care) just that you can take your time.
Proceed to your next destination in a calm and dignified manner.
3.) Thou Shalt Be Polite (to a Fault)
Treat other players with respect. Don’t bump into them. If you do so by accident, apologize. Don’t crowd other players, especially not if you want their machine. Maintain a reasonable distance from them, and if you suspect they are going to leave, (if I could read poker players like I can read when a slot player is about to leave...I would be a poker God) wait patiently and don’t overtly pay too much attention to them.
Quick Anecdote: I was with a fellow forum member at one of the casinos local to me and we were scoping out a lowish value must-hit machine. The lady sitting on the machine had just hit some bonus games to a pretty good result, but I was looking for body language. “Good, she’s probably leaving,” I said to my friend.
“No way,” he replied, “She’s definitely going to hit the thing.”
Sure enough, she left. I noticed that as the free games were coming to an end, she turned away from the machine, picked up her purse, and also moved her legs such that they were no longer under the machine. She was (to me) clearly waiting for the free games to end so she could take her winnings and happily do whatever it was she did after that. I seriously doubt that she even cared about the must-hit, knew the implications of its current status, and quite possibly, didn’t even realize she was playing one at all.
If you are going for the same seat as another player, offer that seat to them. Remember, they are putting money in that they will most likely lose by the end of the day. Your goal is to put money in and stop when it is no longer mathematically expected to turn into more money. They are MORE valuable to the casino than you are, if you’re doing your job, you have negative value to the casino.
If they pull out a pack, offer them an ashtray if there isn’t one in their place. What benefit to this is there? I don’t know. Maybe none. The only thing that I do know is what regrettably few successes I have had in life have been because I am a fundamentally nice and polite person who most people are inclined to like. #PolitenessRules #HumbleBrag
4.) Thou Shalt Tip
I don’t mean running around throwing people money for no reason, but if the cocktail waitress gets you a coffee, give her a dollar. If you go to the bar for any reason, (could be where the best returning machines for free play are) then order a coffee or a pop and tip a dollar there.
The only two types of people who are really going to stand out to the drink service oriented folks are the stiffers and the excessive tippers. Don’t stand out, just do what everyone else appears to be doing.
I always like, “Tipping cuts into my expected value, man.” It doesn’t. Who the hell knows what’s going on behind the scenes? Who knows what is going on in peoples’ heads? If you’re a frequent hustler at a certain casino, and most people seem to like you, it could make a difference one day in whether or not you get tossed. Getting tossed should cost you more in the long run than a few George Washingtons here and there.
5.) Thou Shalt Not Argue
You should do your best to comply with any requests that casino staff makes of you, “Hey, we’re clearing this section to pull the boxes, do you mind coming back?” You should also do your best to form friendships with other obvious hustlers rather than try to work against them because that can lead to breaking the other Commandments. That doesn’t mean share everything, it doesn’t violate a Commandment to determine that you know significantly more plays than they do.
And, if you do, GOOD! Go after the ones they know first and then try to avoid being seen by them besides that.
6.) Thou Shalt Be Neat
This is almost along the same lines as polite. When you’re done at a machine, put your chair back. Take any empty cups that you caused to exist and throw them in the trash. Wipe or blow away any ashes you might have got on the device. You can also take this to the extent of straightening up your small area in general, if you want to.
Why? You’re saving people work. You’re saying, “Look, I’m here to win money, but I don’t mind helping you guys out a little bit also. I understand that if you wanted a mess to be left behind, then you wouldn’t have people running around cleaning up messes, so I’ll at least take care of my own mess...there you go.”
7.) Thou Shalt Not Steal, Thou Shalt Win
My attitude on abandoned credits has matured a bit over the years. Before, I would advocate for taking them to be fine as long as it was not against the law and clear the player had left, but I have since changed my views. Don’t give the casino an excuse to toss you over a paltry sum of money when you are expected to make more than that on the level.
If interacting with security in a casino concerns you, then just print off the ticket and put it on top of the machine for it to be someone else’s problem.
8.) Thou Shalt Not Give Back
Don’t play negative expectation games, unless (often cover) you have a very good reason.
9.) Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Play
Okay, this one isn’t actually a Commandment at all. I just liked the way it sounded.
Here’s an actual conversation between myself and a security guy, probably helps that we were friends in school:
Security: Finding anything today?
Me: Hell no. Maybe twenty bucks worth? The competition in this place is crazy lately, and you know how the beginning of the year can be. This place won’t be that great again until tax time, and that’s only as long as everyone else isn’t thinking the same thing.
Security: Yeah, it’s been pretty dead.
Me: Makes your job easier?
Security: Makes my job boring. I haven’t even thrown out any drunks this week.
Me: Sorry I can’t be of more help.
Security: No worries, go get them, man. I hate this place. (Chuckles)
Me: I shall do my best for you, sir.
Anyway, the point is that the Nine Commandments are designed in such a way that...if not more desirable...you can at least be less undesirable to your casino of choice.
And, seriously, nobody likes a stinky person.
Other Machine Players
For many types of machine players, they may play on the machines, but the machines are not the entire, “Game.” Casinos often offer comps and other things that can turn what would normally be a negative proposition into a potentially positive one. Casinos also offer occasional promotions and tournaments, so determining the value of those (and what is needed to get in) can turn what would otherwise be a negative game into a positive one.
There are other factors that can come into play here, such as what was hinted at in the previous article. I can’t control what other people do, but it’s my belief that some generalities should be protected as though they were secrets. Much less am I going to give away the playbook.
Even talking about generalities as relates some of these plays would be akin to posting about advantageous table game conditions in a specific casino. The wrong information getting out can lead to lots of things ending fairly quickly. That’s why many players involved of these things are protective, even when faced with insults and accusations that they are exaggerating.
And, there’s a huge difference between a windy day and a tornado.
This concludes our summary of the different types of advantage plays in general terms. Obviously, there are so many specifics to some of these that I could do a five-part series of articles triple the length of this one, and all just on one subject. Fortunately, Romes has your back if your interest is more information on counting cards in blackjack:
Excellent series of articles there.
Don’t forget, we have three to go:
Part III: The Casino Perspective
Part IV: Darkoz: The Man Behind the Mask
Part V: The Future of the Tribes
See you then!