Joined: Oct 2, 2013
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October 1st, 2014 at 11:01:05 AM permalink
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.
Joined: May 21, 2013
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October 1st, 2014 at 11:22:23 AM permalink
That was a really great read, arcticfun! Thanks for the detailed chronology/diagnosis. You touched on something important in the emotional department, I think; the de-emphasis of the real value of chips in the casino environment. I have found myself falling into that trap many times and had to step back from it. In real life, I clip coupons, compare prices of products on the shelf per ounce, buy house brands/generic where there's not a loss of quality. Cook at home rather than buying fast food, itemize checking account entries, scrutinize credit card bills. Yet I refer to $5 chips as "nickels" and green as "quarters" and routinely buy in for $200-300 without thinking twice about it. It's pervasive slang, but it's also a way of hiding the true cost of staking yourself at gaming.

Glad you are finding success at lower min-bet tables with better play on your part. I have yet to find that sweet spot, I think; I go out too aggressively, then have to back off and grind so my BR doesn't disappear in the first couple days. (I'm not playing BJ, though, so it's an entertainment choice more than a moneymaker for me.)

Anyway, you made some really worthwhile observations. Thanks again for sharing them.
If the House lost every hand, they wouldn't deal the game.
Joined: Aug 31, 2014
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October 1st, 2014 at 12:08:23 PM permalink
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?
Joined: Jul 18, 2010
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October 1st, 2014 at 12:15:26 PM permalink
What I took away from this story is that
like most BJ players, you are way under
funded. Your BR isn't even close to what it
should be for the stakes you're playing.
"It's not enough to succeed, your friends must fail." Gore Vidal
Joined: Jul 22, 2014
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October 1st, 2014 at 12:21:28 PM permalink
It was definitely a good read and there are plenty of lessons everyone can learn from your experience. I hope you in fact reread your own post. The emotional side is a dangerous thing. Thinking about chasing your losses in your room or at your job is unhealthy. I'm glad to hear you're understanding and handling this.

The points of concern I had before and after this post still do is your bankroll and your bets/spreads. At least you did address it once near the end. It's not that you're just going over Kelly. You can go 2x Kelly sometimes to be hyper aggressive, but over 2x Kelly is indeed a statistical inevitability to go bust at some point. So why do it? Why not play where you're able to appropriately play? Do you mind me asking what your current bankroll/limits/spread is then? Is it the 15K in chips you keep and play with every time you go and 100 min?

I'm very glad for your short term variance/success. Starting off I jumped my bankroll very hard as well (only had $1,000 and played a $25 DD game spreading 8-1 for $500 buy in with one reload in the pocket). I know exactly what you meant when talking about going down in limits and how it didn't feel the same. I started my career at quarters, and have been playing mostly nickles for the past 7 years part time. I wish I had the funds to play quarters, $50, or $100 min, but alas the math does not allow it. If you truly aren't emotionally compromised, then I would think you would listen to the math and play appropriately for your bankroll/spread. I wish you continued success, but hope you re-evaluate a little =).
Playing it correctly means you've already won.
Joined: Oct 10, 2011
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October 1st, 2014 at 12:31:15 PM permalink
Scrutiny? If you were playing 16 hours a day I think it's safe to say that they took a look at you and didn't see you as a threat. Both of those casinos have some very sharp people.

When would you spread to three hands and why?

No mention of wonging.

A 1% advantage on a six or an eight deck game with a 1-6 spread seems overly optimistic, especially when the eight deck is H17.

I'll spare the bankroll lecture as you seem to have a grasp on that.
Many people, especially ignorant people, want to punish you for speaking the truth. - Mahatma Ghandi
Joined: Dec 18, 2013
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October 1st, 2014 at 1:30:25 PM permalink
Nice read Articfun, thanks for sharing.
Joined: Oct 2, 2013
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October 1st, 2014 at 2:53:14 PM permalink
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.
Joined: Aug 1, 2011
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October 1st, 2014 at 3:25:05 PM permalink
I think you have been lucky with your "micro -clump betting". This is how non counting players play.They see a bunch of small cards and bet more,without regard to the previous rounds.
If you have been playing $100 min tables your play has been evaluated,they have determined you are not a threat.
I don`t mean to sound harsh but the way you are playing you will most likely lose your bankroll.
Don't teach an alligator how to swim.
Joined: Feb 11, 2014
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October 1st, 2014 at 5:01:48 PM permalink

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.

Um.... What?
нет сговор. нет непроходимость. полный освобождение от ответственности.

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