In the mid 1990s I was travelling through Europe by boat with a friend who is somewhat of a hot shot among the casino owners in Germany.
People have always asked me how I can be friends with someone who is the sole enemy of my job, and I always tell them, and I’m telling you now, that it is easy to understand. I mean, couldn’t two poker players who are up against each other in a tournament be friends? Are they not going to play against each other just because they are friends? Of course they are, they separate work and social life, just like I do. And of course, who wouldn’t want to be friends with such an attractive woman as her?
Well, back to the story. We had just reached the port of Rimini, a small town in the northeast of Italy, and we were so supposed to go and have dinner at a real pizzeria that night, but as we were looking for a nice place to eat, we were stopped by some kind of promoter who said that we could have a free dinner at “The Captain” (something like El Capitan), if we just bought chips at their blackjack tables for at least one hundred euros. I looked at Joanne (Not her real name), and she was about to laugh her lungs out because of the bad choice of people. The promoter just looked at her and had no idea what was going on. I tipped the guy and said something like “We’ll take it” with my rusty Italian. He described the way and let us walk their ourselves (Probably because I had already tipped him), we found it rather quickly and went straight to the cashier and told them about what we had heard and they gladly told us that we had heard right. We bought chips for 600 euros and sat down at the highest limit tables, 5-500 euros. Joanne looked at me and I knew exactly what she meant. She wouldn’t help me at all if I wanted to count. Well, since the “casino” (More of a bar with a few blackjack-, roulette- and Punto Banco tables, and about fifteen slot machines in the corner) already knew that we knew each other, she wouldn’t be much help even if she wanted to. I realized that if I wanted to do anything I had to do it myself.
The game was for some reason played with five decks, not four or six, five. They did offer surrendering and was not allowed to take another card on a soft seventeen, everything else was standard rules. For the novice, this means pretty good odds. You see, if there had been four decks, with ultimate strategy, not using counting, the house edge would actually be 0%! But since there were five decks the edge was about 0.2-0.5%.
Okay, so now I was counting. My strategy is pretty simple when I’m alone. I count using either the + and – system or the ten-over system. But I don’t bet the amount that I am supposed to. You see, again for you novices, when you count and you’re on +4 you are supposed to bet four times your original bet. I don’t, because it’s much easier to get caught if you do. My strategy is to appear pretty stressed when I sit down, many amateur counters appear calm and confident, they sit quiet and concentrate on the game, when no cards are being dealt they tend to sit quietly and stare down at the table. This is why they get thrown out. They often dress up nice because they think there is some kind of glamour in making their income at the blackjack tables. I’m not saying there isn’t, I mean I don’t even own clothes that is not tuxedos or suits, but to appear confident as a blackjack counter, you should not expect your career as a card counter to be long, just let the pride be in the money you win, and not in your appearance.
Well back to my story. I always appear stressed, I never bet the same amount twice in a row, I switch between playing 3 hands to 2 to 1 hand at a time, just so that the casino wont know what the hell I’m doing and wouldn’t react to my soon to be huge bet.
In this case, I was switching my bets from 5 to 25 euros on the different hands. I looked around a lot to seem unfocused and after a while, another couple sat down and played with us. I saw them using an amateurish strategy and they were obviously not counting. I said to myself Why would anybody want to play blackjack and not know how to count?
We played for an hour before my real break came. I had reached +12 in my counting, I was now supposed to bet at least 12 times my original bet. Which would be approximately 120 euros. I asked Joanne if we should go and have that free dinner and that I would only play one more hand.
She took her chips and I bet my remaining 400 euros in one hand, I got a Jack and a deuce, 12. I stayed. The dealer’s up-card was a four of clubs. He flipped over a king and pronounced 14. He took out a Jack of clubs and busted. The counting was now down with 3 points, +9. I bet the maximum bet of 500 euros. I got 19. The house busted with 26. I knew that I had to stop winning now and think about my future. You see, if I was to be thrown out, a picture of me will be taken and sent out to a worldwide database of ball trackers, card counters, card mechanics and dice controllers, and you will be banned from every casino on earth. So, not to rise suspicion, you simply play against yourself. You see, when you reach above +7, hitting 12-13-14-15-16 is complete suicide, regardless of what card the dealer shows. There for, when you want to lose money, we simply play optimal strategy WITHOUT counting. Which would mean hitting 12-13-14-15-16 a lot.
Half an hour later, I was eating a delicious salmon with Joanne, and had won 400 euros.
This might not seem like a lot for the common man, who certainly would expect more from a professional gambler, but I enjoy every single cent that I receive for playing blackjack, regardless of how long time it took. A win is a win, regardless of amount. Card counting is a challenge, suited for everybody. It’s the life of professional gambling. Enjoy!
By Herr Kantarell
Jean Branche DuChaux