Counting cards for Blackjack

Characteristics of a Successful Card Counter

One of the greatest challenges for us is navigating the fine line between painting card counting as “easy money” and making it sound like only Rain Man can do it.

Media has portrayed card counting as something that only rocket scientists and MIT wiz kids can learn.

That’s just not true. We had former electricians, writers, housewives, and high school dropouts who each won hundreds of thousands of dollars for our blackjack team.

Mastering card counting takes a fraction of the time it would take to become a professional programmer, doctor, or most any other profession. But on the flip side, almost everyone we train underestimates how much practice it takes to be a successful card counter. I remember one guy who was training for our team who vowed, “I’m going to train and test out in two weeks.” He was working towards his Master’s Degree in Marine Biology, had a strong background in math, and was a diligent student. Not only did it take him more than two weeks to test out for our team, it took more than two months. yeah, it’s easier than becoming a professional programmer, but it’s not easy. If you think it’s going to be easy, you’re not going to make it. A lot of people ask me, “what does it really take to be a successful card counter?” I want to give my honest opinion. But rather than talk about the technical skills that we’ve already discussed here, let me talk about the type of person that does well as a card counter.

1. Obsession with Details.

This doesn’t mean that you have to be Adrian Monk, but at least when it comes to blackjack, a mentality of “good enough” isn’t good enough. The margin for error is slight. If you miss a single dealer payout error, that can wipe out several hours of positive EV. A basic strategy mistake here and a counting error there, and you are playing a losing game. If you don’t have an obsession with the decisions you make, you might not have what it takes to be a pro. Do you tend to get easily distracted by things? If the pit boss asks, “Sir, what’s your name?” will you drop the count, or will you shut him out until you’ve made sure you have the count memorized? If a slot machine goes off behind you because someone just hit a jackpot will you turn around to check it out? Or will you ignore it until your round is over to make sure you don’t miss a card? If you get a $1, 000 blackjack will you celebrate, high-fiving the old lady next to you, or will you make sure you subtract 2 from your running count for the Ace, Face-card before reacting to your blackjack?

“There’s nothing wrong with having emotions. But you better not let them dictate your decisions.”

2. Disciplined.
Poker is an interesting game in that there isn’t one exact style that is successful. There are great poker players who play aggressively and great poker players who play conservatively; some who play tight (few hands) or others loose (lots of hands). Since poker is based on outplaying the competition, you just need to find a way to extract more value out of them than they extract out of you. Blackjack works differently. The beauty of card counting is that it is mathematically precise, since you are playing against a dealer who must always make the same decision. This means that in blackjack, there is always exactly one correct way to play. Basic strategy will tell you exactly what decision to make. There is always exactly one running count, which will give you an exact true count. Your true count will tell you exactly what to bet, and exactly when to deviate from basic strategy. If you are not highly disciplined in how you play, you will not be a successful card counter. Will you implement your bet spread precisely, even if you’ve lost 10 hands in a row? Will you be tempted to bet a little bit less if you’re up a ton of money, just because you don’t want to lose it all back? Will you hit a 15 against a 9 even though you know you’re likely to bust? Do you keep detailed records of your wins and losses? Do you have a system for keeping track of your money and chips? I often tell people that they must play like a computer: Cold, calculated, self-controlled. There’s nothing wrong with having emotions. But you better not let them dictate your decisions.

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