I began playing blackjack in the mid 1990s after reading Ed Thorp’s Beat the Dealer. Previously, I had just played as a “ploppy” (typical uninformed casino patron) a few times in my life. I had no real interest in blackjack or any other casino games. After reading Dr. Thorp’s book, I became interested in the concept of advantage play. I had been self-employed for most of my life, and I had a flexible schedule. I began to read more books and practiced at low stakes in several Laughlin casinos. Laughlin was the closest casino location to where I resided at the time.
In the late 1990s, there were some changes in the business I was in, and I decided to leave that business. My wife, who is almost a decade younger than me, was in the final year of a lengthy course of study in college. It would have been difficult to change the location of our residence. And, unfortunately, the city we lived in offered few opportunities for me in anything that I was interested in doing. My wife and I decided that I would play blackjack for about six months and see how it went, while she completed her studies. We decided to defer the decision about where we would live until her schooling was completed.
I became a full-time blackjack player in 1999, and for the next year I was on the road a lot, playing blackjack throughout Nevada. In June of 2000, when my wife’s schooling was completed, we decided to move to Las Vegas. I had grown up in Las Vegas in the 1960’s, but moved away in 1972. My parents lived in Las Vegas, and employment opportunities for my wife were plentiful in Las Vegas, so off we went. We’ve lived in Las Vegas and I have been an advantage player ever since.
Over the years, as my stakes have increased, I’m playing fewer and fewer hours. I’m now also involved in other gainful activities. The deterioration of the games and the hassles of frequent travel have taken their toll. Years ago, I played a thousand or more hours a year.
I’m fortunate that my wife is totally supportive of my play. She is a part-time advantage player herself. Her profession allows her a reasonably flexible schedule, so she accompanies me on some of my out-of-town trips.
My current bankroll is in six figures, built up over the years from the tiny $15,000 bankroll I started with. I am an aggressive blackjack player, using a large bet spread but playing short sessions. I also play other games which I can’t discuss publicly, and I’m always on the lookout for additional profitable opportunities. If you’re alert and observant, you’ll find that there are a lot of other ways in addition to blackjack to extract money from casinos.
I use the standard Hi-Lo count, with indices ranging from -4 to +6. I play quickly and quietly, preferring to play alone or with as few other players as possible. If I have to, I can chat with the dealer, pit personnel, cocktail waitresses, or ploppies and still be confident of my count, and still be able to maintain appropriate game speed, which of course is as many hands per hour as possible.
Casino harassment and stupidity is the most frustrating and annoying part of advantage play. No one can accurately predict when harassment it will rear its ugly head. I’ve been rudely treated countless times, been threatened and even assaulted by casino security guards, had cashiers refuse to cash my chips, been thrown out of comped hotel rooms, etc. Casinos often are nasty and vindictive towards people who use their brains while playing casino games. Though I’ve been doing this for a long time, some of the pettiness and spitefulness of casino people still surprises me. That’s partly why I started my blog www.TheBearGrowls.com to help expose casino wrongdoing.
I accept backoffs and barrings as part of the game. I’m always polite when backed off, which has happened well over a hundred times. Sometimes casinos shoot themselves in the foot by making a routine, low-key occurrence into an embarrassing spectacle for themselves. Backoffs are merely a business decision by the casino. There is no legitimate reason for them to get security guards involved. It is rare that an advantage player will become unruly when backed off or barred. We generally just want to get out of there safely. The guards have no need to be involved. It’s just an intimidation tactic by the casino, and a shameful one for them. I’m happy when it backfires and upsets ploppies.
A ploppy once became involved in a routine backoff. The shift manager got angry and called counters “scumbags.” He so antagonized the apparently well-meaning ploppy that the ploppy left as well, vowing to never return. Amazing stupidity on the part of that shift manager – it was hilarious.
I wrote a Guide to Minimizing Risk of Personal Injury during Casino Backoffs and Barrings. It’s terrible that there has to even be discussion of these things. Law enforcement should have long ago stopped such crimes by casino employees.
I’ve been able to survive nearly twenty years in the casino environment through persistence, a variety of skills and games, and good casino comportment, which includes being unfailingly pleasant and polite to everyone, even the drunken ploppies. Not feeding too often at the same trough is important as well. Detailed playing records, including shifts played, are a must to avoid over-exposure.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet many other proficient players. They tend to be honest, intelligent, educated, and successful. I’ve had the honor of working with some of the best, and sometimes joining forces to attack certain situations. Without the advantage-player friends I’ve made, mostly through www.BJ21.com Green Chip and other forums, I would probably not still be extracting money from the casinos, and certainly would not be playing at the level I am today.
I don’t skilled patrons have the power to change much in a positive way. We have to realize that the casinos don’t want our patronage. Sure, they want to foster the illusion that the average patron has a reasonable chance to win, so that the ploppies will continue to flock to the games. But they don’t want anyone to actually win over time.
Look at the casino ads with the happy, smiling faces. “Mrs. Housewife won $20,000 at the quarter progressive slot machine at The Greed Casino last week.” I have yet to see an ad, “Mr. Counter won $20,000 at blackjack” – I guess the ad would also have to say, “Then we hassled him, threw him out of his comped room in the middle of the night, and told him to never return. And we entered his photo and personal information in a database accessible by other casinos.”
Still, we need to continue to work on curbing the abuse of skilled players by casino employees. Violence against skilled players, threats, kidnapping (“backrooming”) and the illegal dissemination of photographs and personal information must be stopped.
For a single person who has amassed a sufficient bankroll, blackjack and other advantage play is a good opportunity, and there is really no downside. At least, no more downside than starting any other business. When starting out, the bankroll requirements are lower than most types of businesses. But it isn’t as easy as it was fifteen or twenty years ago, because of the consolidation of casino ownership and deterioration of games. For a married person, I think that full acceptance by the spouse is a must. Without it, advantage play is difficult. I suppose acceptance by a spouse is probably necessary for any successful endeavor, but I’ve heard that such acceptance is harder to come by than other more “normal” pursuits.
A thick skin is required, and the ability to not take personally the rudeness and hostility often received from casino personnel. At first, advantage play is interesting and fun, especially if contrasted to a job or business that you don’t like. But eventually, the craft becomes somewhat routine and monotonous teetering on boredom. You have to learn to look for things to laugh at in casinos to relieve the boredom. But there is more personal flexibility than at just about any other similarly profitable venture.
Around the end of 2018, I’ll retire from active play, but look forward to other opportunities. From my experience, advantage play is more rewarding as a part-time additional income source. I’m glad to now be a less than full-time player, not out there every day. But overall, I have enjoyed my time as a skilled blackjack player and practitioner of other forms of advantage play. If I could turn the clock back, I wouldn’t do anything differently.
Having the opportunity to help with blackjackinfo.com is a new challenge for me. I look forward to an active forum. I hope you share my enthusiasm going forward.