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4,000 Miles in Search of an Advantage — Part Two

Early on in my career I struggled to find a balance between work and play. My only respite was the summer air as I sped across the freeway en-route to the next casino.  I spent my leisure time journeying from table to table.  There was no time for sight-seeing, no time for exploration, no time for a sojourn with an old friend. The year rushed by faster than the lines on the highway, and I was exhausted.

I had seen the country, but I hadn’t seen the country. Road-warriors are always the most successful in this industry—there’s no doubt about it—but if you do nothing but travel from back-road casinos to scouting destinations, if you spend your nights in hotels that no matter how luxurious cannot compare to the comforts of home, if you religiously adhere to schedules which withdraw all sense of consistency and normality from your life, you’ll burn out mind and body in quick succession. If you’re part of a team, you may find a traveling partner to derail the sense of loneliness that often comes with extended travel, but I was flying solo.

And there I was again—traveling out of Missouri and toward Oklahoma. Oklahoma is a casino paradise, home to roughly 102 across the state. This includes the largest casino the United States, the Winstar in Thackerville, OK, which boasts a 500,000 square foot gaming-floor. There is a catch, however—most casinos have a per-hand ante (generally around 25 cents) that makes it difficult to beat blackjack with traditional methods, especially if games are no-mid-shoe entry and you cannot Wong in/out. If you are playing a game with no mid-shoe entry, you should search for promotions that boast no ante for a more profitable game, or your bet spread should be substantial. In addition, be sure to get player’s cards where you determine it to be safe,  as you can find many good promotions. The casinos are required to ‘give back’ the profits that they make on the games themselves—hence the reason for the ante.

However, I didn’t stop at the Winstar or any other casino—not immediately. I approached this trip differently. While I was in the middle of the country in a new place, where I likely wouldn’t find myself again for some time, I decided I would check in with an old friend. This friend, who we will call Okie, lives in a relatively small town called Bartlesville. Bartlesville has a charm about it—a friendly, down-to-earth vibe full of character. An old rancher lives on the outskirts of town.

She is retired and widowed, and her neighbors all chip in to pay her bills. In exchange, she patrols the neighborhood during the day in her pick-up truck, shotgun in hand, to keep thieves and drug abusers away from her community while everyone else works.

If I weren’t visiting such a good friend, the area may have induced a minor culture shock, but I felt at home, even far away from the edifice-maze that I was accustomed to. Okie and I went to a local dive bar where he frequently performed as a bass player. We spent the evening sharing drinks and telling the stories about travel, life and family before retiring for the night. I slept on a cot in a spare room with his gray-haired, oversize dog Max—and it was the best sleep I had gotten in weeks with work out of my mind for at least a brief period.

I left the next day after breakfast with limited intelligence in regard to the casinos in the area—I knew what games they offered, but I didn’t know the atmosphere or tolerance levels. With so many casinos to choose from, it was primarily a scouting mission—I intended to find what games I could and attack wherever I thought possible. There are quite a few low-roller casinos in the area (so low-roller that they will run a marker over your $1 bill to ensure that it is not counterfeit) and they can be difficult to play at unless you’re able to develop a cover story.

If you plan on having an act, research your role and do so against every sort of question imaginable. If you say you’re in town for a concert—be sure to know as much as possible about the band playing, the venue, and the hotel you’re supposedly staying at. To be believable, you must be thorough, no matter what cover story you employ. Due to an effective cover story, I was able to play unmolested at a few casinos. I claimed to be an oil-rig worker in the area with money to blow (many in the oil industry come upon a windfall of earnings from long hours and good pay and spend it as fast as they earn it—only to be laid off shortly thereafter). I try to switch up my story as often as possible while maintaining plausibility.

Finding a tolerant, exploitable shop is only one obstacle among many. A large number of the casinos I encountered in Oklahoma were run by Native American tribes. Indian casinos are prevalent throughout the country, and even more so in Oklahoma. When playing at an Indian casino, one must be extremely cautious. The tribal courts dictate the law of the land—not the federal government—because the Indian casinos rest on tribal ground. As a result, they can get away with what amounts to highway robbery.

If the Indian casino believes you are counting cards or using any other method to obtain a legal (under federal jurisdiction) advantage over them, they can and will confiscate your winnings and obtain your identity. You cannot contact the gaming authority—your only method of recourse is through the tribal court, and the tribal judge is often a member of the Indian high council. Many Indian tribes receive the majority of their revenue through the casinos, which means it is always in their best interest to rule in favor of the casino. As a result, playing can be high risk. However, many Indian casinos have less experience in regard to advantage play making it a potential high reward situation. Pick your spots wisely. Always keep in mind that having your chips confiscated is a grim possibility.

As I continued scouting, I ran across a casino that offered a large collection of slot machines which at certain points offered an advantage. These machines come in the form of progressive jackpots and bonus machines that reach certain advantage points. While the progressive machines become advantageous after reaching a certain dollar figure (which you can figure out by calculating how much the progressive rises with each dollar cycled through and your cost to get it to the ‘payout’ number) there are slot machines which level up or progress before reaching bonus stages.  If you are able to find a machine that has been abandoned at the break-even or advantage point, you can play with an edge until the bonus hits. At that point, you will again abandon the machine.

I never actively sought out these games, but when I encountered them, I would take advantage of them. I’ve found that, generally speaking, the community that pursues these types of plays is far different from the advantage player community. They primarily employ an every-man-for-himself mentality, and I encountered it while playing on this trip.

I saw a civilian get up from a game that was moments away f

rom hitting a jackpot, and I made my way to the machine and sat down. A scruffy-looking gentleman in his mid-20s, who I had noticed playing the advantage slot-machines with a few friends earlier, approached me about 10 seconds after I sat down. He informed me that he had been waiting for this machine—and it was his. I replied that I sat down before him while he was nowhere in sight, and I was currently playing it. He took offense, muttered a few curse-words under his breath, and departed.

I thought nothing of it until 30 minutes later when a security guard approached me.

“Excuse me, do you have any problems with any other patrons in this casino?” he jingled the keys at his side.

“No,” I blinked, caught unaware, “I’ve just been sitting here playing a few slot machines, minding my own business.”

“I was told that you’re cussing out other guests,” he said as a voice came from his transceiver.

Security has approached me for a multitude of reasons in the past, but this was a first. I shook my head and told him the claim was false.  He nodded, and left with a shrug.

About another hour had passed uneventfully, and the same security guard approached me. He gave me a disappointed glare, indicated that I come with him, and escorted me toward the entrance.

“The same man and now his brother says you keep swearing at them, so we’re going to remove you from the casino,” he indicated toward the door.

I was incredulous. I hadn’t accosted anyone, and It was beyond obvious what their game was—they were a group of local casino fleas who make a living waiting in prey for unsuspecting players to get up from their slot machines, and if it’s at an advantage, they jump. They viewed me as competition, and they wanted me gone. It was a dirty game, and rather than getting ousted, I let the security guard know their motivations. I hadn’t said a word to them, and the cameras would prove it.

“Well, slot machines certainly can’t be beaten—that’s a rumor,” he shuffled, “but I am a good judge of character, and I trust you. If they come back, I’ll tell them to piss off.”

The entire scenario left a sour taste in my mouth. I can see why those who can’t handle counting cards generally pursue this play.

After about half a dozen more casinos, a few good games, and a couple of back-offs, I ended the Oklahoma leg of my trip. It was time to circle back toward Mississippi.

Medellin, a Blackjack Paradise

Meistro has been a regular contributor on the BJI forum for many years. If you would like to ask him a question you can leave a comment below or on the forum

Nestled in the Andes, Medellin is a magnificently temperate city highlighted by a gorgeous backdrop of mountains. With great food, cheap transportation, inexpensive accomodations, and some of the best blackjack games in the entire world, this city should be on the short list of any vacation destination. Don’t be thrown off by Colombia’s notoriety, the days of Pablo Escobar and the dominance of drug traffickers are long behind this beautiful South American nation. The modern Colombia is clean, safe and offers tourists a warm welcome.

The reason why blackjack games in Medellin are so great is that they have the early surrender rule. Being able to “retiro” your stiffs before the dealer checks for blackjack is a tremendous advantage for the player. In fact, the games are so good, that in many parts of the city there is no initial casino advantage. The full rules are as follows.

DAS, DA2, ENHC, ES, RSA. S17 and H17 varies, but H17 is more common.

Most of the casinos with blackjack games are located in the upscale El Poblado neighborhood of Medellin. This tourist district has a large concentration of centro commercials (malls), as well as upscale restaurants and fancy hotels. Accommodations in this area are expensive by Colombian standards but reasonably priced compared to what you would pay for similar lodgings in any Western city. If you choose to stay in El Centro (downtown) on the other hand, you can find a nice hotel room for fourteen dollars, but the beds are a little hard and you will not want to go walking around at night.
Here is a list of casinos with shoe games in Medellin. This information is from 2016.

Casino Rio,
Gran Casino Medellin,
Casino Hollywood, shoe game only in high limit, may need to request it be opened
Casino San Fernando,
Casino San Remo,

Note, all of the Casino Havanas and the Casino Caribe in El Centro were CSM only.

Poker games can be found during the week at Casino Rio and Casino San Fernando.
Table limits are generally quite low in Colombia. It is not uncommon to see max bets of less than one hundred American dollars. This is not quite as big a problem as might first appear because the games are so good that you can generate a significant hourly with this low maximum bet. The SCORE on Colombia games is ninety to one hundred because they generally have reasonable penetration and always an incredible ruleset. You also have a substantial advantage in these games at true count plus one, around point seven percent player edge, again because of the rules. Being able to generate a significant amount of expected value with low table maxes means you can make the same amount of money with a significantly smaller standard deviation or risk of a big downswing. It is also possible to find games with table maximums the equivalent of one hundred and sixty dollars or even one that was over three hundred.

A lot of the casinos in Medellin run early bird promotions where you get some matchplay chips if you change the equivalent of thirty dollars. It is worth noting that these chips are completely lost if you surrender along with half of your actual bet, so the proper play is to never surrender a matchplay hand.

It is also important to appreciate that you cannot bring in or leave Colombia with over ten thousand American dollars or the combined equivalent of other currencies. Entering or leaving the country with more than this money risks you being subjected to a twenty percent fine of the total amount. One potential solution to this problem is the use of bitcoin to evade the currency controls.

Transportation in and around Medellin is quite cheap. Taxis are seldom more than a few dollars, even for longer trips, and tipping is not expected. Taxis are quite safe and honest, although you may encounter some issues with the language barrier if you do not speak Spanish. Google translate and google maps on your phone with a Colombian sim card can be a lifesaver. A taxi from the airport to the city takes about one hour; it’s a bumpy ride through the mountains and you might end up getting a little bit seasick. There is a peso flat of the equivalent of fifteen American dollars or you can take the bus which is significantly cheaper. You will need Colombian pesos as the dollar is not accepted anywhere in Colombia, but there are plenty of exchange places or “Cambios” that will give you a good rate, and you can always take money out of the ATM as well. Don’t use casino ATMs, because they charge significantly more, instead go to a bank or a shopping mall.

If you like traveling to exotic locales, meeting friendly people, and playing some of the best blackjack games on this planet, then Medellin is for you. If you book a month or so in advance you can often find one-way tickets for less than two hundred dollars from major American destinations. Colombians are decent, honest and friendly people and it is truly a wonderful country to visit.

Playing Blackjack in Cancun

Meistro has been a regular contributor on the BJI forum for many years. If you would like to ask him a question you can leave a comment below or on the forum

Though my first introduction to gambling was at the poker table, I began playing blackjack seriously six or seven years. With the help of the forums I was quickly able to learn how to beat the game and traveled my country for many years playing for high stakes and getting banned from casinos after having won too much money. One of the great things about the game of blackjack is the opportunity to travel to new places. I had been wanting to visit Mexico for many years and going to Cancun would be a good opportunity to work on my rather limited Spanish. But mostly I just wanted to sit back and enjoy the cheap cost of living for a while.

There are three casinos with table games in Cancun proper, all located relatively close to each other. The first one I explored was Dubai Palace. Mesas or ‘table games’ open here at 2 pm. The good news is they have an extremely liberal rule set. The full rules are S17, DAS, DA2, Resplit to 4 hands, ES10 and Peek. Unfortunately I was unable to see if re-splitting of aces is allowed however the ubiquitous one card only to split aces rule was in play here.

The house edge for these rules is a very modest 0.18%. The bad news is they use a continuous shuffle machine so it is very difficult to gain an edge against them. Table minimums are very low. When I played the minimum was 20 pesos, which is slightly more than one american dollar. Aside from blackjack they also have a Texas hold’em carnival game, three card poker and a S17 blackjack switch game which is also dealt from a CSM. Smoking is allowed in the casino. They also have an actual Texas Hold’em game. The blinds are 25/50 with a minimum buy in of 1000 pesos and a maximum buy-in of 5000 pesos. The game runs roughly 5 nights a week (Monday and Tuesday being the days it might not run) and starts in the evening.

Next on the hit list was the Royal Yak located in the Plaza Las Americas centro comercial (mall). It is actually just a few minutes walk from Dubai Palace to Royal Yak although you must cross some well trafficked roads. Royal Yak’s games open around 3:30 but they too were all CSM and H17 to boot.

Finally there is Casino Palace Bingo & Sports Bets Cancun. This casino is also located near the other two just slightly north of the Las Americas mall and on the other side of several lanes of main arterial streets. The roads are actually not that difficult to cross because everything is one way and you have the opportunity to wait for a lull in traffic and then wait at an island area. There are “crosswalks” but the cars do not actually stop at them. Here I finally found a shoe game, with limits of 50-1000 pesos. They also have as of the time this article was written a promotion where if you exchange 1000 pesos you get a 100 peso match-play chip.

The rules were identical to Dubai Palace except that the game is ENHC. The house edge for this game is 0.3%. They cut off three decks out of six, making the game rather unappealing. It was at least uncrowded; for most of the two hours that I played the game was heads up, although there was one other player who joined me briefly a couple of times. They also run Texas Hold’em tournaments here in the evening although there are no cash games.

At all of the casinos it is required to register with your passport and sign up for their player’s card to play. There is also a cashout tax of 1% of your profits for table games. Unlike the Panamanian tax the chips that you buy are not counted against you here, you are only taxed on your winnings. Obviously the prevalence of CSM games here in the Yucatan province is a little disheartening as is the poor penetration at Casino Palace however the extremely generous rules are a very good sign.

The last casino in Cancun is located in the Zona Hotelera or Hotel Zone and is known as Red Casino. Taxis to and throughout the Hotel Zone are prohibitively expensive, but the bus only costs twelve pesos (around sixty cents). Unfortunately there was some trouble at the casino as the security guard would not let me onto the premises.

Undeterred I simply walked 100 feet down the road and sneaked in through the golf course. The casino staff were more than happy to welcome me, as to them I appeared like nothing more than just another North American tourist here for a week of partying and relaxation. Compared to the games downtown, this was a veritable oasis.

There was only one table on the bottom floor. The limits were very small, allowing bets of 20 to 200 pesos (1 to 10 dollars). Most counters would scuff at such a low stakes game but I didn’t mind as the rules were excellent. The full rule-set is S17, DAS, DA2, RSA, ENHC, ES10. The cut was a generous 1.5 decks. The house edge with these rules is %0.24. Playing with such a low house edge, and with the very favourable ES10 rule that greatly reduces your variance, is great because it means your advantage at lower true counts is significantly higher. The ENHC is not ideal of course, but this too reduces your variance and is more than compensated by the other great rules. Initially the game was heads up but eventually some other players joined my table so I went to explore the upstairs. Note, there is no Mexican peso ATM in the casino, although you can find an American dollar ATM in the hotel lobby next door.

On the second floor they have another four black tables, all with higher limits. They had two 100-1000 games and two 50-500 games. Again these limits are in Mexican pesos. They also have a 10/20 NLHE game (again, pesos) with a $1000 MXN minimum buy in but I was there for quite some time on a Thursday evening and it did not run. All in all it was a great relief to find a reasonable game in Cancun although given the absurdly tiny table limits you probably won’t want to head here strictly for blackjack, even if flights to Cancun are pretty cheap. Tables open at 11 am and run until six in the morning; expect to see a lot of drunk Americans doing ludicrous things like hitting on hard seventeen. The casino is also staffed with an inordinate number of very attractive Mexican women.

Unlike at the downtown casinos you can play anonymously at the Red casino, and there was no cashout tax.

Your Play is No Longer Welcome Here

As I stated in a previous article, you can’t be kicked out of a casino in Missouri for counting cards. You can only be counter measured. However, let’s talk about what would happen if you were in a less advantage-player friendly state—the dreaded back-off. When I tell people about being kicked out of a casino for being a knowledgeable player, the first reaction is generally an incredulous they can do that?? They can, and they do quite often. If you’re in this industry and you’re successful, you’re going to get the boot—consider it a mark that you’re doing things right, at least from a play standpoint. There are ways to increase your longevity, but eventually the hammer always falls.

I’ve been asked to leave both politely and with a heavy hand on many occasions. I was once surrounded by security and pressured for ID. When I refused, I was followed through the casino, out the door, through the parking lot, and halfway down the street until they turned back (I can only imagine the dealer theft and collusion that could have occurred while security and surveillance tied themselves up by watching me walk away nonchalantly). Alternatively, I’ve been approached by shift managers who have shaken my hand and informed me that I’m too good at blackjack, and I can play any other game in the house that I’d like.

Generally the first step in being backed off is a security guard or a pitboss asking for your ID out of left-field. There are no other reasons for them to ask for ID if you’re already playing and have been for some time, and you should never be approached randomly by security at a table. The obvious response is to decline and let them know you were just getting ready to leave then make your way to the closest exit.

There are absolutely no benefits to providing them with your ID. If they have already decided you’re a profitable player, and especially if you are in a database of advantage players (Biometrica, OSN), giving ID will just give them an easy path toward identifying you.

You are under no obligation to hand over ID. You wouldn’t give your ID to a Wal-Mart manager who approached you while out shopping, nor should you give your ID to casino personnel.

Just because they’re wearing a suit does not make them an undeniable authority figure; you can and should just decline and leave the casino. Do not create a scene, and if possible, don’t say anything more than “I was just leaving.” You do not want to be memorable, and if you are lucky, they won’t send your flyer to nearby casinos. At best, they won’t get a chance to 86 (trespass) you.

So what can you do to avoid being backed off? It comes with the territory, and it can never be avoided—but there are ways to decrease your likelihood of being declared persona non grata.

  1. Develop a hit-and-run play style by minimizing the time spent at each casino. Ideally you will play a short amount of time until your maximum bet is reached during a high count, and then leave to go to another casino, regardless of results. This does not maximize profits, but it will certainly increase your longevity. It is much more viable in an area with multiple casinos within driving distance of one another.
  2. Become familiar with your casino’s schedule and play alternate shifts. Do not become a regular on any one shift at a casino. One day play grave shift, another day play daylight. Avoid playing while the pit changes shifts as they will be divulging information about you to the incoming crew.
  3. Play anonymously, or play rated on a clean name. Often the best way to stay under the radar is to develop a stealth approach. Don’t give your name and don’t get a player’s card. However, you need to know your audience. Some casinos will let you play for a much longer time if you’re playing rated, and your cumulative, lifetime win will be the only thing that tips them off. Develop a strategy for each casino.
  4. Network with your fellow advantage players. They can tell you what casinos are more tolerant and which places will bust a blood vessel when you play more than $100 a hand. You’re all in this together, and even if you’re not playing with a team, you need to make friends in the community and work with one another to maximize success.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. If you notice a congregation in the pit, and they seem very concerned with your play, they’re probably not talking about last night’s episode of Game of Thrones. If you can avoid the impending back-off by keeping your eyes and ears open, you may still be able to play other shifts and return at a later date.
  6. Develop an act and a story. Some play the drunkard while others don a name-tag touting the convention that brought them to town. Just make sure it’s believable and don’t oversell it. Most people aren’t very good actors, and if you don’t research the part, you’re sure to crack under pressure. Think it through thoroughly before approaching the tables.
  7. Camouflage. This is last on the list for a reason—most players aren’t good enough to warrant camouflage, nor can they afford it. The average edge for a card counter is 1-2%, and if you throw any of that away, you’re taking a risk. Don’t go all out with camouflage. Keep it small, and restrict it to places you really can’t afford to lose (because the game is that good). For instance, if a shoe ends and you have a bet of $300 out, don’t start the next shoe out with a bet of $25. Try something closer to $100, or better yet, find another pit where they haven’t been watching your play.


Being backed off isn’t the end of the world, but you can at least take steps to delay the inevitable. Having a clean name can be invaluable if you have the knowledge to beat a casino in more than one way, so maximizing profit isn’t always the best course of action. Remember to diversify your strategy to take advantage of each casino’s weaknesses.

4,000 Miles in Search of an Advantage — Part One

“What do you do for a living?” It’s a simple and direct question for most, but it’s one that I often have trouble responding to accurately. I rarely tell people that I’m a professional gambler or an advantage player. It’s easier to say that I travel for work and move the subject elsewhere. It’s a difficult subject to broach—most don’t understand what such a career entails, while others hold a wildly inaccurate perception about what it is that I do or how I do it. One assumption is that I’m a degenerate living dollar to dollar or that even if I’m making a living, gambling is immoral. Those types are rarely worth educating.  Some are intrigued and think I live a life of adventure and luxury—and while it’s sometimes the former, it’s rarely the latter. If I’m on the road, I’m likely in a Red Roof Inn off the highway. I’ve likely left the door ajar to usher out the smell of stale smoke, and I’m probably concerned about how the yellow stain on the worn checkered armchair came to be.  Rarely will you find me in a comped casino suite. I prefer anonymity to luxury.

The short answer about my occupation is that I find ways to extract money from casinos.

Each casino is a goldmine—finding a way to mine it and keep the gold is the challenge.

The most prevalent method is by playing blackjack and counting cards. Other times I employ more advanced tactics, or I take advantage of opportunities presented by a casino through free play or gifts called comps. If you analyze a casino thoroughly, you’ll always find a method of extraction. Keep your eyes open and you’ll find your advantage.

I recently returned from a trip to the mid-west. The further west you travel, the more open the road seems to be, and if you continue on long enough, things become a lawless desert.  I love it. The cramped cities are replaced by wide-open backgrounds and mountain roads (Travel Tip 1: always take the scenic route. Your target will still be there, and the journey is just as fulfilling as the destination). This trip took me 4,000 miles, spanning across 15 states in 14 days.

My first destination was Missouri. There are a good number of casinos in the area, and I knew a couple of advantage players who were in town. I met up with one, whom we’ll call John (names and locations may be altered in my articles—as you recall, we value anonymity). He’s a great card-counter and family-man based out of the mid-west. We both started counting cards at roughly the same time and were able to progress to full-time play due to the positive variance we encountered early on.  We talked, shared information, and I decided to stick around town for a few days.

The first thing I’ll do in a new location, as a precursor to developing a strategy, is to scout out the area and see what each casino has to offer. There are publications that give information about blackjack conditions throughout the country, but often things change frequently or are misrepresented, so seeing with your own eyes is the only way to really see what you have to work with.

Once I find out what games are offered, I’ll develop a strategy. Often that means deciding whether or not I want to play rated, what games I want to play, and whether I need to jump my action around town or hammer a certain casino. I make those decisions based on what conditions I observe—I want to see how busy the casino is and what size bets the locals are making. Often how busy a casino is and how heavy patrons are betting dictates how hard I can hit them with action. When counting cards, you don’t want to stick out, and you don’t want to be the biggest bettor if everyone else is a low-roller—especially if you’re playing unrated. Blending in is often the best strategy.

During this trip, I found different advantages at each casino. I noticed that one of the casinos was offering a comped buffet once you accumulated a certain number of points through their player’s club system. I found a low house edge video poker game, Jacks or Better, that paid out at a pay scale of 9/6 (that is full-house and flush payouts, the most desirable pay scale for this game which has an expected return of 99.46% for a simple strategy). I knew I needed 2000 points to get the buffet, so from there I tackled the math to see whether or not it was worth it.

First, I need to find out how many points I get for playing a $5 hand of video poker. If, for example, each $5 hand accrues 10 points, I need to play 200 hands to accumulate 2000 points, which at $5 per hand, runs $1000 through the machine (you don’t put $1000 into the machine—you’re winning and losing from your original buy-in, but $1000 is “run through” the machine with 200 hands at $5 a hand). My expected loss for 200 hands, using the .54% house edge, is $1000*.0054 = $5.40. If you pay out of pocket, the cost of the buffet is $25.00—so instead of paying $25.00, we pay $5.40 through the mathematical expectation of our video poker game and save ourselves $20.00 on a good dinner. That doesn’t count the other perks from that casino or player’s card. Those perks make that type of play and the variance that comes with it worth it in the long run.

We’re here to talk about blackjack, though—so let’s get back to it. One fun fact about Missouri is that it’s similar to Atlantic City—you can’t be barred from a casino for counting cards. While card counting isn’t illegal anywhere in the U.S, most other states allow casinos to pick their patrons. A casino is a private property, and they’re able to bar whomever they want; some casinos seem to thoroughly enjoy barring card-counters. We’ll come back to that. I found another casino, casino A, with a good game of blackjack. I was told that it was a bit intolerant of card counters, but I was on the road and didn’t intend to return anytime soon. I played for a few hours without any discernible cover, and I did well. The pit-boss scowled in my direction as I colored up. I figured they’d had enough for one day.

The hour was getting late, and I was ready to pack up. I hopped into my rental car, a gray Toyota Yaris. To say it’s a compact car isn’t telling the whole story—I’m amazed it’s supported by 4 wheels.

I headed to a nearby Wal-Mart, curled up into the cramped back seat and dozed off to the sound of carts being wheeled through the parking lot by a poor soul working grave-shift. Did I mention that the life of a professional gambler is seldom luxurious?

(Travel Tip 2: You can often spend the night at a Cracker Barrel or Walmart. Wal-Mart has overhead-lights and cameras, though you should research to make sure you are in a safe area that allows overnight parking before spending the night. In addition, if you have a Planet or LA Fitness membership, you can work out and shower there while on the road, saving hundreds on hotel costs. If you can pull this off for an extended time, consider yourself a road warrior.)

I was greeted early the next morning by the blazing sun and decided it was time to move along. After another day of scouting and taking advantage of another opportunity I’d found, I met back up with John and another traveling advantage player whom we’ll call Luke. Luke was a southern man with a heavy accent who had recently retired from advantage play and was on the road collecting the last of his comps. We met up at Casino B, had a few drinks on the house, and then decided we would have some fun. (Note, I generally advise against being seen with other advantage players inside a casino, but I was not playing rated and wasn’t planning on returning anytime soon.)

We split up and descended onto the casino floor like a hit-squad. John branched off to hammer the main floor while Luke and I tackled the high-limit room. We went to two different tables and started to play. The count rose and fell like the tide, and we jumped our bets accordingly. The casino pit seemed flustered, running from my table back to his when each dealer shouted “checks play” to signify a large bet being placed. They couldn’t keep up. I could only imagine the confusion with John playing nearby. We played this way for about an hour until another pit boss arrived. I saw them convene at the computer, looking over a video of Luke’s play alongside his information. I crept away to the bathroom and sent him a message about the pit activity—he cut his play short and retired to his comped hotel room and offered me a spare bed. I played on for a bit before retiring as well. Thanks to our teamwork, he avoided countermeasures, and I was able to forego Wal-Mart for a night.

The following day I went back to Casino A to see if I could press my luck a bit more and follow up with my positive variance from the first visit. As soon as I sat down at a table to play, the phone in the pit rang, and the pit-boss answered and looked discretely in my direction. This has happened before the majority of my back-offs and is one huge indication that the pit is concerned about your presence or knows who you are (though it can also mean a number of other things—so don’t always run at first glance—use your eyes and ears).

“Do you know his name?” he nearly spat into the receiver. I smiled—they didn’t.  The pit-boss hung up the phone and walked over to the dealer and whispered in her ear. The next round, the dealer only dealt a dozen cards out of a 6-deck shoe before proceeding to shuffle.

“Why are we shuffling so soon?” I asked in as innocent a voice as I could muster.

“I just do what they tell me,” she said, staring blankly at me.

I knew my time was up, and the casino would soon send a flyer of my face to all of the casinos in the area—complete with a description of my play, my vehicle, and every bit of information they could muster or fabricate. I tipped my hat and left with my chips, avoiding the cashier where the best cameras could be found.

It was time to hit the road again.

Internet Blackjack Better than the Real Thing?

Blackjack has been the favorite choice of many gamblers throughout its wild and amazing history, dating all the way back to cowboys and settlements from that time. As its popularity grew, more and more casinos decided to widen their table games offer and eventually incorporated this 52-card-deck game into the portfolio, due to its relaxed rules and gameplay.

Nowadays, many modern casinos host live blackjack games, which seem to be available at any time, unlike some other table games like poker, baccarat or keno. Both land-based and online casinos try to compete with one another by offering perfect blackjack experience – however, due to regular changes in the rules, players can be misleading and instead of pursuing traditional 3:2 payouts, they end up paying 6:5. The number of such dice joints has increased, but thankfully, there is still a great deal of professional online casinos with exceptional blackjack rules and payment options.

Understanding the rules and developing strategies is the first step a player must do before playing for real money at the tables. Live games are an excellent choice, due to low costs and rather basic rules, which include good bonuses and low house edges. These terms are crucial for placing first bets and ensuring optimal gameplay.

Experiencing the comfort of playing 21 from home has a lot more pros than cons, and live tournaments, hot bonuses and perfecting the art of playing. Not only do players gain instant access to exclusive tips and game tactics, but also to other professional tricks that can be found under faqs and brief explanations – not to mention the advice exchange with other people on the spot. Beating the dealer without exceeding 21 has never been more challenging and adventurous than doing it online.

Should You Take Partial Insurance?

Article by Mike Anderson

I have clarified some things from the original posting, mainly that there are benefits to taking partial insurance although it’s not the optimal EV play.

In the game of black when the dealer has an Ace showing you have the options of placing an additional side bet of called the insurance bet.  It is usually signified by the dealer asking: Insurance anyone? And is no longer offered when the dealer says: Insurance is closed.  What you are betting on in the insurance bet is whether or not the dealer has a 10 as their hole card for a blackjack.  It pays of when the dealer has the natural.

This wager has a maximum bet of half the initial wager.  If your initial wager is 100 dollars then the maximum value of the insurance wager is $50.  The insurance wager has a payout of 2:1. This means that the $50 wager pays $100. When you win the insurance wager you lose the initial wager, so in most cases the cumulative wager for the round is a net push.  In cases where the player has a blackjack against a dealers Ace up card, taking insurance is also called even money.  This is where the player gets a return equal to that of their initial bet.  Even money is one option a player can take to reduce the variance that they may experience.  You are giving up some EV here but it will reduce the financial swings.

In the first paragraph I stated that the maximum insurance bet that a player can take is one-half of the original wager.  There is no rule that prohibits a player from placing a wager less than the maximum wager.  Doing this is known as taking partial insurance.  Partial insurance can be used as a hedge bet of sorts.  The benefit of taking partial insurance is to reduce the variance that a player will experience.  For anyone who has put any significant time in as an advantage gambler knows that the financial swings can be violent and can try the boundaries of your own sanity. So anything we can do to reduce these swings we take advantage of. It’s better for your bottom line, and even better for your mental state.

The foundation of partial insurance for blackjack can be applied to online casinos as well as land based casino.   In the online realm reducing variance is desirable because it allows you to prolong your free play offers that are used to lure players into playing.   An online casino will offer free play to new and returning players in place of the traditional RFB comps.  For instance 888casino is an exciting live casino with real dealers offering Live Roulette, Live Blackjack, Live Baccarat, Casino Hold’em, Three Card Poker and Caribbean Stud Poker, and they have huge selection of tables for each game. Some signup bonuses are specific to certain games while others can be used on every game the casino offers. Depending on how often you play and the wagering amount the promotional offers will vary.  When you get these offers from online casinos there are restrictions before you can withdraw the amount. The player has to play a certain number of rounds before withdrawing funds. When playing the minimum number of rounds you want to reduce the variance that you will experience during this short term play so you get the most return on the free play.  Taking partial insurance is a good way to do that.  You reduce the chances of winning more money but you also reduce the chances of losing all of the free play money.

The mathematically optimal way to play the insurance bet is bet it when the number for the given count is reach.  The index numbers provided are dependent on the card counting system being used.  Taking partial insurance reduces the EV that can be expected but it also reduces the variance.  One of the most efficient counting systems is the Uston APC count.   And it is the count that I will be using to apply the partial insurance index numbers to.  The values assigned to each card for the Uston APC count is in the table below.

Table 1- Uston APC Values

Card Value
2 1
3 2
4 2
5 3
6 2
7 2
8 1
9 -1
10 -3
Jack -3
Queen -3
King -3
Ace 0


The values are added up to determine the running count and then normalized to a ½ deck resolution.  For example if there is running count of +15 and 1 ½ decks remaining the true count is 5.  15 divided by 3 equals 5.  Also it should be noted that a side count of Aces is kept to help determine the betting amounts.  It is not kept to determine the playing options of hitting, standing or doubling or splitting.  Aces have a value of +3 for each Ace that the ½ deck segment is rich and -3 for each ½ deck segment is poor.  The base line is 2 Aces per ½ deck.

The table below lists the % of full insurance that is to be taken against various hands that a player can have.

Hand(s)   None 25% 50% 75% Full
BJ & Any 20   > 0.5 1 < 1.5 1.75 2
Any 19, AA, Hard 11, Hard 10   1 1.5 1.75 2 2.5
Hard 8-9, Any 18, A2-A6   < 1.5 1.75 2 2.5 2.75
Hard 4-12, & 8,8      1.5 > 1.75 2.25 2.5 3
Hard 13-16   > 1.5 2 > 2.25 2.75 3


Take the indicated % insurance at the appropriate Index #.  > indicates slightly above INDEX #; < indicates slightly below the INDEX #. The index numbers essentially determine the remaining composition of the cards yet to be played.  The remaining composition of cards to be played is the basis for gaining an advantage over the house.

Taking partial insurance should be taken to reduce the variance a player may encounter during play. But it will also reduce the maximum EV.   This helps reduce emotional swings as well as bank roll swings a player will encounter.  This also will add to the confusion of the surveillance crew as they try to evaluate your play to see if you are an advantage player.  It will require a little bit of work to implement but it is well worth the effort for a better mental state and increased longevity.

Special thanks to casino gaming expert Nicholas G. Colon for his review and comments on this piece.

Also to LV BEAR and ZIPPY for helping me clarify my insights


Ed Thorp and Max Rubin’s 21st Blackjack Ball

Every year in late January, the most elite professional gamblers in the world gather to attend the super secretive Blackjack Ball.  The gala is hosted by long time organizer and advantage gaming legend Max Rubin.  Max spends countless hours in preparation; creating a magnificent soirée so that this profession’s elite can have a fantastic evening.  And every year Max’s efforts do not disappoint.

The evening starts with drinks and hors d’oeuvres and this gives the guests-many whom have known each other and played together, to converse and about the past years happenings.  Players in the caliber of Bill Benter, James Grosjean and illusive sports better Zeljko Ranogaje are all in attendance.  And this year world class poker icon Phil Ivey even made an appearance. Many of these players have known each other for decade’s and way before their success lead to international recognition.  The Blackjack Ball brings together exceptionally talented people with extraordinary abilities.  This reiterates the idea that great success in one field will lead to great success in another field.

After dinner, voting for the 2017 Blackjack Hall of fame inductee commenced.  To no one’s great surprise Don Johnson was voted in to one of the most exclusive groups in all of gaming, the Blackjack Hall of Fame.  Don is arguably the most famous blackjack player in the world. And his exploits reached legendary status when several years ago he whacked a few Atlantic City casinos for $15 million over a few week period while utilizing there loss rebate programs.  This historic win elevated Don to the top tier of advantage players, prompting all who learned about it to ask what would a person do with such a large win?

Next, the chore of crowning the 2017 world’s greatest blackjack player commenced.  A series of 21 questions are given to the field of attendees.  They are a combination of gaming probability theory questions and general gaming knowledge questions, and they are tough.  The top 5 high scores proceed to the final table where a skills test determines the ultimate winner.  The 2017 Grojean Cup winner took the form of a 15 liter bottle of Luc Belaire Rare Rose Champagne and was awarded to Anthony Curtis, publisher and owner of the Las Vegas Advisor website and owner of the Huntington Press publishing house, the largest publisher in casino gaming related books in the world.  Anthony is also the proprietor of the Gambling with an Edge website.  It was fitting considering that Curtis has taken 2nd Place in 6 of the 20 previous competitions.

Anthony Curtis at the Ultimate Blackjack Tournament photo courtesy Anthony Curtis
Anthony Curtis with the 2017 Grosjean Cup
Close up of the 2016 Grosjean Cup

The 2017 Ball orbited largely around arguably the most influential man in advantage gaming, Edward O. Thorp. In 1962 Thorp published the classic text Beat the Dealer. It was the first book made widely available to the public that showed a firm mathematical approach to beating the game of 21. After this Thorp went on to make noteworthy contributions in Stock Market Analysis, where his original research helped launch the derivatives market.

Ed Thorp in 2015, photo courtesy of Ed Thorp
Ed Thorp at the 2017 Blackjack Ball photo courtesy of Nicholas Colon

In his new book A Man For All Markets, Thorp discusses his whirlwind life and gives a full and complete answer to the question: How did you do it? It’s a must read for anyone who wants a look into the mind of an out of the box thinker who has made a significant impact on the world in so many areas.  Prior to the ball I was able to sit down with Thorp and ask him a few questions.

The importance of Thorps contributions can’t be ignored.  And his original thesis provided the foundation for much of the work that followed. Mike Shackelford the quintessential gaming probability authority and the chief mathematical consultant for Latest Casino Bonuses  and he stated:

“It would be hard to understate the impact Ed Thorp had on the game of blackjack. He was the first to publish both a basic strategy to a wide audience, to get the odds almost break even, and how to beat the game by card counting. His book Beat the Dealer will go down as in history as the quintessential book that changed the game the game.“

The black tie setting of the Blackjack ball is only one-half of the weekend events.  The second part is the after party held at the home of Blackjack hall of famer Richard Munchkin. Food, fun and friends come together on the Sunday after the Blackjack ball to discuss game strategy, new tactics and techniques and most importantly to trade war stories of this unique profession. The Munchkin after-party extends the opportunity for this elite field of players, all of whom are usually spread out all over world to get together and share stories of the last years exploits.

by Nicholas G. Colon

LV Bear joins

Hello, everyone. Ken Smith is a long-time friend, who ran a great website.  I wish Ken the best in his future pursuits. I’m honored to join Joshua’s new management team here.   When Josh asked if I’d be interested in helping after he recently purchased the site, I gladly accepted the opportunity.

For those who don’t know me, I am a Las Vegas-based advantage player.  Ken interviewed me nearly ten years ago (it’s hard to believe so much time has passed); that interview can be found here.  It will answer most questions you may have about me.

I am now closer to full retirement. My playing time and travel is significantly reduced. But I still prowl the casinos, and hope I can be useful here.

For those who do not know Josh, here’s what he told Stanford Wong after his purchase earlier this year of my usual online home,

As the one purchasing, let me introduce myself. My name is Joshua Chan. In 2006 I was an advantage player, focusing on exploiting Internet casinos bonuses. With my knowledge of the Internet gambling scene, in 2006 I established (LCB).

LCB is a casino-information site that features casino news and editorials, no-deposit bonuses, casino reviews, software reviews, slot reviews, and free casino games. There is a members’ forum where players share promotions, bonuses, tips and winning stories. The library of gambling information is one of the most extensive in the industry. LCB has monthly contests that award prizes. The number of registered LCB memberships should surpass 100,000 in 2016.

After that, I acquired sites devoted to blackjack, sports, bingo and poker. In 2014 I bought the Wizard of Odds and Wizard of Vegas from Michael Shackleford.

As a former advantage player, I’m proud to own I think it will fit well into my portfolio of web sites devoted to player advocacy.

Privacy is at the top of my list of priorities, and any information regarding members and memberships is never shared or sold to third parties. That privacy policy will of course apply to In no way will anyone’s personal information be disclosed; that includes to casino management, surveillance agencies and the like. We heard concerns from the members of when we purchased that site; but as they have witnessed, we have met all their privacy and confidentiality expectations.

The main changes we made to those sites is adding side bar ads and enhancing the site to make it more user and mobile friendly. We anticipate making similar changes to BJ21 while keeping the goal of the site the same. …

I look forward to my time here, as well as continuing to contribute to