World’s Greatest Job

For the last two decades, I’ve lived what many would consider the American dream, earning big bucks while working only part-time. My profession? Card counter. My office? Blackjack tables all over the world. Incredible perks accompanied my vocation — ringside boxing tickets for the big fights, offers to play golf with celebrities, front row seats to sold-out shows, and gourmet dinners at the finest restaurants. Though I enjoyed these epicurean experiences, the comps were strictly a side benefit. I chose this unusual line of work for only one reason — to make money. Easy money. And I succeeded, becoming one of the top blackjack players in the country.

How did I win in a game where everyone is expected to lose? Or more importantly, is it possible for a reader like you to follow in my footsteps and routinely withdraw money from casinos? Contrary to what some people believe, you don’t need to be a mathematical genius or play on some highly capitalized team to become the predator instead of the prey in blackjack. I’ll show how my career refutes these two common misconceptions and how discipline, drive, and persistence were the ticket to my success. These qualities ultimately separate the few who actually make a living at blackjack from those who frequent the glitzy temples of chance only to help pay the light bill.

The typical Hollywood myth portrays professional blackjack players as walking databanks — “Rain Man” clones with incredible photographic memories. The truth is that anyone with an average aptitude can learn to count cards and become a winning player. I do possess an exceptional memory, but my main strength was a dogged tenaciousness. I read everything by gifted players who came before me: brilliant men like Uston and Wong. I absorbed their advice and refined it, extracting every last ounce of theoretical edge card counters can gain over the house. Then, before ever setting foot in a casino, I disciplined myself to play like a machine, honing my skills with over a hundred practice hours at home, drilling relentlessly until all decisions and calculations became as natural as breathing. For example, I practiced talking while rapidly counting down decks, pushing myself until I could eventually fly through fifty-two cards in 12-14 seconds.

Confident of my skills, I attacked any blackjack game up to six decks that offered good rules and great penetration, but I quickly realized that playing against one deck was the easiest way to beat the game. (Counting six decks is not more difficult than counting one, but the edge rarely rises as high and the win rate is usually lower in multiple decks.) However, some experts recommended playing only shoe games because pit bosses watched single deck so closely. A contrarian by nature, I refused to follow the herd and vowed early on to play only the very best games, and one and two deck offered the largest advantage for straight card counting. So while most counters flocked like lemmings to the shoes, I sought out hand-held games whenever possible. I still played some six-deck tables but disciplined myself to lay cash on the felt only for the strongest games, which meant that many days, I spent more time walking, in search of ideal conditions, than playing.

Another important quality a professional blackjack player needs is drive. To stay under the radar of casino surveillance, I constantly moved around. While most pros habitually returned to Las Vegas, I visited small towns far off the beaten path and braved icy roads to play Lake Tahoe when one casino there set up a potentially lucrative “over/under 13” side bet.

In the last decade, I took advantage of the gambling explosion across America’s heartland and played numerous riverboats and Indian reservations. Mississippi combined high limits with the world’s best single-deck blackjack. A casino in Minnesota made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and I spent a week playing a sensational double-deck game with special rules. Once, I drove all night from Chicago to take advantage of a 2 to 1 promotion on blackjacks, 800 miles away in Vicksburg.

Finding the hottest clubs took hard work and extra effort. In my pursuit of profitable games, I traveled all over the world to places like the Dominican Republic where I played private tables in small, dirty, and dangerous casinos. Needless to say, navigating other cultures is challenging and often unpredictable. I flew to the Orient when they instituted rare bonuses for five-card hands, only to get my winnings paid with counterfeit money by one casino. I made only one gambling trip to Europe, but it was profitable as I pounded several clubs in Belgium offering an advantageous early-surrender rule.

It wasn’t in search of extra frequent flyer miles that I journeyed to these distant destinations. Like other counters, I still made periodic pilgrimages to the gambling Mecca known as Sin City. To beat blackjack on a consistent basis required hard work and a willingness to boldly go where few had gone before, in search of the very best games. Card counters need a great deal of perseverance and persistence to overcome the many obstacles facing them.

Many view blackjack as the ideal lifestyle since it combines high profits with the ultimate in flexible hours. These people gravitate to card counting because they want the kind of job where in the morning, when everyone else rolls out of bed, they just roll over. However, trading in your paycheck for casino chips is anything but easy and is not for the faint of heart.

My blackjack career started out rather humbly. On my first trip I tentatively pushed my maximum bet of ten dollars onto the felt, knowing my entire bankroll was contained in the thin confines of my wallet. I was fortunate enough to win often those first few years, and my capital steadily grew until I amassed a six-figure bankroll. This enabled me to bet up to one thousand a hand in positive situations, which bumped up against the limits at most clubs. A good card counter will win between a quarter to one-third of his max bet per hour. So with a top bet of $1000, I earned about 300 bucks an hour. However, if your bankroll only allowed a max bet of $25, then your expected return drops to $7 per hour — which isn’t going to cause anyone to ditch their business career and pension plan.

High travel expenses can also water down the potential return, so many aspiring card counters invariably overbet their bankrolls to jack up the hourly rate. This is one of the main reasons casinos don’t sweat the action of most would-be card counters. The big clubs have almost an unlimited amount of money to work with and many card counters are undercapitalized. That fact, combined with players making mistakes, sends many home broke and crying for mama.

It’s easy to daydream about how you’re going to win enough on your next trip to buy that new Porsche. But it’s a whole different world when you’ve sat through ten draining hours of the worst cards imaginable. It takes a person with steel nerves and a tough veneer to remain unaffected by the kaleidoscope of emotions bombarding potential pros at the tables.

A professional blackjack player never wins all the time and I expected to come out ahead about two-thirds of the time over a short trip. Yet the losing sessions become etched in your memory far longer than the winning days. I vividly remember when some friends canceled a neighborhood BBQ, so I changed my plans, stayed an extra day at an Indian reservation, and dropped eighteen thousand dollars. Or the Vegas trip when I’d accumulated a moderate win only to lose twelve grand in the last ten minutes right before I left for my plane. Most of it came in the last disastrous hand of the shoe — when I split four times and doubled down twice — only to see the inevitable dealer 21.

I never tried to reinvent the wheel and only refined techniques developed by earlier players. The basic premise of card counting revolves around whether a surplus of high cards or low cards have been removed from play. Unlike other casino games such as roulette or craps, which have no memory, the past does affect the future in blackjack. I chose a more difficult counting system, forgoing the simple high-low used by many, reasoning that over the long run a stronger count would yield a much greater return. I used Hi-Opt II and side-counted aces on my feet. It was tricky, but the extra gain really has added up over the half-million hands of blackjack I’ve played in my career.

A “typical day at the office” for me consisted of a morning run and breakfast before attacking the tables. It often took long stints of up to fourteen hours in the field to get in eight hours of actual play. On most trips I took up to forty thousand of my bankroll with me in cash (the rest of the money would be left home or parked in the stock market since everyone knows stocks never go down). Then I would stuff about twenty thousand of the forty into my fanny pack for each daily session and leave the rest in a safety deposit box. I expected to win about two thousand dollars a day; but with fluctuation, I usually won or lost five to ten thousand each day, with the occasional roller coaster ride over twenty grand.

Whenever I made my first play of the day in a casino with shoe games, I’d first circle the pit, find a fresh shuffle and stand behind the table backcounting until I got a favorable situation. Then I’d try to nonchalantly jump in with a large bet. Most pit bosses will give the benefit of the doubt to a new face playing big money. As I stated earlier, far more would-be card counters lose than win, and casinos are reticent to bar a high roller unless certain he’s a skilled professional who will beat them over the long run. For this reason, I could often get away with jumping my bets up and down according to the count for a while. In Vegas, I generally played short sessions and moved quickly from casino to casino before they could determine whether I was too good for their game. But in states outside of Nevada, players seldom have that luxury since the isolation of most clubs makes longer sessions almost mandatory.

Admittedly, the heat and scrutiny from casino personnel burns more intensely when you’re forced to play in the same club all day long, but I was never easily intimidated. (Once, I drove a motorcycle, in graduation cap and gown, through the halls of my high school — just to win a small bet.) My high-stakes play got me barred from places all over the world, and I was kicked out over two hundred times. And I don’t wear that distinction as a badge of honor. It was never any fun to get 86’d and to see another lucrative game disappear.

But, the bottom line for me always remained the same — I played to make money, not friends. I viewed barring simply as a vocational hazard. If you’re a strong winning player, then you’re a threat, and casinos typically will boot anyone who challenges the first commandment of gambling — the house is always supposed to win. I’ve seen many counters so paranoid about getting kicked out that they failed to bet big in critical positive situations. This timidity gave them longevity but at too high a cost, since they rarely gained much of an advantage over the house. Other players, barred once or twice, thought their career was over and simply gave up too soon. A relentless personality is almost mandatory to succeed in this business.

The other misconception I mentioned earlier dealt with whether you could win serious money on your own in blackjack. I seldom played on teams during my career, preferring instead the lone-wolf approach to attacking the tables. Many profitable blackjack teams with huge war chests have raked in a steady stream of chips. But for individual players, I’ve made more money than almost any other card counter flying solo — because I won over one million dollars in single and double-deck blackjack games alone.

However, I still occasionally joined up with other counters. For a while I played with the infamous Czech team and also tried a few ventures with some of Ken Uston’s old cronies. These groups had huge bankrolls, and once in Atlantic City I won about twenty grand in one shoe only to lose it all back along with another twenty grand within the same hour. A small crowd had formed behind my table watching the incredible swing and after the complete collapse, a young chap stepped forward. I still have a clear memory of him slowly shaking his head and saying, “Man, you just lost more money than I make in a year.”

Sharp people like Tom Hyland have done very well organizing groups of eager players and launching them on casinos. While more money can be made, potentially, by joining a well-oiled team, there are several negatives. Often, too many fingers in the pie create problems, such as the time I played six days on one team and won fifty grand. My take? A measly $2,100, because a couple of below-par players diluted everyone’s share. Skimming and incompetence also plagued numerous teams, and many bankrolls were gutted by someone’s cocaine habit or greed. There is just something about gambling for large sums of cash that can bring out the worst in people.

Therefore, I feel a focused player can do fine on his own and is better off playing individually than joining up with other counters. Although many of the highly profitable hand-held games have disappeared in the last few years, I’ve shared my experiences in single and double deck in this article because the principles for success in blackjack (or in any other business endeavor) remain the same — you have to be willing to go the extra mile and work extremely hard to find the best opportunities. For as long as the game of blackjack has been dealt, there have been legal ways to turn the odds and beat the house. And even though conditions are deteriorating, I believe the creative and disciplined players will continue to find the game’s weaknesses and exploit them.

Very few jobs in the world offer the potential of clearing ten grand by working only one long weekend a month, but it’s extremely difficult to actually become a winning card counter. I taught myself from a book, but for every successful blackjack player, countless other casualties litter the roadside with empty wallets. To many, my vocation seemed glamorous and “James Bond-like,” but in reality it’s a damn hard way to make easy money.

This article appears with the permission of the author Kevin Blackwood. All Rights Reserved.

36 comments on "World’s Greatest Job"

  • Yang said:

    I live in France. I was a Blackjack player who use indexes by Stanford WONG, I am mastered the way Hi-lo. Because of big accident, I had a problem for my bankroll. If somebody need to organize a blackjack team, please tell me. Thanks!

  • Michael McCaster said:

    Excellent forum here to start. I live down in Florida and just graduated with a degree in physics. There are several casinos down here but are all owned by the Seminole Tribe. I have mastered the Hi-Low system and keep track of the Ace’s via strategically placed chips in my stack. I play $25-$1000 spread @ Hit Soft 17 6-8 decks. I prefer to play with at least two other players as the speed and pressure is a little over my head-for now. My first run I bought in for $1,000 and made $3200.00 profit in about 4 hours. My max bet was about $150.00. I did this 3 more times and just cleared $9,000 in profit. I feel like this is too much to fast. Am i just getting lucky on top of the count?

    I then proceeded to just have a fun in a skin pit ($10 min, 6:5, CSM) I bought in for $300.00 and walked away $2,355.00 and was counting and keeping track of the Aces and hands in between rich Ace hands.

    Is there ever a added subconscious ability to memorize and sequence cards relative to the count. Maybe I just need to lose to feel good again but I’ve been almost nervous heading to the tables, I guess not knowing how to lose and how to react.

    One more quick thing, what are your thoughts on automatic shufflers (where they put multiple decks in, not the One2Six machines on the table). I have come to love these machines. The cards always seem to have the right balance. Does anybody else hate hand shuffles?

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      Given that you were only spreading 1:6 in a six or eight deck game, you weren’t playing with an edge at all. And you were playing at a really big disadvantage when you switched to the 6:5 game. If you had instead been spreading maybe 1:12 in this game (and never played the 6:5 game), I would break down your $9K in profit as roughly $500 skill, $8500 luck.

      You mention that you have mastered Hi-Lo, but it sounds like you still need to learn a lot. No worries, we all started where you are.

      Just for reference, card counting will usually yield about 1 to 1.5 units an hour in expected profit. If you are spreading $25 to $300, that means making $25 to $40 per hour. Of course your actual results will be all over the place, easily up or down $3000 in a session.

      Machine shuffles or hand shuffles don’t materially affect the game, except for more advanced techniques. Any trends you have noticed as a result are just noise.

  • Brian said:

    On the flight back from Vegas on my first ” Counting” trip ( family trip part of it too). Taught myself counting by reading everything and practicing. Did two hours a day at treasure Island from 6-8am and I have never felt so good about the game and my hard work and success. Five and ten dollar tables and I moved tables after I won or was down. Got out each time I made a certain amount. I can do this. I want to do this regularly as a supplement to my real job. I like the fruits of the hard work and the possibilities that counting brings rather than the money (though I want that too). Seeing the table and potential in a whole new way is exhilarating. What is the best way for me to take this more seriously and start doing this for $5,000 results in a three day trip to Mecca? Any and all advice is welcome. I thought about taking a counting class in vegas for $795. Thank you.

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      Your reaction is the main reason that I still encourage smart players to learn to count, even though the game is not as vulnerable as it once was. The change in perspective that comes from beating any casino game will forever change the way you look at casinos. You will begin to see opportunity where you overlooked it before.

      As for buying an expensive class, it really depends. Everyone learns best in their own way. For some people, an $800 class could be a good choice, while for others it would be much cheaper to simply buy two or three reputable books and learn at your own pace.

  • Scooter said:

    I use another app for baccarat aswell and run it as I bet behind people when conditions are ideal. App keeps a running tally of cards played with suggested play for next deal. Usually I wait for 2 or 3 losses in a row before I wager. Extremely lucrative and very accurate.

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      A baccarat app is worse than useless. You cannot beat baccarat by counting cards, and anyone who tells you otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about. Go read Peter Griffin’s analysis of the topic.
      And if you think that waiting for 2 or 3 losses before betting is “extremely lucrative and very accurate”, you have some expensive lessons coming your way.
      Actually, given your two posts today, I would bet that you are the developer of these snake-oil apps. Don’t bother touting them here. We know better.

  • Scooter said:

    Playin 8 deck shoes in Canada. Use an app on my phone that tracks the count by using volume up and down. Dont have to pull my phone out for anything. Vibrates when conditions are suitable for a big bet. App keeps a running count and true count as it counts down the cards. Phone screen looks blank while program runs

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      This app would be illegal in the US, and is likely illegal in Canada too. Besides, card counting is not rocket science. Just use your brain, leave your phone alone, and avoid legal trouble.

  • observer said:

    Uh. Wow. I’m not so sure how accurate the claims on this page could be. This isn’t anything like my results. I have kept a log. 80 days. On 80 different days in my life I have gone to casinos. I have gained $US 1458.74 after tips I have left dealers, waitresses, money I’ve spent in restaurants because the mealcomps I got for gambling didn’t QUITE cover the meal, though I also received much free stuff, like 140 dollars worth of prepaid credit cards/gas cards/gift cards (about 1000 dollars worth of mealcomps) and a bunch of other free stuff like boxes of chocolates and thermos bottles with the casino’s name on it and whatnot. But we’re still talking 80 trips, probably 3 hours each on average, so that’s 240 dollars for 1458.74 and 1600 miles worth of driving or so so what is that, 500 dollars worth of gas probably because my car sucks. That’s not even minimum wage. I would have done better to get a job as a blackjack dealer. If they’d hired me. They wouldn’t have done that. And I’m actually GOOD at it. In fact, as far as individual lone wolf people go and not teams, I’m probably the best there’s ever been. I’ve worked out the exact function of bet amount as a function of truecount to minimize risk of ruin, even tackling the murky issue of how much you should resplit and double after split under different conditions to minimize risk of ruin (so for instance, it’s bad to split a bunch of times and double on all of them on a big bet, and if you’re just playing to maximize the expected value of your return you should do it fearlessly, but if you’re obeying the kelly criterion, you’re trying to maximize the LOG of your bankroll at the end of the bet – though it’s not QUITE the same as that, the minimum bet throws a monkeywrench in that, so I go for linear gains instead of exponential and go for an exponentially decreasing risk of ruin, but it’s still quite high even starting from 10000 dollars, it’s like 50%). And yet it’s not lucrative for me. It’s crap. Absolute crap. And for making a tiny amount of money, I’ve been banned from 3 casinos in the process, or well, one of them I can still play baccarat technically, and I COULD, I also worked out how to count the panda8 and dragon7 sidebets but I’m forced to take the main bets and it’s just not worthwhile. I really don’t understand how you can call this the world’s greatest job. Working at walmart would be better.

  • Doobie Keebler said:

    Very interesting. Thanks for the words of wisdom, Ken.

  • Doobie Keebler said:

    Hey all,

    I win every time I go to a casino, and I do it without counting cards. I would play more, but I feel like I would get banned if I kept winning at my current pace (at the one place that I play now).

    I doubled my seed money in 5 hours playing a consistent 1/20 seed money bet.

    • It sounds like you are using a progression, perhaps a Martingale where you double up until you win a hand, which produces a profit for the series equal to your initial bet. You don’t have to worry about being banned for that. In fact, quite the opposite. Unfortunately, you also don’t have to worry about continuing to win for the long term. You will eventually hit a long enough streak of losses to wipe you out, and your net result will be negative. You cannot create a winning expectation by making any sequence of negative expectation bets. It just doesn’t work that way.

      • Doobie Keebler replied:

        Nope, not progressive. I bet the same every time. The tables that I play have a max bet just 8x greater than my typical bet. So counting splits, doubles, etc., I would be broke in no time if I were doing progressive.

        I could’ve been just really lucky in the past, but how many times or how much money can I win before they start to notice?


        • I wouldn’t worry. If you are flat-betting with nothing else going on, you’ve just been lucky. As a flat-bettor, you can win a lot before they get worried. In bigger places, $50K cumulative win might be a problem. But if they don’t see anything suspicious in your play, think six figures. In small places that really sweat the money, it can be tough to win $10K without issues, even for players that appear to just be lucky. For this question, your mileage may vary.

  • Casinoraider said:

    Is it true you guys are still getting shoe boxes dealt? We are from Asia and there is none to be found. It is all Continious Shuffling machines we are playing against. Can never be the same and cannot be counted anymore. Drop me a line if anyone knows how to beat these CSM. poiandrew at yahoo dot com

  • Daleen said:

    I decided I am going to learn the art of card counting. I did spend 2 hours writing down the tutorial from my phone. Because I am to broke to get it printed. 5 Hours went into reading and reading more about the 0s, +’s, -‘s and all other crab who knows whos did blog. Then here and there food for the mind, which is helpful. But I love the honesty and the motivation in this article. There is hope, hope to buy a printer and hope for a girl like me to earn a extra income. Am going to glue myself to a deck of cards till I can get that 0. Then will I gamble and loose and then hopefully master the sience of 21 * 6 packed in a shoe. Count it from 0 to 0 and kick some boody.

  • Liam Osborne said:

    Me and 3 friends have all just tured 18 within the last year. We went into a casino for the laugh to experience gambling and we find it fun, however most nights we visit we never seem to ‘beat the house’ and it’s sickening knowing you can’t do anything to take them down and walk out knowing you’ve beaten the casino.
    We’re students and don’t have a high bankroll however we have now been practising the Hi-Lo system for blackjack for months. We are now ready to team up, put all our 4 bankrolls equally together and hopefully use our knoledge now to take down the casino. People laugh at us when we walk in with not much money, looking underage and not having an idea what to do. Now we are ready to step up, show them who the high rollers are and shut the casinos managers mouths! They ask me to leave I’ll beat them up in a back room.

    Any last advise for what we can do best as a team will be greatful? Thanks

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      Just remember that the ability to continue to play has a long-term value. Don’t lose it just for the short-term joy of rubbing their noses in it. You guys spread out, get the money, and don’t make a big deal about it. You’ll be thankful for that approach years down the road when you are still extracting the cash.

  • Matt said:

    What was the casino in Minnesota you visited? I live in Minnesota and would like to check it out.

    • Kevin Blackwood replied:

      It was Treasure Island, but that was long ago and game conditions have changed greatly since then.

  • Jack said:

    I plan on going to the Missouri casinos for blackjack. Are they beatable in the long run?

    • Author Ken Smith replied:

      Last time I played in Missouri may have been 15 years ago. At that time, they still had a $500/hour buyin limit (I think that was abolished long ago.)
      The games were fine though. I can’t say about the current situation. Let us know what you find.

      • Jill replied:

        I play in Missouri. $500 limit long gone. I play only double deck. Some casinos let you split and double on anything. Others will only let you double 9, 10 and 11and cannot double down after split. All hit soft 17

  • franc said:

    Looking for a mentor, barely a novice. In my early 20s, very eager to learn.

  • Harold said:

    Been playing the game for 15 years. Last night down 2400 brought up another 20 dollar bill then rallied that to 9000. Tonight down 6000 rallied to 11500 on a 6 deck Spanish 21 with a 500 maximum bet always looking to improve my game. Seeking blackjack mentor basically. Where’s your home base?

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