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Progressive Betting vs. Card Counting: Apples and Oranges but Both are Tasty

23 May 2000

By Walter Thomason

Last week a friend and I played blackjack on SeaScape, a casino cruise ship that departs from Fort Lauderdale on a daily basis. Steve Bourie, the author of the annually published American Casino Guide, is a recreational blackjack player and a staunch advocate of card counting. I'm a progressive bettor and use a system that I've attempted to perfect during the last five years of my 30 years of playing this game.

Our playing styles are in direct opposition to each other and we continually debate the strengths and weaknesses of our chosen methods of beating the casinos at the game of blackjack. Steve's argument is that the player has no long-term chance of winning unless he takes advantage of high counts by increasing the wager and occasionally altering the basic strategy in relation to the count. My argument is that my "positive progression" system -- increasing the size of my wager while winning, coupled with "stop points" (in my case quitting after losing three consecutive hands) -- is at least as effective as counting cards.

In theory, both betting systems -- and make no mistake about it, card counting is a betting system despite the negative connotation of the term among purists -- are highly volatile. A counter would love to increase his bet tenfold and play two or more hands when the count is very positive, if he didn't fear recognition as a counter and possible ejection from the casino. My positive progression system requires that I maintain a pre-planned increase in the size of my wager after winning, and play perfect unaltered basic strategy, despite a negative count, even though I've reached the "cap point" in my progression and may lose many hours of profits due to several "swing hands" that occur during a gaming session. In either Steve's or my case, our big bets are on the line, based on our chosen style of play. In my opinion, both counters and progressive bettors are subject to the whims of Lady Luck and both suffer or enjoy the outcomes of improbable fortune.

When the counter makes a major increase in his wager and loses the hand, I feel he suffers the same misfortune that I experience when I've reached my maximum plateau of wagering, split and/or double down, and lose all my bets. The opposite outcomes are also possible. The counter substantially increases his bets and wins several hands when the count is positive and I, with my progressive system, defy the odds and win many consecutive hands, regardless of the count.

Steve and I have one thing in common: We don't increase or decrease our bets unless something supports our game plan. We don't make inspirational or "hunch" bets, nor do we vary our wagers based on the cards drawn by other players. He increases the size of his bets when the count is positive and reverts to his minimum bet when the count ceases to be favorable. I increase the size of my wager if I win the previous hand played and revert to my minimum bet when I lose a hand. Unless something transpires which positively supports our respective plans, we both revert to our original minimum bets.

Now that you understand the basic elements of our playing strategies, let's return to the gaming session aboard the Seascape last week. I "pressured" Steve into trying my system by financing his play in the following manner: I provided him with a starting bankroll. If he won using my system, I would receive 50 percent of the profits and the original bankroll. If he lost while using my system, he owed me one-third of the original bankroll. The offer was too tempting to resist and Steve agreed to the arrangement.

We sat side-by-side at the table as play was initiated and I "walked" him through my betting strategy as the game was dealt. We both won on the first shoe but, in the process, the requirement that he increase his bet although the count was neutral or negative was obviously driving him crazy!

I eventually moved to another table after losing three consecutive hands (part of my system) and Steve left the table shortly thereafter, as well. He immediately ended our partnership by returning one-third of the initial bankroll, his losses having amounted to about 80 percent of the original bank. Then Steve began playing his normal card counting system. My plan to convert him was concluded after one hour of play. He had lost more than two-thirds of the bankroll and he wasn't having any fun!

At the conclusion of our four-hour gaming session, Steve's card-counting strategy resulted in a loss. My progressive system resulted in a win primarily due to a last-minute extended run of consecutive winning hands.

So who's right and who's wrong? Is my system better than his or is his system better than mine? To be quite honest, I don't know! In the last three months I've played blackjack on 13 separate occasions, averaging four to five hours per session, and I have won 11 times. Steve told me that he has been losing for several months, has lost as many as 15 of 16 hands when the count was positive and that he is suffering the effects of an extended losing period. He tracks his play and claims to be a long-term winner by counting cards. I track my play and have been a long-term winner since starting the progressive system that I currently employ.

I guess it's apples and oranges. He prefers card counting; I prefer progressive betting. I'll live or die by my plan, as will he, and never will we resolve our differences of opinion.

Apropos of the above: While typing this article Frank Scoblete called to update me on his recent trip to Atlantic City. During an earlier conversation, he'd promised to try my system and let me know if it worked for him. After ten minutes of incidental chitchat, he finally confessed that he couldn't make himself do it! His body, in his own words, "froze up when I was required to increase my bet after winning a hand when the count was neutral or negative. I just trembled, Walter." Much like Steve Bourie, Frank couldn't alter his tried and true method of play. See what I mean? Apples and oranges.

If I have piqued your interest, card counter or otherwise, and you would like to know how I play blackjack, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with $1,000 dollars to -- just kidding. Just buy my book.


For more information about blackjack, we recommend:

Twenty-First Century Blackjack: New Strategies for a New Millennium by Walter Thomason
The Ultimate Blackjack Book by Walter Thomason
Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
Walter Thomason
Walter Thomason is the best-selling author of Blackjack for the Clueless and the editor of The Experts’ Guide to Casino Games and The Ultimate Blackjack Book.

A long-time casino gaming enthusiast, he is a frequent contributor to
The New Chance and Circumstance, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Heartland Casino News.

His new book is
21st Century Blackjack: A New Strategy for a New Millenium. He can be reached
at PO Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33355.

Books by Walter Thomason:

Blackjack for the Clueless

> More Books By Walter Thomason