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OK, So How Come I'm Still Losing?

22 July 1999

You've read one or more of the books on card counting in blackjack. You practiced diligently at home and learned the proper strategy decisions. You can count a deck down in less than 30 seconds. You even went through a learning period in actual casino play where you expected to lose while you honed your counting skills. Now you have been playing for quite some time but you still can't seem to get ahead of the casinos. What on earth is going on here? After all, the books promised that this stuff was going to be easy. You know there are pros out there who are making a living playing blackjack. So now you are wondering, "How come I'm still losing?"

Arnold Snyder said in his most recent edition of Blackbelt in Blackjack, "You will lose." He is right. There is more to counting cards than counting cards. Skilled card counting and the proper use of strategy deviations are only part of the story. In order to be a winning player, you need to be aware of a number of factors that affect your success as a player. These include concepts like standard deviation, proper bet sizing, bankroll and game selection, to name a few. If you do not understand these concepts or if you don't put them to use in the casinos, it is very likely that you are losing and that you will continue to do so until you master them and incorporate them into your play. I will be talking about these issues over the next several articles. If they are unfamiliar to you and you really want to win at the tables, then stick with me over the coming weeks. Although I won't give a quiz at the end, the casinos will. You will know your score by the amount of money you either leave at the tables or put in your pocket.

It is essential for any serious card counter to understand the idea of standard deviation. Simply put, standard deviation is how far away from the norm you can expect to be over a given period of time or number of events. For a card counter, the norm is the expected value of play. If a card counter is using a system that gives the counter a 2% advantage, then the expected value of play is 2 pennies for every dollar put into play. If the counter's average bet is $10, then that counter can expect to earn $20 for every one hundred hands played. But something funny happens when a counter sits down to play. He or she can play one hundred hands and the chances are overwhelming that the end result is going to be something other than the expected value of $20. In fact, for slightly more than two thirds of the time, the counter is likely to be somewhere in the range of losing $90 to winning $130. Another quarter of the time, the counter may be down as much as $200 or up as much as $240. To make things even tougher, the counter may fall within the range of three standard deviations an additional 4.3% of the time, meaning he or she will be in the range of minus $640 to plus $660. According to Don Schlesinger, in his book Blackjack Attack, counters will find themselves within three standard deviations from the norm 99.7% of the time.

Put another way, this means that more than 43% of counters with a two percent advantage are going to lose in a 100 hand playing session, which would take about an hour. That's the bad news. However, by its nature, standard deviation decreases as the number of samples rises. The basic standard deviation formula, given by Schlesinger, is 1.1 divided by the square root of the number of hands played. In the example I gave, it would be 1.1 divided by 10, or 11%. For 1000 hands, the standard deviation would be 1.1 divided by 31.62, which would round off to 3.5% of the total dollars bet, or $350 above or below the norm of $200 profit. Three standard deviations would be $1050 off the norm. In 1000 hands of play, 26% of counters in our example would be on the minus side of the ledger. So, the good news is that the longer you play at an advantage, the more likely it is that you will win.

Getting into the long run is important for advantage players. But, that is only part of the story. The standard deviation figures I used are only an example. Standard deviation varies from one game to another and from one betting scheme to another. Based on charts developed by Don Schlesinger and John Auston in Chapter 10 of Blackjack Attack, standard deviation can vary from around 1.5 betting units per hand to nearly six units per hand. Sadly, someone is always going to be on the negative side of the ledger, even with perfect play in very good games. That someone may very well be you. The best you can do is understand the game and the concepts I mentioned at the start of this article. Knowing these concepts and putting them into use can make the difference as to which side of the ledger you will find yourself. I will address these issues in future articles. They truly separate the winners from the losers.

Bootlegger is a frequent contributor to various gaming web pages on the
worldwide web. His intelligent, insightful opinions and analyses have gained him quite a reputation in cyberspace as an expert who knows the games and understands the gambler.
Bootlegger is a frequent contributor to various gaming web pages on the
worldwide web. His intelligent, insightful opinions and analyses have gained him quite a reputation in cyberspace as an expert who knows the games and understands the gambler.