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Best of Bootlegger

OK, So How Come I'm Still Losing? (Part II)

7 August 1999

In my first article of this series, I explained standard deviation and how it impacts a card counter's long-term win record. It affects every card counter and every gambler, for that matter. It cannot be avoided and it does mean that, in the end, some people are going to be on the losing side of the scale. That simply cannot be avoided. As I said in the first article, getting into the long run is the best way to get on the positive side of the ledger. There are things card counters can do to make the long run shorter and the positive side closer. Foremost among them is selecting the proper game.

Not all blackjack games are created equal. Knowing how to count cards can give a player an edge in most of the blackjack games out there, but in many of them that edge is mighty slim. Given the vagaries of standard deviation, that slim edge becomes a precipice from which many card counters slip and fall. If you are playing in the wrong games and still losing, then it's the wrong games that are wreaking havoc with your bankroll. Proper game selection takes into account the number of decks, the rules, the number of players and tables, the heat, and penetration.

Time after time, I see card counters posting on the Internet about games they play and it is no wonder that Snyder said in his most recent edition of Blackbelt in Blackjack, "You will lose." If you are playing the eight-deck monsters in Atlantic City, for example, and not using techniques like shuffle-tracking or backcounting, the odds are good that you are losing. If you are winning, it's likely to be at a rate that is minuscule compared to the money you are putting at risk. The same thing can be said of many of the six-deck monsterettes that are now prevalent in the Midwest and even in Las Vegas. By and large, these are lousy games that should be avoided by serious counters, unless they can incorporate the methods of play I mentioned above. In many cases, even shuffle-tracking and backcounting are either impossible or not very effective.

So what makes a good game? Penetration. I'll say it again to make it perfectly clear. Penetration makes the game. Good penetration equals a good game, while bad penetration equals a bad game. It's as simple as that. It doesn't matter if it's an eight decker or a single decker, penetration is the first thing a counter should look for when considering whether or not a game is playable. Penetration, in case you aren't sure about the term, means how deeply into the deck or shoe the dealer goes before shuffling.

If you are playing in a six-deck game where the dealer cuts out two or more decks, you shouldn't be playing it at all. There are quite a few casinos now where two or more decks cut out of a six-deck game is commonplace. If you are in a two decker which cuts out half the cards, get out. It isn't worth playing. Single-deck games become unplayable when less than five rounds are dealt to a single player, four rounds to two players or three rounds to three players (by the way, single deckers which deal 5 rounds to one player, four rounds to two players and three rounds to three players are commonly referred to as "rule of six" games). In general, most single deckers nowadays are useless to counters if more than three players are sitting at the table, because most casinos will only deal two rounds to four or more players. Some will only deal one round.

How does penetration affect your win rate? In his excellent book, Blackjack Attack, Don Schlesinger provides one of the most comprehensive simulations ever done on a variety of blackjack games, taking into consideration the number of decks, the rules and the penetration. The simulation uses the hi-lo system, with Schlesinger's Illustrious 18 strategy deviations based upon the count. In this study, Schlesinger shows the drastic effect penetration has on win rates, as well as standard deviation.

For example, in what may be one of the most common games around today; a six-deck shoe game where the dealer stands on soft 17 and doubling after splits is permitted, a player using a 1-8 betting spread (betting one unit when the count is neutral or negative and up to eight units on positive counts), the difference in the effect of penetration is quite drastic. In such a game with two decks cut out, a player can expect to win at a rate of 0.36 units per hour. For a five dollar player, this means that player can garner a grand total of $1.80 per hour. Hardly worth the bus fare. If the player seeks out a game with only one deck cut out of play, he or she can more than triple that win rate to a much more respectable 1.22 units per hour, while a game where only one half of a deck is cut out will garner a win rate of 2.02 units per hour, more than five times what it was with two decks cut out. Even better, the player's risk is cut to less than a third of what it was at the two deck cut out level.

These effects can be seen at any kind of game, with any kind of rules. So what makes for a well-penetrated game? In shoe games, the penetration should be at least 75% to make the game even worth considering for play. In double deckers, one can get by with two-thirds penetration, while a single-deck player can get along with 50% or better penetration, provided no more than two other players are at the table. Sadly, eight-deck players still suffer more. In fact, eight deckers shouldn't be played at all, unless one is willing to backcount the games, only playing hands when the count is positive and getting out when it goes south.

What about rules? After all, nearly every blackjack book written contains a section that describes the effects of various rule changes on the overall basic strategy value of a game. Rules are important, and I'll deal with them in my next article, but it is important to remember that, with rare exceptions, rules have to take a back seat in the card counting game to penetration. If you are playing games with bad penetration, good rules aren't going to make up for it. Rules can help, though, and I'll get into the effects of rules for card counters the next time around.

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.