Investing in Blackjack

In spite of impressive winnings, you can be treated as a preferred customer at those casinos that encourage heavy bettors. Besides accepting lodging in complimentary hotel suites, enjoying complimentary gourmet dinners, and happily taking in complimentary shows at the most luxurious gambling palaces in the world, you can win at the gaming tables of your hosts and hostesses most of the time.

If you wish to become a card counter, you must have certain abilities. You must handle simple arithmetic well. You must be able to remember a simple number, such as three, be able to subtract one from that number or add one to that number, and be able to do it quickly. You must be able to divide and multiply approximately. You must be able to memorize tables of numbers. If you have ever memorized a multiplication table, you can memorize these tables. Good eyesight helps, but is not a necessity.

You should be in good physical condition because blackjack is as much a physical sport as it is a mental game. The better your physical condition, the more hours per day you will be able to play.

Most people can learn to play winning blackjack, but most people will never make any significant amount of money at the game. It takes time to learn to play well, and most people are unwilling to devote the time necessary to develop the skills. This time requirement is fortunate. Because of it, most casino personnel do not learn how to win at blackjack and cannot accurately spot winning players. In addition, most customers play so poorly that casino owners need not change the game.

Yet for those who do learn to count cards quickly and accurately and who do memorize the strategy tables, other obstacles loom up — like money, and boredom, and just time itself. To win money playing blackjack, you must put in time playing blackjack. The longer you play the more you can expect to make, but playing blackjack means spending less time on other things. It might be that switching a block of time to blackjack could end up giving you more free time than you now have to pursue your dreams.

Playing professional blackjack demands a good deal more than a simple expenditure of time. It also involves quite a lot of financial risk. Having an advantage over the dealer does not mean that you will win steadily. The gambler usually loses but occasionally gets lucky and wins; the card counter usually wins but occasionally gets unlucky and loses. Your bankroll will not inch upward like a tram, but zoom up and down like a roller coaster.

If you cannot afford to lose big, do not bet big; and if you cannot afford to lose, do not play. You can only expect to win big by betting big, and if you bet big you are going to lose big — regularly. If you can only afford a small loss, you must bet small, and you may not even win enough to cover your expenses.

Of course, you can bet small at first and increase your bet size as you build up a stake of winnings, but then you run into another problem: boredom. If you are a card counter, you must be like a machine. You are programmed to make decisions almost without thinking. Playing blackjack is exciting for the first weekend, but on succeeding weekends the excitement usually lasts no more than an hour. If the time required to learn the game does not discourage you, and if you are willing to accept enough risk to have a chance to make some real money, then the boredom will get to you for sure. The few who will really profit from the game are those who can afford the risk financially and emotionally and who do not mind getting bored as long as they are compensated adequately.

Investing in blackjack resembles investing in the stock market. Just as a diversified portfolio of stocks can be counted on to become more valuable if enough time passes, a stake invested in blackjack can be counted on to become more valuable if enough hands are played. The stock market chronically slumps, and some of the slumps last for years. The blackjack investor’s portfolio also chronically slumps, and some of the slumps last for hundreds of hours of playing time. Blackjack is superior to stocks in that it offers more expected return in reward for taking risk.

In the long run, correct strategy will outperform intuition. Playing hunches will cost you more than it will gain. Any time that you have a decision and one choice is superior to all others, you should take the superior choice. If you lose three consecutive double downs and another situation arises in which the tables say to double down, push more money out. Your chances of winning the next hand are not affected by past successes or failures.

Excerpted with permission from the e-book version of Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong.


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