Five Years of Advantage Play

Five years of advantage play

With five years of full-time advantage play completed, I thought I would share some reflections.

Last year, I made $98k from card counting, making my five-year blackjack sum $406k. Other AP plays totaled $220k, putting my five-year AP total at $626k. This amount has been enough to pay our family’s bills, contribute to our family’s savings, and enlarge my AP bankroll. More importantly, AP seems to fit me and I enjoy doing it.

Except for four months during the height of COVID restrictions, I’ve continued to play 60-80 hours per month, totaling 3,800 hours during the last five years. I do not play online.

My style of play has included limiting travel to a multi-state region, which now includes five states. I play dozens of casinos on a regular basis and treat them as if I’m a “local.” In other words, I pretend I live there and have a non-casino reason for being there. This includes using player’s cards much of the time. I make a separate analysis whether a player’s card is worth the risk of getting databased. I also tip like a local, somewhat more when dealers keep their own tokes and when I’m winning, somewhat less otherwise. I keep track of the tipping amounts so as not to give myself an unwanted or unneeded expense. I fully understand that tipping is a controversial topic in the AP world.

My bankroll has grown from $50k to $180k during the past five years of play. This includes withdrawing what is needed to pay our family’s bills. We have been conservative in spending, but not pinchingly so. Having an adequate bankroll is important, especially to someone like me who pays his bills with his winnings. I keep the RoR at nearly 0.0% in every game I play to insure bankroll preservation.

Family life is very important to me. The freedom in scheduling is the main reason why I have chosen this profession and put up with its challenges. I spend a lot of time figuring out how to improve longevity in my five-state “local” casinos. I am an optimizer, never using a bet spread larger than what a casino is comfortable with. This puts my max bet at 2x$250 at most places. I also limit my trip wins to a non-garish amount, but will play through an entire graveyard shift if I’m experiencing negative variance and can justify my being there to a watchful pit.

I make charts of the places I play, with schedules that include days played, shifts played, and notes regarding concerns from previous experiences. I track cumulative wins and take seasonal breaks from places where they have reached a certain point.

My style of play reduces the number of backoffs I receive. I have had 18 backoffs in my career, three of them coming this past year. Because I bet small compared to most pros, and rotate my play fastidiously among my “local” casinos, I am less at risk than most maximizers who likely have to travel more in order to sustain full-time hours. Optimizing in this way reduces my hourly EV, but affords me the luxury of more time at the tables with less extensive travel – and fewer backoffs. At one casino in Las Vegas, well-known for limiting card counter action, I have been able to win over $70k over the last several years and am still allowed to play there.

Mental health issues are usually a challenge to any full-time pursuit, and mine are no exception. I have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Bipolar Disorder, which have contributed to my difficulties working in a regular office environment. I have a law degree from an Ivy League university, but have never figured out a way to use it without suffering nervous breakdowns. Having ASD and BD limits my ability to be with others in a typical workplace. AP work, on the other hand, rewards the kind of repetitive mental focus that my “disability” makes easy and enjoyable for me. Whereas most full-time APs suffer from the extreme variance of the game and tedium from long hours, I seem to thrive on it. The work fits me comfortably.

Scott Cao is a well-respected advantage player who frequently posts on Green Chip.

Originally published on bj21.com Green Chip, edited for this format.


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