We often see posts here or on Green Chip wherein players discuss the pros and cons of the various card counting systems and how some systems, KO for example, are “weak” and how some systems, Hi-Opt II for example, are “strong.” The reality is that for the typical game available today, the system is almost irrelevant. Yes, a multiple-level system can win a bit more. However, turning a $100 per hour game into a $110 per hour game isn’t really that significant -- what we need to do is to find ways to turn that $100 per hour game into a $250 per hour game. Even more important is finding ways to turn a $400 EV day into a $1,000 EV day with no increase in travel or expenses.
What are the most important factors for maximizing your win at blackjack? They are probably obvious and choice of system isn’t one of them. The factors are:
Whether a game is playable often has nothing to do with which game has the best rules or penetration; it’s just that the rules and pen have to be good enough. One game may have 1.5 cutoff with Strip rules and another might have 1.25 cutoff -- both are playable, and in this respect, these games are essentially equal. The playability of a game is also tied directly to your available bankroll. Some games have higher bankroll requirements than others, based on the nature of the game and the limits involved.
I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. If you’re going to expose yourself for an hour, would you rather do it getting 60 rounds or 180 rounds? If you can play heads-up or move around to try to get heads-up, you can double or triple your win rate per hour. Heads-up doesn’t always have to be exactly heads-up; just refuse to play generally full tables. Save your ammunition and don’t expose yourself when all the tables are jammed full. The ideal playing conditions are when there is enough business in the casino to blend in, but not so much that all the tables are jammed. Playing with one other player is often great as they can be called upon in negative counts to eat your cards.
Hand in hand with game speed is wonging out of negative shoes to freshly shuffled games. If you spread big, the cost of not wonging is really minimal in terms of edge and SCORE. The real cost is in terms of time, and the purpose of this post is to maximize win per hour and win per day. If you really want to maximize your win per hour you just have to refuse to sit there betting hand after hand of low bets in shoes that have no chance of rebounding, especially when a greener pasture is available. Make yourself move by any means necessary; stand up make one more bet. If the count doesn’t rebound and another table is ready to go, just grab your chips and move.
Tolerance is the single most important factor for blackjack. Without decent tolerance, the best game can be unplayable. With good tolerance, a bad game can become playable and a mediocre game can become excellent. Remember, SCORE is a linear measurement of risk-adjusted expectation -- it can be multiplied based on time played and rounds per hour. Three hours at a SCORE of 30 at a tolerant casino is the same thing as one hour at a game with a SCORE of 90. If the 90 SCORE casino is heaty and the 30 SCORE game lets anything go, the worse game will be the stronger play.
Remember, this is all about maximizing DAILY expectation not just EV per round. Tolerant casinos allow you to minimize your travel costs and maximize your efficiency. You can often stay where you play, play longer sessions, take frequent breaks in your room when conditions get bad and return frequently when conditions improve, avoid having to pay for a rental car as you’ll be playing just one place over a series of days. The final benefit of tolerant casinos is that because you can put a lot of rated hours in each trip your comp value will be high, entitling you to any number of benefits ranging from great mail, suites and meals, show tickets, loss rebates, and expense reimbursements. These things alone can turn a bad game into a good one. You might be able to get six or seven hours of EV with much less effort than you can getting three or four hours of EV if you have to constantly move around. Of course, if you find a tolerant casino with a great game already in place, you’ve hit the gold mine.
Which casinos really take the action is among the best-kept secrets that higher stakes players keep. After all, penetration and rules are all there each month in Current Blackjack News. Knowing which casinos take it is right up there with knowing about a good casino promotion like 2:1 blackjacks or others. So how do you find out about which casinos take it? There are basically two ways to find out; the first is obvious -- network. The second and main way you will find out is to travel a lot and play very aggressively and get backed off a lot. You will find that over time, most of your accumulated expectation will come from the handful of casinos where for some reason they just let you play and play and play. You will have no way to know whether a casino is one of the tolerant ones that let you just sit there day after day firing it up unless you push it everywhere to some degree. (Note: I’m not saying that you should play like a jerk, trying to get backed off, but like at Texas Hold-em, sometimes you have to raise your opponent to figure out where you stand. Playing blackjack aggressively tells you quickly where you stand with regards to the casino’s tolerance. This is probably the biggest benefit (aside from combining bankroll) of being on a team. A medium sized blackjack team will have combined knowledge that is much greater than any solo player can accumulate. Once a team knows about a play, they just cycle through it one after the other.
Eventually, all casinos will get tired of your action, so a tolerant casino doesn’t mean that the party will last forever. Tied in with this is not wasting your time playing casinos that you know are sweatshops, as they could result in a flyer which costs you much better casinos. You can use the process of elimination to figure out which casinos are the most tolerant in a town as people will often share info freely about the unplayable sweatshop casinos -- the rest are at least the most playable casinos in that town.
In summary, worry less about choosing a system; pick one that suits your ability to add and subtract and play it perfectly. Worry more about figuring out which casinos will take your action and multiply your SCORE by not wasting your time playing through negative counts and at full tables. Think about your EV not on a per hand or per hour basis but trying to get a daily amount. How can you play 20 shoes a day for example (wonging out of a shoe is the same as playing through the entire shoe)? If you play 20 shoes, you know that at least 3 or 4 of them will involve max bets...you can play 25 or 30 shoes in the same amount of time as 20 shoes by changing tables in negative counts (not just faking phone calls, which has little real value if you are using a 1-50 spread) and by playing heads-up as much as possible. Table hopping will get you one or two extra big bet shots per day versus just sitting there grinding your way through negative counts, and you'll not be exposing your smallest bet to the pit and eye for long periods of time.