Marathon Sessions Counting at Blackjack, originally posted on Green Chip

Marathon sessions counting at blackjack

I have always played marathon sessions counting blackjack.

I started playing in 1971 and my biggest decision was to also play the downtown Las Vegas games, which were 1D,H17,-0.18%, as opposed to the strip Las Vegas games, 1D,S17,+0.02% games, or the strip 1D,S17,DAS,+0.14% game. The games of today are of course awful in comparison.

Marathon sessions of 12 hours, or whatever I could physically stand to play, was what I did and continue to do. These days, if I can stand to play 1,000 hands, I congratulate myself. I don't worry that I might be backed off, I never have. Getting backed off is going to happen, it is just a matter of when. I play a strong game, no cover. I get backed off a lot. It's my capacity to play, which has diminished over time, that limits my play, not the heat from the pit. The fact that the games of today have deteriorated from the games of yesteryear also contribute to my increased laziness, most of which is innate.

I found in my play that for me there was a "magic barrier" on bets of $500 or more. When I played $500+ I would get backed off too quickly to make it worthwhile. So I adjusted and played for less. Those that play $500 or more and can get away with it over time have far better acts than mine, and are usually willing to give up some Expected Value ("EV") in camouflage play, in exchange of longevity. I have always been of the mindset that the counting edge is too small to give anything up. For example, I have been backed off many times after spitting tens appropriately. Big players probably can't play the way I do for very long, hence their need for short sessions. The biggest player I have met in my life would always tell me, "Don't let them clock you". His needs, betting $5000 minimums, are far different than mine. I also don't have a billion dollars and never will. It has also struck me as odd that someone in the economic stratosphere would bother to play blackjack.

The marathon sessions I play give the pit a long look at my play which gives enough information to evaluate me as a good player. I find that the pit has become more adept at ferreting me out with each passing year. With the advent of computer programs that assist the casinos in play evaluations, I got backed off more. The short session, maybe 15 minutes, is the preferred method of the big player of today. They obviously care more about longevity than I do. I just can't see myself being diligent enough to play the three different shifts of a casino to total 45 minutes of EV, and repeat with many casinos. That is a lot of travel time lost and a lot of discomfort endured.

But the short session is a completely legitimate method of play. I'm older now, with my career end in sight due to the human statute of limitations, so I do what pleases me instead of what pleases the casino. The shorter your career horizon, the more likely you are to play my way. Another reason for the short session, hit and run style, is that you might get more comps, bounceback cash, special event invitations, etc. from more casinos. You might end up with a milk run collecting the extras. With my marathon style I will end up with fewer casinos giving me larger comps. To each his own. When you eventually hit upon the casinos with tolerance for marathon sessions, your EV for the time invested takes a nice leap upward. I have found that for these wonderful casinos it is lifetime win that eventually earns me the backoff.

I believe playing promotions in a marathon style is usually optimal. That is because the promotion usually has a limited life span in which short sessions over three shifts will not capture the most EV. It is the more unusual promotion that lasts long enough to make the short session method optimal. The same reasoning will apply to a normal game with something abnormally good about it, such as flashing or outstanding penetration. Just play until the game is burned down. If you don't burn it down, someone else will.

Travel to casinos is a need that increases with your bet level. You are more likely to play a marathon session if you have had to travel to get there. The more obscure the location the more likely a marathon session. You might get backed off in the first hour of your play in casino Middle Of Nowhere, but the usual alternative of the short session will just not produce the EV necessary to cover the expense of getting there. You basically have to damn the torpedos, full speed ahead. Long term, I really don't care if I'm backed off from a casino that I don't plan on returning to.

The risk you take is that the backoff gets you into a database. Oh well, life is hard. In the old days when I was backed off it meant that shift was dead to me, and the pit had a long memory. I've been pulled up short on a play within an hour after staying out of that casino for two years after a backoff, due to good pit memory. Today there are so many casinos that the dreaded backoff is of less importance because there is so much more opportunity. I also find that the pit remembers the backoff less than in the old days. Now you also have to balance the fact of more casinos with the fact of more consolidation of casinos under one ownership. Better information sharing is the result within an ownership group. I have been guilty of being backed off from a chain of casinos under my real name. But that is just being sloppy, indifferent, and lazy on my part. The marathon session in a chain casino should be anonymous play for the player with many more years on the horizon. With my limited horizon I sometimes take the risk of the backoff to get the comps to increase the EV. As usual there is no one size fits all.

Give a marathon session a tryout at a casino that you normally don't play. That way it is no great loss if you receive a backoff. It will allow you to find out if you can be comfortable with the style of play. You may have to toughen up your skin for a while until you find a tolerant casino but you'll be happy when it happens.

Good luck.


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