There are many components to building a strong game. Game analysis, playing conditions, and being thoroughly steeped in combinatorial analysis are important elements in the advantage player’s arsenal. The choice of a strong system with indices and a serviceably aggressive spread will allow you to make the casino bend to your advantage over time. But other considerations besides bankroll and statistics may make the difference for players who are unable to reach the long run to NO before their enthusiasm for the game wavers, due to the inevitable periods of negative fluctuations.
As my game has become informed with improving skills and substantial increases in bankroll, one thing has become apparent to me concerning what it takes for the skilled recreational player to survive and prosper: Emotional intelligence.
Daniel Goleman made this term popular in his 1995 book re-defining what it means to be “smart.” He discusses why IQ is not the determining quality of predicting personal success and presents a rigorous study of brain chemistry, which leads to suggestions of how to harness the passion that motivates us to act at all in an existential universe.
As Aristotle states in The Nicomachean Ethics:
“Anyone can become angry--that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way--this is not easy.”
All of us have some degree of anger with the variance in this game, the constant battle to be allowed to play, and deteriorating rules and conditions that limit our opportunities. We have suffered trauma both self-imposed and at the hands of corporate greed. How we respond to conditions both internal and extraneous will determine if our strategies to beat the casino will work in real time situations.
Practically everyone here knows how to utilize the research that has been developed over the last forty years in maximizing our edge for each game we choose to play in the myriad configurations of blackjack now offered. But what player has not suffered from a losing streak that has driven him to postpone getting back in the saddle? Or wonder if he was cut out for the game at all?
Of course a seasoned veteran has taken it in over a period of years and has had some success at weathering the storms of standard deviation. The steely blue eyes have seen it all and found a way to ignore the emotional response that comes with losing. But is this the best possible way to approach the game? I wonder.
Most green chippers do not have the bankroll, variety of games, and time to play in order to make a one percent advantage assert its steady climb to profitability. The ranks of professionals are filled with those who have resorted to team play once they have exhausted their own resources. We are constantly trying to whittle down the risk of ruin by playing optimally over longer periods of time. This not only puts us in an increasingly vulnerable position for casino detection, it also creates discord with loved ones, and makes for an imbalance in life’s priorities. There should be some emotional guidelines to coincide with our vast understanding of the mathematics of blackjack.
My suggestions are probably not too relevant to high-level players with indestructible bankrolls and multiple identities having developed winning games over time. But I do think it is instructive to those who are learning the game to focus on comportment and attitude as well as memorizing the revised Illustrious Eighteen and running simulations on Blackjack Risk Manager. No matter how good a game may be, there is no value to you if you cannot attack it optimally or if you are not allowed to play.
Here is a list of ideas to improve your approach to the game:
1. Be prepared to lose whatever you take to the casino and limit it to something you can stomach relinquishing
2. Try to break up your sessions into manageable increments of time. Staying at one table for too long not only exposes your skills, it also alters your emotional approach to the session depending on your results. Restroom breaks may not be enough. Even if you have driven hours to reach a casino it is not optimal play to skip sleep and meals to try to bully normal fluctuation to do your bidding
3. Keep studying the literature of blackjack. Many people think that there is nothing new under the sun. Discovery is a process and learning is life-long. As an example, take a look at recent developments in shuffle tracking and advantage plays beyond counting. These are relatively recent additions to the storehouse of knowledge. Take a look at those dog-eared books by the old masters. Sometimes learning will only take hold when the mind is prepared. I used to think that Revere was worthless to today’s games. Now I know better.
4. Search for windows of opportunity. Advantage play is more than a series of technique -- it is a way of seeing inside the casino. Perhaps the best opportunity is to exploit a consistent dealer at roulette or find a break-in who mispays or doesn’t quite keep his cards covered up. Maybe there is a whale that is getting everyone’s attention at a table nearby allowing you an aggressive spread. Arriving just before a shift change may give you ample chance to rathole outrageous numbers of chips. Maybe that rodeo convention has relaxed the pit. Plan for special events and remain flexible in implementing your approach.
5. Stay healthy. Do not replace the activities in your life you enjoy outside of gambling with extreme concentration on blackjack. Integrate your play into the fabric of life’s pleasures. When table time becomes all consuming, those periods of negative results will be debilitating to your emotional stability. You may make foolish choices. You could ruin your relationships with loved ones. It is all well and good to talk about ourselves as ‘investors’ in the long run, but let’s take the talk out of the locker room into the real world. We are gamblers, period. There is too much variance to convince others that we are not. And if you want to survive to enjoy the long run, you must first survive. As human beings we need affiliation and affection that you will almost never find in the casino. So seek it elsewhere while you hone your game. Do not neglect your physical commitment to stay healthy. Adrenaline will only get you exhausted eventually while endorphins and a regimen of aerobic exercise will increase your alertness and endurance. You may someday find a promotion that you can exploit for a short period of time but only if you have the energy to stick with it.
6. Remember it is always your money you are risking. No matter how far behind you get with optimal play or how much the casino is subsidizing your bankroll, it is your money to win or lose. Don’t let the experts either dissuade you from flirting with Kelly or demand that you have a $50K bankroll to bet quarters. Decide on your own parameters depending on your comfort levels. But realize that you may be losing EV or creating a higher risk of ruin when you make your own decisions on how to bet.
7. Look for ways to dissipate the grind. Travel to different areas. Make the casinos pay for your room and board. Take those cash reimbursements to the shopping mall or put them in a special account. While I agree our crusade is to take money from the greedy casinos, I do not believe it must be a battle in the trenches all the time. Professionals may not concur. But I am addressing those whose intent is not to make a fortune at this game or support a family, but instead enjoy an edge gained by study and application of the winning theories of this game. If you are making a living at the casino, you deserve my respect. If you are not, then don’t act like you are. Even an outstanding game can have incredible swings of variance. If you do not feel like playing for any reason, then just leave.
8. Remember during losses that you must learn to lose in a big way if you will learn to win in a big way. A common complaint is that losses are greater in magnitude than wins. Math Boy reminded me that if you want to win $5K in a session you must be willing to accept a $5K loss from time to time. Do not worry about losses if you continue to play a winning game in good conditions, but always refer to your simulations to confirm that your theoretical is consistent with the actual game you are playing.
9. The last bit of advice I have has been given to me from another source. I once was told that all the best ideas come from someone else and I have no argument with learning from others. A pro I admire said that no matter what his results have been he pays himself a percentage of his theoretical EV throughout the year. For the last ten years this policy has led him to take care of his family, travel to better games, and leave his bankroll intact.
Winning at blackjack is possible even as our opportunities dwindle with worse rules because the march of time has given us a multitude of options to consider. Play within yourself and tailor your emotional response to reasonable expectations. If you have to limit your play to red chips because of a small bankroll, be happy with your small EV and enjoy the edge you have. If you can bet black comfortably, go for it. For most of us it is not a full-time job but a profitable part-time job or even hobby. Reach into yourself and find the most rewarding emotional response you can muster. Advance your social arts and you will find a longevity others would not be capable of. When you can relax at the table and feel comfortable with yourself, your cover will benefit. When you discover your emotional timetable you will no longer feel pressed to succeed and the passion you feel to dedicate yourself to being a winning player will be rewarded.