Casino Zerg: I think non-professional advantage players like me sometimes don't get the best advice from books, and to a lesser degree from the pros on BJ21 and other boards. It isn't intentional. Authors and pros offering advice are trying to help us. They are giving us what they consider to be good advice. But we need to consider the source. The right answer for a professional is not always going to be right for a hobbyist. When considering your advantage play decisions, you should keep this in mind: If you are not a professional advantage player, the advice sometimes should be different.
For the purposes of this post I'll define a professional as someone who plays more than 400 hours a year, has an EV of $100/hr or better, relies on advantage play for the majority of his income, and plans to support himself on advantage play for the foreseeable future. This person has a different agenda than many of us.
Common Question #1: What count should I use?
If you are asking, the correct answer is probably Hi-Lo. For you, it will perform just fine. Level two counts are used by some professionals for good reason. There is a reasonable debate about whether or not it is worthwhile to go to level two if you are a pro. You are not a pro, just use Hi-Lo, which, incidentally, is used by many pros, too.
Common Question #2: Should I play rated?
Comps are a big part of your EV, and hiding your real name from casinos is not nearly as important to you as it is to professional players. If you go unrated, you are giving up a lot in exchange for some future hobby (as opposed to job) security.
Common Question #3: What do you think of this (any) cover strategy?
Answer: Don't bother.
Don't use cover at all. In addition to being costly, at low to medium stakes, cover is unnecessary. Wong in and out shamelessly. Use a big bet spread and always put out the bet the count calls for. Don't even think about playing a hand in a non-ideal way. Pros playing for high stakes may need to lay down some cover to get good hours in. You don't need to do that.
Learn from the pros. Read all of the books. Read their advice on this website and listen to them for the most part, but remember they have different priorities in some cases.
Rockky176: Not sure about all of this. Many people are called semi-professional. They approach AP as a serious side job but not for a living. I think for these people, it is better to try to hide their real name and use some cover if playing green or black. Unfortunately, casinos do not use the same high-standard definition that is used by Casino Zerg exclude players. I think getting comps without completely exposing your real name is possible and has been discussed.
Kewlj: My top priority is longevity and I choose to play at levels that I feel are better tolerated, and am willing to trade off playing more at lower EV. This brings me back to the parts of Zerg’s comments that I do agree with, mainly your thoughts about playing rated and comps, for most players. Again, my priorities are different than many and I have tailored my game plan to fit that, giving up some comps by playing unrated at certain properties. The point I am trying to make is that the information is there. You take that info, from books, internet sites, players that you may meet in person and use it to form your own blueprint to fit your own needs. There is no one size fits all.
Long-Time Pro: You are misguided on the rating part, and here is why:
No one really knows what the future may bring, so unless you're absolutely certain that you'll never be in a situation where the use of your real name is compromised, you should treat your name as your most valuable possession while engaging in this line of activity.
In short, you need to reflect on all the possibilities that may exist both now and into the future, so you can be prepared for as many contingencies as possible. This is said by someone who has experience in not doing that and it has cost a lot.
I come from the school that says, why would I ever make a wager, of any kind, with the expectation of losing? I wouldn't, and I don't. That's not to say that the possibility of losing isn't factored in -- of course it is, that's why we learn the skills that are necessary. But that's my point. If I'm going to take the time and invest that time and money, i.e., placing money at risk and to learn and develop skills, it has to come with the expectation of a positive result. To learn a skill and not be able to use it is an exercise in futility and waste.
One doesn't have to have a desire to be a pro to approach endeavors professionally. That's just an expectation of expertise and if you aren't willing to hone those skills, then this is the wrong place and the wrong activity for you.
You can lament till the cows come home how ridiculous and unfair it is that by using your brain and successfully beating casinos at the games they offer where they usually have the edge, and by beating them you're treated as a criminal where if you played poker or were a successful Wall Street trader you'd be lauded and recognized by peers with all the rewards and accolades one can receive. But it doesn't work that way in this field. And the collateral damage can take its toll.
Protect your name at all costs. It's as simple as that.
The DOC: I disagree about playing rated -- I have had backoffs while playing rated and as a result I have to really exercise caution now to avoid getting 86'd from several properties with good games. My present strategy is basically to play a break-even game at a place where I play rated, with the goal being to score a room and possibly free food. All other play is unrated, short sessions only, hit and run, slash and burn.
In modern day Las Vegas, if you play heavy green or black, even recreational "part timers" like myself don't last long, IMO, if playing rated and playing a winning game. That’s my perspective, as a non-professional.
Emerald City BJ: OK advice, but not forward-thinking. I think the advice provided might be OK for a recreational player who is absolutely certain they're never going to play on a team or at the professional level. The problem is some of these suggestions will hurt you if at some point you decide to take your game to the next level.
For counting system, Hi-Lo is a reasonable choice. It's simple and gets the money.
For playing rated, if you play low stakes and don't play often, a lot of casinos won't be bothered by your play. However, if you ever start playing for stakes that matter to the casino, you may regret giving them so much information early in your career.
The Chaperone: In response to your stated opinions:
#3 I think we all agree on. However, even here, there could be some high-stakes part-timers who would be advised to use a modicum of cover.
#2 I disagree with quite a bit. I've said this before but I'll say it again... Use machine play for comps and play blackjack unrated. This goes for all levels of players. It is really not that hard to learn the paytables of a few video poker games and then play them using a strategy card. There are still some places who will comp you to the hilt for full-pay video blackjack (not that easy to find but it is out there). How hard is that?
#1 This is a totally separate and tired debate. Learning a balanced count such as Hi-Lo is a very good choice if you move on to something more complex such as shuffle tracking at some point in the future. Even part time hobbyists may wish to try something beyond counting at some point. Hi-Lo is the industry standard, so it will likely come in handy if you work with other players or teams in the future.
21forme: More on #2: Do NOT play machines rated then go to the tables for unrated play (or vice versa). Surveillance can backtrack and follow you from the time you entered the casino, find your machine play, then figure out who you are.
bigplayer: If you are a low stakes player, you have lots of other options:
You cannot generate enough comps by playing rated everywhere to make it worthwhile at low stakes. If you do play rated, you will mostly just get free room offers -- if you receive offers for 200 free nights a year but are only in Las Vegas for 20 nights a year, all of those other extra free nights are really worthless. By playing rated at low stakes, you give up far more than you get for the most part.
Originally published on bj21.com Green Chip, edited for this format.