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COMPS vs. COUNTING:

Sometimes The Two Can Go Together

But You Have to be Careful

by Basil Nestor

Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? Visit SmarterBet.com and drop him a line.

At first glance, it seems clear that comps and counting are mutually exclusive. You can’t pursue one without messing up the other.

For example, let’s say you play the comp game. That means the casino knows all your info. But what if you then glue yourself to a table, count like a protégé of Ken Uston, and make a killing? A mountain o’ chips is shoved your way. Inevitably, you get the tap and a push out the door. In that situation, all your comp work is wasted.

Or, flip it around. Let’s say you play the counting game perfectly. You hit hard and then quickly run, always short sessions. You’re a shadow who nobody can remember. In that situation, signing up for a players club is at best pointless and at worst, it’s a giant speed bump to your secret work.

Indeed, comps and counting generally don’t go together if you’re a full-time professional or you regularly play at the expert level. Except for establishing cover in some situations, generally, a player’s club membership is pointless for aggressive counters.

However, if you’re a recreational counter, someone who plays for profit but not for a living, then the reckoning is potentially different and comps can be an important part of your long-term profit.

The Value of Comps Combined with Counting

Here’s a quick look at the numbers … Comp policies vary, but most casinos give blackjack comps to players at about 0.5% of action. So, theoretically, if you play perfect basic strategy without counting against a low-edge game (which is typically about 0.5%) then you’ll mostly break even. That means you lose money at the table in the long run, but you get the "theoretical" value of those losses back in comps. Then if you count cards, everything else is gravy profits.

In addition, there are other financial advantages to comps that are potentially substantial but less easy to calculate. These are promotions and special deals over and above the free stuff you get that are connected directly to your action. Specifically, these are entries into sweepstakes, free events and merchandise, whatever the casino gives away to entice club visitors. They have value, depending on your personal preferences.

Nice, but is it possible to combine comps with counting? Your ability to do that depends on a number of variable factors.

Putting It Together

First, it’s important to honestly assess your abilities. Specifically, if a player counts badly, and his lips move as he hawks each card… If he growls, "Hold on a second," before making a move, while he obviously does arithmetic in his head… well… that’s going to attract attention. Right? Okay, seriously, even bad counters are rarely that bad, but the larger point is that bad counters are caught more than good counters. They look nervous and distracted. They act strange. When you’re good, you can order a drink, tip the server, simultaneously tell a joke, light a cigarette, and do it all while keeping track of the count. Dealers and floorpeople are human; they respond to positive stimulation, and they won’t think you’re a counter if you act like a regular patron, one who is upbeat, freewheeling, and comfortable with interactions. That includes joining the players club.

Remember that casinos personal aren’t stupid, but they’re not mind readers either. They tend to naturally follow any narrative you spin, unless you give them a reason to do otherwise. A player’s club card can be part of that narrative.

Your bet levels are another factor. If you throw around a lot of black chips and perfectly follow the count, especially if you play against a blatantly vulnerable game, then trolling for comps is a bad idea because you won’t fool anyone who cares to notice. Just play and scram.

But if you’re betting an average table in a range of green chips to black (or anything below), then many casinos hardly care if you play with an advantage, and they may not bother watching very closely. Joining the players club is just another layer of cover.

Ratholing (slipping chips secretly from the table to make you look like a loser) is yet another factor that makes comps more attractive. You’re less likely to be identified as a counter if the pit sees you always losing. As I mentioned above, this ploy doesn’t work so well if you’re tossing around large stacks of black chips. Dealers count black chips much more carefully than they count greens and reds. Nevertheless, if you’re an average player, then ratholing makes you look like an average loser, and comps come more easily.

Tips for Playing Carefully

So comps and counting can go together, but you must be careful. Precautions you should follow include...

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