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by Nathaniel Tilton

Nathaniel Tilton is a former professional blackjack player, author of the new book The Blackjack Life (Huntington Press, 2012), and co-manager of the website He currently resides in the greater Boston area and works as a personal wealth advisor.

In an effort to gather more ideas for incorporating strategies into small team play, I picked up a copy of the book Blackjack Essays by Mason Malmuth. In it, Malmuth surmised that team play was all but dead. However, the edition of the book was 1996 and since then, team play has actually grown in many ways. In fact, my book, The Blackjack Life, (shameless plug, I know) focuses, in particular, on small team play. Along with my playing partner at the time (D.A.), we developed a multi-strategy approach to playing as a team. In Malmuth’s defense, the team play he wrote about consisted of (Ken) Uston-like Big Player call-ins. In that sense, I’d have to agree that the opportunities are weakening, due to greater awareness of the technique by casino personnel and an increased prevalence of no-mid-shoe-entry rules.

Today, the concept of team play, no doubt, has many layers. There’s the benefit of bankroll consolidation, a lessening in bankroll volatility, a greater ability to integrate cover plays, and the implementation of more robust and effective in-casino communication between team members. Working with a teammate or two (or three) can be incredibly valuable to the long-term success of seasoned card counters. Although I have since retired from live action, I plan to write strategies, tips, and techniques, for readers of the Blackjack Insider, which can be incorporated into team play. Think of it as an ongoing "here’s what I would do if I were managing a team" discussion.

You’ve probably seen the movie 21, heard about the MIT blackjack teams of the 1990’s, or even read about the legendary Ken Uston. They attacked the game with large teams, primarily positioning spotters at several tables, who would call in the Big Player when the count got high. However, team play extends beyond that, in fact, many great blackjack players have written incredibly resourceful approaches to beating the game, not just from a mathematical standpoint, but also in terms of the important art of avoiding detection.

As a former player on a small team, I know we were often faced with situations where we’d have to grind through shoes while playing heads up against the dealer. The great thing about our overall system was that we figured out how to move in and out of different strategies (e.g., call-ins, back counting, Big Player, Gorilla, and balanced betting). This strategy proved to be very difficult for casino personnel to identify us as card counters. If I were managing a team today, I’d continually look for new techniques to incorporate on an as-needed basis. One such strategy would be Malmuth’s "Consolidation Betting" approach, which was later refined by blackjack expert George C., and ultimately "revived" (as he says) by the Zen Grifter. In fact, many experts refer to consolidation betting as the "Grifter’s Gambit."

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