INTERVIEW WITH BLACKJACK TEAM MANAGER COLIN JONES- Part 2
by Henry Tamburin
Note: Colin Jones co-founded and managed "The Church Team," one of the largest card counting teams in the past decade, taking millions from casinos along the way. Colin Jones teaches blackjack strategy atBlackjack Apprenticeship. To learn more about card counting, check out their card counting video course.
Note: Part 1 of this interview appeared in issue #153. Click here to read.
Where did your team play and what were the stakes?
We played anywhere and everywhere in the U.S., and some places in Canada. We would play anything from $200 max per round to as much as several thousand per round. After a while, we found the limits that seemed to be too high for casinos to handle, so we tried to stay below those.
How did you recruit new team members?
We were actually pretty opposed to the idea of "recruiting" players. If someone on the team came to us and said they knew someone really well whom they thought would be a good fit for the team, we would be willing to meet them and go from there. We actually tried to talk most people out of it, because high-stakes card counting is a more grueling job than people initially think it will be. If someone were persistent about it, we would continue to get to know them, start training them, and take things from there. Since the culture of our team was so important, we really wanted people whom we thought would fit in well. Everyone had to enjoy each other and trust each other for the team to thrive year in and year out.
What camouflage techniques did your team use to stay under the casino radar?
We allowed some really minor cover plays, but we had a pretty aggressive style. Ian Andersen talks about "Optimizers" and "Maximizers." We trained everyone to be a Maximizer, go after EV aggressively, and deal with backoffs when they came. Since not everyone was looking at card counting as a 20- or 30-year job, we didnít mind being really aggressive.
Did your team ever experience a losing streak?
We experienced lots of losing streaks, but never a losing year (if someone says they donít experience losing streaks in card counting, they are lying to youÖ even the best card counters experience variance). My guess is that we had six-figure losing streaks a dozen times over the 10 years we played. The largest losing streak is documented in our DVD "Holy Rollers." Our bankroll size was about $1.2M, and we were down about $465K at one point. Probably $100,000 of that was from wages and expenses, but it was a stressful season. We ended up winning it back, plus another $1M before disbanding. Ironically, gamblers remember their wins more than their losses, while advantage players tend to remember the losses more than the wins.
What were some of the memorable team experiences?
Iím sure I could fill a novel with memorable experiences (maybe someday I will). We had a guy win $100K in one night from a casino. Another time, we had $110K seized by the US Border Patrol when players were crossing over to play in Canada. It became a fulltime job for several months to get the money back (we got it back, minus a $10K "fine" from the government that was never explained to us). I remember a spotter-BP session where we had a spotter at every blackjack table, with the BP bouncing around, betting every spot at table max. All the while, the casino had no idea what was going on. It was hard keeping a straight face, because it seemed too obvious to us. The most memorable stuff, though, were the team meetings. It was such a fun time in our lives and there were so many characters on the team, it would be impossible to recreate.
Was there any backlash from your family and friends about what you were doing?
Yeah. My mom wouldnít speak to me for a while, because she was convinced I had a gambling addiction. It took her a long time to realize that I wasnít being sucked into a seedy underground of gambling, drugs, and strippers. Hollywood hasnít done card counting any favors. Some friends and family never came to grips with it, thinking that itís just too risky, unwise, or deceptive. Others changed their stance after having a better understanding of the job. In my opinion, 90% of peopleís problems with what I was doing were based on misinformation or a misunderstanding of what we really were doing. Other peopleís concern was that card counting doesnít "benefit society" or produce anything. I think thatís a valuable point, but for most people on the team, card counting was just one facet of their lives.
How long did your team stay together?
There were a few different teams over the years, but "The Church Team", which was the larger team, existed for about 6 years.
Why did the team disband?
When we started the team, the goal was to play for one or two years while starting other businesses in the process. The team was so much fun and so profitable that it lasted a lot longer. However, it was never our goal to run it forever, and at a point, it felt like the team had run its course. Ben and I were ready to move on, so we each did at different points. Some players continued playing (and some still do), but not under our management.
What led you to produce the DVD "Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians"?
A friend, Bryan Storkel, was asking us for ideas for his next documentary. He never thought weíd ever allow him to document the team, but we thought it was such an interesting story, we suggested it. We had a limited role in the process, as well as final say as to when he could release it, but we had very little creative control over the project.
What are you doing now?
Iím assuming you mean for work... Iím involved in several internet companies that Iíve started with friends, including Blackjack Apprenticeship. I love creating value, investing in, and growing things with people I care about. The blackjack team was a great way to do those things for nearly a decade, but now Iím doing the same things with a different "canvas".
If you had to change anything when you were involved with your card counting team, what would it be?
Thatís another tough question. From a business standpoint, I wish we would have gotten more involved in a few advanced techniques, and I wish I would have trusted my instincts more when it came to difficult decisions with the team (hiring, firing, etc). From a personal standpoint, there are many things I would do differently now, but thatís all part of learning from your experiences. I think I was caught up in the money at times, which clouds both goals and relationships. It was great making the money, but when I think back to those years, the first thing I think of isnít the money we made. Instead, it was the relationships with the amazing people on the team, the experiences, the stories, and the freedom from a 9-5. Those are the things I donít ever want money to become more important than, but at times, I let the "business" come before the "people in the business," which I really regret. In addition, ironically, I started playing blackjack so I could have freedom from a job, but in many ways, ended up finding my identity in the "job" of running a blackjack team. This made it really hard to step away from the team, even when I knew I was burned out and ready to move on. However, in the end, the most difficult experiences were the ones I learned the most from, so I canít say that I would take them back.
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