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Note: This series is excerpted from Frank Scoblete’s book I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage Play Blackjack. The book is available in the BJI Store.

Part one of this excerpt was published in issue #179 of the Blackjack Insider.

I have been involved with some blackjack teams as a player and/or a financer. Some of my blackjack friends – James Diorio, Jerry "Stickman," Dom "the Dominator," Jodi Mention, Henry Tamburin, Manny Bronfman, Bill "Street Dog," Kyle Lansing, Donnie "the Duck," Kevin Thomason and John Davis have either been on these teams and/or know about them.

One team, the "Lone Ranger" team – as I now call it – was my most successful team and also my most troublesome. We played Atlantic City for six months in the late 1990’s. This was at a time when the Beautiful A.P. was suffering from a debilitating illness and couldn’t come to the casinos with me.

The Lone Ranger team did not use the "big player" technique because by this time casinos were looking for that method. Instead, we had seven Lone Rangers who spread out to the various Atlantic City casinos that had decent games, mostly those found in the high roller rooms.

The rules in Atlantic City’s high-roller rooms were quite favorable at that time and if you could find a casino that dealt about 75-80 percent (or more) of the cards in a four- or six-deck shoe, the game could be beaten with alacrity. Still playing shoe games, especially those six-deck shoes, took time; it also took patience because the counts in six-deck games are slow moving, unlike the far more dynamic single- and double-deck games.

We played about six months of mostly weekends as all of us had other jobs requiring our time, and we were quite successful – at least in the money-making department. Our interpersonal skills set took quite a hit during this time. Friendships were broken and most of us were disappointed in how some others of us behaved. Such a meltdown was not unique to our team; meltdowns occur with many teams. They almost seem par for the course.

You see in team play not everyone is going to win every session or trip or even over somewhat extended periods of time. Some players will get their asses kicked day-in and day-out. Some will win far more than probability predicts especially in the short runs and team play for individual players is more or less the short-run, although the team as a whole is playing many hands. The streaks, those lovely ups and devastating downs, are called variance – and variance can happen for good or ill for prolonged periods of time. We had a couple of players who were hotter than hot during this six-month period; we had a couple of players who won a decent amount and we had three players who lost, one of whom lost a lot.

The more decisions that a blackjack team plays, the better the chance it will be in the black. Still individuals can be on the outer edges of the win/loss continuum during these periods of time. The team can be winning; maybe winning big, but individual players on those teams can be losing, perhaps losing big.

Now, what starts to happen with the team is simple; those players who did really well are putting money into the pot – sometimes a lot of money – but those players who are losing, and especially those who are losing big, take money out of the pot – sometimes a lot of money. Resentment flourishes; and then suspicion. Why is so-and-so losing so much? Maybe he can’t play as well as we thought he could. Or, worse, is he actually keeping his wins for himself? Is the creep stealing from us?

Once suspicion rears its ugly head then come the accusations, "How come you are losing so much, huh? Are you stealing from the team?" Team play is almost religious in nature, requiring much faith – so the tendency is for the more fanatic, emotional and hardline players to get upset and aggressive towards those who aren’t doing things the right way, meaning they aren’t pulling their weight; meaning they aren’t bringing in the money; meaning something fishy must be going on.

The reverse is also true. Losing players start to feel alienated and they might lash out at some of the other players because of the looks they are given when they report still another losing day. So those who are winning a lot get angry and those who are losing a lot get angry and the whole affair becomes quite unpleasant for everyone. Often it is a bad multiple marriage.

Does this happen all the time? No. Some of the teams I dealt with had their emotional acts together. And some didn’t. The Lone Rangers didn’t. Still that team won the silver bullets!

Interestingly enough, if you scratch any blackjack player and talk about team play they will say they understand this situation and wouldn’t fall into the trap themselves. Maybe this is true but some of the individuals who went Looney Tunes on a couple of my teams proclaimed before they joined the team that they would never get upset because they understood the roll of variance even in games where the player has the edge. Famous first words.

I like to compare team play to investing in the stock market. Your broker asks you if you can handle risk. You say risk doesn’t bother you so go for those dynamic high-risk investments. Suddenly those investments tank and lose you a load of money and you are not cool and calm because you can handle risk; no, no, no, you are completely, totally devastated because your mouth was able to say you can handle risk, but your emotional equipment went haywire when that risk turned out to whack you over the head with big losses. So too with some card counters.

Next month: Part 3 of this series.

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