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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, May 2004, #52

Card Counters' Dilemmas with Non-Card Counters

By Dan Pronovost

 Blackjack Training software for handhelds and Windows

Dan Pronovost is the owner and president of DeepNet Technologies, makers of a wide range of blackjack training products and software. Dan recently released a new e-Book, Blackjack Count Master which uses a series of exercises based on his software to teach readers how to master card-counting in blackjack. Their web site is: www.HandheldBlackjack.com. Dan is the creator of the new card counting system Speed Count, which is being taught in the Golden Touch Blackjack courses by Henry Tamburin: www.GoldenTouchBlackjack.com. Check out what students from the first GTB course are saying: http://bjinsider.com/gtb_course_feedback.shtml.

In all the articles I've written for BJI (this is #11), I've kept mostly to statistical analysis and simulation of the fine game of blackjack. Since I am a self-proclaimed card-carrying geek, I have no issue with this! But in this article, I shall stray from my chosen path and talk about a subjective matter dear to my blackjack-loving heart…

Getting Heat from other Players

Successful card counters know that they must be very careful when practicing their hard-learned skills at the tables. Casinos do not like players with a positive edge in blackjack, and often take actions on suspected card counters, ranging from the simple 'back off', to a barring from the casino and security escort out the door (or worse, to the 'back room').

Getting heat from the casino is an everyday fact of life for successful card counters. Counters respond by applying both psychological camouflage (acts, and other subjective measures while you play to divert attention from your card counting tactics), and punitive camouflage (limiting the application of your card counting techniques to make your advantage less noticeable to the casino).

But another source of conflict for card counters does not come from the 'pit': it comes from the other players at the table. For myself, I find this to be the most annoying form of heat that greatly interferes with my enjoyment of the game, and at times, my ability to leverage my maximum advantage.

Understanding non-counters

Non-counters do not think like counters. Counters know that overall, the way other players play their game has no direct correlation on the results of their own hands. Non-counters believe in luck for the most part, which means when you do something 'different', they will be watching the card drops and assessing the outcome had you not made that 'bad play'. If they would have won the hand had you played 'correctly', or worse, if the dealer would have bust rather than beat the table, then you are now a pariah, lowest of the low.

Ironically, such player heat rarely has anything to do directly with being a card counter, which most 'ploppies' at the blackjack table will have no knowledge of. But successful card counting does lead to a playing style that has lots of 'differences' from typical non-counters, and this is the red flag that will get you the dreaded heat from other players.

Those hated play deviations…

Depending on the count system you use, many aspects of your play may trigger the pariah flag from other players.

First, some of your basic plays may be different from what everyday players use. Do you hit 10 versus 16, or stand? Do you hit Ace/8 versus a dealer 6? Do you stand on 12 versus dealer 13? Even if you use a fixed basic strategy with your count system (i.e. no index plays), some plays may rub other players the wrong way.

But many counters will employ play deviations, either as edge-improving play indices or occasional negative expectation camouflage strategies, such as doubling 10 versus dealer 10 or ace. This means you may play a hand one way, then play it differently later on. Once you have garnered the pariah player hat, you can be sure the ploppies will be watching your every move!

Evil hand spreading and bet jumps…

In my own sessions as a card counter playing with non-counters, the action that inevitably sets off the other players against me is when I spread to multiple betting spots. It doesn't seem to matter if I'm spreading 'down' to one hand, or up two or three hands from one: either way, ploppies are going to start reaching for their pitch forks and matches before you can say "Yahoo! I won!"

I recently played at a two-deck table with one other non-counter. After 10 minutes, the count reached the ozone and I decided to 'go for broke' and max out my bets. I was playing my usual second base (leaving the least-likely-to-become-occupied first betting spot open to my right for hand spreading), while a Mr. WWF Mountain Man was playing last base. I had been jumping my bets fairly liberally already, but had not spread hands at all. I suspect my liberal bet jumps, coupled with my growing chip stack and his losses, already had started the horns growing out of my head from Mr 300-pound Brick's perspective. While I was beginning to get a bit nervous that I could become a squished bug under Mr Brick's massive thumb with little thought on his part, as a counter I could not resist the glorious advantage count for this last round of an amazing two-deck shoe!

So off I went and spread to two hands of 15 units each (yes, I know that's very aggressive… but that's a different story!). While Mr Volcano looked ready to blow, the dealer dealt me a blackjack on the first hand, and I reached 21 with one hit on the second hand. Mountain man busts in one card, and the dealer busts too. Well, lava begins to pour from Mr. Volcano, since I "took his freakin' 21!" by playing the extra hand. Luckily, the few empty betting spots between us sheltered me from most of the molten spittle spewing from his mouth. Thankfully, he left my table in a huff soon after, leaving me to plays heads-up briefly with the dealer. One natural disaster avoided with minimal losses, but on two occasions in the following 40 minutes I lost my nerve and limited my hand spreading to two spots when I really wanted to go to three.

To date, I cannot think of any blackjack session over one hour in length I've played where I didn't get some verbal heat from other players when I spread hands aggressively.

So what? Who cares what some Ploppy think?

Player-heat can have many objective and subjective negative consequences.

On the subjective side, verbal abuse is just not fun (unless you are Howard Stern, which I am not!). I like to enjoy blackjack when I play, and idiotic tongue-lashings simply take away from the pleasure of beating the house at it's own game. Furthermore, these events interrupt my concentration: after exchanging words, have I remembered the count correctly? Did I miss counting any cards during the event?

Since player-heat is likely to come when you are applying your most aggressive card-counting tactics (such as hand spreading or play deviations), it may bring attention from the pit critters at the time you least want it. Does the pit boss turn to your table to see what the commotion is, only to notice your pile of green or black chip bets when the table-card shows you playing a conservative red-chip game moments before? Does the pit boss call up the Eye to watch your play from here on in?

Dealing with Player Heat

Player-heat has happened to me so many times, that I have a standard response practiced and ready in my arsenal:

Ploppy: "Dammit! If you had stood on that 16 I would have got a blackjack jerk-face! You're making the whole table lose!"

Me: "Oh? You don't like the way I'm playing?"

Ploppy: "No! You're making me lose!"

Me: "Hmmm… then maybe YOU SHOULD GO PLAY AT A DIFFERENT TABLE!" (caps intentional)

On three occasions, this strategy has worked for me, and resulted in the player leaving the table. This is good in all regards, since it eliminates the beacon from the table, lets me return my focus to the game, and may mean less players at the table, which I prefer. I have to admit I've never tried this with the annoying ploppy directly beside me, which may be all the wiser for my health (compared to Mr. Mountain from the prior tale of woe, I'm Master Anthill).

Alternatively, if you employ 'stupid' cover successfully, you can simply bow to the sage advice from your fellow brethren, and denounce your evil ways: "Oh, was that the wrong play? Boy, I've got to learn how to play this game or I'm going to lose my shirt! I'll never remember all these plays!

When Ploppies are your Friend…

Occasionally, non-counters and their luck-based myths can be used to great advantage by card counters.

Consider for example, the following tactic employed recently by the Master of Acts, our fine editor Mr. Henry Tamburin. Henry is playing his usual 'Stupid' act, of which I have never seen or heard of anyone more capable and talented! I bow to the Grand Master of Subjective Camouflage in this fine tale…

Henry is playing mostly alone at his table, and the count goes sky-high… time to max the bets and squeeze out those gravy hands before the count drops. For those who may not know, the count (or player's advantage) is a 'dependent' probability, meaning it will tend to increase when low, and decrease when high. Hence, a card counter wants to get more hands played alone while the count is high.

But a ploppy drifts up from behind, about to take up a precious betting spot or two at Henry's table. This would 'eat' the remaining good cards while the count is high, minimizing the advantage Henry can apply. So before the ploppy sits down, the ever-so-comical-and-animated Henry offers this genuine advice: "Hi. I hope you've got a lot of money because our dealer Bob here has been KILLING us." Mr, Ploppy, thankful for the sage wisdom, wanders off again leaving the gravy-shoe for Henry to leverage on his own.

And one more… A while back, I received a question from a BJI reader:

" I was playing at Caesars last weekend when a black chipper split 3s against a dealer 10. The count was at -9. He wound up splitting 3s twice more doubling on two of them with no hand over 17. Each time he split I uttered a hyphenated explicative loud enough for him to hear…"

Indeed, splitting 3s against a dealer 10 is bravery best left for those soon to be departed from their wallets, regardless of the count! But in this situation, the ploppy was doing our counter a vast favor by eating the 'bad' cards at this very negative count. The worst thing at this exact time would be for the ploppy to leave. Let them split hands, and lose money as the count returns to a positive zone.

"What do you get, when you fall in a Ploppy…"

(Apologies to Dionne Warwick, and other practitioners of this classic song)

Myself, the blackjack act I've honed is the friendly 'tourist' routine, just in town on a short stint (which is believable, since being from Canada means I'm probably travelling). I generally try to be polite, chatty with both the players and pit bosses, and attempt to act like a knowledgeable player who doesn't play much and can't remember all the 'details'.

None of this act helps in the end, once you have turned the table players against you with aggressive card counting plays. I've tried 'fight fire with fire' with some success, but haven't found the secret answer to avoiding player heat.

At best, any response is best tailored to the subjective camouflage act that you employ (and if you don't have one, get one… $9.99 at Wal Mart, on special this week). Try and think like a ploppy who sees luck behind every card drop, and bad luck attached to every oddball aggressive play you make. Consider the image you portray, and the most sensible response for that camouflage act.

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