coddling a cappuccino at a casino's posh high roller club a few
weeks ago with some blackjack-playing cronies, Basil and Courtney.
Basil is a club member. Courtney and I were his guests.
basic strategy to the letter. He bets $100 most of the time, with
rare raises to $125, $150, and $200 "on a whim." This gives the
casino 0.37 percent edge. Basil's average wager is $105, so the
house has a theoretical win of $0.39 per round.
cards. She likes to start at $50 and progress -- when she can get
away with it -- to $100 at +2, $200 at +3, $300 at +4, and $600
at or above +5. This spread will give Courtney 1.8 percent edge.
Considering hands at each count level, her bets would average $107.58
and she'd expect to earn $1.94 per round.
Both have good
day jobs and gamble for entertainment, not for a living. However,
they play frequently and pretty much epitomize what I consider serious
bettors. Talk turned, as usual with this duo, to the question of
whether counting cards is worthwhile.
argument was twofold. First, without counting, blackjack is a negative
expectation game and solid citizens are bound to lose in the long
run. Second, even during the short span of a single casino sojourn,
players are throwing away money if they don't grab all the advantage
contention was quadripartite. One, he didn't play enough in a year
to sweat "the long run." Two, during a day or so at the casino,
the disparity isn't significant. Three, bankroll swings are more
drastic with counting for the same average bet, and he was uncomfortable
dropping too precipitously if luck ran sour. And, four, casinos
not only welcome him but offer perks he considers part of the scene
-- such as club memberships, hotel rooms, meals (some passing for
gourmet), and invitations to special events -- while Courtney gets
When I returned
home, I put numbers on both sides of the debate. I calculated profit
and loss prospects during a year -- assuming 10,000 rounds, and
a weekend visit -- benchmarking 500 rounds.
Here are the
annualized projections. Basil has about one chance in four of winding
up losing over $12,000 and the same for earning more than $4,250
with basic strategy. Moreover, he has about 16 percent probability
of going as far as $20,000 in the hole before completing the 10,000
rounds. Courtney has three chances in four of finishing with a profit
over $5,500 and one in four of surpassing $33,000 by counting cards.
Her risk of falling below $20,000 during the year is roughly 10
for a year at these levels of play, counting is far superior to
basic strategy. Even with the wider bankroll swings counters can
anticipate, folks who fret over fleeting yet painful setbacks will
find this approach less perilous. Perks for basic strategy players
but not card counters moderate the effects somewhat. Basil can figure
his action will bring at least $2,000 in comps and a plethora of
priceless recognition and