Monday, January 16, 2012

Moderation in Deception

One of the more important facts of life is that adults are often very disingenuous. When the executive VP says 'the United Way chairmanship was the most important job I had here at Amalgamated,' it is a lie; when they imply that their main satisfaction comes from knowing their customers or voters are better off, it is a lie. Sure, there's an element of truth to what they are saying, but emphasis is important too. So, lying is part of life, especially in regard to hierarchies, because any hierarchy needs some platitudes about the greater good to maintain their legitimacy.

Anyway, I was in Las Vegas last weekend and hung out with a Black Jack pro. His basic strategy was to find 2 deck black jack tables, which would give him enough time to count cards and generate an advantage. If they reshuffled too early, say after 52 cards, he couldn't make money, and this was part discretionary, part casino rule.

I won't give away all his secrets, but the bottom line is that it didn't seem worth it to me. As a job, not an avocation, it didn't seem fun, or even really well paying. The basic card counting part of the job is pretty mechanical and after repetition rather easy. Most importantly, he had a very interesting time with the dealers. Basically, you want them to know and like you, but just a little. Too much, and they will catch on to your game, too little and they won't do you any favors.

As they have a lot of discretion, and you are hoping to make say $300 off any on dealer, which in the context of their weekend is not a lot. Thus, they might choose to deal to you with only 25 cards left in the shoe, if they like you, whereas if they don't like you they will reshuffle after 50 cards. A great salesman is one who can make customers like them so much they don't mind paying a little extra, and don't like to even think about what is happening (like when dupes don't care their partner is using them because they are so adorable). Smarts are necessary to make this happen, but to make it a really valuable strategy you need the ability to make the opportunity cost seem a lot smaller than it is.


  1. Anonymous8:07 AM

    Yes, if you can find one and two shoe decks, then you can turn small advantages into wins.

  2. If you can make much more than $50/hour at your regular job, blackjack has a dubious ROI. It makes the most sense if you really *like* Las Vegas and enjoy the comps. There's a certain level of success where *if* you include the value of free food and rooms and shows (and getting to impress your friends and/or dates) you're getting paid a decent salary to take a vacation you would have enjoyed taking anyway.

    But as a full-time business it tends to be tedious and doesn't scale all that well. Once you get much into black-chip play you tend to lose a lot of edge due to getting barred from the best casinos for playing too well, forcing you to accept lower-quality games at places that still accept you. Or if you don't get barred, it's by virtue of wasting a lot of your edge on things like tipping and cover plays and keeping sessions really short. In short, you tend to make a smaller percentage per unit invested (per unit time) as the dollar units increase.

    It's still fun as an occasional hobby.

  3. Unless you are one of the top 5 in the world, trying to make a full-scale living at blackjack is completely foolhardy - a really stupid idea.

  4. "top 5 in the world" is a big overstatement. No, the chief trouble is that the sort of people who could reasonably expect to be able to make a living at blackjack generally have much better career and/or investment options available to them.

    Granted, it'd be "a really stupid idea" for most people, but then, most people (a) are prone to play "hunches", (b) are undercapitalized, (c) overestimate their skill level, (d) aren't sufficiently disciplined (willing to study and practice and measure outcomes)

    As for the many people (thousands) who don't have those sort of flaws and thus could conceivably make a living playing blackjack, most could make a much better living in finance or computer software so they don't particularly *need* to do blackjack.

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