What is an “AP”?—Part I

[Note: Season 1 of Colin Jones will resume next time, and there is further good news: Netflix and GWAE have announced that Colin Jones is renewed for Season 2!]

A few times per year, my elderly parents used to make the drive from New Jersey to Boston. Like all old people who haven’t grasped the power of the “cellular telephone,” they would stock the car with snacks, bottled water, batteries, blankets, and other survivalist items, just in case the 4-hour drive turned into nuclear winter. They—meaning my daddy—would also use old-school paper diagrams of the land and roads, that they called “maps” (before the word earned a capital letter). The map was marked with an asterisk in Connecticut for a particular rest stop—the one that had immaculate bathrooms.

As an AP, I’ve used casino bathrooms as a second office. In a pinch, the bathroom is the quickest, safest place to reload a BP (cash/chip reloads should never be done under the open sky on the casino floor), count chips, strategize with a teammate (there might be no cell phone reception in the casino), and sometimes hide. I once had to do a quick change of clothes to effect my escape from an imminent backoff at a tribal property. I left my hat, shirt, and pants in a bathroom stall.

Many of us APs spend a lot of time on the road, which is a separate life within AP. The speed traps in Capay and Onawa. The GWAE podcasts. The voice chats on Discord. And for some, the piss jugs. Avoiding the PJs might explain the growing popularity of Buccee’s. Sure, Buccee’s gives you a choice from dozens of identical gas pumps, and salt-water taffy, fudge, and brisket, all under one roof. But for the road-weary AP, Buccee’s is just a clean, well-lighted place, including the bathrooms.

So it is not without thought and experience that I’ve come to have a deep appreciation for bathrooms and the workers who keep those bathrooms clean. Even the toke hustlers who set up shop in Vegas bathrooms add value (in a nightclub bathroom, those little toiletries and “amenities” can be really valuable FTW!).

Instead of paying them higher wages, society has recognized the tremendous value added by such workers by giving them loftier job titles. When I was a kid, there was a “janitor” at school. Apparently that term has an unrefined connotation, so we’ve upgraded that to “custodian,” or “bathroom attendant,” or “Executive VP of Custodial Services.” In casinos, I think these workers might just be “Maintenance Technicians” as part of that department.

I have not heard anyone use the label “AP” for these workers, despite the fact that they make money at the casino. So what is an “AP”? That question has been coming up a lot lately, in particular as it pertains to machine players, many of whom learn a simple fact or two by following someone’s Twitter account, and then go out picking up some money at the casino.

Before I delve into the debate, let me issue a disclaimer: My comments are not a fox-and-grapes condemnation of those players who are currently making tons of money in machine play (MP). I’ve been recommending to new APs that they make sure their portfolio includes machine revenue. MP is widely available, can be quite lucrative, has a short startup time, allows for solo execution, and is somewhat scalable. So to me, this is not a debate regarding the merits of the activity, per se, but moreso the labeling. Should a machine player be called an “AP”? (And when I talk about MPs, I’m not talking about the analysts who derive strategies, sometimes performing statistical analysis after collecting data. I’m talking about those players who read a tweet or watch a three-minute YouTube video and then go out and collect money.)

Let me tell you a Vegas story. Back in the day, when Steve Wynn was Vegas’s favored son, he was quite hands-on with the management of his casinos. He didn’t like the fact that some of his employees were, in his opinion, overpaid for the job. To that end, he tried to take a cut out of the dealer toke pool, and redistribute the shaved money to floorpeople who weren’t getting a piece of those tokes. And if some of the shaved money boosted the casino’s bottom line, that was a plus.

The move to shave the dealer toke pool received widespread press coverage, lawsuits, and all the expected pushback from the dealers. <rant>“It’s so hard standing up 6 hours per day. And we have to deal with unruly, drunk, abusive customers. You have no idea how hard this job is. We earn our $90k and then some. You should actually pay us a higher minimum wage. And our tokes are a birthright. What? You say you have a PhD and don’t even make $90k? Well whose fault is that, brainiac? Not ours! You know we get yelled at by drunks, right?”</rant>

What didn’t get a lot of press coverage was Steve Wynn’s idea on cutting costs for the custodial staff. Here’s the summary of the never-before-published white paper that was leaked to our GWAE “investigative journalists” (please don’t call us “bloggers” or “trolls”). So the janitors are making $20/hour or more, on top of benefits. To make things worse, they’re all joining a union. At this point, they barely even do much work. The faucets, towel dispensers, and hot-air hand dryers are all automated. Even though the janitors fill out a log and swipe their ID to indicate when they’ve supposedly cleaned the bathroom, their main function is just to make sure the toilets and urinals are flushed, because it looks really bad if a customer sees some leftovers. So these unionized janitors are just pressing a button from time to time, and they’re making over $20/hour doing it, and it takes no training whatsoever. Idea: The casino can crowdsource the janitorial services.

Following the leak of this white paper, a Twitter account widely followed in the MP community (@SteveWynnIsNotGreedy) tweeted this sensitive info: “The Wynn has installed several new wongable machines. If you go behind the high-limit Regal Room to the even-more-high-limit private Los Banos Room, you’ll see they’ve installed a dozen Pool of Gold machines, and four Triple Ultimate Royal Diamond machines. I don’t know the manufacturer, because they’re not obviously labeled, but they’re quite distinctive with a modern chrome and white porcelain housing. The TURD machines can be played in private booths, but the Pool of Gold machines are along the wall of the Los Banos Room. Swipe your card when you go in to make sure you earn the reward. If you see a Pool of Gold machine with any golden pool accumulated at all, then it’s positive EV. Just push the button until the golden pool is cleared. At that point, your card is awarded a random amount of free play. It looks like the minimum is $1 per golden pool cleared, but I’ve seen as high as $4, and the average seems to be around $1.50. Since you can easily find three golden pools per hour, that’s maybe $5/hour. By the way, the graphics are so impressive that some MPs say that it almost feels like the machine splashes them when they play. What’s crazy is that the plops put the machine into golden shower mode, and then they just walk away, leaving the accumulated golden pool. Idiots!”

“Then there are the Triple Ultimate Royal Diamond machines. You’re looking for a machine that has at least one TURD symbol. If there are three TURD symbols, you’ll get a higher bonus. These plops just sit down on those machines, leave three TURDs and get up and leave! Morons! I’ve also seen a machine that had three TURDs and a golden pool, but I couldn’t verify if that gives you a bonus multiplier. Just keep clicking until the symbols clear. Usually it takes only one click! I estimate that the four TURD machines would generate an additional $8/hour. The plops don’t seem to be wising up, and competition isn’t too bad, so it’s pretty steady. We just need more of these machines. Not sure why everyone isn’t jumping on this sh**.”

Think about the guy that Steve Wynn fired. Each day, that guy drove to the casino. He would put in eight hours, though not all active work, of course. There’s a lot of walking around. He did his best to increase his earnings by joining the union, and proudly carried his union card. His “work” consisted of pushing a button from time to time. He earned $20/hour, with no variance, and his “graph” went steadily up, definitely positive. He was called a “janitor” or “custodian.”

What about the new guy who showed up when Steve Wynn crowdsourced the task through incentivization? Each day, this guy drives to the casino. He puts in his eight hours, though not all active work, of course. There’s a lot of walking around. He does his best to increase his earnings by joining the rewards club, and carries his Platinum Card around his neck. His “work” consists of pushing a button from time to time. He earns about $13/hour, with variance, and his graph goes erratically up, very likely positive. He’s called an “AP”?


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A New Game for Me

I was looking at dollar progressives and found a 9/6 Triple Double Bonus Poker game where the royal was at $5,300, aces without a kicker were at $1,400, and the two kicker jackpots were just slightly higher than reset. It was a bartop game, the meters rose by 1% with each dollar played, and nobody was playing it.

I have not played a lot of progressives, but I was pretty sure this was positive. I went to my hotel room, checked my computer, and found out it was right at about 101%, including the slot club. I created a strategy using the Wizard of Odds Video Poker Strategy Calculator, studied that, practiced the game on WinPoker for about twenty minutes, and headed down to play.

I knew going in that this was a heaven-or-hell game. The variance on this game is about 125. Comparing that to other games, Jacks or Better is 19.5, Deuces Wild is 28, and Double Double Bonus is 42. 

It took me four hours to lose $3,000 — and that’s even though I hit a $2,020 jackpot with 33334. I was tired and decided to quit and come back the next day.

When I went back, my high point was being ahead $2,200 after six hours.  I had managed to hit that same $2,200 jackpot twice more, and then managed to lose all of that plus another $1,000 over the next three hours. 

I took a brief break. When I returned, the aces jackpot was more than $1,600 while the aces with a kicker jackpot was more than $4,300. I wasn’t positive, but I thought that with the aces jackpot so high, on a hand like AAA35, the correct play now was AAA rather than AAA3. I did that the one time I got such a hand, and later held just a simple AA and was dealt the other two without a kicker for a $1,695 jackpot.

Even though the royal was at $5,500 now and the aces with a kicker jackpot was also high, I was pretty sure it was no longer a good play. When I got back to my computer, I confirmed this was only a 99.6% game before the slot club, with the slot club today being pretty small. No thanks.

The fact that I ended up losing $2,100 was somewhat disappointing, but not a big deal. If you’re going to be playing this game, that kind of result must be pretty common. I didn’t set out to write this as a way to vent over losing so much money.

What struck me about this game is the number of times you are drawing one card to a big hand. In most games, when you’re dealt four to the royal, you have a one-card draw to 4,000 coins. In Double Double Bonus, you also have one-card draws to AAAA, 2222, 3333, and 4444 for relatively large hands. But in this game, you also have that draw to AAA2, AAA3, AAA4, 222A, 2223, 2224, 333A, 3332, 3334, 444A, 4442, and 4443. And these jackpots are typically for 2,000 or 4,000 coins!

If you’re the kind of person who emotionally dies whenever you miss a one-card draw — this should not be a game you consider. The above hands are mostly 46-to-1 shots (that is, one success every 47 tries, on average), and it’s not that rare to go 100 or more such draws in a row without connecting. And if you’re not connecting on these draws, you’re losing big time. You only get paid 10 coins for 3-of-a-kind, compared to the more-usual 15, and this adds up fast. Plus, you’re breaking aces full, deuces full, treys full, and fours full — whether they contain a kicker or not. 

For those who play the same game regularly, whatever that game is, you get a feeling with how fast it can go bad on those times when it does go bad. I have those reference points for many games. But this game goes down faster. It goes up faster too. Those big jackpots come out of nowhere. It’s just a different experience than I was used to.

The strategy for the game was unusual to me. You regularly hold 3-card flushes containing a king, queen, or jack, and also 3-card flushes with no high card at all. You prefer any 3-card royal to a pair of jacks, queens, or kings. And you prefer an unsuited QJT to a suited QT but not a suited JT. I’ve seen all of these plays before, but if I hadn’t gone home or to my hotel room, looked at the strategy, and practiced on the computer, I would have made many, many mistakes. I assume the same is true for most players who are not familiar with this game.

I’ll play this game again when I see such an opportunity. I just don’t expect it to happen very often because I don’t regularly see this game with progressives on it. And unless it has at least a 1% edge, I’m not interested. A 1% edge is higher than I usually insist upon before playing video poker, but the high variance eats you up at times. A 1% cushion protects me somewhat.

Someday, I suppose, I’ll see Triple Triple Bonus Poker with high enough progressives. This game pays 4,000 coins for 2222A, 3333A, and 4444A and pays for that by shorting the straight from 20 coins to 15. That game will have a higher variance yet. And since it’s not currently supported in the Wizard of Odds Video Poker Strategy Calculator, it’ll take me longer to get up to speed. But if I see a 1½% edge or higher, I’ll be up for it.


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Podcast – former surveillance operator – Junior part 2

Our guest this week is a former surveillance operator named Junior.  For the last 15 years Junior has worked in surveillance rooms on the Las Vegas strip. This is part 2 of our interview.

[00:00] Introduction of Junior, recently retired surveillance expert
[00:19] How often does a casino track a patron to get their license plate?
[02:51] Does a large color up without cashing out cause heat?
[04:05] Will surveillance ever check the trash to identify patrons?
[07:42] Other techniques used to identify persons of interest
[10:45] ID scanners
[11:17] Causes of heat
[14:03] Cheating at craps, other inside jobs
[19:15] A fun baccarat play
[21:54] Loss rebates
[23:22] Any chance that Junior returns to surveillance work?
[25:50] Tracking jewelry or clothing?
[26:48] Cheating at poker
[29:31] How to get in touch with Junior
[29:55] Can software effectively analyze play on blackjack variants?
[31:00] South Point Casino July Promotions – “Free Play with a Kicker”
[31:35] – card counting training site and community with a member’s forum, casino database and software tools
[32:07] – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[33:15] Biometrica
[35:43] MGM sweat shops
[37:33] Do casinos care about losing card counters?
[41:06] Splitting tens
[42:36] Flagging players with a players card
[43:40] Chip shuffling
[44:42] What do APs do to draw heat that could have been easily avoided?
[49:21] Recommended – The Winner by David Baldacci, Bosch on Amazon Prime

Sponsored Links:


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How I Order Food – Gambling With An Edge

I recommend you start out with reading Matthew Dicks’ Facebook post from July 2, 2021. Matt is one of my storytelling gurus and has posted daily posts “forever.” This time he writes about how he and his wife’s different eating habits mesh well with those of a few friends. Matt (and the female friend) like to order their own food without regard to whatever anybody else is having. They prefer to eat it without sharing with others. Matt’s wife Elysha (and the male friend) like to order somewhat communally. “If you get the veal, I’ll get the chicken and we’ll share!” When Matt and Elysha go out with these friends, everyone gets to eat the way each prefers, and all have a fine time. (Dicks lays out a third way to eat too. You’ll have to read his post to find out what it is!)

The post caused me to look at the way Bonnie and I order. It has nothing to do with any of the ways Matt laid out. It is probably a way that he has never considered. But I’m willing to bet the farm that a number of the people who read my blog order in a similar way at least some of the time.

You see, a high percentage of the meals we eat are paid for by casinos as a comp, which is short for complimentary. We get it by being players at the casino. Some of the comps are open-ended, meaning you can have whatever you want, but often they come with a specific dollar amount — say $30, $60, $100, $150, or any other amount. Each casino has its own rules for how comps are redeemed, but they are typically for one sitting and are “you pay if you go over. If your bill comes to less than the comp, you forfeit whatever is unspent.” At some places sales taxes are waived. At others, sales taxes are not waived.

So, let’s say I have a $75 comp at a place where entrees range from $20 to $100, plus they have the usual assortment of appetizers, soups, salads, desserts — along with a wine list. 

Almost always, after looking at the menu for a few minutes, Bonnie asks me what I am going to order. My answer is frequently, “I don’t know yet. You tell me what you’re going to order, and I’ll find something to use up the comp!”

I’m not a gourmet. I have my preferences, but on any given night I could have chicken, fish, beef, or even vegetarian. Or sometimes just a salad. It’s more about the company and the nourishment than the actual food.

If Bonnie decides she’s going to have a $20 salad, I’ll find something in the $50 range. If she wants a $40 salmon dinner, I’ll find something in the $30 range. Whenever she asks if there is room on the comp for her to have xxxx, the answer is always yes. And then I adjust what I’m having. Sometimes I’ll have a fairly strong preference towards a particular entrée and will suggest to Bonnie that if she has either yyyy or zzzz, we’ll use up the comp completely. I don’t do this very often, but when I do, she usually goes along with the suggestion.

My basic assumption, very possibly not supported by empirical evidence, seems to be that for the same size tip, a $50 entrée is “better” than a $30 entrée. That assumption helps me make up my mind when otherwise I might have no idea of what to have for dinner! 

It’s not at all rare to have a waiter come up at the end of such a meal and exclaim, “My gosh, your comp is for $75 and you spent $74.75! I can’t believe it.” My usual response at such a moment is to ask the waiter, “Do you have anything for 25¢ or less?” When the answer comes back in the negative, I tell the waiter that we’re finished with the meal.

Sometimes it happens that Bonnie decides she’s in the mood for coffee and/or dessert after we’ve finished the meal. Since this is a rarity, usually it means that I’ve already arranged to spend at least $73 of the comp before she tells me this. So, we exceed the comp. It’s not a disaster if we go over the $75, of course. We have funds. We can afford to pay retail for meals. Still, one way to make sure we have enough funds to always eat what we want is to let casinos buy us stuff and spend as little of our money on food as possible.

Plus, it’s part of the “Advantage Player” mindset. I’ll arrange my life to go to a casino at 3 a.m. or 4 p.m. or whenever else it’s in my interest to be there to get the best deal. Getting the most out of food comps goes hand in hand with this.

People who don’t play enough in casinos to get “free” meals do not order this way. And to be sure, probably most people who get comps don’t order this way either. But I’m sure some do. I’ve overheard plenty of conversations in casino restaurants to just this effect.

Bonnie and I have been married seven years and before she started going out with me, she had never eaten this way before. But, being naturally frugal, it made sense to her, and she adapted pretty quickly.

Finally, a big part of Matt’s original Facebook post was about sharing food during dinner. Bonnie and I don’t usually share at the table — other than sometimes ordering one bowl of soup with two spoons as part of the meal. But as septuagenarians with diminished appetites, we often do not finish what we ordered. Doggie bags leaving a restaurant are the norm for us. And three times out of four, once the leftovers are in our refrigerator at home, I’m the one who finishes off both meals over the next few days!

Author’s note:  If you’re at all interested in the art of telling stories, or even being a good conversationalist, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of Matthew Dicks’ Storyworthy: Engage, Teach, Persuade, and Change Your Life Through the Power of Storytelling.


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Colin Jones (S1 E6): The Secret to Investing—OPM??

I walked off a game the other day, and I have Colin Jones to
thank. On paper, the game could be a 20% edge or higher. In the real world? Not
so much. My frustration grew. Why am I playing this 10% garbage? I’m out.

Where does Colin Jones fit into this? Something he wrote on
p. 14 of The 21st-Century Card Counter hit home, because I’ve
wrestled with it my whole career, even though I’ve never seen it in print
before: “Being responsible for other people’s money is a whole different
animal. I never lost a night’s sleep riding out the swings with my own money,
but shouldering the weight of family and friends’ money definitely came with bouts
of night sweats and indigestion.”

That problem affects me, not so much with friends and
family, but with rookie teammates. Over the course of a team trip, there are
invariably opportunities for me to make a bet or execute a brief play myself,
with no teammates witnessing the play. That’s standard for an ECA (Every Counter
Alone) team, but my team trips generally involve a primary target that involves
multiple players together (such as a spotter and BP). So it’s a bit of a grey
area when a team member goes off and plays something alone during the trip.

There should be some discussion or understanding about that.
For instance, what if the team’s primary target is HC play, and a team member
says, “I lost $5000 on a hot deck in a monster count while checking dealers in
the high-limit pit.” I’ll chop the loss, but that teammate probably won’t be a
teammate for long. Sure, we could strictly outlaw that, but I’d rather give
people some flexibility, see what decisions they make, and then chop them off
if they self-reveal idiocy, degeneracy, or recklessness.

I think the 2nd-best compliment I ever got was
from D Money, an old BP teammate from Vegas (whom I ran into in an elevator fifteen
years later in a small hotel in Europe just before the covid lockdown), who
said: “I’ll always take a piece of your action.” That shows that he trusts both
my skill and my counting of the money. (The best compliment I ever got was from
a dealer in the Rio high-limit pit, who said: “We have a word for people like

The problem when gambling with OPM is that maybe those Other
People don’t actually have the Money! A rookie teammate might be unable to chop
a loss. A rookie who’s been winning with the team for two years or longer
should have saved up some money, but, inexplicably, some people are just too irresponsible
to save any money whatsoever. That puts the team in a bind, because now we’re
floating that loss, and the rookie owes us, but possibly the only way the
rookie can make money is continued play with the team. So we have to dig the
rookie out of his own hole. Instead of the rookie being our minion, the
veterans on the team become minions for the rookie. We’re out there scouting,
running numbers, finding and hitting targets to put money in this rookie’s
pocket, so he can pay us back the money he owes. And then the rookie complains
that we don’t respect his skills. What a joke. But I digress.

In other cases, the person can afford the loss financially,
but getting in a big hole can cause depression or grumpiness, especially if
winning was expected. And rookies often have the most unrealistic expectations
about winning every time. On a good game, we will win every time,
but not every game is a good game.

A third problem is that if I play something without witnesses,
and then lose, the rookie might want to know what I was playing. Veterans on my
team know that I have a bit of a “don’t-ask-because-I-won’t-tell” policy, and
there have been many times when I played something and put the profits in the chop
that they knew nothing about. It’s like the bag of money that the movie villain/hero
leaves at the orphanage, telling Sister Theresa, “Don’t worry about where this
money came from, just do some good with it!” But explaining advanced moves to
rookies is something that isn’t about to happen.

There is a bit of ego involved as well. Losing too often
without witnesses might raise red flags and damage a player’s credibility.
There are two—only two—ways that frequent losing can occur: either the game is
negative, or there’s skimming. I wouldn’t want to be suspected of either.

So, like CJ, I find myself under stress when OPM is
involved. I think that’s a good litmus test of a team player. You will
encounter some players who play fast and loose with team money, while people
like me and CJ probably play tighter.

I knew a team that had brought on a rookie, and bankrolled
him to go play some supposedly high-edge games (that was the team’s first
mistake). Anyway, they found that he was tipping too much, way too much. I
spied on this player (he didn’t know me) and confirmed excessive tipping, among
other mistakes. So they changed the team policy and said that all tips would
henceforth come out of his own pocket. Guess what happened. The guy immediately
started complaining about toke-hustling dealers, and how these tips were adding
up ($100-$200 per day). It didn’t take long before his tipping level went to
zero. Zero!

At that point, you might think that the team had solved its
problem, because they eliminated the EV-offensive behavior of excessive
tipping. That was true in the short-term, but long-term, they had a bigger
problem: this guy plays fast and loose with the team money, but when it’s his
own money, he’s tight as a drum. To me, that’s a huge warning sign. That might
even warrant cutting the guy loose right there.

(Their “solution” that led to the guy not tipping at all isn’t
optimal for the team anyway, because now the guy isn’t making the modest
professional tips that he should be making. For high-edge games, some amount of
tipping is generally optimal, and strategic tipping is a useful tool for a veteran.)

I want teammates who are as tight or tighter with team money
than their own personal money. You’ll see some players start blasting on a
super-marginal game with maybe no edge at all the second they get their hands
on a big team bankroll. (Overbetting marginal games is one of the red flags for
skimming, BTW.) For me, it’s always been the opposite: my game selection is
tighter when I play on a team bankroll.

In between team trips, I might play marginal games on my own
bankroll. There’s a team benefit to that. Maintaining my solo exposure and
persona at the casino can be good for the team later, provided I don’t get
backed off. However, I’m at a point in my career when I want to do more coding,
less playing. To that end, I’m trying to skip the marginal games that I tend to
play on my own time.

So it came to pass that I was on a marginal game the other
day. I was in the middle of a small loss, and frustrated by the inconsistent
game quality. In my youth, I would have stayed to dig out of that hole. The
game was a crappy 10% game, but mama always said, “Finish your game—there are
starving card counters in Vegas!” Low edge be damned, I’m digging out! That was
the old, young me.

The new, old me asks, “Would I be playing this game on a
team bankroll?” Hell no! If Colin Jones and Sister Theresa could see me on this
crappy game, they’d assign some inter-denominational penance, like writing “I
will not play poorly cut shoes” a thousand times on the chalkboard. Or worse,
they’d make me play those shoes.

So I walked away from that game. Thank you, Colin Jones, you
saved me.  


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Podcast – Arnold Snyder – Gambling With An Edge

Our guest this week is Arnold Snyder on to talk about his new book Radical Blackjack.

We welcome your questions – send them to us at [email protected], or you can find me at @RWM21 on Twitter or

Click to listen – Alt click to download

Show Notes

[00:00] Introduction of Arnold Snyder, blackjack expert and author of Radical Blackjack
[00:26] Arnold’s career in playing blackjack, blackjack forums, and publishing
[05:11] Pricing The Blackjack Formula
[12:21] Arnold’s other books, Blackjack for Profit, Blackbelt in Blackjack
[14:12] Developing the unbalanced count, the Red 7
[18:56] Why did it take so long to publish Radical Blackjack? Loss rebate discussion
[32:11] Doubling on a hard twelve
[41:55] South Point Casino July Promotions – Free Play with a Kicker
[42:33] – card counting training tools, members forum, casino database, and betting software
[43:06] – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[44:34] Is shuffle tracking dead?
[47:42] Betting six hands of $6k for an entire 6-deck shoe
[56:03] Recommended: Super Summer Theatre, Daylight by David Baldacci, Cottonwood Station Eatery

Sponsored Links:

Arnold Snyder’s Huntington Press Site:


Daylight by David Baldacci


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Colin Jones (S1 E5): Dark Matter

As early as page 11 of The 21st-Century Card
, Colin Jones mentions the monolithic truth of the universe: “the
team’s performance was consistently lower than the math predicted.” Such has
been the experience of every team in the history of AP, and every solo card
counter, too.

When teams look at their spreadsheet and see the stark gap between AV (Actual Value) and EV (Expected Value), they have a puzzled look like this is some great mystery. The only mystery is why rookie teams ignore the answer that I’m about to explain for the nth time. [PRO TIP FTW: use “nth” the next time you play Hangman.]

There are four answers given for “underperformance.” The first
is the scapegoat given by APs in denial (usually the first three years of a
career, and extending to an entire career for the degen-cum-fake-AP): variance.
I would like to make a word cloud of the online posts made by rookies, and
compare it to the word cloud of successful veterans. In the rookie’s word
cloud: “EV”, “one spot or two”, “side count”, “cheating”, “optimal bet ramp”, “6:5”,
“side bet”, “VARIANCE”, “3 s.d.”, “facial recognition”. In the veteran’s word
cloud: “exposure”, “BP”, “chip inventory”, “CTR”, “phone call”, “6:5”, “verbals”,

By aggregating the performance of many players, teams like CJ’s
can get a big enough sample size to see that underperformance isn’t just bad
luck. The AV line on the graph is consistently below the EV line, and the gap
just widens. I have an announcement, my readers: The time has come …

IT’S TIME TO REJECT THE NULL! The “unlucky” players have an
implicit null hypothesis (“the null”) that their hourly EV is a certain amount,
say, $100/hour. When “bad luck” inevitably occurs (of course, they call this “negative
variance”), they calculate and re-calculate and re-calculate the EV of
different scenarios and game conditions to answer the question “How unlucky was
I?” At this point I can’t say they are mis-using software, because the software
serves its purpose if the AP now draws the right conclusion from what the
software is telling them. The software says, “If your null hypothesis is true—meaning
you really are playing a $100/hour game—then you have apparently suffered a -3
s.d. event. You are 3 standard deviations below EV.”

At this moment, a data scientist with no ego in the game would
say, “Hmm, I doubt that I happen to have observed a -3 s.d. event. Probably my
null hypothesis isn’t true.” The in-denial “AP” says, “I’m the unluckiest
player who ever played this game. You guys have no idea what it’s like to be
this unlucky. The software won’t tell me whether I was born unlucky or whether
it’s something I contracted by being around all these losers in the casino.” Will
it take a 4-s.d. event for these APs to reject the null? For most purposes,
scientists reject the null at 3 s.d. (or 5 s.d. for some applications where
life-and-death might be in play), and they look for a hypothesis that better
explains the data, such as: “My EV is $50/hour.”

When you cut the EV in half, suddenly the graph looks
perfect! Voila! Mystery solved! TML.

So our question evolves from “Why is our AV so far below EV?”
to “Why is our real-world EV so far below the on-paper/computer EV?” This question
is also not a mystery. I promised four sources of underperformance, and we
dispatched the first—variance—as bogus. But the next three are real, though
generally unseen (hence “dark matter”).

A real issue facing every team is skimming. Its many forms
are rampant in the AP community. I know you may not believe that, and I didn’t
either, but when your data sample grows as big as mine, you, too, will accept
skimming as an inconvenient truth. (The response, “That’s why I play solo,” is an
overreaction taken mainly by rationalizing, arrogant, social misfits.) I’ll
have much more to say about skimming in later posts, but as far as CJ’s book, I
wish CJ had a chapter about it. Not only do I have a voyeuristic curiosity, but
it might benefit all of us to see how a sophisticated AP team deals with the problem.

That said, I understand that CJ wouldn’t want to inflame
tensions within the AP community (we all know each other here) by publicly
outing ex-teammates who are suspected of skimming. Every author has a vision of
what the book should be. If the author’s vision is “uplifting, inspiring docudrama”
(is that what the Bible is supposed to be?), then we can forgive the omission
of dirty laundry. (But maybe a paragraph or two in the next edition discussing
skimming in the abstract? Just throwin’ that out there.)

Anyway, spanning all AP teams, maybe skimming accounts for 10% of real-world underperformance, maybe none if you have a solid crew, maybe more if you’re the West Coast Grinders (who knows? No one talks about WCG.) Let’s get to the bigger causes of underperformance.

Many card counters obsess over bet spreads, finding
favorable rules, and playing with cover. And those are all worthwhile. But very
few card counters I’ve met consider the massive impact of rounds per hour.

Yeah, I should have put quotation marks around that last
paragraph. It’s from p. 124 of CJ’s book, but he nailed it so hard there, that
I thought plagiarizing it was the move.

APs run sims assuming 100 rounds/hour for blackjack, and perhaps
50 rounds/hour for carnival games. Where did those numbers come from? They make
the arithmetic simpler. That’s like saying, “let’s just use 3 for the value of
pi, because it makes the arithmetic simpler. Actually, the value 2 is easier
still.” But those benchmark figures could be way off for the game at hand. For
carnival games, sometimes only 20 rounds/hour is realistic, with sustained 50-60
rounds per hour possible only under the juiciest conditions—a heads-up game
where the dealer is maxing out the machine (the hand is over and the dealer has
to wait for the machine to finish shuffling the other deck), with no fills,
card changes, or repeated buy-ins from losing. For recurring targets, I like to
count the number of hands in an hour, and use that to inform game selection on
future trips.

CJ spent the time to do an experiment tallying blackjack
game speed under different conditions. The results appear in a chart on page 129
in the section “The Most Overlooked Way to Increase EV as a Card Counter.”
Speed is so important that a spotter in a high-edge game might forgo a marginal
split if the extra time (dealers can be very slow to re-arrange all the cards
and bets on a cramped layout) would sacrifice another round.

So the underperformance is 10% skim and 40% speed, but what
about the other 50%? I’ve got bad news for you. Your game needs work, kid. Oh,
you’re in the Blackjack Hall of Fame already? Yeah, well, your game needs work,
old man.

It’s possible that I’ve seen more APs on a table than
anyone, because every time I play there’s another AP at the table! From
observing my own teammates over the years, including numerous Hall of Famers, I
know how common errors are. Errors are rampant. I’d estimate that a rookie
makes some mistake every five minutes, and simple failure of the Raindrop Test
would mean a mistake on every hand.

On page 15, CJ notes: “When we re-tested the entire team,
more than half the players couldn’t pass the test they’d previously aced.” And
that’s on top of the fact that in the wild, there are many ways to screw up
that the at-home test won’t pick up. When there’s actual money on the line, a
grumpy suit sweating blood, a toke-hustling dealer, and a vigilante “we-don’t-touch-soft-18
or split Tens” degen lynch mob, does the counter make the EV-maximizing move?

The 3-s.d. guys online would say they aren’t making
mistakes, and sometimes even say that they had a friend check them out. That’s
all nonsense, of course. There’s a big difference between a test that someone
prepares for, and a pop-quiz. I do pop quizzes. I sneak up on my teammates and
watch them from behind. I count down the card counters who sit at my table. I play
while other players at the table are trying to HC. I’ve even been at a table
playing my game while two card counters (who were wonging out of negatives),
oblivious to who I am, were standing behind me discussing the book Beyond
(a very amusing conversation!).

I can guarantee that every AP out there is making mistakes
they’re not even aware of. We could start with strategy. Does an AP really know
the strategy for the game at hand? I recently developed some practice software
for my crew, for the very games that we play every day. Without extensive
practice on the software, none of us could get a perfect test of merely 33
hands. And I’m quite confident that anyone who doesn’t have access to such software
would be a disaster.

For a HC player, we could talk about the weak information. I’ve
ranted about Paint blindness for years, but when put to the test, everyone is
horrible. A few teammates of mine did better than the average for attendees of
the Blackjack Ball, but they’re nowhere close to computer-optimal, and they don’t
even know their Paint charts. (I worked hard to make those charts!).

Even for a simple move like counting cards, there are all
kinds of possible mistakes, and CJ could talk about it better than I can. I
wish his book would go into detail on HOW the players failed the test. I’m sure
that misremembering an index is a common mistake. Dropping the count is a
real-world mistake no one admits to. Then there’s chickening out. It goes like
this: There are two tables. The card counter plops down at the first one he
sees, because it’s a new shoe ready to deal. That’s a mistake right there,
because the table offers 65-70% pen, while the dealer two tables down offers
75-80% pen, and the sims assume a game-selection standard of 75%. Real-world EV
has already taken a hit.

Then it turns out that the dealer is semi-sharp, or at least
makes toke-hustling comments when a bunch of small cards come out. So now the
counter is afraid to jump his bet from $5 to 2 x $150 (you simmed 1:2×30,
right?). So he jumps his bet from $5 to 2x$65 (with the classic rookie badge—red
on top of the green!), makes a futile comment about having to change it up (you
won the last hand, bozo). Then the dealer makes a snarky comment, at which
point the player tosses him a nickel. Now you have an extortionist on the
payroll. Sure, you’re not making any mistakes at all, kid.

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, we can hear the rookie’s
excuse for parking where he played, the excuse for trying to cash out $3400 (shocked
that that would trigger any trouble), the reason for using a player’s card (the
“free” buffet!). So, we are to believe that in EVERY aspect where we can audit
the decision-making, we see mistakes, but that in every aspect that we are
unable to audit (the actual counting, betting, and hand-playing at the table),
the execution is flawless? That’s just untenable.

And sometimes we ARE able to audit those other areas. I’ve seen counters making their bets and playing their hands. They’re betting Lucky Ladies too soon. They’re playing too far into negatives. They’re too slow. (When an apathetic dealer is on auto-pilot, there’s no reason to hem-and-haw on an index play. That doesn’t make you look like a gambler; rather, it just wastes time and draws more attention to the deviation. Your default should be: swift, silent.) They’re over-acting. They’re over-tipping. They’re dropping the count after a big multi-way split and double. They’re physically turning their head to see the discard rack. They’re ignoring the phone call. They’re giving ID for no reason. They’re getting age-checked by going to the more dangerous checkpoint. They’re playing in front of the wrong boss. They’re not picking the best table. They’re not picking the best casino. They’re not fully utilizing free online resources. They’re not driving a car that can go up hills (we didn’t think to put that one on the list, but here we are: 2020 was an eye opener! That one’s for you, John Smith!).

If you don’t believe me, start auditing. You can tally
results to check skimming, count hands to check game speed, and monitor game
execution to check skills. I’d enjoy fine-tuning the 10%/40%/50% breakdown with
someone with additional data, like CJ, but I think we’re on the same page. We have
the explanations for underperformance. All that talk about God working in
mysterious ways? Fake news.


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A Look at Arnold Snyder’s Radical Blackjack

Arnold Snyder is one of the initial seven members inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. His book, Radical Blackjack, published by Huntington Press, has been in the works for years. I’ve heard many of the stories in it from Arnold himself, but I finally got to read it and there were lot of new things.

I’m not going to give all of Snyder’s arguments as spoiler alerts. But I will touch on what he discusses. If this is something you are interested in, get the book. My goal is to give you enough information for you to decide whether the book has value for you.

  1. When is it smart to double on a hard 12?
  2. When is it smart to insure for less than half your bet?
  3. What are the main features of loss rebates and how do you figure out how much you should win or lose before you stop?

Those are probably the main theories advanced in the book that are not discussed at length in other blackjack books. 

And then there are the stories. Arnold is a gifted storyteller and writer. I’m a reasonably competent hack in those areas, and I appreciate listening to or reading a master at work. Arnold is a master. Arnold has been playing and writing for decades. He knows many of the other strong players who’ve played during that time period and has stories about many of them. He tells about court cases involving players where he was either a defendant or an expert witness. He tells about his wife, Radar, and how she helped him on many of his plays. He tells about the time he was invited, while seated next to his wife, to a promotion where he would be “entitled” to a Penthouse Pet for a weekend. And his wife encouraged him to go!

There are a number of stories about his shuffle tracking exploits, along with those where he hole carded, ace sequenced, edge sorted, and steered cards to or away from the dealers. This is not a “how to” book on doing these things. But it explains more about how to do it and what the potential is than many gamblers know.

Finally, he lists short biographies of everybody in the Blackjack Hall of Fame and how he knows them. (He’s met them all except Ian Anderson who is a recluse reportedly living in Australia.) And, thank you Arnold, he lists several links to Gambling with an Edge podcasts where these Hall of Famers have appeared, along with the titles of his favorite books and articles by each of these authors. And he talks of people who he thinks should be in the Blackjack Hall of Fame and are not for one reason or another.

Arnold Snyder will be a guest on Gambling with an Edge, discussing this book, on the episode that will be posted Thursday July 15. It is expected he will return for a follow-up visit on July 29.


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What is “Blackjack”? – Gambling With An Edge

Episode 5 of Colin Jones will air on its regular schedule next time, but this recent comment on the GWAE Facebook page deserves (maybe) an immediate reply:

Marketing the 6:5 variant as just straight blackjack is as preposterous as a casino marketing the house table game “Casino poker” “3card Poker” with a house edge dealt in the pit as just Poker. Beyond the question of proper “notice” of 6:5 odds in the case from this post, the concept of getting paid 3:2 on a natural 21 is so central to the game, hence the name Blackjack, that casinos should not be allowed to market the 6:5 variant as Blackjack. They should have to name it something else like the previous used Spanish 21 for another variant of the game. This would also resolve the concerns in the posted case.

As the President would say: “What a bunch of malarkey!” (And would you like some cheese with your w(h)ine and malarkey?)

Though the comment was in the context of the Massachusetts lawsuit regarding 6:5 blackjack, my response has nothing to do with that lawsuit. I am not discussing the legal definition of blackjack in Massachusetts, nor the regulations to which those casinos are bound, nor whatever fraud the Massachusetts casinos are alleged to have committed against patrons. I am writing more generally about the statement “6:5 is not blackjack” which is not at all a new claim. Didn’t LVBear say the same thing on Wong’s Green Chip website 15 years ago?

My comments could be interpreted as a guideline if we were going to construct a legal definition of the game of blackjack, or perhaps as a definition in a venue where statutes do not offer any definition of the game, or as a framework for taxonomists researching the game.

I am 100% in agreement that all payoffs for every game should be visibly posted on the table, or at least available to the player without having to leave the seat (brochure/QR code). Imagine going to Walmart, but instead of every price being posted on the shelf, you had to get a price check at the cashier for every item, and possibly even see the printed price only after agreeing to purchase the item. Price illusion is a variation of bait-and-switch. That’s a scam.

As for the definition of the game, the controversy boils down to the simple question: Is the 3:2 payoff on a natural 21 central to the game? Quite simply—no. For anyone who has experience playing blackjack and many other games at casinos around the world, that’s pretty obvious.

When I wasn’t yet a teenager, my aunt taught me and my cousin a card game that we had never seen. She called it “21”! She would act as the dealer, and give my cousin and me two cards each. She would take two cards as well, but since we were just kids, she would show us one of her cards. She taught us how to add up our hand total—each numeric card counting its printed rank, and then all the face cards counting as 10. The Ace was special, counting as a 1 or 11, whichever we chose. That Ace seemed like a pretty good deal, and if you got one with a face card to start, that was actually an automatic winner, provided she didn’t have one, too. If you didn’t like your starting total, you could draw additional cards. But you had to be careful not to go over 21, because then you lost immediately. We tried to figure out when it was a good time to draw a card, but since she was winning most of the time anyway, she said she’d just use a simple strategy and hit when her total was less than 17.

A decade later, imagine my surprise when I discovered that our childhood game was dealt in casinos, and still called “21” (!), although it often went by the alternative name “Blackjack.” During those summers playing card games with my cousin, I never lost any money to my aunt. Maybe you’re thinking because I learned how to count or get her hole card. Nope.

I never lost any money, because we didn’t play the games for money. We just played cards. Just like we played Uno, Rummikub, Chutes & Ladders, Sorry!, and Double Yahtzee. We also liked to play in the in-ground swimming pool. It was paradise! [No, not “Par-A-Dice”!]

Suppose every time I tagged my cousin in the pool, he had to give me $42.08, but the trick was that I had to keep my eyes closed, and he would just give me a hint by yelling “Polo” every time I yelled “Marco.” What game would that be? You have no idea, do you? Let me guess, you played a similar game called “Marco Polo,” but without the $42.08 payoff, so you now have no idea what game I’m talking about. Is my argument breaking through yet?

The point is that the payoffs in a game have little or nothing to do with its definition. Even in a possible exception like live poker, what matters is the betting structure, not the precise stakes or payoffs. The game is the game. If you want to gamble in a game by attaching financial stakes, that’s usually a separate activity. A good game is one that is fun to play even apart from any wagering or payoffs. I’m pretty sure Sidney Crosby and Ryan Donato both play hockey, even though Sidney probably gets paid 20x as much as Ryan. If I could play in the NHL, you wouldn’t have to pay me at all, because hockey’s a fun game. The game “Coin Toss”?—not so much.

What is inherent in the definition of the game? A few things come to mind, and “payoffs” is not one of them:

  1. The competitive structure of the players. For instance, most casino table games are “N vs. 1” where some number N>=1 of patrons compete against 1 entity (the dealer’s hand), while a poker tournament is a “Best of N” involving some number of participants N>=2.
  2. The criteria that determine a “winner.” In blackjack, the highest total without going over 21 wins (and a two-card natural 21 beats a non-natural 21). In hockey, the team with the highest number of goals wins.
  3. The process of reaching the criteria in #2. In blackjack, everyone starts with two cards, then there’s hitting and standing, and then we determine the winner. In hockey, there’s skating around, running into each other, and whacking at the black biscuit with sticks.
  4. The strategic options and choices of the players. In some cases, the opponent plays a fixed strategy (such as the dealer in blackjack), though a random element is introduced (the shuffled deck, or the RNG in a video poker machine), while in complex games, the opponent is also free to make choices during #3.
  5. The equipment used. This is #5 on the list, but still more critical than payoffs. When we consider the game universally called “roulette,” most people would agree that its defining elements are: numbered wheel, bouncing ball. American Roulette is still roulette, and so is Triple-Zero Roulette (yes!), but card roulette might be debatable. Mathematicians would consider card craps to be identical to dice craps, but most gamblers would say that “throwing the bones” is central to the game of craps. I’ll give them that. I don’t think I’d enjoy hockey as much if it were a video-game implementation, with the physical skating around removed. And most people would distinguish real sex from pornography, due to the different equipment used, not due to the different payoffs.

If “payoffs” even makes the list, it would be #6 or lower, and let’s face it, the public agrees. Whatever the game, there can always be a variety of payoff structures, none of which change the game. Texas Holdem is still “Texas Holdem,” whether it’s a 9-handed 10-20 no-limit game, or a heads-up 3-6 limit game. Jacks or Better video poker is still “Jacks or Better,” even if we reduce the paytable from 9/6 to 7/5. Three Card Poker didn’t become a different game when they lowered the Ante Bonus from 1/4/5 to 1/3/4. Lucky Ladies has a different paytable for 2-deck tables, but it’s still “Lucky Ladies.”

A two-card 21 with an Ace and Face is still special, because it beats a non-natural that required hits to reach 21, in the same way that a two-card natural 9 in baccarat is special, regardless of whatever bonus payoff is or isn’t awarded. If you think the 6:5 payoff transforms blackjack into some different game, then I invite you to be the first to file for a patent on this intriguing new game. IANAL, but as a statistician, I can tell you the probability that you will succeed in getting a patent. That would be 0.000000000000. (According to casino/AP consultants, if you put 12 decimal points on a number, you become an expert.)

So why are all these people claiming that 6:5 blackjack isn’t blackjack? It’s a little thing that I call “sour grapes.” (I just came up with that term.) The industry has a product called “blackjack.” They raised the price of that product, just like they did when they went from S17 to predominantly H17. Do I like it? Of course not. But when Terrible’s lowered the blackjack price during their Opening Night 3:1 Blackjack Promotion, there were no players whining or filing lawsuits demanding separate licensing for a “new game.” I recall players whining that they couldn’t get seats (I couldn’t!).

Maybe the “6:5 is not blackjack” campaign is just a strategic attempt to sway public opinion. If that’s all it is, I’m not on board with that marketing plan. I think that staking nonsensical positions on an issue does the cause a disservice by undermining the credibility of the AP community. (Bill Zender is respected for being a straight shooter who calls it like he sees it, even when his position is unpopular among his casino colleagues.)

I believe that the best approach to handling the 6:5 “problem” is what it always has been: demand transparency and disclosure from vendors, educate the consumer, and promote competition. The real problem is a state like Ohio allowing only four casinos, with a geographic monopoly in each of its major cities. Or the Seminoles in Florida getting a monopoly for the next 30 years. Or the tribes lobbying to make Internet gambling a felony in Washington. Or the Oklahoma tribes having no competition from Texas. Or the Vegas Strip being mostly owned by two major companies (MGM and Harrah’s), and having no monorail to let tourists escape to the more generous downtown casinos.

Twenty years ago, the Pair Plus paytable went from 40/30/6/4/1 to 40/30/6/3/1 (tripling the house edge!), and the gamblers didn’t even blink. The game was still Three Card Poker, but even way back then, the gamblers were writing on the wall. We should promote competition to allow the gamblers to vote with their feet, and then when they plop down and put their feet up, we should concede that they get what they deserve, and sometimes the rest of us pay a price, too. Gamblers don’t even learn basic strategy, for chrissakes!

For every person who goes online saying “6:5 is not blackjack,” I would suggest the following thought experiment: If you owned a casino, wouldn’t you call your Table Games Manager into your office on Day 1, and ask, “Remind me why we’re paying these gamblers 3:2 on naturals.”


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Podcast – guest Bill Robertie (backgammon)

Our guest this week is two time backgammon world champion and author, Bill Robertie. We discuss his new book, How to Play the Opening in Backgammon — Part 2: Everything Matters.

[00:00] Introduction of Bill Robertie, backgammon champion author of How to Play the Opening in Backgammon/Part 2: Everything Matters
[00:28] Remembering Stan Tomchin
[02:48] How is Bill’s new book different from the other books in the series?
[05:09] Bill’s target audience for this book series
[07:42] Counterintuitive plays
[08:34] Does writing about backgammon improve Bill’s game?
[10:04] Making your own 3pt versus 22pt
[19:42] 6-1 is weaker than 3-1 and 4-2
[22:51] eXtreme Gammon
[30:25] XG making plays that conflicts how humans play
[34:02] South Point Casino July Promotions – Free Play with a Kicker
[34:30] – card counting community, training suite, and forum
[35:05] – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[36:23] Making an early ace point
[39:58] Considering opponent’s style
[46:45] What will be covered in Part 3
[51:45] Recommended: Hobak Korean BBQ, Mr. Kim’s Korean BBQ, Colin Jone’s new video on Youtube, Unsettled by Steven E. Koonin, James Grosjean’s blog at

Sponsored Links:


Unsettled by Steven E. Koonin


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