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Colin Jones (S1 E2): The Devil is Mr. Jones

For the amount of vitriol directed at Colin Jones online,
you’d think the man eats babies. In reality, he’s guilty of a far greater
sin—he wrote a card-counting book, The 21st-Century Card Counter.
That book is one pillar of a viral card-counting enterprise also supported by
the documentary movie Holy Rollers, the website
blackjackapprenticeship.com (BJA), and the in-person boot camps offered from
time to time. Before I continue with the multi-part book review I began in my
last post, let me address the mild controversy surrounding the book’s author,
Mr. Jones (“Jones”? Really?).

As a disclaimer, let me say that other than reading CJ’s book, I have no connection whatsoever to the BJA empire. I’ve never attended a boot camp, and I know CJ only from meeting him a few times at Max Rubin’s annual Blackjack Ball. I won’t bother to start with the perfunctory, empty statement, “He’s a really nice guy,” because that definition of “nice” carries no weight with me. I’ve known friendly talkers who would buy you coffee or pick you up from the airport, but still abuse you and steal six or seven figures from you, so what does “nice” really mean, anyway? But since you asked about CJ, yeah, he’s a really nice guy.

But let’s skip the personalities and focus on the business activity. My read on the room is probably a bit biased to start with, because I empathize with CJ and the attacks he receives, so if the overall player-community opinion on the man is in fact positive, then I’m defending the preacher to the choir. I’ve certainly seen a lot of positive feedback regarding the boot camps, I’m a fan of the book, and I’m a believer in using online videos and software as a teaching tool.

One of the knocks I’ve heard is that CJ makes card counting
sound like an easy way to get rich, and that exaggerating or glorifying card
counting is dishonest. I can’t speak to the boot camps, but the book doesn’t
misrepresent card counting in that way. CJ admits he got lucky with a couple of
key breaks early on (page 8) that changed his entire life narrative: “I’m
certain I would have lost my $2000 if something incredibly fortuitous hadn’t
happened. … Ben also agreed to test me out. I failed miserably.” CJ’s origin
story describes how he thought he was ready to play, but then got humbled by
the test. And now BJA offers that same necessary experience to new players via
the boot camps.

Of course CJ is selling a product, and is therefore an advocate. The book describes his own successful card-counting journey, and perhaps inspires others to try. Are we to fault the man for having a biased rose-colored worldview, as a consequence of having enough good luck to avoid card-counting hell? That certainly doesn’t make him dishonest. That counting has a dark side—losing, heat, grinding travel, loneliness—is no secret, and there are plenty of voices who will send that message (Arnold Snyder says, “You will lose.” I say, “Card counting is a prerequisite tool, not an end goal.”). I don’t think the onus is on CJ to be a discouraging voice for the strongest students to overcome (Navy Seal training model). As far as the book goes, I don’t get the feeling of players who win every time while getting comped to the penthouse suite, the way the movies Rain Man and 21 might portray.

The book has interviews with BJA players interspersed throughout, and I would concede that I felt the book was lacking interviews with losers (I love watching and learning from a train wreck). But losers and quitters disappear from our community, and probably don’t want to be interviewed for a book about it, so I didn’t feel that the omission of such material was dishonest. Besides, this isn’t a textbook. If it’s a bit of a feel-good book, so what? Do you really want to read another Las Vegas Blackjack Diary? I felt that The 21st-Century Card Counter paints the dark side of counting in a different way: the hero of the tale turns $2000 into $600000, but then gives it up! Even success is empty, boring. You could make some money counting, and then what? +1, +2, +3 true, bet two max bets, back to +2, now -2, wong out, repeat. Is that what you want your career to be? Is that what you want your life to be? And do you want to leave your family, go to Iowa, and stay in a dumpy motel to do that?

So CJ moved on to build BJA, including the boot camps, which have now become so successful that they are fully subscribed even at a price per head around $3000, for which CJ gets further criticism! It’s a bit bewildering that players in the AP community can criticize a businessman for selling his product at the price the market will bear.

Having not attended a boot camp, I won’t comment on whether the price is worth it, but that really depends on a customer’s individual circumstances. But for a two-day seminar providing niche instructional material, that price isn’t an outlier. I’ve heard price complaints about my own work, too (Howard Schwartz, then proprietor of the Gambler’s Book Club, said that my book, Beyond Counting, was overpriced—it was $40), but I can’t say I’m sympathetic to the customers. Developing quality content takes a lot more time and work than customers realize.

I think it’s good that the price of the boot camp is high. Price barriers in the AP world greatly weed out casino spies, trolls, and unmotivated students. Part of the reason Stanford Wong’s Green Chip was such a great site for so long was that even a modest $60 weeds out a lot of the hacks and trolls, while not deterring anyone serious. If anyone questions CJ on the price of a boot camp, I hope he parrots my answer to people: “If you’re wondering if the price is too high, then you’re not part of my target market, so I would advise you not to buy the product.”

Mainly, CJ gets criticized for churning out lots of BJA
players who are going to “kill the game.” All of us players and former players
think about this when we distribute information in the AP world. In CJ’s case,
I’d make several points. First, if a guy doesn’t know you, is it his job to
protect your game, or even worry about it? Why would a stranger to you owe you
anything? If he was once a friend or teammate of yours, you might have some
standing to complain, but how can you fault him otherwise? He’s running a
business, making a living for his family, and in this case helping others do
the same.

Now if a person claims to be a player advocate, then I do
think we can impose a higher standard: Does the business benefit players or
not? For answering that question, the obvious perspective is not whether the
business benefits you personally, but the player community as a whole. I’ve got
as much of a personal gripe as anyone, since one of my target games was
directly killed by the amateurishness of some BJA rookies. That said, I believe
that the BJA empire will lead to a greater net, aggregate amount of money
sucked out of casinos. So I don’t think CJ is a hypocrite or con man at all,
and BJA has a growing list of success stories. CJ might already be the most
successful trainer of blackjack players in the history of the game.

When it comes to killing games, that’s part of the ecosystem. If there’s one bottle of water in the desert, do you criticize a guy for drinking it? Is he supposed to save it for the next guy, who is then supposed to save it for the next guy? At the end of this recursion, there has to be someone who drinks it. It doesn’t bother me when games get killed as a result of someone making a bunch of money. It only bothers me when a game gets wasted (a la Chevy Chase in the Three Amigos, wasting and spilling the water instead of drinking it). But if fair professional competition kills a game, then that’s efficient.

I have seen some of the reckless amateurism: a bunch of BJA
minions all sitting at the same table, all rubbernecking at each other’s cards
on insurance decisions (and then using the cliché excuses for buying it), all
capping their green chip bets with a red chip when it’s unnecessary, etc. But
this behavior isn’t because CJ is a bad teacher—it’s because these players are
rookies!

A 6-year-old who has played the violin for six months sounds terrible, but it’s not because the teacher is bad. It’s because the kid’s a rookie without much experience. If you look at self-taught APs, they’re equally abysmal during their rookie years, and far beyond. I know many “APs” who’ve been HCing for a decade or more, and they’re terrible! Chinning the rail, the gimmicky drunk act, the 8-hour massage, the knees up on the rail, the wheelchair or slot-machine chair (Wow! Never thought of that! You’re so clever!), buying insurance on the spotter’s trivial bet—I could go on and on.

The emergence of the BJA army has killed some games, and will continue to do so, but probably some money will be made while they do it. In the case of card counting, the threat to the game is overblown. Card counting isn’t that easy to kill. Dozens of books have been written about it over the past sixty years, and counting is still alive. And if you’re an AP, facing increased competition, then maybe you should up your game, instead of criticizing CJ. I’ve been watching this mushroom cloud as it creeps towards me, with a new generation of counters looking to evolve beyond counting, and while I don’t personally like it, we’ll be ready to compete. Our crew continues to train. There are too many targets to kill. We can always get a game.

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Podcast – Mail Bag 6/14/2021

No guest this week.  Bob and I answer questions from our mail bag.

[00:00] Introduction
[00:32] Double deck Hi-Lo true count
[02:20] Peter Liston’s slot course
[05:22] Vegas video poker bars
[08:28] Are Native American casinos using full decks?
[13:07] Are casino conditions getting worse?
[15:22] NSUD penalty cards
[16:40] Does a room comp affect free play?
[19:15] Would using a chip bank generate a CTR?
[21:51] Casinos asking for ID when playing as a refusal
[23:03] Providing name while playing as a refusal
[25:13] Why did the into to GWAE change?
[27:11] South Point Casino June Promotions – $500 Spin to Win
[27:45] BlackjackApprenticeship.com – card counting training site and community
[28:22] VideoPoker.com/gwae – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, Free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[29:51] W2G withholding
[31:48] Splitting after a dealer error
[33:00] Tucking 22 during a negative count
[36:00] Mask wearing after restrictions ease
[37:14] Dealer theft concerns
[39:35] Added stress from cashing around large amounts of cash and chips
[41:36] Recommended: James Clavell books, Mark Twain by Ken Burns

Sponsored Links:
SouthPointCasino.com
BlackjackApprenticeship.com
VideoPoker.com/gwae

Recommended:
James Clavell books, like Shogun and Tai Pan – https://amzn.to/2SyXoP8
pbs.org/kenburns/mark-twain/

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My Explanation – Gambling With An Edge

In the comments on gamblingwithanedge.com relating to a recent blog post of mine, a man named Tim wrote: 

Perhaps this has been discussed multiple times, but why don’t the Strip casinos offer full pay video poker? For example, I would sit and play 10 play 9/6 Jacks or better quarters for hours (like I do at South Point). If there is only 6/5 bonus, I may sit at a bar and just play $20. 

I’d rather lose a few hundred dollars in a couple hours than $20 in 10 minutes. 

Help me understand.

Okay, Tim. Every casino has its own core audience and its own demographics. Plus, land on the center Strip is MUCH more expensive than the land where the South Point is situated.

Strip casinos are geared towards a higher-end customer than those to which the Vegas local casinos cater. Although the South Point has decent entertainment options, you’ll not see the really expensive acts there while in their prime. These acts are very expensive. The show tickets themselves do not come close to paying for the performers. The casinos must attract high rollers to pay the cost.

And the same with restaurants. While Michaels at the South Point is first rate, Strip casinos often offer five or ten restaurants of that approximate quality. And the food charges at the restaurant do not cover the actual price of those meals. The casino needs to chip in.

Few Strip casinos believe they can profitably offer 9/6 Jacks or Better at any denomination. Caesars’ properties (recently purchased by Eldorado) that have the game penalize players for playing them. Instead of $10 coin-in per Reward Credit on other video poker games, these properties charge $25 coin-in per Reward Credit. And the lowest denomination for these machines is $5. 

Cromwell’s might still have one bank of machines with quarter and dollar pay schedules including this (and better) games, but they charge $50 coin-in per Reward Credit.

I have heard one report that MGM Mirage properties no longer offer slot coin points for any video poker games, at least in one property back east. While I don’t play at those properties (by their choice), I would like it if others reported as to whether this is true or not around the country.

For the quarter and dollar gaming-value-seeking customers, the Strip doesn’t want your business! If you want the nicer ambience of the Strip casinos, you’re going to have to pay the tab — either through denomination or pay schedule, or both.

Even Vegas local casinos have relatively few high paying games. You mention the South Point, which advertises more than 10,000 games returning more than 99%, but you won’t find anywhere close to that number anywhere else. The BConnected system (sometimes called Boyd), along with Station Casinos, have within the past few years become much tighter with their video poker. That’s a sign of the times. 

You can bemoan all you want about the lack of good paying, low denomination video poker on the Strip, but that won’t bring the games back. They just don’t want to cater to that crowd.

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Colin Jones (S1 E1): You Had Me at “Zippered Pockets”

People online think that I have great disdain for card counters. That isn’t true, per se. I have disdain for posers, and it just so happens that almost everyone who brags on YouTube about counting cards, or who claims online to be a “blackjack expert,” is a poser. My respect for the late “MathProf” (Dr. Michael Canjar) went up greatly when I saw him wearing his cargo pants, anonymously blasting 2x$800 on the double-deck at the Atlantis in Reno. One of my teammates had an interesting encounter in the wild with the late Peter Griffin. When someone is out there, putting cold, hard cash on the felt, and consequently growing the chip inventory on the kitchen table, that’s instant credibility in my eyes.

As Tommy Hyland wrote in the Foreword to Colin Jones’s The
21st-Century Card Counter
, “the guy walks the walk.” I haven’t
encountered Colin in the wild (yet), but I know Tommy is right on this one.
It’s easy to talk the talk online, on Green Chip, or the Discord, and sound
uber-smart, and knowledgeable about counting and all kinds of advanced plays,
but the talk rings hollow if you try to get it past an actual practitioner. I
can’t read 10 posts on any online forum without getting the urge to rant, but I
resist that urge and refocus my chi.

When I picked up Colin’s book, I half-expected to dog-ear every
other page and start a dozen different online threads debating and debunking
all sorts of topics. For most blackjack books that hit the scene, I typically
find material that is either uninformed (author is not an actual practitioner
of the AP technique described), obsolete (written for a Vegas-centric world
before extensive surveillance, player cards, beyond-counting opportunities, and
proliferation of casinos), irrelevant (dozens of pages charting a random walk …
really?), exaggerated (we won $10 million in three days counting the
positive-off-the-top game in Panama with a $30 table max), or boring (telling
me that you won $36.50 in a 10-minute session in Wendover one night is the kind
of thing that should be kept in a private diary, emphasis on “private”).

Expecting fingernails on a chalkboard, I can’t even bring
myself to read most AP books, or watch most AP movies, without having a
teammate taste-test them first. I always ask my teammates, “Am I going to vomit?”
They usually answer, “Maybe.” So I still haven’t seen Holy Rollers, but
I did pick up Colin’s book, with some trepidation, primarily fearing some
exaggeration or misleading view of the AP landscape that might promote bad
habits that are “counter”-productive, but which are counterproductive to aspiring
career APs.

When Rounders came out, my BP and I literally
high-fived each other during the opening scene, when Mikey grabs up wads of
cash and sneaks out to go hit a game while his girlfriend is sleeping. The
scene so poignantly captured our own AP experience that we felt immediately
engaged, and knew that this movie would speak to us, and entertain.

So it was after the first few pages of Colin’s book. I think
it was page 10 when I announced, “Gentlemen, hats off!” I had to put the book
down to clap (which is basically giving high fives to myself). You see, when
you go online, you get expert advice like, “Flooring is the best way to
generate indexes for a count system. The software offers truncating and
rounding as well, but flooring is recommended.” But on page 10 of Colin’s book,
you get: “zippered pockets.” I have been ranting to teammates for decades about
this. At times I even pondering refusing to play with BPs until they got the
proper work attire with zippered pockets.

Zippered pockets don’t just protect your casino valuables—cash,
chips, phone. Zippered pockets give you peace of mind. Later, when you’re $500
short of what you expected, you and your teammates will know that it isn’t
because a purple chip fell out of your pocket. I go on tilt when I see a
teammate slouching, with an unzipped pocket gaping towards the floor.

Right now, online posers are wondering if I’m being sarcastic,
and thinking perhaps I’m belittling Colin’s book with some backhanded irony by exaggerating
a trifle. Real pros know that I’m dead serious. Details like “zippered pockets”
cut deep. The fact that Colin as a player appreciated the benefit of ZPs, and
as an author felt it important enough to mention, tells me that he knows more
about what moves the needle for a real pro than all the fifth-decimal-point
online guys ever will.

Colin hammers the topic further (on p. 190): “I’ve been on
teams with several people who have physically lost a portion of their bankroll.
Every time it happened, it involved something that could have been avoided.”
Amen, brother.

In a related example of the physical handling of the money,
he gives great advice on traveling with cash, reaching the inevitable,
one-sentence conclusion: “I never again used banks to transport money for a
trip.” [Part of the allure of cryptos is that banks are super-annoying, even
when you want your own money.]

While many books, like Knock-out Blackjack (solid
system!), focus on the technical aspects of counting and take pragmatic
execution for granted, Colin’s book is the opposite. He doesn’t delve into the
technical aspects of what the tags and indices are for a count system. Instead
he covers that stuff using online videos, software tools, and optional
in-person meet-ups (you can mingle at christiancounters.com). Computer-adaptive
testing is by far the best-way to learn the basics cheaply, and no book can
have all the charts you’d want, so Colin’s book doesn’t even go there.

Newbies online obsess over the EV they lost by misplaying a
hand. They repeatedly ask whether they are supposed to split 88 or surrender,
and whether ENHC changes things. While a pro is expected to master such
technical aspects, these details are rarely the focus of working pros. If
you’re trying to grind out the rent money, not having cash available for a
playing trip because you naively tried to use a bank hurts your EV more than a
few hundred misplayed hands.

For The Theory of Blackjack, by the great Peter Griffin,
my 2-second review is, “I think I might be learning something here, but the
title is apt, … yawn.” On Million Dollar Blackjack, by the flamboyant
Ken Uston: “Informative, useful, entertaining, but this stuff about signaling
big-stiff/little-stiff … naw.” On Steve Forte’s collection: “Wow, does this
affect me???” On Exhibit CAA: “Does this guy really expect me to use
these charts?”

But with Colin’s book, I quite unexpectedly found myself
just nodding, circling passages and putting exclamation points in the margin,
and just thinking, “Yup, yup, uh-huh, yeah, true, true, true that, been there, oooh,
yeah, that’s the spot, nailed it right there!”

I didn’t agree with 100% of what’s in there, but I’ll chalk
up the few disagreements to my own different playing style and longer-term
goals. I think any veteran would be entertained by the book, while any newbie thinking
of taking things to the next level would get critical insight into how this gig
actually works.

[Next: Will Colin be playing the title character in Season 6 of Lucifer?]

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Good news Southwest cc, bad news Amex cc

First, the good news. Southwest is running a promotion on their Chase credit cards. On Friday, June 11th only, you can earn 50 RR points per dollar spent with Southwest. This includes flights, in flight purchases, gift cards and miles. So, if I buy a $100 gift card, I earn 5,000 RR points. I value RR points at 1.5 cents each. I’ve seen others value them at 1.2 cents each. Even at 1.2 cents a point, that is a $60 value on a $100 purchase.

Here is the URL with information: https://www.southwest.com/SWACardBonusOffer50X/

I looked at purchasing miles with this offer. You can get 3500 RR points for $105. That would earn you a 5000 RR point bonus, for a total of 8500 points for $100 or about 1.23 cents per mile. This is right about the lower estimate for RR points. If you need to top off to get a free flight, this is a great way to get it.

I don’t know if you can do this on multiple Chase SWA cards. The terms and conditions don’t really specify. Overall, this is a pretty good deal. I use the gift cards to pay for 9/11 fees and will use them once drink service starts up again.

Now, for the bad news. I recently applied for an Amex Gold card. Even with a $250 annual fee, the bonus was worth it. I applied on line and was told that due to my credit card history, I am not eligible for the sign up bonus ( 60,000 Amex points, which are valued at about 2 cents each). I called the reconsider line and after going through a couple of transfers, I ended up talking to someone in rewards redemptions. Justin, the Amex rep, said that the possible reason was that I opened 3 Delta Amex cards in 2016 – 2018, kept them for about a year and then cancelled. Amex considers that to be abusing the system. I even tried to tell them that I would consider getting an Amex Platinum card with its $550 annual fee to replace my Chase Sapphire Reserve card but that didn’t work either. I may call back and talk to someone directly in the reconsideration department and see if I can get any additional information.

The old Amex rule was ‘One bonus per card type lifetime’. It looks like that rule is still in place but now you must add that grabbing a bonus, keeping a card for 1 year and then cancelling will affect future offers and availability. Of course, there are no actual guidelines from Amex. They have also hired a new group that handles new card requests and I’m guessing they are tightening it down. I’ve had a Blue Cash Preferred Amex card for 5 years and that is my only current Amex card. I was figuring that actions from 3-5 years ago would not affect a current card request. That figuring is wrong.

I can’t give any hard and fast rules. Just a general statement that you need to carefully evaluate a card before you sign up for it. If I get through to the reconsider line and get any additional information, I’ll post an update.

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Podcast – guest blackjack player, Socrates

Our guest this week is an AP who goes by the name Socrates. 

Click to listen – Alt click to download 

Show Notes

[00:00] Introduction of Socrates, AP and golfer
[00:30] Will there be a slot round table on GWAE?
[02:32] Making money golfing
[03:56] Building a bankroll
[07:02] How did people attempt to hustle Socrates?
[08:38] Betting serious money at golf
[09:25] Cheating
[11:27] Winning at golf versus winning at a casino
[14:52] How does Socrates’ wife feel about his advantage plays?
[15:38] Getting started in advantage play
[16:18] Learning to play blackjack
[19:09] Losing streak
[20:10] Getting backed off locally
[23:01] Learning to hold card
[25:59] Meeting another counter
[26:46] South Point Casino June Promotions – $500 Spin to Win, share your email for free play on weekends
[27:59] BlackjackApprenticeship.com – card counting community and training site
[28:34] VideoPoker.com/gwae – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[29:39] Team play
[30:41] More on Socrates’ progression
[32:27] Finding hole card games
[33:48] Team play with his wife
[34:34] Playing with a full-time job
[36:52] Bad back-offs
[40:46] Lessons learned
[45:08] Getting backed off at the men’s club
[49:48] Traveling with money
[51:25] Recommended – Global Entry, Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell, The Almanack of Naval Ravikant by Eric Jorgenson

Sponsored Links:
SouthPointCasino.com
BlackjackApprenticeship.com
VideoPoker.com/gwae

Books Referenced:
Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder https://amzn.to/3wc1Od4

Recommended:
cbp.gov/travel/trusted-traveler-programs/global-entry

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The (travellin’) times, they are a changin’

The title of this post isn’t really news. We have all been
reading about changes in the airline, hotel, rental car and ride service
industries. I want to talk a little bit about how it affects my specialty,
getting to Las Vegas and still having a plus EV trip including all travel
expenses, while playing at low roller levels.

I have been talking and writing about low cost travel to Las
Vegas since 2016. In the last 9 months, the cost for me to travel from Detroit
to Las Vegas has increased. On my most recent trip, 5/28 – 6/2/21, I paid $351
for a rental car. This is the most I have paid for a rental car in Las Vegas in
the 35 years I have been doing this. And $351 was actually a very good rate.
Vehicles were going for about $600 for the same period.

Airline travel cost has gone up significantly, which makes
using frequent flier points even more important. 10 or 15 years ago, you could
find $150 round trip tickets to Las Vegas from Detroit. That same flight is
$500 now. Add on baggage fees (unless you have an airline credit card or fly
Southwest) and it is easy to spend over $1000 for airfare for 2.

Another added cost is resort fees. A major reason resort fees
came to be is the hotels are taxed much less on fees than on room rates. If the
room is $150, the hotel pays more in taxes than if the room is $110 with a $40
resort fee. Another benefit to the hotel is that they can advertise comped rooms,
but those rooms still have a resort fee. I have seen this at Tropicana and the
M in Las Vegas. Also, some of the MyVegas offers are structured that way. A
free room for 3 nights at the M sounds good but adding in $120 or so for resort
fees and it isn’t such a great deal anymore.  We don’t currently pay resort fees, but that
option is getting more difficult to find.

Parking fees are coming back. We stayed at Bally’s and my
wife is Diamond so we could valet for free. If not, the rate was $36 a night.
At Cromwell, it was $40 a night. I don’t know if hotel guests get free valet
parking. So, a free room could still cost you $80 a night for parking and
resort fees. Ouch.

I haven’t seen much change in room offers in Las Vegas,
which is a good sign.

Also, there are signs that the rental car prices may not be
sustainable. When we picked up our car at 5:30 PM on Friday of Memorial Day
weekend, there were very few people in the Rent A Car center and there were a
ton of cars in the lot at Hertz. Given that last minute prices were about $125
per day, people must have made other arrangements, used a ride share or used
public transportation. I can’t remember ever seeing that many cars in the lot.

Las Vegas has eliminated the ban on surge pricing for Uber
and Lyft so hopefully that will encourage more people to return to those jobs.
I saw that Turo (basically Air B and B for cars), is doing record business.

What does this all mean? 
Costs are way up and travel is more work. So far, casino offers are
about the same. Once my companion fare runs out at the end of the year, my
trips for 2022 will decline. For 2021, I will make 6 trips to Las Vegas. For
2022, that number will probably be 2. And once I run out of frequent flier
miles, it will go to 1.  For the past
dozen years, airfare has been free, hotels have been free, food has been mostly
free and rental cars have been reasonable.

My last trip, we had about $2000 in free play to pick up at
various places. My rental car was $350, cost of gambling was about $500 or $600
so the trip had EV of about $1000. If I have to pay more for a rental car and
have to start paying for flights, the EV would be $0 at best. And at that
point, I’ll be finding another activity.

I think rental car prices will get closer to normal in 2022.
Hopefully, there will be enough frequent flier opportunities to still make some
trips to Las Vegas. If not, it has been a lot of fun for the last 35 years.

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Doing a Favor for Billy Walters

I don’t play golf at all, and the only miniature golf experience I’ve had in the past ten years was playing a few 9-hole rounds on a cruise ship with Bonnie. The putters had steel blades covered in brightly colored plastic. I used a blue one because those were the longest and I’m pretty tall. Bonnie used an orange one. I did okay. I did better than Bonnie did, but this was hardly a real test. 

For some reason, though, I recently had a dream about playing miniature golf for high stakes with some guy. I never learned his name. But I was making fancy shots right and left and ended up with a check from him for about $10,000. Pretty sweet.

I then woke up and went to the bathroom. I’m 74 years old. This happens regularly.

Settling back to sleep, I was hoping to resume my dream. This would be a longshot. Usually once I have woken, whatever dream I have been having is finished. And frequently forgotten. But this time, I got a continuance. Sort of.

In my next dream, I received a phone call from Billy Walters. Billy might be the best sports bettor of all time. He is also a golfer. And somebody we’ve been trying to get on our Gambling with an Edge podcast for ten years. He was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to five years in Federal prison beginning in 2017, but I think his sentence was commuted in the last days of Trump’s presidency.

But, still, he and I have never met. Although he’s on top of my list of preferred interviewees, I’m likely nowhere on any list of his. 

Billy starts out by telling me that after that guy lost $10,000 in miniature golf to me, he lost quite a bit more than that to Billy in regular golf. I’m being asked to sit on the check for a few days while everything gets straightened out. Billy assures me that we both will be paid in full.

“Well, sure. I can do that. It’s a pleasure to talk to you Mr. Walters.” I am star struck. Billy Walters is a hero of mine. Kind of on the level of Edward Thorp, the man whose book, Beat the Dealer, introduced the world to the concept of counting cards at blackjack. 

“And while I have you on the phone,” Billy continues, “can you give me a wake-up call for 4 a.m. tomorrow? I’m in San Diego and can’t seem to find an alarm clock that works.”

This is even more amazing. Billy is quite wealthy. He probably has hired assistants. And nobody has a smart phone with a wake-up alarm feature? He’s probably calling me on such a device now. But who am I to argue with Billy Walters?

“Of course,” I respond. “I’ll be happy to do so. Should I call the number you just called me on?”

“That will be fine. Thank you very much.” And he hung up.

I must admit I was pretty full of myself. After I do him this favor, surely he will be a guest on our show. After all, we’re practically besties now! Richard Munchkin is my cohost on the podcast. Won’t he be impressed!

Bonnie and I use a communal iPad for an alarm clock. As we go to bed the next night, she asks me if I have any particular time I need to be up by.

“Yes. 3:45 a.m.,” was my response.

“Going out to gamble then?” she asks. This is a reasonable guess on her part. I frequently gamble during graveyard hours, especially during the pandemic. Fewer people around, less smoky, better chance of finding the machine I want available. But this time, that’s not where I was going.

“I’m going to call Billy Walters.”

Bonnie, of course, had never heard of Billy Walters. When I told her he called me earlier and asked me to hold on to a check for a few days and to call to wake him up, Bonnie wants to know what check? And when exactly did Billy call?

I go to my wallet and there is no check for $10,000. I check my phone log, and I’ve received no call from Billy Walters in the past 24 hours. Or ever, for that matter. 

Bonnie asks if I’m taking any new medication? Using marijuana or something stronger? Or, perhaps have I been drinking a lot more than she knows? 

“No, no, and no!”

I finally conclude that it was just a realistic pair of dreams. There was no miniature golf game. Billy Walters didn’t call. And undoubtedly the man has figured out how to wake himself up. I haven’t had such believable dreams for years. I have no idea what brought them on.

Now instead of Richard Munchkin being impressed with me, I suspect he just might be worried about me once he hears about this. Perhaps I just won’t tell him.

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How Do You Figure? – Gambling With An Edge

I received an email, with numerous follow-ups, from a player wanting to know how many dollars per hour certain games were worth at a particular casino. And he wanted me to give him an answer if he played 600, 800, or 1,000 hands per hour (hph) for various denominations.

It is far easier to ask such questions than it is to answer them. Some of it can be figured by simple algebra (assuming that isn’t a self-contradictory term for you), but some of it depends on unknown things, such as what promotions the casino will run in the future, how large the mailers will be, and other such matters.

Let’s look at some of these things.

First the game itself. Let’s take two of them, 9/6 Jacks or Better and NSU Deuces Wild. Whether or not these particular games are available at the casino where you play, the technique for evaluating remains the same for other games as well.

9/6 Jacks or Better returns 99.544% and NSU Deuces Wild returns 99.728%. I’m assuming you play close to perfectly. They are relatively easy games. But not every player has learned the games well. Not every player remembers the fine points. If you play less than perfectly, you’ll need to make some adjustments.

Let’s also assume you’re playing for dollars, five coins at a time. The following chart shows how much you lose per hour at the three different hands-per-hour rates before we consider the slot club and promotions.

Game Return 600 hph 800 hph 1000 hph
9/6 JoB 99.544% -$13.68 -$18.24 -$22.80
NSU DW 99.728% -$8.16 -$10.88 -$13.60

The fact that the scores are negative should not be a surprise. A 99.544% game means that the house has a 0.456% edge over you. When the house has any edge over you, on average you’re going to be a net loser.

Next, we look at the slot club. You have to figure it out in terms of percentages. A 0.1% slot club means that for every $1,000 coin-in you play, you receive $1 in cash back or free play. For our purposes today, I’m considering cash back and free play to be synonymous. A 0.1% slot club with a 3x multiplier is considered to be a 0.3% slot club. Obviously the faster you play, the more of this cash back you receive. (It is also true that the faster you play, the more mistakes you’re likely to make.)

Slot Club 600 hph 800 hph 1000 hph
0.1% $3.00 $4.00 $5.00
0.3% $9.00 $12.00 $15.00
0.5% $15.00 $20.00 $25.00

The slot club can be any amount, of course, but you can extrapolate from this chart to get the amount you would earn. If you look at 9/6 JoB, for example, you’ll see that when you are just including the game and the slot club, any slot club return of less than a half percent leaves you a loser. For NSU, you need a 0.3% slot club to have a very small advantage. 

The slot club can return any amount, of course. If it is 0.05%, well that means half the return of 0.1%. If the club returns 0.6%, you can double the amount for 0.3%, or add together the amounts you get from 0.1% and 0.5%, or maybe, just see how it is figured and do it yourself.

The next thing to consider is your mailer. You must keep records on how much you play. The most common time period that casinos use to figure out your mailer is the last three months, one month removed. That is, the amount you play in January + February + March determines your mailer in May.  For starters, assume that is the formula.

Also, know that some casinos punish winning players and reward losing players. That makes it difficult to determine how much your mailer will be. But do your best.

The next chart determines the percentage mailer, based on how much you play. Take your monthly coin-in and divide it into your monthly return. What shows up as $40 on the chart is often $10 a week. $200 a month means $50 a week. Etc. Once you see how it’s figured, the math isn’t too difficult.

Average Monthly Coin-in $40  $200  $400
$20,000  0.20% 1.00% 2.00%
$50,000  0.08% 0.40% 0.80%
$100,000  0.04% 0.20% 0.40%

The final part of the equation is the value of the promotions. Some of these are easy to compute. Some are difficult. Do your best. For example, the May promotion at the South Point was half-price gift cards for the first $83,340 coin-in. That’s easy to figure out. The normal slot club there is 0.30%, so the promotion is worth an additional 0.30%.

Other promotions aren’t so easy. If you get drawing tickets and there’s a big drawing, it’s really tough to get an exact percentage. But you can estimate. Casinos tend to give away about the same amount every month. In the case of the South Point, you know that one of their promotions is worth 0.30%. So, you assume they all pay that much. Your assumption will be inexact, of course, but sometimes an estimate is all you can do.

Finally, it comes down to adding everything up. That will give you your percentage advantage (or disadvantage, should you be a person who doesn’t insist on only playing games where you have the edge.) Once you have that percentage, you can now estimate how much a game is worth on a dollars-per-hour basis.

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Podcast – Dice Control part 2

Our guest this week is Frank B.  Frank is back for part 2 of our discussion on dice control.

[00:00] Introduction of advantage player, Frank B
[00:40] Las Vegas re-opens
[03:46] Caesars is now El Dorado
[05:50] Cashing out slot tickets
[09:45] Frank B’s realized return from dice
[10:43] How many hours of practice did Frank put in?
[12:26] Did results deteriorate over long sessions?
[13:33] Was Frank self-taught or did he pay for lessons?
[22:29] Using a high-speed camera
[27:08] South Point Casino June Promotions – $500k Spin to Win
[28:50] BlackjackApprenticeship.com – card counting training site and community with software, community, and other tools
[29:23] VideoPoker.com/gwae – Gold Membership offers correction on most games, free Pro Membership trial for GWAE listeners
[30:27] Do’s and Don’t of playing advantage craps
[42:44] Countermeasures in Las Vegas
[47:51] Countermeasures outside of Las Vegas
[49:34] Tim Tebow touchdown prop
[53:41] Recommended – Croupier, Jake’s Bar

Sponsored Links:
SouthPointCasino.com
BlackjackApprenticeship.com
VideoPoker.com/gwae

Recommended:
Croupier imdb.com/title/tt0159382/characters/nm0654110

Jakesbarvegas.com

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