Colin Jones (S1 E10 Finale): The Ultimate Vindication (or, A Cover Play Made in the Forest)

Throughout The 21st-Century Card Counter,
Colin Jones interviews former students who have gone off into the wild to ply
their trade. There’s a bit of publication bias, because we don’t hear about the
train wrecks, but that’s understandable. The success stories are still
entertaining and educational, and include sufficient misery. Whenever I read
those reports of extended losing periods, I send CJ a mental thank-you for reminding
me—as he does throughout his book—why counting cards isn’t for everyone,
certainly not someone as soft as I am.

Now comes “Joe” [not his real name], who turned $10k into $1 million! Do you know how hard that is? Imagine being thrown into prison, and digging a two-mile tunnel using nothing but a plastic spoon. Joe did it without the spoon! That result, and the four-year journey it took, makes Joe an instant authority on card counting in the, um, 21st century. Yeah, what Colin said.

The question I want to ask Joe is: How much betting or
playing cover do you use? Apparently CJ has been divining my thoughts, because
there it is on page 71. Joe’s answer needs no editing: “I rarely use any
betting cover, and I never use playing cover. I’ll never play a hand wrong on
purpose to throw off the casino. … The casino has to be smart enough to be
fooled, and you can never know what their idea of a card counter is. They don’t
have the same training as you, so you shouldn’t assume they know everything you
know, or will even recognize that a wrong play made for cover is wrong.” Amen,
brother Joe.

I wrote about this topic in Exhibit CAA, back in
2009, and with over a decade of additional experience, I wouldn’t change a
word. I’d probably use more italics and bold, and exclamation points. Maybe a few
emojis. Counters and other APs like to think that every winning bet was due to
their skill, and every loss due to “negative variance.” They like to come up
with uber-clever ploys, and then attribute their success and longevity to those
ploys. Correlation does not imply causality. Let’s repeat that, all together
now!

We call it FPS—Fancy-Play Syndrome, and Peter Griffin warned about it in The Theory of Blackjack decades ago. Counters want to make slick moves. They want to not only win money, but feel really clever doing it, and then make sure everyone else sees how clever they are. So they over-deviate from BS. Sometimes, I think these ego-driven counters intentionally stall on an index play, just to give everyone a chance to marvel at their cleverness. I see it all the time.

I used to watch a gang of riffraff counters play DD together. A few small cards would come out and suddenly they’re all betting the Lucky Ladies. In a 50% double-deck game, that bet doesn’t get positive until a true +6.8 assuming both Queens of Hearts are live (page 68 of Exhibit CAA). And betting $100, it would be worth maybe $2/hour, but the buddy counters are all slowing each other down trying to look clever when they hit the sidebet.

Ian Andersen’s Burning the Tables in Las Vegas is rife with this mentality. My counterargument is the simple principle of ITOTKO—It Takes One To Know One. If you’re being watched by another counter, would standing on 16 v T, or A7 v T, fool him? Of course not. Would betting hijinks—like only raising your bet after a win (in a positive count, of course)—fool him? Of course not. There is no way a card-counting play is going to withstand a tape review by a knowledgeable counter catcher, unless the play is so short that the verdict is “inconclusive.”

The cases of greatest longevity that I’ve seen (and I’ve lasted
over a decade at some casinos) are not due to standing when they thought you
should hit, or limiting bet increases to a 2x factor, or whatever. Rather, you
can survive a long time if no one looks at you. How do you remain invisible? (1)
By avoiding the dangerous personnel. Play only in front of apathetic or stupid
personnel. (2) By masking your wins. If they think you’re a loser, they won’t
bother looking at you. On the flip side, if they think you’re a consistent
winner, or if you even have a single noteworthy win, they might look at your
play. And if they do, counting cards will not withstand a tape review by
someone who can actually count. (3) By keeping the sessions short enough (maybe
just a shoe or two) that they just shrug their shoulders if you happen to win,
and you rotate the shifts and bosses you play in front of. (4) By using a
disposable BP. I could go on, but I’m just repeating what I’ve written in Exhibit
CAA
and in online posts ad nauseam.

And if the place is plain stupid and doesn’t ever look at anybody or know what they’re looking at, then pound the place to sand (and thereafter into gold, of course).

New card counters aren’t much removed from civilians, whose first thoughts about counting come from pop culture. They think Rainman knows every card coming out of the shoe. They think card counters hit hard 17 when they know a 4 is coming (the next-card-info scene with Austin Powers). They think the cat-and-mouse game is all about using disguises to thwart facial recognition software. (I often get asked about my disguises, before anything else.)

The dry reality is that the counter generates profits through
lots of hours of betting more when the shoe is richer, and sometimes much more
than the traditional 1-12 or 1-16 computer-simulated spreads. The successful
counters I know will bet whatever they can get away with, heatwise. If they can
get away with a min-to-max spread, then they do it. Cover plays just leave
money on the table. Even betting cover is largely pointless, because many
bosses will just dislike the fact that sometimes you bet small, and sometimes
big, and they don’t even bother to see if the bet variation correlates to the
count (since they probably can’t count).

The counters getting churned out by CJ’s Blackjack Apprenticeship are using minimal cover. I will generously say that perhaps Ian Andersen’s book was appropriate for counters of a bygone era, but it surely isn’t the way to go in the 21st century. The biggest change is that there are so many more casinos now. Vegas isn’t the only game in town. Today’s card counter has many places to play, and faces a casino talent pool that is stretched thin. Throughout the nation, there are dual-rate pit personnel who can’t count, and who have no idea what a counter even looks like, or they’re overburdened trying to watch eight tables at once. For a counter, laying cover is simply leaving money on the table. Most backoffs are based on player recognition, not analysis of the play. The modern counter will just play it as hard and long as possible, and then just move on to the next casino.

The heretic Colin Jones has literally rewritten the book on card counting. Even splitting Tens is now on the table. At my sister’s Sweet Sixteen party, mama told her that splitting Tens is taboo, but is it really taboo? You know, mama said a lot of things.

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