A Day In The Life Of A Card Counter by Fred Renzey

 

 

This is a story about a fella named JoJo Finelli. JoJo is a blackjack card counter. He doesn’t play blackjack for a living — he plays just for fun and profit. He likes it that way. JoJo plays blackjack when he wants, if he wants, for as many hours as he wants. He doesn’t win every time he plays, but he does book a winning session about seven out of 12 times. JoJo’s gone on like this for thousands of hours over the years.

 

One afternoon, JoJo’s friend Nickey asked him why he never gets sick of playing blackjack. JoJo answered Nickey from a perspective with which it’s hard to argue. “Hey Nickey, how much do like to play golf?” JoJo quizzed. “You kiddin? You know I love golf. I could golf every day and never get enough of it,” Nickey responded enthusiastically.

 

“Then what keeps you from doing it?” quizzed JoJo. “C’mon JoJo, golf takes up a lotta time for one thing,” Nickey defended. “And then you gotta have nice clubs, the right shoes, a trunk full of golf balls — and the green fees ain’t too cheap after a while either, ya’ know,” he concluded.

 

“So you’d be willing to golf just about whenever you could, if you had the time and it didn’t cost too much, is that right?” surmised JoJo. “Yeah I guess. When it’s in your blood, it’s in your blood,” admitted Nickey.

 

So JoJo laid the following analogy on him. “Nickey,” he began, “suppose somebody came up to you and said they’d love to have you play golf at their country club, on the house, no green fees, no dues, nothin.’ In fact, they’d even give you a free dinner just for playing a round of golf on their course anytime you want, as often as you want. If you came with a Slot Gacor friend, the club would buy dinner for the both of you. You wouldn’t have to bring a thing. They’d give you and your friend a good set of clubs, balls, everything you need. You’d never have to call ahead for a tee time either. Just show up unannounced on the spur of the moment and step right up to the tee box, no waiting. And as some added frosting on the cake, stop on by the clubhouse when you’re finished and they’ll even pay you for playing — sort of. How’s that sound?”

 

“What’ya mean, they’d sort of pay me?” asked Nickey with suspicion in his voice. JoJo went on to explain. “Well, a round of golf takes maybe five hours to play at a leisurely pace. So let’s say they agree to pay you an average of $50 an hour just for your trouble. Only thing is, it won’t always be exactly $50 an hour. What happens when you check out at the clubhouse is, they’ll flip a coin. One side of the coin says, ‘You pay us $2,500.’ The other side reads, ‘We pay you $3,000.’ And you both agree to live by the flip of the coin. Sometimes you’ll make a nice piece of change, and sometimes it’ll cost you a hunk. But if you play golf enough times, you’ll wind up getting paid an average of $250 for every round of golf — 50 bucks an hour. Ya’ think you could live with that?”

 

“In a heartbeat,” answered Nickey. “But nobody’s gonna pay anybody $50 an hour and give ‘em a couple of free dinners just to come and use their place of business.” That’s where JoJo had him dead to rights. “Not to play golf, but they will to play blackjack,” he explained. Nickey wasn’t too sure about the whole scenario. It didn’t sound realistic to him. But JoJo knew better. He’d been doing it for years. So Nickey and JoJo parted company. Nickey went home, called the local golf course and tried to reserve a tee time. JoJo drove out to a nearby casino to play a few hours of blackjack.

 

JoJo hadn’t been to the Desiree Casino yet that week. He likes to spread himself around so as to not give pit personnel too many looks at him in a short time. As he entered the blackjack area he casually circled the tables, looking for a dealer who would be shuffling. JoJo never walks up to a table cold with the shoe already partially dealt. He needs to see — and count every card from the get-go.

 

Tanya was just finishing her last riffle on table 22, right next to a roulette wheel. So JoJo nonchalantly sauntered up to the roulette table, pretending to be noting the previous numbers on the roulette reader board. There were three players at table 22 as Tanya put the cards in the shoe and was ready to deal the first round. It still wasn’t time for JoJo to move in. The house always has the edge off the top of any shoe. JoJo must “backcount” the first few rounds to see if a surplus of small cards comes out, leaving an excess of high ones in the shoe, which in turn will sway the advantage over to the players. This will occur on roughly 30% of the shoes.

 

With his back to the blackjack table, JoJo can hear the first round of cards coming out. He’ll wait four, five, six seconds, then turn around and stride leisurely past the table, counting the entire board layout as he passes. “2-5-6-3-1-9-8-2,” he’s got it — the running count is +2. JoJo then stops at a slot machine at the other end of table 22, waiting the 10 or 12 seconds he knows it will take the dealer to settle all bets and get out the second layout of cards. Now he turns around and repeats the process, never stopping, always looking interested in something else. A deck into this six-deck shoe has the running count at -4; a bustout. So JoJo strolls toward another table where the dealer is shuffling, and backcounts there also.

 

This “backcounting” routine is what JoJo uses to skew the overall distribution of cards he’ll be dealt more in his favor. On this particular day it took three backcounted shoes to find the first advantageous count. On some days it takes more, others less. A deck-and-a-half into this third shoe, the “true count” reaches +2. JoJo observed this while looking over his shoulder from the craps table. That means the players now have a 0.7% edge on the shoe rather than the typical 0.4% disadvantage.

 

He nonchalantly steps up to the table, tosses his players card and 10 $100 bills on the $25 minimum felt. “Hi JoJo, how they runnin’ today?” asked Sandy the dealer, as she spread the cash out on the table for the camera to see. “Having one of my better days — only stuck $400,” replied JoJo. No matter how he may be doing, JoJo always claims to be losing.

 

Sandy counted out $500 in green chips along with five blacks and announced, “Changing $1,000.” The floorman came over, took a look and repeated, “$1,000,” as he picked up JoJo’s player card saying, “How goes it Mr. F?” JoJo had been to this and all the local casinos far too often to not be known by management. Card counters often like to remain unknown obscure entities — hitting and running like thieves in the night. But JoJo believes that playing with enough skill to win is only half the game. The other half is appearing to possess no such skill. Card counting longevity requires being both a Rhodes scholar and a street hustler at the same time.

 

JoJo placed a $150 bet and was dealt his least favorite hand — 16 against a 10. Most typical players will hit this hand every time like religion. But with the +2 true count, the correct move is to stand. So JoJo says, “You know what Sandy? I busted out the last 10 straight times I hit this miserable 16 — so let’s try sittin’ on it this time.” Sandy turned up an eight in the hole for a pat 18 and scooped in his $150. JoJo winced in feigned pain, the other two players looked at him as if he was an idiot and the true count rose to +2.5.

 

JoJo bet $200 on the next hand and received a soft 19 against Sandy’s 5-up. Here was another situation where with this count, doubling down was better than the basic strategy play of just standing. So JoJo slid out another $200 saying, “No gamble, no glory.” He always likes to use typical gambler’s clichés to rationalize his apparent motives. JoJo bought an eight to make 17 while the dealer made a four-card 20 as the true count rose to +3. Scooping in JoJo’s $400, Sandy admonished, “Why couldn’t you just leave a good hand alone?” “I thought you’d be nice enough to bust — but no,” joked JoJo.

 

With more than a 1% edge on the current composition of the shoe, JoJo now uses the following ruse to get more chips into play; “We gotta change your cards Sandy, you’re killing us. How ‘bout if I add another hand?” The other two players shrugged cluelessly, and JoJo placed two $200 bets, leaving only $50 in front of him. Sandy fires a 10/10 and a 7/4 to JoJo against her own 8-up — two very attractive situations. “Damn” complained JoJo, “I promised myself I wouldn’t go past a thousand in the game today. But I gotta’ double against you here Sandy.” So JoJo timidly lays another $1,000 on the table, wins both hands and goes on to net a $500 profit by the end of the shoe. “That coulda’ been ugly.” exhales JoJo at the shuffle. “If you don’t bust out with that eight up a few hands back Sandy, I might be stuck $2,000,” he reassures the house.

 

Now JoJo puts one black chip in the betting circle while Sandy does her shuffle routine. He’d like to bet the “quarter” minimum off the top, but finishing the shoe with a $400 bet, then dropping right down to $25 would look too deliberate. It may take the first three hands to work his bet back down to $25. JoJo always tries to appear to be shooting from the hip when sizing his bets, never deliberate. He might at times make a $275 bet with two blacks, two greens and five reds along with a $405 bet containing four blacks and five whites saying, “That’s my lucky combo bet.” This he’ll do in an effort to get extra money into action without showing his carefully calculated motives.

 

JoJo remained at table 23 for three more shoes that never went to a significant positive or negative count. During that time, he slipped eight $25 chips into his pocket to diminish his apparent winnings. JoJo never hides $100 chips, since he knows the house keeps a careful count of all black in the rack. Other players do however, carry green chips to and from the “quarter minimum” tables, in effect, losing the greens in the crowd.

 

Early into the fifth shoe the true count plummeted to a -2.5 (a 1.5% disadvantage) where JoJo excused himself saying, “Ya’ know, I haven’t had a run here in five shoes. Le’mme color up and go shoot some craps.” JoJo was already shooting crap with that remark. He was heading across the floor in search of another positive count shoe. Sandy colored up $2,275 and JoJo tossed her a redbird ($5 chip) saying, “Thanks for keeping it close Sandy,” as he walked with a $470 win in his first 45 minutes.

 

Reviewing his play at table 23, JoJo’s biggest bet was $450 — his smallest, $25. No single bet was ever more than triple the size of the last. All in all, he figures he made maybe $6,000 in total wagers. A $470 profit (8% of his action) was a very nice result since over his last 2,000 hours of play, JoJo has netted a mere .75% gain on his total action.

 

Walking across the aisle, JoJo spotted a $50 table where the dealer had just finished the first round. This was a real beauty. Three players had all doubled down, split and caught little cards, then the dealer proceeded to make a six-card 21. Right off the bat, the true count rose to +2. The second round put even more small cards on the table and the true count finished up at +2.5. There could be a lot of positive hands left in this shoe.

 

JoJo bought in at third base for a fresh $1,000 and played two hands of $100 each, which resulted in a wash. The count continued to rise during that round and was now at +3. JoJo stacked up his two blacks on the hand that won and bet another $200 on the losing spot. He received a 16 and a pair of 9s against the dealer’s 7-up. The other three players had small pairs and double downs bringing the true count to +4 (a 1.75% edge). An edge like this comes along only about 5% of the time, but there were too many players at the table. JoJo had to get rid of some of them so that he could get more hands in before the shuffle. What did he do? “Lucky seven,” he yelled out as he put another $200 next to his pair of 9s. “You’re splitting up a made 18 against a 7?” one of the other players asked sarcastically. “You’re breaking up a winner,” he objected.

 

Now, splitting 9s against a 7 might be a sacrilege to most basic players, but with a +4 true count, it’s the best move. “I always win against a dealer’s 7 up, no matter what I do — it’s my lucky number,” replied JoJo as he busted out one nine and made a 19 on the other.

 

The three players already thought JoJo was a dangerous loose cannon, but the best was yet to come. He now slid a $5 chip out next to his 16, and doubled “for less” — in effect doubling down on 16. At this, the trio was horrified. Was it truly a bad percentage move. Yes, as far as it goes. Sixteen against a 7 is a 12-5 underdog to win if you hit it, considerably worse if you stand. Every dollar riding on that situation will lose 40¢ after all the wins and losses are averaged out. So by doubling for an additional $5, JoJo was indeed just throwing a statistical $2 right out the window. He looked even dumber when the dealer busted him with a 10, then turned up a 5 in her own hole, caught an eight to make 20 and swept the board.

 

The other players were emotionally destroyed. It didn’t matter to them that JoJo was perfectly correct in taking a card, be it a double or a hit. All they could remember was that this lunatic doubled down on 16 and took a card that would’ve busted the dealer. As far as they were concerned, because of him, the dealer made 20 and everybody lost. Somebody had to be blamed for this atrocity. So Mr. First Base spoke up; “Buddy, I’ve played this game all over the world and that’s the worst play I’ve ever seen. Color me up, Honey,” he then said to the dealer. The other two didn’t even wait. They just picked up their chips and stormed away, naming JoJo after various censored parts of their anatomies. As for JoJo? He got just what he wanted — 4-1/2 decks of a +4 true count shoe alone with the dealer. Now he’ll get in about 25 hands before the shuffle rather than perhaps 10. The extra 15 hands at an average bet of $500 per hand with a 1.75% edge will be worth a statistical $150. Mission accomplished.

 

So how did the shoe turn out? It really doesn’t matter. Sometimes JoJo will win $3,000 in that situation and just as often he’ll lose $2,700. The thing he keeps in mind is that this is where his money gets made in blackjack. Everything else is just “waiting.”