I’d never thought of myself as a gambler. I had no interest in joining my buddies’ Friday-night poker games, I never bet on sporting events, and I avoided the lottery. On rare occasions, I’d go to the horse races when invited and place a two-dollar bet just to be social. Gambling simply wasn’t in my blood. So, when I learned that I had to attend a work-related convention in Las Vegas many years ago, I vehemently complained about it. I told anyone who would listen that I’d gladly go anywhere but there. But the job said I had to go, and so I went.
My wife joined me for a weeklong stay at one of the finest casino hotels on the Vegas strip. As we made our way through the casino to our room that first day, we found the place very uninviting. A cacophony of assorted bells, buzzers, and beeps came at us from all directions. We witnessed the antics of a slot-machine jackpot winner and were assaulted by shouts from the rollers at the craps tables. Deeper into the casino, we sidled past a group of semicircular tables surrounded on one side by folk in deep concentration.
Although some of the casino patrons looked like they were having a good time, far too many others wore gloomy expressions. My wife and I were not tempted to join what seemed like a group of unpredictable inmates on a day trip from the nearest asylum.
However, as the week progressed, I made the trip through the casino many times and had sort of become accustomed to the sounds. Like Alice in Wonderland, I was becoming “curiouser and curiouser.” I noticed that people were actually winning money at the slot machines and that some of the folk at those semicircular tables had impressive stacks of chips in front of them. What I found most curious, though, were the money-laden electric carts, flanked by straight-faced security personnel, that would make their way from the tables and slots to the cashier’s booth periodically throughout the day.
Obviously, there was a huge amount of money going into the casinos, and I wanted to know if there was a way to get some of the money out. Although my wife and I didn’t gamble much on that trip (we played the nickel slots before we left just so we could say we did it), I felt something stirring inside me. When I got home, I began my quest to “beat the house.”
I read every book I could find on the subject of casinos and casino gambling. It was a difficult task to separate the wheat from the chaff, especially for a person who wasn’t particularly well schooled in the mathematics of gambling. After many false starts and some embarrassing and sometimes financially painful moments, I finally started to understand what was going on in the casinos and how to take advantage of it.
For reasons I’ll share later in this book, blackjack became my game of choice, and I attacked it with a vengeance. I learned what I could from the many excellent books available and had to unlearn a few things from the bad ones. I surfed the Internet, looking for more. I met with other blackjack players and learned as much as I could from them and their experiences. I even met up with several professional players whose advice was invaluable in my quest to become the best blackjack player I could be.
Over the years, I discovered that there are four types of blackjack players. The first is the clueless player. This player sits down at the table, puts the money in the betting square, takes the cards dealt, and then doesn’t have any notion of what to do next. To this player, each hand is a mystery. He would probably be far more comfortable at the slot machines and most likely spends a lot of time there.
Then there is the so-called experienced player. Although this player has been around for a while, he plays with only a semblance of basic strategy. He knows from experience what some of the correct plays are, but he doesn’t know enough of them. For example, he knows to stand on a 13 when the dealer is showing a 6, and he knows he should hit on a 15 when the dealer is showing a 9. He also knows that he should split certain hands. But he doesn’t know why he should do those things. While he isn’t exactly clueless, he is an ignorant player. The so-called experienced player is the player the house depends on. He thinks he knows enough to come out ahead and keeps coming back for more.
Next is the basic strategy player. This player has learned the proper strategy for each hand. He knows how to handle double-down opportunities and what to do with hands that should be split. He knows the rules and which ones will work to his advantage. He can play the house just about even. And, if he finds the right game, he can even play ahead of the house. But as good as the basic strategy player is, he is not the player feared by the house. In the long run, the house still makes money from this player.
The advantage player is the player the house fears. This player is a skilled card counter and knows the game inside and out. He has the advantage from the moment play starts. If he is playing for high stakes and it’s discovered that he’s a counter, a casino will stop him from playing in its house. However, there are many advantage players out there who manage to avoid being discovered and actually make a nice secondary income from playing blackjack.
What kind of player do you want to be? If you are willing to spend some time reading this book and using the methods explained here, you can become an accomplished blackjack player. You might be satisfied with being a basic strategy player. A good basic strategy player is welcome in most casinos and will be treated well. If such a player knows how to minimize his losses while maximizing his comps (casino “freebies”), he can do very well in the battle against the house.
Even if you have never stepped into a casino, this book can teach you to be a strong basic strategy player. It will demonstrate how to play the game properly, how to pick the right game conditions, how to figure out the proper betting levels for your bankroll (the money you have to spend on gambling), how to avoid going broke, and how to make the most out of a casino’s comping system.
Perhaps you want to be an advantage player. If that is your desire, this book will teach you the most basic advantage skill—card counting. It explains the most popular card-counting system in use today and how to use it in the casino environment. After reading this book and applying its concepts, you should know which blackjack games to play, how to play them, and how to manage your bankroll. You should know how to increase your longevity, what to do if you are barred from play, and how to keep coming back for more. Even an experienced card counter might pick up a trick or two from this book and perhaps discover a new way to approach the game.
This book is written in two parts. Part One is for the player who knows little or nothing about casinos or the game of blackjack. It is for the person who would like to be a strong basic strategy player. Part Two is for the person who wants to be an advantage player. For that person, this book should be considered a starting point. A true advantage player is always looking for ways to improve his game and sharpen his skills. The Resources section at the back of the book is useful for that purpose.
In short, Bootlegger’s 200-Proof Blackjack is for people who are as clueless as I was back when I started out on my quest to beat the casinos, as well as for players with some experience who need to know more. My goal was to produce a book like the one I wish I had when I started out. If, after reading this book, you can walk out of a casino with a smile on your face, this book will have accomplished its purpose.