How to Lose at Blackjack - Blackjack Apprenticeship

How to Lose at Blackjack


How to Lose at BlackjackEveryone loses.

I’m not sure how many sessions of backjack I’ve played in my life.

My guess is around 1000.

Far less than many advantage players, even ones that played on our team.

In fact, if we want to talk about other embarrassing statistics we can talk about how much I’ve won at casinos. Or rather, how much I haven’t won. I was just told by Colin that my lifetime win is actually under $100,000. Good thing there’s multiple ways of calling yourself a “professional” (one is just having a low standard of living).* So, how was I able to start a team and a website that teaches people like you how to extract money from casinos? Well, I was reading a book this last week and I stumbled across a little insight that I think contributed to my success and I would like to share it with you here. It’s how I became good at losing.

People don’t talk about losing much. After all, counting cards is all about winning. But of the 1,000 or so sessions I played, my guess is that I lost about 450 of them. That’s a lot of losing. Losing one session can be a lot. Whenever people ask me about the most I ever won the only session that comes to mind is the time I lost $86,000. Talk about not answering the question. When you lose a session, on the walk to your car you question everything. The system, your skills, the casino cheating, math itself and sometimes God. Humans try and make sense of things and for an advantage player an individual losing session never makes sense, at least not at the time. The seasoned veterans act cool but I think it’s just because they get numb. No matter how far along you are you will never know why on a particular session you lost a particular amount. This can drive some people nuts. It’s probably the single hardest thing about being a pro. I would say it was much harder than actually developing the skill of counting cards itself or building the actual bankroll. Which is kind of strange considering how much training material (including our own) has been dedicated to skill improvement and how little is dedicated to teaching people how to be a good loser.

How to lose like a loser.

The difference in knowing how to lose well or not to lose well is actually the difference in becoming a winner. Given that about half of your experiences as a professional blackjack player will be losing (slightly more when you are beginning) the question we should be asking ourselves is “How do we lose well?” There’s two ways to face this problem. Head on and in a round about way. Let’s begin in the round about way. The round about way addresses how to lose poorly. Or how not to lose. If we understand that we will understand what we should be avoiding.

I am three quarters of the way through reading a book called Integrity by this famous psychologist and leadership consultant named Dr. Henry Cloud. On the cover it says “How six essential qualities determine your success in business”. One of these qualities, and the title of chapter 9 is “Finishing Well”. Here is a quote from that chapter

“…if people have attitude problems in failure or loss, or continue to protest or blame, or even blame themselves, then they do not experience a lot of things that a loss has to teach us. They just go forward to repeat it again since they have not changed.”

The way to lose poorly is to blame. Blame the casino, blame math, blame the world, blame yourself. Blame is interesting because at it’s core it is non-productive. I’ve seen this from playing racquetball for 25 years. A guy misses a shot. And he goes off on himself. I can’t post some of the words I’ve heard guys say about themselves all to make sense of the negative result that was a point in a game. You can imagine when the loss is financial or when life savings are on the line. Sometimes it feels necessary or good even but this type of self-deprecation is actually the easy way out. It’s also the natural way. It’s not unique, it will not help, and usually it’s based upon lies instead of the truth. Sometimes the blame is not overt. It surfaces with more subtle emotions like regret or anger. Surely after losing $25k you should be angry right? Why? What if it was the best you played in your entire life? What if you are on the right track and losing $25k is the best step to get you to your dreams? What if losing $25k doing something you believe in is better than making $50k in something that you don’t? What if it’s progress from the last session? What if you learned $1 million worth of lessons? When you go to college and spend $200k do you walk away pissed just because it cost you $200k? Well, you should be if it’s not worth it. But we understand that’s the price you pay. In blackjack, the price you pay to win 51 session is we have to lose 49. It may be a high price but it’s a price we should decide before we get into it. Once we get in we should get over it. And by get over it I don’t mean ignore it. I just mean we need to move on from it. This will not happen if we do not have something better to move on to and that’s what I want to talk about next. But first…

I can’t emphasize enough how much of this commiserating, non-productive blame is wrapped up in subtle and hidden normalcies that, not only does most of the world accept, they actually endorse. When we lose poorly these are some of the results.

  • You feel bad.
  • You start asking questions about things outside of your control.
  • You are demotivated for the future.
  • You find yourself obsessed with replaying (or looping) the past
  • You find yourself asking “What if…?” about things you that have already happened.

I used to find myself doing this all the time. I would leave a casino losing $10k and as I was walking through the parking lot I would wonder what would have happened if I would have walked into the casino 5 minutes later and therefore changed the entire order of the cards and therefore my entire experience for the night. There was only problem with this scenario and the 1000’s others like it: It offered no way to change the future.

These emotions and thoughts masquerade as good, normal and productive but in the end they are just a sorry replacement for growth.

How to lose like a winner.

If we are to succeed in the long run we must know what to focus on after a loss, what to ignore and what to do about it. Like the title of the chapter “Finishing Well” would suggest we are more concerned with where we are heading and where we end up. Whether or not we win a hand, a session or even a month or year is less important. A few pages earlier on in the same chapter Dr. Henry Cloud says this:

“…the difference between winners and losers is not that that winners never lose. The difference is that winners lose well, and losers lose poorly. As a result, winners lose less in the future and do not lose the same way that they lost last time, because they have learned from the loss and do not repeat the pattern. But losers do not learn from what they did and tend to carry that loss or pattern forward into the next venture, or relationship, and repeat the same way of losing. Therefore, they do not become people who lose, as does everyone, but they become people who never win because they do the same things over and over that led to their last loss.”

When we clear out all of the non-productive and emotionally charged responses that come after a loss very little remains. What you have is an experience with some data points. Some of the data points can be helpful. Most are not. The ones that are helpful are the ones that help you understand how you can change and develop your skill or character for the future. At the game of blackjack this would be things examining your skills as a card counters. Questions of this nature would be…

  • How was your accuracy?
  • How was your knowledge base?
  • How was your game selection, control, and execution?
  • Were you able to get your bets out when you needed to?
  • How was your overall efficiency? How could you get more positive EV hands in an hour?
  • How was your focus or distraction level?

In the game of blackjack (and life) character development is not a separate issue from skill development. For character development we have a whole new set of data points and questions.  Here are some examples…

  • Did I make choices because I was afraid of what people might think?
  • Did I act in a way to impress people?
  • Did my frustration at a negative result cause me to go on tilt or miss out on an opportunity?
  • Was I placing blame on variables or people outside of my control?
  • Did my excitement at a positive result cause me to get distracted from making the optimal decisions or being aware of optimal circumstances?
  • Was I lazy or inefficient?

Each of these questions has a set of data points that are available to one who asks and observes. Pros (and those who are emotionally secure) can spot these things from a mile away. Once you ask the question and pair it with the data points another simple question comes up. How can I improve? When one asks these questions after every session (did you catch that? It’s not just the losing sessions) the promise is that they will improve their game. What more could someone ask for? If you will improve you are heading in the direction of winning. But, he who chases after the wins will never get them. He who chases after improvement will get both.

Do this.

Pay attention to what you are thinking when you leave a casino. This is prime time. Don’t waste it celebrating or commiserating unnecessarily. We cannot control when we win or lose. We can control the thoughts that we have. Whatever you’re thinking is optional. Choose the route that will benefit you in the long run. Clear out the lies and patterns that come naturally. The biggest problem about these things is that they keep you from focusing on the good stuff.

Think about the good stuff. I’ve posted 12 questions that you should ask after every session. There’s probably more or you could make the list better. It’s the only and best way to improve. And the real glory is that this doesn’t end with blackjack. Whatever success that has come in relationships, beating addictions, or starting other projects or businesses has come along with adopting these same thoughts.

Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop growing.  I’m not finished yet and neither should you be.

ben signature Card Counter

*Note from Colin: Ben shouldn’t be so hard on himself… Fortunately for our team, Ben was almost singularly responsible for getting our  blackjack team from $10K to $100K, winning like crazy when we had a very small betting unit. At that point, Ben focused more on managing and growing the team than playing. For what that’s worth. =)