We get a lot of emails from people who just watched the Holy Rollers documentary, which tells the true story of the blackjack team we ran for several years. Naturally we get asked the question, “Do you guys still play and can I join your team?”
The Church Team officially disbanded at the end of 2011. Some former members of the team do play on their own from time to time (including Ben and Colin), but not in a large-scale, organized fashion.
Usually when people hear this response, the next question we get asked is, “How do I join/start a team?” We will get into some practical things you can do to start or join a team, but first you have to consider WHY you want to start a team. Typically there are 3 legitimate reasons for people to play on a team.
Three Reasons to Play on a Blackjack Team:
Pooled Resources – If you and four buddies each have $5,000, you can pool your bankrolls together and each play as though you had $25,000. This allows you to generate more EV with less risk than you would have if you played alone on your $5,000.
The long run is nearer – Card counting is only profitable if you can play several hundred hours to overcome the variance or “luck” of the game. If you and your four buddies all played the same amount of hours on your $25,000 bankroll, it’s the mathematical equivalent of one person playing 5 times as fast as a normal human could. That means the long run happens a lot quicker and you can be more assured of winning money more quickly than if you played on your own.
Comradery – Blackjack is often a loner’s game. Nobody in the casino understands what you’re doing (and wouldn’t like it if they did), often your own family doesn’t understand what you’re doing, and spending long hours in the casino environment (where if you do your job well you get fired) can really get rough at times. Playing with a group of people that are going through the same things as you, and are financially interested in you doing well, can take the edge off a little bit.
At first glance it may look like a no brainer. It appears that every aspect of playing blackjack gets better when you play on a team. On paper that seems to make sense, but there are a few other factors you have to consider before you jump headfirst into team play.
The Four Pillars of a Team:
Trust – Just like in any other business endeavor, you have to trust the people you’re working with. That doesn’t only mean trusting them not to steal money from the team. It’s also trusting they have the judgment to cut a session short if they’re too tired and making mistakes, trusting they are competent enough to keep accurate records, trusting they will securely handle their money and prevent theft or other risky exposure, trusting they will get hours in, and trusting that they practice their skill and play correctly in the casino. If you can’t trust someone with these things, then there is no benefit to playing with them on a team. Many members of the bigger teams back in the day talk about giving lie detector tests to teammates they suspected of stealing. On the Church Team we never gave a lie detector test. We firmly believed that if a team dispute ever got to the point where we needed a machine to believe a player was telling us the truth, then the trust was already broken. Even if the person could pass the lie detector, the relationship would no longer be based on trust, which can be a disaster when you hand someone 2 times their annual salary in team money.
Ben’s early record keeping
Even the smallest of teams will require a lot of decision making and record keeping. Who decides risk tolerance, bet spreads, tipping procedure, and how to deal with casino heat? Furthermore, some people are naturally organized and some people will have to be chased down and herded like cats, just to get their records organized (or even recorded at all). Someone will have to perform this duty for the team and it will take time out of that person’s day that they could have spent clobbering casinos on their own. A lot of agreements have to be made, ahead of time, to decide how winnings will be divided. Who will maintain the records? Who holds the bankroll? How will money transfers occur? What do you do with players who break a rule? It takes time to agree on things and even more time to deal with resolving situations you neglected to think about ahead of time or that you could not predict.
Training – If you play on a team, not only do your own skills need to be sharp, you are now financially interested in the sharpness (or rustiness) of your fellow teammates. Training other players takes skill, time and energy. Testing players takes time and expertise. Someone on the team (or several people) will have to pay attention to this and that takes time out of EV hours.
Fairness – When you play on a team of any number of people, inevitably there will be situations where fairness comes into question. Maybe the way the bankroll gets split feels like someone got the shaft. Sometimes certain members are invested in the bankroll but aren’t getting hours in and other members feel like that person is getting a free roll or not contributing. Perhaps that person is you and you just had a death in your family and you’re unable to get hours in, yet you still have an obligation to your team and you’re making money on their efforts. There are always certain players that seem to win more often than other players. Is it just variance or is that player better than the other players? Maybe they start thinking they can make more money by cutting the dead weight and playing on their own. Maybe they want a bigger cut of the profits since they’re pulling all the weight. There are many benefits of playing on a team but when you play on your own you always get exactly what’s coming to you. On your own, fairness never comes into question.
After you’ve carefully considered all that goes into playing on a team and you’ve decided a team is your best option, now you have the hard work of finding or building a team. Here are some tips for sourcing teammates.
Four Ways to Break into Team Play:
People you know and trust – One of the best places to source teammates is from the people you already know and trust. Trust is already the most challenging part of the equation. It’s better to train people to play blackjack that you already trust, than to try and start/join a team of already trained people who you don’t know or trust. This is how we built the Church Team, and it worked for us.
Message Boards – You can reach out on various blackjack message boards like our private member forum, and see if there are people training and playing in your area who are interested in team play. We recommend caution with this approach. There are a lot of people on the internet and not everyone takes their game seriously. Approach this option the same way you would approach anyone you met on the internet.
Bootcamp – This is a little bit of a self-promotion, but we have more than one story of people who met at a Bootcamp and forged an alliance. This is also just a prudent course of action. Our Bootcamps are designed to give people everything they need to become a successful card counter. If you want to start a team, what’s a better place to find teammates dedicated to beating the game than an event where people pay good money to learn the skill? Not to mention, what team would take you on as a player if you haven’t already perfected your skill and proven you have an advantage?
Join an existing team – This is the hardest of the methods we’ve covered. This is more of a hail marry and usually isn’t an option for most people. Most teams are not recruiting openly. If they ARE taking new players on, you’ll probably need a referral of some kind. The kinds of teams that are actively recruiting on message boards or other broadcasting methods may or may not be the kind of team you want to play on. Even if you have perfect skills, you should wonder why they are willing to entertain you as a teammate if you don’t have a reputation and no one has vouched for you. Again we suggest caution.
Now you know your options. If you’re ready to get started, you might try reading through some of our forum posts about team play.