Every month or so, we like to take the opportunity to profile a different card counter on our Forum.
It gives us all an opportunity to learn from each others’ experiences, to get inspired by some good stories, and for those who are still training to hear from those who have gone before them.
We recently had the privilege of interviewing “iambowman”. He shares some of the ups and downs of getting started, the biggest challenges he’s had to overcome (hint… they had nothing to do with playing blackjack properly), and shares a few of his most impressive non-casino related advantage plays…
Profile of a Counter: “iambowman”
1. How did you get into card counting?
You know, when I think about it now I can’t remember what flipped the switch in my head to research counting cards, I just remember that’s exactly what happened, one day I just thought “hey I wonder if counting cards is really that hard?” At first I went about it all wrong, found a $2.99 eBook that taught a castrated version of a much more complicated counting system (Omega II) but taught nothing about the most important aspects of card counting: bankroll management and bet spreads. I’m glad I never tried to hit the tables with that system though I will say it got me excited about trying it though and excited to learn that it didn’t require an MIT level of genius or anything, just practice. I found the documentary “Holy Rollers” suggested for me on Netflix completely coincidentally and watched it; I remember thinking “huh, that was cool. There’s even good guys doing this and not just degenerate gamblers.” I went on a google binge later and discovered a few blackjack forums but had no idea that Ben and Colin had started BJA a while back after disbanding the church team. As soon as I found the site and recognized them, I signed up that day.
2. How long have you been counting cards?
I’ve been training since April 2012, I waited 8 months to perfect my game and save a fixed bankroll before I actually did any casino play. So I guess I have a year and a half of casino experience.
3. How long did it take to trust your skills? How do you know you’re any good?
As I mentioned, I trained 8 months before casino play. I’ll be honest though, I’m not sure I’ll ever 100% trust my skills and I see that as a good thing because it keeps me training and practicing and focusing and improving. That’s a huge part of my personality though and it’s a holdover from my days of performing music; I stick with practice until I see progress, even if I’m already playing perfect. I also have a wife and kid that I’m accountable to so I made sure I could prove to myself and to them that this wasn’t going to be some out of control gambling addiction but an actual worthwhile investment. I track my practice very, very fastidiously, even now, and make very detailed notes and records of every session in and out of the casino, so I know I’m playing a winning game. CVBJ was a total godsend when I got it too because it catches errors that I might not with a physical deck, so that was just an awesome dimension to add to my data. Without those numbers to comfort me I honestly would not rest easy and would probably practice myself to insanity. :p
4. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced/had to overcome?
Ironically my biggest challenges as a counter didn’t come from the casino or even from practicing/learning but from my other business ventures. I made a snafu on my taxes a few years back as a new business owner that surfaced about 3 months after I was starting to make some decent money at the tables. The mistake, along with the bills from my son being born, wiped out my entire bankroll and most of my other savings and was a hard lesson learned. I tried to just keep practicing and saving for a while but got so bored with practicing without playing. That was when I read about replenishable bankrolls in Snyder’s “Blackbelt in Blackjack”. I still had a day job and my side business and decided to funnel money from those into my bankroll each month so I could still play with a smaller bankroll and effectively reduce my risk at higher betting amounts.
It’s been a real struggle not to spend bankroll money on providing for my family too, I know my wife sees the account with that money sitting in it and I feel bad making her share our 20 year old car with me knowing there’s more than enough to get something better but she assures me that she understands it’s a tool of my trade. Self-control with your bankroll and good handle on your personal finances are two very key skills in blackjack that aren’t on most counter’s minds as often as EV and RoR… but are, in many ways, so much more important.
5. Any advice you would give to others? Anything else you wish you would’ve known?
My main advice is, before pursuing blackjack as a career, set your expectations properly. Blackjack is not a get rich quick scheme and it’s not even a get rich fun scheme. The game just like most gambling games is easy to learn but is hard to perfect, gets very old by the time you’ve perfected it, and doesn’t give you any sense of accomplishment in and of itself. Managing a bankroll is difficult and if you’re desperate for money right now because you didn’t manage it well, blackjack isn’t going to be your lifeline. It’s a business and should be treated as such. I think the majority of people who quit during their first phases of practice are those who don’t fully grasp the above concepts beforehand.
Also my other piece of advice is don’t limit your advantage play to the casino. There are TONS of opportunities out there to make money or obtain things you need for free and you should be exploiting every single one of them if they’re a worthwhile effort (really, this should happen whether you stick with blackjack or not). Since counting cards my wife and I also hustle coupons, take advantage of credit card rewards, we even bought some show tickets for our next Vegas trip using a Facebook app that gives out comps. Actually between all of our “schemes” our entire next Vegas trip including food and entertainment will be completely paid for and without a single comp from playing blackjack and without any debts on our cards, that takes the pressure off me at the tables bigtime!
Lastly, guys and gals alike hit this hard while you’re single because it’s exponentially harder to count at smaller stakes while responsible for even the smallest of families!
6. Any highlights of your career so far?
I haven’t pulled down massive numbers like some of the vets on BJA but I’ve had some good wins that made me feel pretty swell, getting back to even after dipping into my bankroll was a huge achievement. One of the most entertaining things about blackjack for me though is doing circles around ploppies’ silly little brains. One of my favorite stories has to be the first time I got a ploppy to pay me to play a certain way. I usually use an idiot act since to casinos I look exactly like the stereotypical card counter, but if I’m fumbling and don’t seem to know how the game works then they write me off as an amateur and move on. A high roller sitting to my right betting about 20x my minimum kept telling me to play my hand differently for a variety of completely unfounded reasons. He finally got fed up and slid chips over to me equal to my bet and said “stand on that 12 please”. “Oh is that the right move against a 2?” “Yeah you want the dealer to bust, don’t take his bust card or we all lose!” I kept at it, playing his way as long as he paid me for the hands, thanking him for the “help” and you know what? He later told me he felt GOOD doing it! Like he was giving me some kind of gambling education and I was going to go on and win a million dollars because he was good enough to guide me in the ways of incorrect strategy and superstition. Since then my attitude towards ploppies has been a lot more positive and so has my EV from them.
7. What’s your favorite thing about being a card counter?
The absolute best thing about it is knowing that once my bankroll is big enough I can obtain a level of financial independence that few people have, to the point where if I lost my job then I wouldn’t need to worry about where the next one would come from. Right now that hasn’t happened yet but I’ve seen the progress, I’ve learned a lot of lessons from the school of hard knocks, and I’ll have plans and backup plans to mitigate all those risks in the future and come out of it wiser and stronger. In the short term my favorite thing is being able to essentially get paid to play a game, and the best part is my “bosses” think I’m actually paying them 😉
8. What’s the most you’ve ever won/lost in a day? How did that feel? How did you respond?
(Keep in mind as you read this I’m still playing at red/green chip level). The most I ever won in a single day was $2115 and I felt exhausted but fulfilled, that was the end of an 8-hour rollercoaster on a road trip betting $15 units. I started the day way down and it took a very long while to turn around. At one point I remember having $600 total out on a high TC, split/double situation and thinking “I will never tell my wife about this hand win or lose” (which is probably comical for those of you betting close to that much as a base unit). The most I lost in any session was $500 because that’s how I manage my replenishable bankroll. If I lose more than $500 in any given month then I stop playing until the next month when I can put aside at least $200 into the bankroll. This assures that both bad variance or, god forbid, sloppy play, will never run amok for too long. It feels bad to lose that all but I usually just consider that a wakeup call and hit the practice that much harder!
9. Any memorable stories you’re willing to share?
I think I’ve shared most of my best casino stories. There is the story of when I told my grandad I count cards. He’s a former gambling addict but hasn’t placed a bet in over 20 years so I was nervous about telling him about it; when I told the rest of the family they actually kept warning me “make sure you don’t turn into your grandpa!”. Well when I finally did tell Grandpa, his response was: “Well, I put plenty of retirement money away for you in Vegas… about time you learned to f&#$ing withdraw it! And make sure you get ALL the interest on it too!” I remember that now every time I walk into a casino.
10. What’s your favorite advantaged play have you done in your life that didn’t involve blackjack or casinos?
Two plays come to mind:
- When my tax debt came in I found out that you could pay off a balance using credit cards. I found 2 credit cards with 0% APR for 12 months and with a fantastic rewards structure, charged the taxes to the cards, and paid off the cards before that 12 months was up. After all that I ended up paying what I owed in full, completely avoiding the exorbitant interest rates from the IRS, had no interest charged from the credit card company, and thanks to hitting some bonus spending points earned roughly $1500 in free travel rewards which I’ll use for casino trips!
- I wouldn’t recommend this play anymore but I bought bitcoins last year and got to ride the wave up before the Mt. Gox crash and transferred back to $ when they were trading at a little under $1000. That was a bit of research but mostly luck; nowadays that currency is a lot less predictable so I don’t bother with it anymore.
If you learned anything or were left inspired by anything from iambowman’s story, make sure you share it in the forum…
Author: Colin Jones