What Card Counting is Really Like - Blackjack Apprenticeship

“My First Thousand Hours”


by “Joe748”

I wanted to share with you guys my personal outlook and advice based on my first 1,000 hours of card counting. First and foremost I am very much up for my 1,000 hours & my hourly rate is fairly close to my EV.

The Lifestyle: 
In order to make a living off blackjack you have to travel a lot. It’s just unavoidable if this is your sole source of income. Everyone asks if it gets lonely, but I can honestly say there’s not much time in my head to get lonely while I’m on a blackjack trip, between driving from casino to casino playing, and sleeping there’s not much downtime to dwell on things if you’re a lone wolf. Personality wise I’ve never had a hard time doing things “alone” but at the same time I’m pretty personable so I’ve met and hung out with a lot of cool people while being on the road. I love the freedom blackjack can give you because you can take a week, or two weeks, off any time if you want. And what other freelance work can you point your finger on the map, fly there, and just start working? You don’t have to spend any time acquiring clients or advertising to find work. You just pack up and go.

The Game:
After playing at many places and having a wide range of session playing time & back offs it always comes back to the same mindset. Play as aggressive and as long as you can until they say its time to go. There have been more than a few times when I was getting heat (phone calls, half shoe’ing) and I just kept playing. Usually it leads to a back-off but there have been sometimes when I get many hours of play in after some serious heat. Sometimes casino personal are feeling you out and it’s worth it to me to just keep playing until they make you stop. I would have missed out on a lot of hours if I got scared and left the casino after I saw or experienced heat. I was playing at a place with another counter and once we experienced heat he left because of it. I kept playing for 20 hours over the next two days, so I’ve always just let the trip end when they say it’s over. That way I have no regret about the hours I may have missed out on.

Be confident, but never over-confident in your abilities. It sounds like common sense but when you’re winning you rarely feel the need to question your game or wonder if you’re doing everything right. When you’re losing you’re looking for every hole, every possibility of where your weakness lies, and its easier to chalk it up to variance then it is to admit you’re not playing 100%.

If you’re a solo player, I think in order for it to be worth while, there is no option but to play full time. “You need to have a leather ass to beat blackjack.” It just takes so many hours to overcome the variance, to do it just every once in awhile is still gambling at that point. I’ve had trips where I play more hours than a semi-part time player does in a year, all to lose those winnings the next trip. Getting to the long run solo takes so much I’d say its not worth the time unless you’re going all out. Very few people can do this for a living. Let me correct that: Very few people WANT to do this for a living which brings me to the next point…

card counting is not easy. Not so much technically, but the emotions you experience in the casino with your actual money. This is definitely the biggest issue and hurdle for playing blackjack full time. There is something that happens to you when you’re on a losing streak that defies your logic and takes over your mind. It’s very discouraging to go on a trip for a week, work hard to get a lot of hours in wonging in/out playing 100% all to have your whole weeks winnings lost in the first session of your next trip. You start to think “Well I just lost a weeks worth of work, it’s like the last trip didn’t even happen, it was pointless, the flight the rental car going to all the places getting kicked out was all for nothing now.” And the tough part is these thoughts can cloud your thought right after a huge winning streak. Even if you’ve been winning for months and you have a losing streak that lasts 25% shorter it’s still agonizing. I don’t know of another job that takes away huge chunks of your earnings after you’ve made them. I try to balance my emotions and expectations in my head as far as wins and losses. If i win really big, yes it feels good but at the same time I’m thinking well this is good because I’ll have this money that I can use to lose later. Card counting is 2 steps forward 1 step back on steroids. When you’re on a losing streak it can feel like 20 steps back 1 step forward. Sometimes it can feel like you’re never going to stop losing you’re just wondering what hour is it going to end 150? 180? 300? When the dealer takes every big bet from you it’s just like a sharp jab and sometimes you can lose for so many hours you are surprised that you actually won a hand with a 20. If there is a card counter out there who has found a way to dissociate the negative emotions while losing I would love to know your secret.

It’s just funny because even though you know it works and you’ve seen it work for hundreds of hours, when you do start losing, a lot of that confidence goes out the window. But I always come back to the same thing; the math has not failed me yet. I’ve said that a few times on really bad trips to encourage myself and it’s true, it’s been so and so hours and it hasn’t failed me yet. And when it does finally come back around we all know its a great feeling. It feels good to be rewarded for your efforts and one of my favorite feelings is the car ride leaving the casino after a winning session. You have to also be careful about attaching your own self-worth to the proportion of your bankroll. We have to be numbers-oriented but we’re also emotional beings, so seeing your total wins drop and rise and drop and rise can put a damper on your self esteem. Sometimes when its bad, you feel like your bankroll is a direct reflection of success or failure, but you need to try your hardest to separate that from your own ego.

Card counting can also be very monotonous and boring. When the count is bad and shoe after shoe is negative it can be excruciatingly boring. I once was playing double deck for THREE HOURS and not one of them was a positive shoe. I was certain they had cheated and altered the deck because there was not one positive true count for three hours straight. Of course they weren’t cheating, but you have to have patience for this game.

Blackjack can be really fun. A lot of blackjack players hate ploppies but I have fun with them. I’m usually only playing with one other person but not only do they help me eat up bad cards, but I’ve had a lot of laughs and good times with other players & rarely experience rude behavior from them. You’re working in a place of entertainment so it can be a lot of fun sometimes. The times I’ve laughed the hardest with people was when me and a ploppy would just get hammered, just ruthless shoes. There comes a point when the session is so bad you’re loopy and hysterical because it’s just so horrendous. So it’s nice to have someone else at the table suffering with you instead of doing it alone haha.

How I feel about it now:
I still am very passionate and motivated about playing blackjack. It gives me freedom financially and in return gives me more free time. The amount of reward you want is solely up to your own effort just like any other job that pays hourly. It still excites me and despite some really bad losing streaks I’ve had to experience, it hasn’t deterred me yet. I like going on the road and visiting new places. The lifestyle is exciting to me still. I’m not sure how long I’ll want to keep going for, but at 1,000 hours I don’t sense any sign of slowing down at all. It’s challenging balancing the technical and emotional aspects of the game but I enjoy that practice.


If you enjoyed reading this check out Joe748’s Profile of a Counter interview.