At the Blackjack Ball one year, Tommy Hyland came up to me
saying he had a question. The preface “I have a question for you” is always a
little unnerving, especially coming from someone you don’t talk to very often. So
then he asked me … [wait for it …]
“Why do you recommend KO?”
I was surprised, not by the question itself, but because it
indicated Tommy must have read something I wrote. I think most professional
gamblers who know me don’t really read any of my stuff. But everyone’s been
reading Colin Jones’s The 21st-Century Card Counter, which
espouses the same principle—simplicity gets the money—but draws a slightly different
Mies and I are Less-Is-More apologists, and CJ, who knows more counters than I do, agrees: “All the successful card counters I know (I’m talking six- or seven-figure earners) have made their money not by the complexity of their systems, but by aggressively attacking the casinos and getting in thousands of hours of play.” I would only make a slight modification. The most successful counters I’ve seen aggressively attack certain casinos, but totally avoid others.
Some counters will go ahead and play anywhere, but I don’t
think that’s optimal. There are casinos out there that will allow a shocking
number of hours. They just don’t know what a counter looks like, or they are
unwilling to take countermeasures against the player. Successful counters
generally play these unicorn casinos often and hard, sometimes camping out for months.
The late Big Red camped out on the same table for years! Think about that—spreading
from 0 to 2x$300, with no cover, for 20-40 hours per week, for years. And
getting points and comps on a player’s card on top of it all. (That might seem like heaven to some, but I’m
not sure if I ever saw the man smile—not once.)
CJ presses the case for choosing a simple count system: “You
can learn a much more complicated count, but when you consider 1) the
complexity, 2) the time needed to really master it, 3) the room for error
(which comes at a cost), 4) the amount of mental energy it takes to use it, and
5) the value of rounds per hour, I question whether you’ll actually make more
money. … And my strongest argument for HiLo is that every major card-counting
team I know of has used it.” To me, that last argument is actually the weakest.
Ironically, one of the teams CJ is talking about would be
Hyland’s team, but Tommy basically said the same thing to me at the Ball. When Tommy
started out, the Knockout Count (KO) didn’t exist, and other teams were using
HiLo. So everyone uses HiLo because everyone else uses it? It’s a fiat count
Okay, HiLo is actually a good system, but if, on paper, HiLo
is comparable to KO, then I’m very confident that KO will destroy HiLo in the
wild. Why do I say that? Because extensive observation of actual APs in the
wild shows that their performance is consistently below the system specs
underlying the computer-optimal EV.
People have a skepticism regarding running-count systems,
but KO has a good pivot, and its indices are more precise than HiLo’s, due to KO’s
effectively finer stepsize when we restrict indices to be integers. A single
point in the running-counted KO represents roughly a 0.2% change in EV, while a
point in the true-counted HiLo represents about 0.5%. If we were to learn fractional
HiLo indices, that KO advantage would go away, but no one would want to learn
that doubling 9 vs. 7 should happen at HiLo +3.2 (or +2.8, or whatever).
But look, no one estimates decks remaining well, especially
when the discard rack and shoe are opaque. And no one does the division fast
enough, so hemming and hawing and stalling is introduced to the game. Then the
execution isn’t as smooth, and time is wasted.
Another argument that I sometimes hear, but thankfully not
in CJ’s book, is that HiLo is more compatible with shuffle tracking. Oh please.
If we’re going to talk about other beyond-counting methods, then the case for a true-counted system like HiLo gets weaker, and KO looks good. When I’m playing a complicated blackjack game, if I count at all, the counting part of things needs to be really simple, and not slow down decisions that might already be tricky. KO is the limit to what I’m willing to do when multi-tasking.
Every player swears that his execution is flawless, and it’s
the other guy who should consider a simpler system like KO, but the data
says otherwise. In every instance where we do a pop quiz or secret audit
to test a player’s skill, the results are disappointing. (This is the scene in
the movie clip where we all stand in a crowd, and one-by-one step forward to
announce “I am the underperforming AP.”)
In recent years, I’ve become a bit disappointed by the AP community, primarily because the skill level overall is so poor, and the posers are tolerated. And I think there’s some idiocracy going on. I think we’re getting worse, despite all the new tools available to learn. I think the millennials are not as serious about the game, and maybe CJ unfairly takes some of the heat for that. But the best way to improve collectively is to be realistic about our abilities in the field, and utilitize the simple but powerful systems we now have available. By promoting HiLo, Colin Jones’s BJA empire is a step in the right direction (from UstonAPC, RevereAPC, WongHalves, and others). For a veteran or a new player, I’d recommend KO, but CJ’s doing good work preaching HiLo. It’s aiight.