Evolution of a Card Counter

Bootlegger's 200 Proof BlackjackBy Mike “Bootlegger” Turner.

This post came about as a result of a chat-room conversation I recently had [sic, in 1997] with Stanford Wong. I was describing to him the vast differences between single and double deck games and six deckers I had been experiencing in my hourly win rates. Wong suggested that I make a green-chip post on the subject. I decided that before I made such a post, I better pour over my records and make sure that what I told him was accurate.

I got out my records and as I was assembling them, a story began to develop. There, beneath the stark facts and figures, was the tale of the development of a card counter. I decided to tell this tale, in the hopes that it may prove useful to any fledgling counters or would-be counters who may be curious about the game and all of the claims counters make about its profitability.

First off, I’m no high roller or blackjack expert. I’m just a regular working stiff who became intrigued by the idea that it was possible to beat the casinos at their own game. In fact, I had never set foot in a casino before 1992, when I attended a convention in Las Vegas. My wife and I stayed at the Mirage. We were fascinated by the casino and the excitement that it generated among its patrons. Neither of us were gamblers and we didn’t even attempt to play until the day before we left. We timidly approached the nickel slots and put in a few dollars.

We loved it! As we walked around the casino, we watched the winners and the losers experiencing the agony and the ecstasy of gambling. I was particularly impressed by the amount of money I saw changing hands and determined to find a way to get some of it.

“Somewhere in that morass
of the good, the bad and
the ugly…, I picked up
early on keeping records.”

As soon as I got home, I went to the nearest used bookstore (yeah, I’m cheap) and found two books on gambling. One of them was “The Gambler’s Bible” by M.C. Fisk, while the other was “Oswald Jacoby on Gambling“.  Fisk’s book was nearly useless, but Jacoby’s book, published in 1963, included a chapter on blackjack which contained a rudimentary version of basic strategy. Both of them mentioned card counting, but neither book contained any kind of counting strategy which made sense to me.

Still, armed with Jacoby’s basic strategy, which I had practiced for hours at home, I ventured into a casino to play blackjack for the first time. It was the King’s Club in Bay Mills, Michigan. In 1992, the tiny casino wasn’t much bigger than your average bar. It had three or four blackjack tables offering a four deck shoe. I went to the cashier’s cage and asked for twenty dollars worth of chips. With a friendly smile, the cashier explained that I had to get my chips at one of the tables. I nervously approached the dollar table, presented my twenty and said “T-t-twenty d-dollars worth of chips, p-please.”

I sat down and doubled my money at that dollar table. “This is easy!” I thought. “I can do this anytime. What a way to make money!

And so it began.

After that, I read every book I could get my hands on. I learned how to count with Arnold Snyder’s “Blackbelt in Blackjack.” I then purchased my first new blackjack book (sorry Arnold, yours was used), Humble and Cooper’s “World’s Greatest Blackjack Book“. Armed with the strategies from these books, I would visit the casinos and give it my best shot, winning a little, losing more. I would practice and practice, but I just couldn’t seem to make it work.

“No betting progression, no
money management system,
no psychic ability, no magic
combination of prop. bets
can beat the percentages.”

I backslid. I bought Dahl’s “Progression Blackjack” and learned his betting progression. I even bought how to win at the slots books. I delved in craps, using betting progressions described in Barstow’s “Beat The Casino.” I bought Mike Goodman’s books, John Patrick’s books, systems by Frank Scoblete, gambling books by Lyle Stuart, even mail-order systems by Martin J. Silverthorne. They all promised the easy road to riches without having to count. It just had to be true. There had to be a way to win without the strain and work of counting cards.

There wasn’t. All of the systems in the world couldn’t beat a kid on the corner tossing pennies if he has the house advantage. No betting progression, no money management system, no psychic ability, no magic combination of proposition bets can beat the percentages. Einstein said math was the language of God, and God doesn’t lie!  System sellers do.

So it was back to work. This time I bought Wong’s “Professional Blackjack.” I learned the Hi-Lo system and discovered standard deviation, risk of ruin, hourly win rates and indices. Endless indices! More practice, this time on the computer with a realistic little program called Riverboat Blackjack.

Back into the casino I went. Slowly, steadily, surely, I began to win! Lots of starts and stops, but I was winning. Not as fast as I’d like to, but anything on the positive side was good. I kept at it and the win rates began to get better and better.

So here I am. As Churchill said, I am “not at the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.” I still have much to learn and (I hope) much to gain.  Somewhere in that morass of the good, the bad and the ugly of gambling books, I picked up early on keeping records. The figures of the story? The following is the distillation of a red-chip bettor’s winnings and losings.

BC (Before Counting and after backsliding):

Single deck hourly rate:       -$2.69

Two deck hourly rate:          -$10.14

Six deck hourly rate:          -$45.50

(that’s right! woefully so)

AW (After Wong)

Single deck hourly rate:        $9.68

Two deck hourly rate:           $11.76

Six deck hourly rate:          -$13.92

(still needs work, doesn’t it?)

Those AW rates include the early hours of learning, making mistakes, finding out about bet spreads and so on. Its getting better. Since I found BJ21 and began to absorb the information found here, those rates have begun to climb. In fact, my two-deck rate has been $43.75 per hour over the last few months. I haven’t played enough single or six-deck recently to give a reliable figure (for the same period, single deck is $100 per hour), but its rising. I’m now using the KO system, but I don’t think the figures would be appreciably different if I had stayed with Hi-Lo.

Many thanks to Stanford Wong and some of the brilliant posters on these pages. I wouldn’t have discovered my current betting strategies or important tools like Schlesinger’s Illustrious 18 if it weren’t for these pages. My subscriptions to CBJN and Green Chip have been worth every penny. Thank you all!

EDITOR NOTE:  This article was originally an Internet post on Stanford Wong’s Green Chip page in the 1990s.  It was reprinted for Blackjack Review with Bootlegger’s permission who I met at one of Stanford Wong’s Green Chip events in 1997.  Sadly, Mike “Bootlegger” Turner died in 2011, from lymphoplasmacytic lymphoma at the young age of 60.

Copyright © 1997 – 2023 All Rights Reserved
Originally published in the Fall 1997 issue of Blackjack Review Magazine


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *