To do this, I recapitulate from the beginning:
So in 1985 I was in Monte Carlo for the first time. I had completely figured out blackjack. I had developed a blackjack programme. I had also studied the game of backgammon and played a lot. I had even won two tournaments. I had applied everything. But I had certainly not accumulated riches, on the contrary. I was still at the lower limit, just enough to live on. But everything was in store for me. Now I was there and for the first time I really had some money in my pocket. Only borrowed. Anyway, there I had the opportunity and the great pleasure to meet one of the legendary American professional players: Dennis Carlston. He was a very good backgammon player. And he was an even better blackjack player. He always said he made his first million playing blackjack. And there is no reason to doubt it. He even became world backgammon champion once much later, in 2005. I was there for the last time in 2005 as well. But the (backgammon) computer, snowie, didn’t rate his game too highly. He was rather lucky in winning. The younger generation is better, you just have to realise that. Nevertheless, I don’t begrudge him. And he is a strong player, of course.
So Dennis told me about the golden early days of Black Jack. In Las Vegas, they played with just one pack of cards, 52 cards. Advantage: You could easily count or remember many more things. In addition, people dealt from the palm of their hand. Advantage: You sometimes saw an upcoming card by chance. Then the deck was dealt to the end, practically all cards were played. That was paradise.
The one legend about it goes like this: You know as a player that there are still two 7s and three 8s in the deck, so exactly 5 cards, 7s and 8s. Then you play maximum, as much as you can. If the cards were over, they would be reshuffled and you would get a random one. But in this game there is no need to shuffle. No matter which two cards you get, two 7s, two 8s or one each, you stand. And the dealer gets the three remaining cards. And he is guaranteed to make more than 21. 7+7+8 = 22, overbought, just like any other combination. So the dealer is guaranteed to be overbought if you resteth, stay standing. It is only a legend that the game once existed like this, in this constellation. But still.
He had even counted with his feet, all the cards.
Surely the casinos noticed at some point that there were winners. Permanent and regular winners. And they started changing the rules. And started banning the players. And, as I had already told, the winners were even partly hired by the casinos to expose other professional players. So the rule changes: More and more decks were used. Dealing was done from a so-called “sledge”. You could no longer see anything. And then a card was introduced to stake out a number of remaining cards that could no longer participate in the game.
And at the time when I started playing, the game was already played with 6 decks. And of those, between 1/6 and 1/3 were staked, depending on the casino. So there were up to a third of cards that you simply had no information about. To put it better: If the promising “face cards”, 10s and aces were in these cards, one could certainly not win. The more cards were staked, the lower the expectation of winning (if any).
In Berlin, the casino was still played for a while with halfway reasonable conditions. During that time I was still winning (early to mid 90s). I didn’t go there that often either, because I had my other main occupation, football betting. But when I started coming regularly, almost daily, for a while, the following happened: As soon as I sat down at the table, one of the hall bosses came and whispered something to the croupier (I don’t know the female form, but they were almost all women) and from the next slide half the cards were cut.
This measure served the above purpose. And if half of the cards are actually marked out, then one can almost save oneself the “card-counting”. It doesn’t help any more, you simply can’t win. So what should I have done? Complain and ask why they are doing this? After all, I knew the answer. Only you have to try to understand how it makes you feel. Point 1: So I can’t win anymore. And making money really compensates for a lot. Point 2: The sceptics, all those who generally laugh at me for being a professional player, could at least give you credit. Now you could at least hear: “Ok, you were right, you are good and I was wrong.” But why should you actually tell someone such a story? You might get laughed at even more. “Now he’s still making up stories like that, the lunatic.” To sum up: You can’t earn anything anymore and you don’t get any recognition for skills.
So I was booted out. The other people at the table complained about the large amount of cards laid out, because that means they have to shuffle more often. And whoever is sitting there wants to play and not watch the shuffling. The difference to America is also this: there, the casinos are always in the big hotels. And they have sole responsibility. So they are also allowed to impose house bans. In Germany, everything is state-run. So I couldn’t just be kicked out, that’s why I was kicked out. And they were successful with it. I didn’t go there any more. But there you see what a hard life you have as a professional player: You can do something, even maybe really well, but you have to do it secretly, And on top of that you’re not liked. Neither by your fellow players at the table nor by the organiser.
A little later, shuffling machines were introduced. After each game, the cards are put back into the shuffler and shuffled. This rules out any kind of profitable play.
2) Scheveningen 1997
But one day, in spring 1997, I got a call from a friend in Holland. And he asked if I would still play Black Jack. I denied it, it was not interesting. But he said I absolutely had to come to Scheveningen. There were good conditions there. I was sceptical. Blackjack was dead, wasn’t it? No, there would have been a court order for that casino. They would still have to run the game as it was.
So I got on the plane right away. He picked me up at Amsterdam airport and took me to Scheveningen. Jaap was also staying there. I took a hotel right across from the casino. For one week only Black Jack. And it was really incredible there. Despite cardcounting, I enjoyed talking to the other guests (even more with the female croupiers, of course), but only trivial or funny things, people just laughed. I didn’t want to appear different in any way. And the entertainment, the fun, is also part of it, isn’t it?
But in a foreign country it was different. So far, I’ve only ever known players of average to weak level. That’s just the way it is in Germany. But there? I was amazed from the first moment that practically everyone at the table made every decision correctly. And if someone made a “mistake”, he was immediately eyed critically by everyone else at the table, everyone looked at him.
So little by little it turned out that I was not the only one who had received the tip. All the professional players in the world were there, it seemed. And that was fun! Everyone knew what was going on, what it was all about. No stupid discussions, as is sometimes the case. By the way, the croupiers also knew about everything. They also knew the court order, they always laughed and joined in. They also knew who wanted a card, who doubled, split or rested. Oh, it was so pleasant.
And finally I could compare the system I had worked out with that of other professionals. Because: everything I did was not the result of a book study, but decisions calculated by myself. And almost everything was congruent. And whenever someone doubted one of my decisions (there are nuances in this game, too), I could justify my decision, show the minimal difference.
You have to know that besides the “basic strategy”, which quite a lot of people already know (you have to explicitly exclude Germany there),
and the adapted strategy. The adapted strategy is about modifying decisions according to the count. Of course, this was only declared important if the stakes were high. Apart from the fact that with a recognisably positive count, some kind of shift has obviously occurred (otherwise the count is rather “neutral”, +-0, just plus or just minus, nothing changes there), the decisions that are then adjusted are also really important. Every professional player should know that, at least in those situations where it really makes a difference.
But when the count is very negative, there are also decisions that have to be changed. The joke of it is that if you always make the better decisions adapted to the count, you would not lose even if the stakes remained the same overall. So even these seemingly unimportant adjustments add up in the end so that they eventually become relevant. I hadn’t perfected that, but because I always knew how close or less close the decisions were, even then my adjusted strategy was much better than that of the other professional players, who basically just didn’t bother about it.
I was also very proud. Besides, it was really an experience to be among one’s peers, and so many of them at that. And the week went by far too quickly (unfortunately, I also had other commitments, including a child). I shouldn’t forget to mention that a day consists of 24 hours and I played for a maximum of 6 hours per day. The rest of the time was wonderful to spend in Scheveningen. As I said, it was spring. It had already warmed up considerably. Scheveningen is also directly on the sea. I did my morning jog directly on the sandy beach. In addition, one could visit cafés or shops along the beautiful beach promenade. In the evenings, some of the cafés turned into real discos. And Jaap was even the co-owner of one of these discos, so that evening entertainment was also provided. A dream holiday with all the trimmings. And it was all worth it.
You tell yourself that things go better when everyone at the table plays the same way and plays together. But that’s nonsense, of course. I was just lucky, but if you play with an advantage, you’re a bit luckier. A small drop of bitterness: In the afternoon of the last day, I was already at over 50000 guilders (about 45000 DM) and then there was a really bad series at the end. So I ended the week with only a little over 20000 guilders profit, about 20000 DM. But those were really the last weeks, the rules were changed in Scheveningen as well.