I walked off a game the other day, and I have Colin Jones to
thank. On paper, the game could be a 20% edge or higher. In the real world? Not
so much. My frustration grew. Why am I playing this 10% garbage? I’m out.
Where does Colin Jones fit into this? Something he wrote on
p. 14 of The 21st-Century Card Counter hit home, because I’ve
wrestled with it my whole career, even though I’ve never seen it in print
before: “Being responsible for other people’s money is a whole different
animal. I never lost a night’s sleep riding out the swings with my own money,
but shouldering the weight of family and friends’ money definitely came with bouts
of night sweats and indigestion.”
That problem affects me, not so much with friends and
family, but with rookie teammates. Over the course of a team trip, there are
invariably opportunities for me to make a bet or execute a brief play myself,
with no teammates witnessing the play. That’s standard for an ECA (Every Counter
Alone) team, but my team trips generally involve a primary target that involves
multiple players together (such as a spotter and BP). So it’s a bit of a grey
area when a team member goes off and plays something alone during the trip.
There should be some discussion or understanding about that.
For instance, what if the team’s primary target is HC play, and a team member
says, “I lost $5000 on a hot deck in a monster count while checking dealers in
the high-limit pit.” I’ll chop the loss, but that teammate probably won’t be a
teammate for long. Sure, we could strictly outlaw that, but I’d rather give
people some flexibility, see what decisions they make, and then chop them off
if they self-reveal idiocy, degeneracy, or recklessness.
I think the 2nd-best compliment I ever got was
from D Money, an old BP teammate from Vegas (whom I ran into in an elevator fifteen
years later in a small hotel in Europe just before the covid lockdown), who
said: “I’ll always take a piece of your action.” That shows that he trusts both
my skill and my counting of the money. (The best compliment I ever got was from
a dealer in the Rio high-limit pit, who said: “We have a word for people like
The problem when gambling with OPM is that maybe those Other
People don’t actually have the Money! A rookie teammate might be unable to chop
a loss. A rookie who’s been winning with the team for two years or longer
should have saved up some money, but, inexplicably, some people are just too irresponsible
to save any money whatsoever. That puts the team in a bind, because now we’re
floating that loss, and the rookie owes us, but possibly the only way the
rookie can make money is continued play with the team. So we have to dig the
rookie out of his own hole. Instead of the rookie being our minion, the
veterans on the team become minions for the rookie. We’re out there scouting,
running numbers, finding and hitting targets to put money in this rookie’s
pocket, so he can pay us back the money he owes. And then the rookie complains
that we don’t respect his skills. What a joke. But I digress.
In other cases, the person can afford the loss financially,
but getting in a big hole can cause depression or grumpiness, especially if
winning was expected. And rookies often have the most unrealistic expectations
about winning every time. On a good game, we will win every time,
but not every game is a good game.
A third problem is that if I play something without witnesses,
and then lose, the rookie might want to know what I was playing. Veterans on my
team know that I have a bit of a “don’t-ask-because-I-won’t-tell” policy, and
there have been many times when I played something and put the profits in the chop
that they knew nothing about. It’s like the bag of money that the movie villain/hero
leaves at the orphanage, telling Sister Theresa, “Don’t worry about where this
money came from, just do some good with it!” But explaining advanced moves to
rookies is something that isn’t about to happen.
There is a bit of ego involved as well. Losing too often
without witnesses might raise red flags and damage a player’s credibility.
There are two—only two—ways that frequent losing can occur: either the game is
negative, or there’s skimming. I wouldn’t want to be suspected of either.
So, like CJ, I find myself under stress when OPM is
involved. I think that’s a good litmus test of a team player. You will
encounter some players who play fast and loose with team money, while people
like me and CJ probably play tighter.
I knew a team that had brought on a rookie, and bankrolled
him to go play some supposedly high-edge games (that was the team’s first
mistake). Anyway, they found that he was tipping too much, way too much. I
spied on this player (he didn’t know me) and confirmed excessive tipping, among
other mistakes. So they changed the team policy and said that all tips would
henceforth come out of his own pocket. Guess what happened. The guy immediately
started complaining about toke-hustling dealers, and how these tips were adding
up ($100-$200 per day). It didn’t take long before his tipping level went to
At that point, you might think that the team had solved its
problem, because they eliminated the EV-offensive behavior of excessive
tipping. That was true in the short-term, but long-term, they had a bigger
problem: this guy plays fast and loose with the team money, but when it’s his
own money, he’s tight as a drum. To me, that’s a huge warning sign. That might
even warrant cutting the guy loose right there.
(Their “solution” that led to the guy not tipping at all isn’t
optimal for the team anyway, because now the guy isn’t making the modest
professional tips that he should be making. For high-edge games, some amount of
tipping is generally optimal, and strategic tipping is a useful tool for a veteran.)
I want teammates who are as tight or tighter with team money
than their own personal money. You’ll see some players start blasting on a
super-marginal game with maybe no edge at all the second they get their hands
on a big team bankroll. (Overbetting marginal games is one of the red flags for
skimming, BTW.) For me, it’s always been the opposite: my game selection is
tighter when I play on a team bankroll.
In between team trips, I might play marginal games on my own
bankroll. There’s a team benefit to that. Maintaining my solo exposure and
persona at the casino can be good for the team later, provided I don’t get
backed off. However, I’m at a point in my career when I want to do more coding,
less playing. To that end, I’m trying to skip the marginal games that I tend to
play on my own time.
So it came to pass that I was on a marginal game the other
day. I was in the middle of a small loss, and frustrated by the inconsistent
game quality. In my youth, I would have stayed to dig out of that hole. The
game was a crappy 10% game, but mama always said, “Finish your game—there are
starving card counters in Vegas!” Low edge be damned, I’m digging out! That was
the old, young me.
The new, old me asks, “Would I be playing this game on a
team bankroll?” Hell no! If Colin Jones and Sister Theresa could see me on this
crappy game, they’d assign some inter-denominational penance, like writing “I
will not play poorly cut shoes” a thousand times on the chalkboard. Or worse,
they’d make me play those shoes.
So I walked away from that game. Thank you, Colin Jones, you