Blackjack Team Play

What is team play?

Team play in blackjack is when card counters work together at a casino to hide their counting activity from casinos. They do this by segregating roles based on the different functions of a card counter. Some members of the team will play at a table and keep the count, while other members of the team do the betting. The players who do the counting are called "spotters", and the players who sit down and bet are called the "Big Player" (BP). In order for the bettor to hide their knowledge of the count, they usually wander around the casino floor and jump onto the table only when the count is high. They know when to do this because they receive hand signals from one of the counters sitting at the table to keep the count.

The team as a whole will usually have a large bankroll which they all play from. Many times the team is funded by third-party investors who take a share of the team's profits.

History of Blackjack Teams

Team play in blackjack was invented by a blackjack player named Al Francesco in the early 1970s. He formed teams after getting banned from so many casinos for counting cards. He thought of the concept of team play after betting over the shoulder of his brother who was sitting at a table counting cards.

One of the players Francesco taught was Ken Uston. In the late 1970s, Uston later went on to write a book called "The Big Player". Many people attribute the invention of team play to Uston, but he didn't invent it, only popularized it through his writings.

After the publication of his book, blackjack teams became more popular. There have been a few famous, very profitable blackjack teams which earned millions of dollars. The most famous team, by far, was the MIT blackjack team. They had a book written about them called "Bringing Down the House" written by Ben Mezrich, and also a movie called 21, starring Kevin Spacey. Uston's books also increased casino awareness of the methods used by blackjack teams, making it more difficult for such teams to operate successfully.

Many blackjack teams often played in foreign casinos in the early days, because the foreign casinos were some of the last casinos to learn that blackjack was beatable. Two of the popular destinations to travel to were the Bahamas and countries in Europe, such as France. The most successful teams were able to operate for many years without being caught.

Some teams employ a large number of players, in order to hide their operations from casino surveillance. Even before casinos were aware of blackjack teams, they have a vague awareness that gamblers sometimes would work together to beat the casino. So casino surveillance would monitor winning gamblers for their connection to other gamblers who were around. Casinos would take note who these gamblers would talk to, or even just who the other players at the table were. Hence, some teams would have 20 or more players on the team with different members coming in to play on different days. This way the members of the team wouldn't be gambling with the same members day after day. If they did this, casinos would catch on that something was going on - even if they didn't specifically know what it was.

Advantages of playing on a blackjack team

  • It helps even out the fluctuations. Because blackjack has a lot of variation, having multiple team members playing hands at the same time helps even out the variance.

  • It helps lower the risk of physical harm. Most people who get backroomed are nervous not because of the physical threat, but because no one knows where they are. If something happened to them, no one would ever know about it. If someone on a team gets backroomed, another team player can call a lawyer, or the press.

  • It keeps you from being lonely. Counting cards is a very solitary experience, not just at the table, but after the game is over and you are just sitting around by yourself. When playing on a team, you get to sit around and talk during the downtime.

  • You will perform better. This will happen because the other players will help you improve by pointing out errors or giving you tips. The manager of the team will also make you perform better by holding you to a high standard with regard to your counting skills.
  • Possibly zero-risk. Some members may get paid a salary with a bonus instead of a share of profits. Although a share of profits would result in a higher profit for the player, some people would prefer a steady income stream.

Forming a blackjack team

Find recruits that are good at math. Many recruits to the famous blackjack teams have had no previous background in blackjack, or even gambling in general. It might even be better to have someone with no background in gambling because this increases the likelihood that they do not have in interest in the game itself. Although a successful card counter should have some interest in blackjack, his interest in blackjack should be secondary to his interest in winning.

The players should be mature and disciplined. Team members may be carrying large amounts of cash on their person. There have been plenty of incidents where $20,000 was left behind in a paper bag.

The members should be very trustworthy. They will be handling large amounts of money. A member from a large team may handle $50,000 to $100,000 in cash.

From a technical perspective, the first thing members need to do is learn basic strategy. The second thing to learn is to count cards. Here, they learn to count down a deck accurately. The third thing to learn is to how to improve their time. The fourth is to practice in a casino in the real world at lower stakes, just to get used to the environment and nerves.

Running a blackjack team

Running a blackjack team is like running a small company. The manager of the team has to monitor the members and hold them accountable for their team goals. For example, the manager should re-test new counters every couple of months or so to make sure their counting skills are still good. The manager needs to review every trip, and maybe every session, to make sure things went OK.

The manager needs to know how to manage people. He needs to fire players who don't seem to care, and discipline players who aren't following directions. He needs to have enough emotional intelligence to know that when people are making thousands of dollars playing blackjack, then they may become de-motivated to do better. But just because a team is doing well doesn't mean that it is good enough. A mediocre performance by the team may mean that the team doesn't make much money after it pays out profits to outside investors.The under-rated blackjack movie "Holy Rollers" talks about this. The manager of the team talks about how he had some regrets about how he managed the team, and said that he should have used more discipline with regard to the players he was managing.


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HPG ADMIN on June 3, 2015