Do You Know What Your Weaknesses Are?

- Tracking Your Blackjack Strategy Performance using Boris -

[Dirty] Harry Callahan once reminded us: "a man's got to know his limitations". Do you know what your limitations are? If you are moving towards professional or semi-professional play, it is important that you not only validate your strengths and capitalize on them, but acknowledge the weaknesses in your play and move towards resolving them. In this article we will spend time examining what is involved in improving your play and how to utilize Blackjack Computer Software to assist you towards accomplishing those goals. Because it is the most comprehensive software available, I will use Boris' Casino Blackjack Simulation Software to illustrate my points.

One of the advantages of team play is that our weaknesses are often "covered", by our teammates, as we cover their areas of weakness. Of course ideally, we should all be moving towards eradicating the weak areas of our play. Of course the Question is, what ARE those weaknesses?

Unless you have a well laid out plan, and the proper tools for implementing it, it is difficult to determine your strengths and weaknesses. While I still advocate practicing against "live cards" as part of your training regimen, it is not always easy to obtain insight into what is REALLY behind your playing flaws, and even more difficult to get a handle on them. This is where computer software can be extremely useful.

Well designed Blackjack Simulation Software should provide you with a highly accurate simulation, the ability to drill areas that need improvement, the ability to minutely analyze the specifics of your play to pin-point your strengths and weaknesses, and finally the ability to export your findings to other applications for further analysis. All this and more is possible with the Professional Edition of Boris' Casino Blackjack Simulation Software.

Unlike most Blackjack software which is designed by programmers with limited knowledge of the game of Blackjack gleaned from books rather than actual play, I designed the various Editions of Boris from my 20 years of Semi-Professional play and in conjunction with assistance from a vast array of other professional and semi-professional players, as well as a host of outstanding statisticians and programers. The Quantity and Quality of the screen layouts in the Boris' Blackjack simulators reflect this attention to detail.

Compartmentalizing your Play

To get a handle on your play and what is needed to improve it, it is useful to compartmentalize it, evaluating each aspect; alone and in conjunction with the others. Based upon my playing experience, I have found that we can break our play down into the following categories seven:

Depending upon your overall playing Purpose and goals, you may wish to work on each area individually or each a little bit at a time, in conjunction with the rest. I tend to do a little of both, depending upon my upcoming plans for live casino play. Proper utilization of the Boris Statistics Screens will assist you in establishing your strengths and weaknesses. From there you can work out a practice regimen to remedy weaknesses and evaluate what it is that make your strengths indeed strengths.

Working Out a Practice Regimen

Whether you are aspiring to [semi-]professional play, or are simply a casual player who wants to insure that you consistently winning, establishing and adhering to a practice schedule is CRUCIAL. In the previous section we looked at the various areas of play which individually will need to be tended to throughout your playing "career".

In his book Best Blackjack, Frank Scobelete suggested that card-counters can ONLY accomplish practice during live-play in the casino. This is ABSURD. There are a NUMBER of different approaches that can be utilized during your home/office practice play sessions which will adequately prepare you for the real world. Unfortunately, his book never talks about them.

Let's begin by considering the importance of Card-counting and/or Card-reading drills. If you are a card-counter, you need to be able to keep an accurate running count; and, if you play the multi-deck [shoe] games, an accurate true-count. Clump-Trackers need considerable practice in "reading" the cards before they attempt ANY alterations to their play based upon the non-random card-flows of the shoe game.

Card counters typically take a deck of cards and turn them up 1, 2 or 3 at a time reciting (verbally and/or mentally) the count to themselves. While this is useful, it is a bit clumsy. Luckily, Boris' Blackjack Simulation Software contains a card-counting drills facility which will deal cards 1, 2 and 3 at a time. You can vary the speed with which the card are presented and control the visibility of the card-count on the screen to check your accuracy.

Clump-Trackers need to study the card-reads during actual play. With Boris, there are two ways to do this. The first is to simply watch the cards as they are played out and note mentally whether or not you are reading them correctly. Unfortunately, this method does not give you any objective feedback on your accuracy. A better approach is to put yourself in as a manual player (flat-betting, or having Boris auto-bet for you). Play the hands via Basic Strategy for now, indicating your Hitcard and Holecard reads as you make each playing decision. The Clump Statistics screen will tally your percentage of correct guesses.

Whichever method play you use (Card-counting or Clump-Tracking), be sure that you master the drill step THOROUGHLY before continuing on to study playing strategy alterations. To do otherwise is careless and will impress upon you poor playing habits and discipline. I can't reiterate ENOUGH the importance of developing your Blackjack play towards being as flawless as possible. Even seemingly minor mistakes quickly add up and cost you untold dollars at the Blackjack table.

Playing Strategy Drilling

There are many ways to drill the strategy nuances of a given card-counting system. Ken Uston's Million Dollar Blackjack is replete with a series of pages which can be cut out of the book (or copied) and pasted on to cardboard to make a series of "flash cards" to learn the strategy variations of Uston's Plus/Minus and Advanced Point Counting systems. You can easily devise more, once you understand the logic behind the ones present in the book. (In a future version of Boris I will devise a card-count strategy drilling method using the flash card concept.) Whether you use Uston's strategies or not, I still recommend reading the book. Aside from offering you insight into how to set up your own strategy drilling procedure, there is a WEALTH of other information useful to most card-counters.

Using Uston's flash cards as a guide, Clump-Trackers can devise their own flash cards for drilling their particular method. In a future article of the Boris' Advanced Blackjack Journal, I will detail how this can be done. (Likewise, in a future version of Boris I will devise a clump-track card-play drilling method using the flash card concept.) As with card-counting, the principle is the same: you are striving towards quick but accurate play of the hands, but based upon recognition of how the cards "are running".

With Boris' Casino Blackjack Simulation Software, we can track virtually all aspects of our playing performance. On the Money Performance Screen (accessed via F1), there is summary information relating to our hand play, expressed in terms of NBJ's Hands-Won-Ratio (a complex playing analysis formula) and Playing Advantage, to Boris' Playing Performance Indicator.

Once you have an overview reporting of your Playing Performance, you can evaluate the details by examining the Hand/Play Evaluation (accessed via F2). Here, our playing performance is broken down into its component parts. For example, under the major heading of "Reality" we have a field known as Break-Wins. This entry tells us how much of our winning hands is due to dealer breaking. We can also evaluate whether or not we are standing-short and/or breaking-ahead too frequently.

Under the heading of "Power Plays" we can examine whether or not we are winning enough of our Double/Split hands and receiving our share of Blackjack hands. This is coupled with an analysis of our wins off the top and/or after pushes along with an evaluation of our Insurance performance. Virtually in a glance we can determine what our hand-play strengths and weaknesses are. Once known, we can now spend our practice time FOCUSED on only those areas which need work, while receiving validation for the aspects of our play which are proper.

Card-counters can evaluate their wins/losses in High/Low count areas via the Basic Strategy and Card count analysis screen. It is very telling to see whether you are winning and losing during Plus or Minus card counts. For example, as I write this, on my computer, I am looking at this screen in relation to our 1st-base player from a recent Team Practice exercise. During the shoe in question, there were NO Plus counts. This means a majority of the low cards were clumped behind the shuffle card. However, this player won 61.11% of her hands during the negative counts. Our Kamikaze (sacrifice) player only won 47% of the hands; which is actually quite strong, considering sacrifice play.

Clump-Trackers can evaluate their play in a similar manner via the Clump Tracking/Playing screen. Here we can determine how many of our hands were +Evaluation (virtually unloseable), -Evaluation (virtually unwinnable) and capable of being improved (usually the majority). If the -Evaluation hands significantly outweigh the +Evaluation hands, this is a sign that table departure is indicated.

With the Boris' Clump-Track statistics, we can evaluate our play during dealer/player biased segments of the shoe, as well as during high/low ratio rounds. Finally, the Card-prediction section allows us to evaluate the quality of our card-reading. Sometimes we can be winning in spite of poor card-reading; but not usually. With this screen we can pin-point our prediction problems.

Betting Strategy Study

It is my opinion that until you master the art of playing the hands properly, you are wasting your time messing around with any aspects of the betting process. Nevertheless, beginning players are often eager to jump into varying their bets prematurely. With incorrect hand play, it is likely that your betting will be costing you twice the amount of lost profits as it would otherwise.

Once you've mastered hand-play however, it is time to move into the area that most often insures big wins; namely, timely bet increases. Properly done, your method of betting should ENHANCE (not hinder) your overall Profit Performance. With Boris' Money/Evaluation Screen we can see at a glance whether our betting methodology is on track by consulting the NBJ Betting Advantage and Boris' Betting Performance Indicators. While they often agree, there are sometimes subtle differences which can be very telling of our play.

Examining the Streak Information will let you know how your play holds up against card-biases. All too often players with a positive playing performance find themselves losing money, thanks to improper betting. For example, if you find yourself in a back-and-forth (i.e. exchange win) game, where you win a hand and the dealer wins a hand, up-as-you-win betting progressions will find you losing, even though you are winning half of the hands. Conversely, negative progressions in win-streak games will find you winning very little, even though you are winning a majority of the hands.

Once you have proper hand play under your belt, you MUST match your betting progression to the type of game you are in. Not doing so will result in losing sessions or barely-winning sessions that are hardly worth the time spent playing them.

Money Management

In his book Best Blackjack, Frank Scobolete incorrectly equates betting strategies with Money Management. This is a DANGEROUS mistake. Until you are capable of accurately utilizing the betting method appropriate to your method/style of play, you should not be spending any real time with Money Management concerns. Money management is about how to handle a given session stake as well as your bankroll overall.

With Boris you can analyze your Money Management ability by looking at the Bank Return, Action Profit, $$ Won Ratio, High Bets Won %, and Profit Performance figures. While you may experience positive Profit Performance, a low High Bets Won %, can point out that you are not winning enough of your high bets. Therefore you may be wasting your time considering Money Management issues when in fact, your performance problems lie with the way you are betting.

Table Selection/Departure

Table selection and departure is a little more subtlely difficult to evaluate. If you are selecting poor tables, you are probably losing from the start. If you are not departing soon enough, this will result in a down turn of your evaluation statistics. If you are leaving TOO soon, this will be reflected by consistently-marginal winning statistics. Players in this category often console themselves that at LEAST they had winning sessions. Unfortunately, their wins may be so small that you would be better off flipping burgers at the local McDonalds.

Not enough has been said about Table Selection and Departure. In a future article I will give it considerable attention. Players who prefer the Hit-Run style of play need to be acutely aware of the signs of exploding and deteriorating tables.

To blindly chose a game or remain in a losing one under the belief that in the long-haul you will emerge victorious, is not only naive, but can be very costly. In my opinion, there is no such thing as the long-haul; not until you retire and look back on your playing career. There is simply an accumulation of short-haul opportunities. If you are consistently getting BLASTED in the short-haul, we can very easily predict your long-haul results, and it does NOT require a crystal ball to do so.

Psychological Factors

At this time, analyzing psychological factors is more of a subjective, than an objective process. As an Introspection Therapist, I will have a considerable amount of information to offer on this subject at later date. For now, it would not be too off-base to suggest that what was said previously about table selection/departure is probably very indicative of the psychological response to your Blackjack play.

If you are impulsively selecting poor tables, or over-playing losing ones, this is a sure sign that you should take a closer look at your player psychology. I can guarantee it will be effecting your play. I am currently collecting notes for the future-creation of what I am tentatively calling "The Gambler's Completion Rundown"; a therapeutic procedure that you will be able to receive from a properly trained therapist. This rundown will exactly evaluate your playing psychology and assist you towards remedying it.

Remedying your playing psychological deficiencies may very well be the most important thing you can do to improve your play. Very little has been written on this subject. Even the book P$yching out Las Vegas is grossly incomplete in this regard, although it IS a beginning.

Some Final Thoughts

As we have seen in this article, improving your Blackjack game is composed of many different, yet complimentary dynamics. To become a competent professional player requires that you master ALL of these aspects of the game. To do otherwise is to set yourself up for failure that could ultimately spell out the end of your playing career.

Even if you are a more casual player, you cannot afford to ignore improving the different aspects of your play. Players who do not "have enough time" or lack the passion to study and remedy their game will be no better than the hoards of GAMBLERs who flock to the casinos each year. In fact, it is arguable that they may be in WORSE shape. They may know JUST enough to consistently lose BIG; whereas the average gambler is merely facing the house percentage.

Whatever your style of play, you can ALWAYS improve your game. To think otherwise is sheer arrogance. In that case you deserve whatever the tables deal you. One of the few promises I can make is that it won't be good. Now, take some time, evaluate your play and get cracking. You have a LOT of improvements to make. I know. I am STILL working on my game.