To Drill... or not to Drill...

That is the answer

Part I.


Most reputable books on Blackjack point out that one or two playing mistakes per hour can be the difference between a winning and losing play session. This number may seem incredibly low until you remember that card-count methods offer only a 1/4% to 1-1/2% edge over the house; which in reality isn't much.

For example, in Craps, while a casino can make a ton of money from the 1.4% house edge on line bets alone, realize that this 1.4% applies to hundreds of active bets per hour, 7 days a week. Because a casino literally books hundreds of bets per hour, they approach the so-called "long-haul" more quickly; whereas the average player makes only a few hundred bets per gambling trip - at best a few hundred bets a day.

You should realize that any professed player advantage from a given Blackjack method assumes "perfect play"; i.e. executing the strategy with virtually no mistakes. Perfecting your play to this level doesn't happen over-night. Perfect play, if it is indeed possible, requires HOURS upon HOURS of diligent practice. Cutting corners with this step may seem like no big deal, but in fact can be the most costly mistake you can make. Let's look at this more closely.

Winning Blackjack requires a number of perfectly executed steps:

  1. Learning a VALID strategy. This includes not only memorizing the various components of the method but also understanding the logic behind that method; reducing the temptation to play against the method you have gone to all the trouble to learn.
  2. Devise a set of useful practice drills and engage in a periodic (if not daily) practice regimen. Your goal should be to not only commit the strategy to sub-conscious memory, but to reduce your error-rate to as near-zero as possible. If you are consistently making mistakes, you may well be using a strategy not suited to your playing ability. (I will have more to say about this later.)
  3. Practice play against BOTH accurate computer software (such as Boris-for-Blackjack) and live-dealt cards on your home Blackjack table.
    1. Playing against computer software allows you to increase your "playing volume", in comparison to hand-dealt games. If the software sports detailed statistics you can also evaluate the accuracy of your play.
    2. Practicing against live cards gets you ready for live casino play; betting with chips and all. This step is as important as playing against computer simulations; if for no other reason than the fact that live-cards/chips are bigger and look slightly different than cards and chips you see on a computer screen.
    3. In BOTH cases however, be certain that the Shuffle/Wash simulations you play against are accurate. This means you are going to have to learn to properly shuffle the cards, or have a friend play the role of dealer while you play. You can easily learn the shuffle/wash procedure for the casino(s) you wish to play by visiting those casinos and observing several dealers on different shifts.
    4. With computer software, as far as shuffle/wash accuracy goes only Boris-for-Blackjack offers the correct simulations. Playing against inaccurate simulations may turn you into an expert; but against a shuffle/wash combination that does not exist in the real world - oops!
  4. Keep records of your practice play sessions. Computer software you play against should allow you to save (and later re-examine) the statistics of your practice sessions. Periodically evaluate your play to insure that your practice regimen is on track.
  5. Honestly evaluate your play for flaws, correcting them as they are encountered. As soon as you spot a mistake, find a proper solution to that mistake, correct it, drill the solution and engage in more practice play until you are comfortable that this mistake is behind you.
  6. Repeat the above steps until you are confident in the QUALITY and ACCURACY of your play. If you have ANY doubts, you are not ready for in-casino play.
  7. Finally, schedule a low-stakes play-evaluation session in the casino you have been preparing to play. After the play session, win or lose, take a LENGTHY break and evaluate the results of your play. If you won in that session, be certain you are clear on what it was the contributed to the win. If you lost be certain you are clear on what your mistakes were... and then CORRECT them via steps 1 to 6, before repeating this step.

  8. Devising and Executing a Drill regimen

    Essentially step #2 (above) is really what this article is all about, Whatever strategy you choose to learn, drilling it until you can play it flawlessly (in your sleep even) is crucial, if you expect to win. However, there is one more point that needs to be examined: namely, WHICH strategy to use.

    While currently I personally happen to augment my clump-track style of play with Boris' Advanced Point Count (a Level-3 count), this does not mean that a level-3 count is necessarily the best for you. In fact, Kenny Uston made this clear in his final book (Ken Uston on Blackjack) wherein he compared the USTON APC with his own Uston Advanced Plus/Minus:

    When my mentor, Al Francesco, started his team, the highest powered system available was the 14 Count. Since that time, I'd developed a system, called the Uston Advanced Plus/Minus, which did not require Ace-Adjustment. I erroneously suggested to readers, in my Million Dollar Blackjack that this system was inferior to the Uston APC. I no longer feel that way. Because of the complexity of the Uston APC and the need to adjust for Aces in betting, I now believe the Advanced Plus/Minus to be a far more practical count.

    In the above quote, Kenny is telling us that the advantage gained by using a multi-level count is given back, as soon as you encounter difficulties in executing that method. I too attempted the Uston APC, and found the Ace-adjustment to be far too difficult to be of any practical value. This is what led to the development of the Boris Advanced Point Count (BAPC), wherein aces are not counted as zero, but properly "weighted" in relation to the other cards.

    The point is this: it is better to learn a more simple Blackjack method and be able to play it PERFECTLY, than to struggle with an Advanced System, with an appreciable error rate. This said, let's look at the kinds of drills you can do to improve your playing skills. At the same time, I wish to discuss some obvious problems shared by most strategy approaches.

    A major flaw with most card-count strategies is that the student is taught to count the cards, first and foremost, in order that they can up-their bets in "favorable" situations, while backing off in less-favorable situations. On the whole, this seems like the right thing to do; when in fact, this approach is actually backwards, putting your bankroll at greater risk.

    It is well known that "betting systems" (and true-count betting is a betting system, no matter how you look at it) do not make up for poor play of the hands. So in fact, if you are going to learn to count the cards you should FIRST learn to adjust your card play, before putting more money at risk. Once you are capable of adjusting your card-play to the game at hand, then and ONLY then should you be raising your bets in "high-count" situations. There are actually two reasons for this:

    1. While necessary strategy changes make up only a small number of hands, it is clear that those hands are responsible for most of the card-count advantage. To blindly play Basic Strategy in extremely minus and plus counts (as advocated by most beginning card-count strategies) puts your bankroll at risk. In extremely minus counts, playing Basic Strategy denies you the opportunity to improve stiff hands by drawing from the excess of available low-cards, while encouraging you to double down (on 9, 10 and 11) when again, drawing a low-card is more likely. Similarly, to NOT stand on borderline hands (ex. 14, 15 and 16 .vs. 9, 10 & Ace) during extreme plus counts, again puts your wagers more at risk by blindly playing Basic Strategy.
    2. Basic Strategy was derived assuming a random shuffle; which as you know (if you have read the numerous Boris website articles on the subject) does not exist in the real world. Therefore, to blindly play Basic Strategy in today's shoe games (especially off the wash), again puts your bankroll at risk.
    3. It is my recommendation that strategy drills should be accomplished in the following order:

      1. Learn the point-values for each individual card, drilling them "cold".
      2. Learn to keep a running-count for the number of decks you chose to play against in your casino play. This includes developing the ability to ACCURATELY count-down a deck (or decks) in a minimal amount of time. This should be done against random cards, as well as casino-shuffled cards; available only with live cards at your home-practice table, or with the new Strategy Drill facility in the Boris-for-Blackjack Computer Software. (Other software programs either do not simulate casino-shuffled cards, or at least do not offer casino-shuffled cards for use in practice drills.)
      3. Learn to compute a true-count which can be used to adjust the playing strategy based on the remaining deck-content.
      4. Learn and drill to perfection the strategy variations that accompany a given count-value. Prove the validity of your strategy variations against live practice cards and/or accurate casino-shuffle simulations. With the Boris-for-Blackjack software, verify that you are experiencing a POSITIVE Playing-performance.
      5. Learn to adjust money wagered based on the count. Verify that your betting approach is indeed winning more money than is being lost by playing against live-dealt cards and/or accurate casino-shuffle software simulations, such as Boris-for-Blackjack. With the Boris, verify that you are experiencing a POSITIVE Betting-performance.
      6. Finally, verify that your combined Betting and Playing performance yields a profit. With the Boris-for-Blackjack software you can monitor your overall Profit-performance as proof that you are on the right track.

      Some final thoughts...

      WHEW! As you can see, winning Blackjack play requires a LOT of work. While it is tempting to cut corners with the drills process, you ultimately put your bankroll at risk by doing so.

      The above mentioned 6 major drill steps can be accomplished in a number of different ways. In up-coming installments on this topic, we will look at drill variations you can adopt that will assist you towards the goal of mastering the 6 drill steps; some are obvious, while some are subtle and may surprise you.

      Stay Tuned.