Sunday, April 20, 2008

Does the Film "21" Rate a Blackjack?


I am still receiving a ton of e-mails asking me about the MIT Blackjack Team film “21.” But the latest batch have not been asking my opinion whether I thought the film was good or bad, but rather whether or not I thought it was accurate. In other words, was the cinematic version of team-play at card counting worthy of the real thing?

The answer is yes and no. “Yes” because the basic portrayal of how cards are counted and big bets put into play was more accurate than not. There have been some specific questions about the role of “spotters” in real-life blackjack card counting. One is: do card counting teams really call spotters “spotters?” well, I don’t know what the MIT crew actually called theirs but I would say more professional teams call their spotters “counters” rather than “spotters.” If this is confusing you, don’t worry. Call them whatever the heck you like!

The second question concerns what the spotters’ role is after the big player is signalled into a hot shoe. In the film, the spotters remained at the game while the big player made the big bets. Several people asked me if that’s the proper case scenario in real-world big-time blackjack card counting. Sometimes it is, depending on particular situations. If the spotters keep jumping out of the game each time the big player arrives at the table, some of the casino bosses might pick up on this suspicious version of “musical blackjack chairs!” On the other hand, if the spotter needs to cede his place to let the big player into the game, then he’s got no choice. In European and Caribbean casinos, secondary blackjack players can bet behind the original player in the same betting circle, so in those casinos the issue of whether the spotter remains at the table becomes a matter of choice.

One important element of card counting that the film did not portray at all was the need to camouflage blackjack card counting big players as high-rolling roulette, craps, and baccarat (punto-banco) players in casinos they attack. Big players should show some big action at these games before appearing at blackjack tables in order to give the impression to casino bosses that they’re all-around big players, not just blackjack big players! This charade will cut into the bankroll a bit, but these losses will be more than offset by way of increasing hours of blackjack play with a counting edge without taking heat. Remember, the key is to play for as long as possible with the least amount of card counting exposure. And when card counting teams win, those with good casino savvy will show some more action on those craps and roulette tables before cashing out their blackjack winnings.