Interview with a blackjack card counting team member
by Steve Bourie Learn more about the author read more »
Colin was involved in running one of the largest professional blackjack teams of the past decade. He now runs www.blackjackapprenticeship.com with previous team co-manager Ben to teach people professional card counting. Their former blackjack team is also the focus of a feature length documentary, Holy Rollers, which is currently playing in dozens of film festivals around the world. The movie chronicles their exploits in forming a successful blackjack team composed entirely of Christian church-goers.
How did you get into playing blackjack professionally?
Ben and I were friends from a Bible camp, and he told me about a book he was reading about card counting (Stanford Wong's Professional Blackjack). After reading it, I thought it sounded easy enough, so I started teaching myself. I had never even been in a casino until I knew basic strategy and how to count cards. I decided to give it a serious go after convincing my wife to let me give it a try with $2,000 of our savings. Within a few months, Ben and I decided to pool our money and resources, and our first "team" officially started.
Where did you find players for the blackjack team?
That's what makes our story interesting (and is one of the main angles of the documentary about us). One of our main networks were people we knew through our churches. Our blackjack team even got labeled "the Church Team" because many of the people who joined the team were friends we knew closely through our churches or ministries. We didn't set out to hire people through our church networks, but those were the people we hung out with form week to week and were able to establish relationships with. To us, the blackjack team was a business, but since trust is paramount to the business, we chose to work with people we knew closely and trusted, then teach them how to play blackjack from scratch.
How large did the team actually get?
At one point, we had over 30 people who were either playing for the team or training to join the team. We had over a $1,000,000 bankroll with people playing all over the country. But we quickly learned that we couldn't maintain the quality necessary to keep winning with that many players, so we typically kept the team to around 10 players.
What are the largest wins and losses anyone on the team experienced?
I can remember a few distinct losses of about $85,000. It feels like a kick in the stomach getting a phone call that someone lost that much in one session. On the flip side, our largest win in one session was just under $100,000. It's very rare that a casino hasn't backed you off as a card counter by the time you've won even half that. More memorably, I remember a new trainee who went out on his first trip with about $70,000. By the end of the first day, he had lost over $50,000 and been kicked out of every casino in the area. We told him to drive to another casino about 3 hours away. We didn't hear from him for a day, and when we finally got ahold of him, he was driving home after winning $87,000 at that casino. He said he didn't bother calling because he figured that was probably a pretty typical result!
"21" the movie portrays card counters getting chased with guns and beat up in back rooms. Is that really the life of a professional card counter?
Not really. Nowadays, most casinos are major corporations who wouldn't risk the lawsuit and bad PR involved with something like that. We have, however, had someone get arrested (the money he'd been paid out has marked from a bank robbery) We've had players get investigated by the DEA, FBI, Homeland Security, Border Patrol, IRS and local police departments. We always passed all the inspections, though we once had $110,000 seized by the US Border Patrol because it wasn't properly declared. It took us about 3 months, but we got it all back, minus a $10,000 fine. Other than that, it's just getting harassed by casinos because they know we have the advantage over them. But never really anything physical.
Why did you guys decide to close up shop?
Both Ben and I got into card counting thinking it would be something we'd do for a few months or at most a few years. Our goals were always to start other businesses. Believe it or not, after enough years, running a blackjack team had lost its excitement. We are still good friends with many of the people who played on the team and continue to work with each other on many other businesses and ministries. But the blackjack team itself ran its course, putting us in a place where we were comfortable letting the documentary get released.
Can people still make money at Card Counting?
Absolutely. For over 40 years, casinos have slowly made the games worse, causing card counters to grumble about the deteriorating conditions. But at the same time, there are more and more casinos popping up around the country. There are also more and more variations of blackjack, each with the potential of being exploited by the savvy advantage player. It became tough for us to be betting thousands of dollars each hand, but there are still plenty of places across the country that I could make money at if I wanted to. You just have to put the time into mastering the skill, then have the fortitude to stick to it amongst big wins and losses and getting asked to leave some casinos along the way.
To find out more about Colin's work as a blackjack card counter, plus details on how to learn card counting on your own, visit his web site at: www.blackjackapprenticeship.com