How to avoid the thief on your blackjack team.By: Ed Teller
We join blackjack teams to make money—more money than we could make by ourselves. A thief on the team will hinder us in achieving that goal. A team doesn’t have to have a dozen players, separate investors, a team manual, or scheduled polygraph tests to be a team. If I agree to count down a shoe for another player to blast away at (the classic BP approach), we are working as a team. I team with other professionals, semi-pros, and recreational players on a daily basis. Sometimes I spot, BP, invest, consult, buy or sell juicy opportunities, or tag-team games with other players — all of this is team play, and all of it is vulnerable to theft.
I hope to expose some of the methods that depraved individuals might use to steal from a team, and possible ways to keep your money out of the thief’s clutches.
Gamblers have very little credibility beyond their reputations. I’m more inclined to work with someone who has a reputation for being honest and hard-working than with someone who has a reputation of being a thief. It’s important to keep in mind the source of rumors you might hear about a player. If someone I trust vouches for another player, I will believe that player to be honest. If someone I consider to be a scumbag vouches for another player, I probably won’t form any opinion about that player, but I may even think badly of him.
Before teaming with another player, ask people you trust what they know about him. If you don’t hear good things about that player, it might be better not to work with him. Never give your money to a total stranger (duh!).
Large Blackjack Teams
Playing in large teams can present a greater chance of being stolen from. If you join up with 7 other players, each of whom you are 95% sure won’t steal, you face a 30% chance that there is at least one thief in the group. If you join a team of this size you had better be sure that the player s are a lot more trustworthy than that. Large teams might also be playing for bigger stakes than smaller teams, which could lead to greater temptations for potential thi
eves. A person who would never consider stealing $200 from a team bank of $20,000 might consider taking $1000 from a $100,000 bank. That person might also be willing to take $200 from the $100,000 bank, feeling that the money is less likely to be missed.Consider a two-man team, where each player puts up $10,000 to form a total team bank of $20,000. Each player will take 50% of the win and loss. A thief might feel confident that he could steal $200 from the bank each day without being noticed—this missing money could easily be accounted for by normal variance. Notice that the thief is, in effect, stealing $100 from his teammate and $100 from himself. The thief only gets to keep 50% of what he steals. The bank loses $200 but the thief only gains $100. Next, consider a ten-man team. Each player puts in $10,000 to form a $100,000 bank. Each player has a 10% stake in the team. This team plays for higher stakes, so the thief decides that he can get away with stealing $1000 each day from the bank. Now, the thief is stealing $100 from each of his 9 teammates, and $100 from himself, for a gain of $900. The size of the team has increased by 5 times, and the thief’s win has increased by 9 times. Even if the thief wanted to play it safe and still only take $200 a day from the larger team, his gain would be $180 since he gains 90% of what he steals from the bank. If the team’s results have been below expectation and cheating is suspected, there are 10 people who could potentially be stealing. Even after stealing,there’s a good chance the thief wouldn’t have the worst reported results (variance disguises the thief), and he may escape with his reputation intact.
Perhaps the team always works in pairs. This way everyone is watched and supervised by another player to make sure no stealing can take place. Perhaps one pair decides that they should work together to steal. Each can claim to the rest of the team that his partner is 100% honest with reporting results. Meanwhile they both pocket whatever they think they can get away with. Thieves should be drawn to larger teams.
Ratholing is the process of taking chips off the table during a session and secreting them in pockets, jackets, purses, or wherever. This is done to help disguise the win and avoid attention from the pit or the eye. It has been my experience that a busy floor supervisor is more likely to detect a large pile ofchips than a receding chip tray. (When the tray runs out of chips altogether the dealer will typically alert the floor). Ratholing is generally a beneficial practice when employed by a solo player. Ratholing might also disguise the win from teammates. After all, it is difficult to watch a teammate all the time and keep track of how much he might be ratholing throughout a session. Some teams have rules against ratholing. This way a player can count or estimate how many chips another player has in front of him and know exactly how much that player is ahead or behind. If a player is spotted ratholing in such a situation then he must be stealing.
Counting the Rack
When spotting, I’ve gotten into the habit of counting the rack before the BP comes to the table and after he leaves. This means looking at how many chips of each denomination are in the dealer’s tray. I normally won’t bother with the red and green chips. If the BP manages to steal $30 from me, oh well. I will typically keep track of how many black, purple, and yellow chips are in the rack. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. The dealer should have each stack of 20 chips marked off, either with plastic lammers or $1 chips. If there aren’t enough chips to make a complete stack of 20, the dealer will mark the chips in a different fashion. Normally they will mark groups of five black chips, and groups of four purple chips. This is done so the floor person can easily count the rack, which they will typically do every hour or two depending on the action at the table and the casino protocol. The more crowded the table is, the more difficult keeping an accurate count becomes. When other players color up or down at the table I have to modify my starting chip count to compensate. I also have to keep track of my BP’s cash and foreign chip buy-ins. During a busy session or at a high minimum table it may become too difficult to keep track of the black chips, and I just have to accept that the BP could potentially be stealing $100 chips. In general, this method is very reliable for tracking a BP’s wins and losses. On the occasions that I have multiple BPs, I will just lump their total win/loss together. If their total reported results don’t jibe with my rack-counting, I know that at least one of them is stealing (or I made a mistake), and I could investigate further in the future.
Sometimes the situation arises where it is unclear whether a player is playing on his own, or as part of the team. If you notice this happening a lot to a teammate, there might be a problem. The first thing to do is to set out some rules to make the situation less ambiguous. Perhaps a player will declare to the rest of the team that a chop is starting, and all results from all players will be split until it is declared that the chop is ending. If situations continue to occur where it is unclear whether a chop is in progress, one player may be stealing. If these situations tend to end with the player playing on his own when he wins, and playing for the team when he loses, he is probably taking an unscheduled freeroll. That means he is stealing. The thief might not even worry about the ambiguity in the situation. He could sneak out to the casino while his teammates are sleeping and play (or evengamble!). Wins are kept a secret (and pocketed) and losses are reported (and splitwith the team).The best way to avoid unscheduled freerolls is to make the rules very clear about which activities at which times are part of the teams’ results. For example, when waiting for a game to clear out I might play video poker or live poker. It has been discussed among my teammates that this action is on my own, just as I don’t claim a part of their wins and losses when they play machines or poker. On the rare occasion that our poker activities are included in a team chop we are always very clear about that point before a session starts.
Changing the Deal
Suppose I chose to invest in another player. I find a good opportunity for him to play, perhaps a nice promotion, in a remote location. We make the agreement that I get 50% of the wins and losses on the promotion and the rest of hisactivities are his alone. The player goes off on his trip and when he returns he informs me that the deal has changed. He has decided that 50% is unfair, and that my cut should be 30%. Also, he’s not sure what portion of his result came from the promo, and what portion came from playing poker. And, he’s a bit hazy about how much he may have spent on personal expenses. Is this player stealing from me, or is he just irresponsible? If he had come back from the trip and had perfect records but informed me that I would only get 30% of the money won from the promotion, he would be blatantly stealing. My options are to either take what he gives me or demand 50% of what he thinks he might have won on the promo. Either way,I probably won’t invest in this player again, and I'll watch him carefully in the future for signs that he might be stealing.
Thieves can steal more than just money and chips. In a game where information is king, stealing information can be even more devastating than stealing money. For example, suppose the team keeps a list of sloppy dealers who give better than normal penetration. A teammate who shares that list (or part of that list) with players outside of the team is stealing. Suppose I find a juicy promotion and tell a teammate about it. That teammate then tells a third player about the promotion. My teammate is stealing from me. I may show up to play the promo and find that all the seats are taken by the third player and his friends. Even if there are plenty of seats, I potentially could have sold the information about the promo to that third player. Suppose I develop a strategy for beating a new carnival game. I share this
strategy with my teammates and we play the game. At some point a teammate leaves the team, and decides to share this strategy with other players. Again, that former teammate is a thief. It may be difficult to stop this type of thievery. The best that you can do is try to work with honest people. Also, withholding certain information from teammates may be a wise thing to do on occasion. If I find a strong promo in Michigan that lasts for one day, and my teammate is blasting away in Atlantic City, I can only lose by sharing the details of the promo.
Your best defense against the team thief is to be as selective as possible when choosing people to work with. Avoid situations that make it easier for the thief to operate. Try to be as clear as possible about which activities are included in the team’s results. Always be extremely clear when it comes to agreeing on the amount of compensation for each team member. Finally, just because you suspect someone of stealing from you doesn’t mean that he is. And just because you don’t suspect him doesn’t mean that he isn’t.