winning and losing
  • Just met a card counter I did not know previously. He had heard about a programming assignment I give here, and was interested, and when we started talking, it turns out he is a pretty experienced counter. But a discouraged one. He plays 3-6 times per year, and has been on a two year losing streak, and he was wondering if the rules/penetration had changed enough to whittle his advantage away.

    I told him that I have heard pros report about having a losing _year_. Where they play multiple sessions every week. But that they win long-term. What can an occasional player expect? losing decades? Losing century? :)

    The point is, a losing streak can and will last a long time here and there. What is "a long time" depends on how much you play. A pro might have multiple losing weeks in a 6 month stretch. For the occasional player, that can turn into multiple losing years in a much longer stretch, because so few sessions are played.

    Best advice: study the statistics of the game. Get to where you understand variance, both + and -. Know your EV for a game, and know that when you blow past it wildly, that you are eventually going to "snap back" to where you are supposed to be overall. Then develop the mental toughness to just keep playing correctly, pushing out big bet after big bet, watching the dealer suck them in like a vacuum cleaner, knowing that sooner or later (or _much_ later sometimes) the variance god will swing your way and you catch back up before the next streak (which may be a big win or a big loss, who knows).

    This is a tough game. With wild variations. All beyond our control. Just trust the math, and all will be well, so long as you don't "steam out" and start playing recklessly to recoup your losses.

    If you can't take that kind of mental anguish, stay out of the casinos. There is _no_ way to avoid it, other than as WOPR said (movie war games) "The only way to win, is to not play the game at all."

    Today's cheery thought brought to you by SSR.

  • >Know your EV for a game, and know that when you blow past it wildly, >that you are eventually going to "snap back" to where you are supposed >to be overall.

    Isn't that the classic gambler's fallacy? Once you have a losing year, you should not expect to have a year to make up for that losing year in the next year. You should just expect, if you are card counting, the EV associated with that count. The past tells us nothing about the future in statistics.
  • How can a good card counter have two or three bad years and be on the verge of quitting while the MIT team becomes infamous for taking millions out of Vegas? Just wondering.
  • FC: No, it isn't the classic gambler's fallacy. I _know_ that the statistics are on my side, and that I am going to play for a very brief time with my all-time high bankroll. I know that I will spend most of my time trying to catch and pass that previous all-time high, which I will from time to time.

    Of course, one can play with perfect counting, perfect playing skills, and still lose all the money in the entire world. The "normal curve" has a negative side that never reaches zero, all the way out to -infinity. But long-term, you are going to win usually, the more "long term" you play, the closer your actual ev approaches the mean ev for the game you are playing...

    PJ: If you read their book, you will notice that individual players lost hundreds of thousands in a single playing session. What saved them was that the entire team shared one big bankroll. Which means that they just got to the "long term" a hundred times faster than we will... while one is getting ripped, another is winning. Play those sequentially, and you get huge negative (and positive) BR swings. Spread them out to what normal non-pro players actually get to play, and those big losing streaks turn into long losing streaks...

    Pros do have losing years. Many will reply if you visit the other more common "pro" web sites like,, etc...
  • I think we're just mincing words and are on the same page. My only point is that if you lost $1000 in a session, and you were to predict your winnings in all sessions from that point forward, you shouldn't expect the $1000 to come back to you eventually. There isn't a corresponding +$1000 for every -$1000 -- even as you go to infinity.

    Assume you have an expected value for a year of +$100. Last year you lost $100. If you were to predict your next year's winning, you would predict +$100. If you were to predict your next 100 year's winnings, you would predict +10000. The fact that you lost $100 the year before says nothing about the future.

    I think we're on the same page, but I think it's a fine point that most newbie card counters don't understand.
  • Of course that is correct. The idea that if you lose 1K you are going to eventually win 1K actually works if you play enough however, because you do play with a + advantage, and long-term you will win. As I said, those "max bankroll" points are scarce, most of the time you are below that point and fighting to get back...

    And you will if you play enough...

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