Detecting Table Deterioration

By Ron a. Fitch (a.k.a. Boris)

(from a back Issue of Boris' Blackjack Journal)

From my experience with the Target Method (by Olsen and Patterson) in conjunction with Clump-card methods (such as NBJ and PBJ), I am coming to realize that Table Deterioration is becoming increasingly a problem in today's shoe games. There are a number of reasons for this; shuffle particulars, table over-crowding, and variable-Stability being the most important. Spending dozens of hours a week in practice play with Boris' Blackjack Simulation Software, I have been able to study this phenomenon in detail; verified in actual casino play. In this article let's spend some time with Table-stability and it's component parts.

Experience has shown me that the importance of Table-stability is usually not fully understood until you encounter a stable table which suddenly deteriorates. For me, this occurred recently in a lucrative single-deck game at Bally's. As it happened, I found this table immediately upon walking into the casino at about 1am. Wandering over to a cluster of single-deck tables with no intention to scout OR play, seat 6 vacated at a full table in front of me as I made my approach. A bystander watching the game told me that the seat was a hot zone by saying to me "you should take his seat - he's on a roll". Noticing the player's wife impatiently trying to get him out of the casino, my instinct told me the bystander was right. Playing at this table was the first time I personally observed the importance of the Target's "Stability after Midnight" Factor.

Shortly after I sat down, the table again exploded. I tossed the bystander a red-chip as a token of thanks for his advice, and he remained for nearly an hour to cheer me on. Approximately 90 minutes into the game I had amassed nearly 2.5x my buy-in.

The third-base player suddenly left the game and was replaced with an old gentleman using $5 match-play coupons. He would stack five of these coupons together, placing a "Quarter" on top of them. He was losing consistently from the moment he sat down. To my right, a middle-aged gentleman quit on a win and was replaced by a macho mid-twenties "kid". His alcoholic smell permeating the table explained his atrocious play. I tried to encourage him to "correct" his plays, but to no avail. Even his girlfriend couldn't reason with him. It seemed like whenever he lost so did I. Luckily, the girl-friend eventually took over and things settled down considerably. Because she recognized that I had been giving valid advice most of the time, she deferred to me dozens of time during the hour. Coincidence or not, the table began to come back to life.

Later, a friend of "mister-macho" (we'll call him M.M.-II) showed up and replaced another player heading for bed. His play was even more atrocious than the first guy. The way he was bet-jumping, and consistently the last person to bet at the table, I began to think he was a card-counter; except, he played his "decision hands" horribly. As luck would have it, despite his atrocious play because M.M.-II was sitting in a hot zone he began to amass quite a pile of chips. This put the floorman's attention on him and not on me.

I began to observe M.M.-II's play and noticed that he his bet jumping seemed to mirror my Boris advanced count almost exactly. At one point I discovered that I had the wrong color chip in the betting square and colored down to match the negative-count situation (even at 3am *I* can sometimes be fatigued) - Mr. Macho hastily cut back to a quarter chip. I finally realized that he wasn't counting at all; he was merely mimicking my betting pattern.

From the moment Mr. Macho arrived, it seemed as if I couldn't do anything right. My hands-won-ratio dropped noticeably. Suddenly the shuffle-machine jammed, spitting cards into the air like a party-popper. This gave the floorman a good excuse to bring in new decks in case of bent cards. Soon after, everything fell apart. (The Shuffle Master heavily clumps new decks even though it shuffles them 5 - 7 times.)

What I have just described is a classic case of table deterioration; a table shifting from player-favorable to dealer-favorable. Before you jump to conclusions and blame the deterioration entirely on the introduction of new decks, let me make it clear that this was merely the final gambit in a progressively deteriorating game.

The Key: Dealer Breaking

What if you could be forewarned of a Deteriorating Table, or one about to Deteriorate? In a sense you can. Monitoring the dealer break-ratio can provide you with your first overall sense of which way the table is "leaning". Dealer breaking seems to be accurate gauge, regardless of the number of decks, although it becomes more empirically valuable in direct correlation to the number of decks in the game. It also varies more widely as the number of decks increases; then again, so do the card-counts.

If the dealer stops breaking, put yourself on alert; watch your money closely. Table deterioration is often so gradual that most players are completely unaware of it. It can be easily detected by utilizing some sort of stop-loss money-management technique. If you suddenly reach your stop-loss, either your betting is out of synch with the game or the table has entered into rapid deterioration. In either case, you should probably get out.

One possible exception to table departure is when you detect a "hot-zone" and there is an open seat to the RIGHT of the Zone. Switching to that seat will put YOU into the Zone. Because you have JUST made a change to the game, you should be on alert for the table falling apart - your seat switch should NOT worsen your game, and hopefully finds you winning at the same rate (or greater) than the play who had this zone. Then, if this change does not pan out - Call it quits.

Stick around to observe the game you just left, you may "Learn" something. What you will learn I cannot say, because each game is different. Nevertheless, if you aspire towards Professional Play, you had better learn from every play you make, every table you select, and every casino that you play. If there is no real Method to your play (except from the dry theories in books that were written well BEFORE the table you just played) then you will not last very long as a PRO.

As you gain experience, you will be able to detect a deteriorating table WELL BEFORE reaching your stop-loss. Needless to say, it is more effective to obnose a deteriorating game than to discover it after the fact. There is more to say about this, which will be written up in a future issue of Boris' Advanced Blackjack Journal. Stay Tuned.

(Copyright 1995, 2004 by Ron a. Fitch - All Rights Reserved)