Improving My Blackjack Play Using Data

In my day job I rely on data for most of my key digital marketing decisions so when I was struggling earlier this year with my blackjack results I decided to turn to the data and see what I could find.  The KPI for this project is pretty simple – money won/lost at live casino blackjack.

To get to the underlying data that led to that final result I realized I needed to dig a little deeper and analyze my play on a shoe-by-shoe basis.  In January I started tracking my results per shoe on my favorite app in my phone’s notes as well as every shoe played in a live casino.

With 4 months of results that spanned hundreds of digital shoes and dozens of live shoes I took the data and started crunching numbers.  The first thing I realized was that I needed to stick with a game longer – when I bought in for slightly more money and backed that buy-in up with a re-buy of 50-75% of the original amount on one table I had a stronger chance of hitting a strong run and earning money than buying in for less and hoping to win in shorter bursts by switching tables once that amount was gone.  I also learned that my style of play can lead to several winning or losing shoes in a row, but the variability isn’t very large between any given shoe so I should be able to weather a couple of bad shoes and still have the opportunity to make money.  Interestingly I didn’t see much difference between my play and results in surrender games vs. no surrender allowed – which is the only option at my local native American casinos – this was fairly surprising to me.

Armed with this data I’ve made a nice run since my poor results in 2016 and rough start to 2017 and now I’m only a couple yards from break-even for this year.  Of course now that I think I have some things figured out there is a great chance I’ll go on a terrible run which sends me right back to the drawing board.  At least now I’ve got some more data behind my play and I’ll keep working the numbers to deliver positive ROI on my blackjack play.

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My First WSOP Event (Spoiler: I Didn’t Win)

I have, what I believe to be, a similar bucket list of most avid gamblers, and one of those items is to play in the main event of the World Series of Poker.  Yes, I’m a blackjack player, but I like to dabble in other casino games and no-limit hold-em tournaments are always a fun distraction.  At some point when the kids are out of the house I’ll cash in some of my 401k money and pony-up $10K to play in the main event.  Until that happens the best option I could find was a $365 1-day event at the WSOP Circuit event at Harrah’s Cherokee.

I headed up for a Saturday night with 3 buddies and since we arrived a couple of hours early I had to play a few hands of blackjack to kill time.  I played at a $50 table in their high-limit room which had 8 tables open all night as well as 8 $100 limit tables.  I had a nice opening run which earned enough to pay for my tournament entry plus a couple bucks for drinks.

This casino is apparently the most profitable in the Caesars chain which I can believe based on the number of players.  In addition to 16 full high-limit blackjack tables they also had 6 craps tables at $15 or above without a spot open, and nearly every other table and slot section was close to capacity.  The volume and high-dollar play was impressive.

After the quick win at blackjack I was feeling good going into my WSOP debut so I headed to table 2 seat 8 to start my run.  Once I entered the room it was a bit overwhelming.  The tourney was held in their events center where once-famous rockers and country singers play every other weekend.  Picture a hockey rink sized floor with a small stage above the floor, and now imagine that scene completely filled with poker tables…plus more tables in the hallways and waiting areas outside the main hall.  It was stunning.

I headed on to the stage to find table 2 and grabbed my seat a few minutes early.  One of the players was clearly a regular in these events as he had ‘bagged’ for the main event on an earlier day.  Everyone else seemed to be more like me and we started playing pretty much by the book.  It took about 30 minutes for me to pick up anything worth playing (KK from big blind) and of course the entire table folds except the small blind who only called then folded to a min bet after the flop.  After that it was fairly routine up and down and I made it to the first break a few chips ahead of the original stack.

Shortly after the break I had several playable hands in a row and made a slight positive run.  Then the wheels started to come off.  I picked up A10 suited and my 3BB bet was called by one other player.  Ace plus 2 nothing cards on the flop so I bet again, getting a call, 4 on the turn, I bet again and get a call, another nothing card on the river and I’m feeling strong so I check to induce a bet and sure enough he bets so I call and he flips over an A4 off-suit…OUCH.  I’m now crippled and hang around for a few more hands, fight off an all-in for almost nothing then go all-in w/Q10 suited vs. 6s and the 6s hold-up.

My dreams of making it big in poker were quickly dashed, but it was a lot of fun.  I’m going to delay any hopes of the main event until $10k isn’t as big a deal, but when the circuit comes back through I could be talked into playing again.  Until then I’m going to stick to blackjack as my gambling fix.