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Modern Blackjack nth Edition

Why do Blackjack Progression System Authors Believe in Nonsense?

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Nearly all gambling system books rely on empirical evidence. That is, the system worked for them, so it must be valid. They believe this based on a tiny number of hands. For example, if it works for 5,000 hands, in their minds, it’s a winner.

An example: In a popular Blackjack progression book, the author claims that he played 5,000 hands at his kitchen table and won using a simple 1-2-4 positive progressions with quit points. Well, let’s run some sims. Using this system with standard Las Vegas strip rules, 6D, S17, DAS, 80% pen.; the odds of winning or losing after 5,000 hands:

Win 41%
Lose 58.9%
Push 0.1%

Now, the same game with a card counter using HiLo, spreading 1-15:

Win 65.25%
Lose 34.7%
Push .05%

So, we see that if the author of the progression system dealt himself 5,000 hands, there is a 41% chance that he would have won with his test, even though the strategy more often fails. Unfortunately, winning that one time he apparently thinks “proves” his system works, even though the majority of the time 5,000 hands would show a loss. But, what if the author loses? Then he could alter the rules and try another 5,000 hands. Pretty soon, he will win and think he has a winning system. He will believe that his “research” has resulted in a “Eureka” moment and he has discovered the Holy Grail of beating Blackjack that gamblers have searched after for centuries with a trivial strategy. This is, in fact, what is behind so many of these books and why their conclusions are false.

So, now they write a book and people will use this brilliant new discovery. If played accurately (with a large enough bankroll) 41% of those people will win and 59% will lose. Some of the 41% that win will write him testimonials swearing the system works and thanking the author. Those that lose will not say anything out of embarrassment and move on to the next ridiculous system. This reinforces the author’s opinion of his own system, as he now has players telling him how wonderfully the system works.
In 1968, Simon and Garfunkel sang:

“I am just a poor boy
Though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance
For a pocket full of mumbles such are promises
All lies and jests
Still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.”

And this is the problem. “Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.“ Proponents listen to those that agree and ignore the words of others. If you want to succeed, you must listen to the opposing words more carefully than the pleasant responses. Many will be wrong and many absurd. But, you learn more from mistakes than from successes. Indeed, this is why the stories in my books, unike most, focus on failures as opposed to successes. As George Harrison wrote “With every mistake we must surely be learning.”

Addenda: One of the well-known reasons that people fall for progression systems is a basic misunderstanding in statistics known as gambler’s fallacy, or inverse gambler’s fallacy, explained quite well at’s_fallacy. This is one of those “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” examples. Sometimes I think high school students that don’t plan on expanding their knowledge further shouldn’t even be exposed to statistics since most will draw poor conclusions. But, that’s not an easy discussion and I don’t really believe it.

There is another problem. Although the general exposure to statistics is very sparse for most people, exposure to sports is very different. And in sports, they also use the word statistics. In an NBA game, you clearly see some dramatic streaks. That is, one team can totally dominate a half. But, as Dan Gordon has taught me, these sports involve enormous emotional considerations that simply do not exist in casino games. NFL and NBA players are affected greatly by emotion. Cards are emotionless. Blackjack is not a sport. It is a game based upon mathematics.

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