The Counting Game
Alan Berg

What does a hardened card-counter do when the last casino welcome mat has been removed, and they can no longer find anywhere to ply their trade? Dare I suggest write a book, and endeavour to squeeze out the last of a return on their time learning the ropes and at the tables? I'm sure this had at least something to do with Alan Berg's decision to do just that, although as at the time he was in practice as a chartered accountant (a CPA in the States - Certified Public Accountant), it probably wasn't purely to rake in a few more $$$s, but more of an intellectual exercise and to put some of his experiences into print for posterity.

The Counting Game is a recollection of his second life as a prolific card-counter during the nineties; a time when casinos were more generous with the comps and more of the games offered were more profitable and exploitable than they are today.

I quite liked this one. It provides sufficient details around "how to do it" to inform the casual reader (who may never have played blackjack to any great degree) what counting cards is all about, without being geeky or getting into the underlying numbers to the 'nth degree. He's very open about the maximum advantage that can be expected from counting cards (around a max of 2%) and what's needed in the way of skill, practice, bankroll and time at the felt in order to attain this. As he quite rightly states, even the most skilled and adept advantage player isn't going to achieve very much profits-wise without sufficient capital and an ability and willingness to put in the time - hundreds of hours a year in casinos, rubbing shoulders with degenerate gamblers and high-rollers alike, having to listen to superstitious bollocks and hustling for all the comps your level of play will allow. If, for whatever reason, you can't do this (he gives the example that your spouse or partner objects to you being away from home so often), then you won't get a return on the effort and risk involved, and you're probably better off flat betting for fun and avoiding the excesses of the variance fairy. Of course, the comps factor doesn't exist in your average UK regional casino, where it's possible to drop several hundred pounds at the tables and still be asked for 50p for being brought a cup of tea (as I was at the Aspers venue in the Westfield Centre, Stratford, London - I kid you not), so that's one significant element to red-line when considering card-counting as an enterprise to invest your time and money in.

Between discussing the game and points of play; basic strategy, bet-spreading, indices, deportment at the tables and so forth, Mr B recounts tales of the lavish goodies he received as a preferential patron of the big casinos in Las Vegas and across the States; golfing weekends at top golfing resorts, tickets to world title boxing matches, free dives into the menus of top casino hotel restaurants etc etc, all the result of casino hosts competing for his "action" and in the expectation that he'd regularly drop a bundle with their current employer. Eventually, of course, they figured out that he didn't, and one by one the invitations to the high-roller freebies dried up, followed by the inevitable ". . . you're welcome to play any game in the house but not blackjack". (Counting) game over.

Overall this book tends to be skewed more towards telling tales around what went on in the past, and how game conditions in the States were better back in the nineties, than a technical reference for those considering following in Mr B's footsteps; if you're looking for that you should look to one of the books dedicated to card counting that I've recommended on this site. It also contains some useful pointers to extend your relationship with the casino(s) where you play (it's harder to permanently barr someone who's nice!) and some practical information around the personal taxation of gambling "winnings" for US citizens, and what can and can't be offset against them as legitimate "professional gambler" (read "business") expenses. I should point out that in the UK (as at the time of writing) any winnings from any gambling activity are not subject to personal income tax.

In summary, I found The Counting Game to be an enjoyable, non-egotistical, easy read and recommend it as a title to include in the reading list for those interested in the subject.

December 2014.