I have a suggestion for a New Year’s
resolution - record keeping. Each New Year I pick up a pocket calendar or
journal book. In it, I keep a record of each session that I play. I have
one book for craps and one book for blackjack. I record each session that
I record the casino, the game played,
(blackjack/craps) the time of day, the length of time played, unit bet,
buy-in bankroll, units won/lost, table conditions, and a short account of
This is a required discipline for the
player serious about improving their game. It is easy to keep a running
count of profit and loss from each game, thus providing you with an
accurate account of where you stand for the year. It keeps you honest with
Keeping a record is essential for tax
purposes. Gambling losses are tax deductible against gambling profits. If
you are going to itemize gambling income, you must be able to defend
losses with a record. The casino is not going to write you a receipt for
your losses when you cash out. It is up to you to be able to document your
The most important reason to document
your playing time is for reference. A journal can be a powerful resource
in helping to identify strength and weakness in your game. If I get a call
for help from a former student that is in a slump, the first thing I ask
them is if they have been keeping their gaming journal up to date.
A player can review their journal, look
at the losing sessions, and usually find essential elements that lead to
the slump. When a player is experiencing an unsuccessful streak, some
typical tell-tale signs would be playing too long, chasing a loss,
engaging poor conditions, making mistakes, playing too tight, or playing
too aggressive. Probably playing too long and playing carelessly are the
leading telltale signs that will come from good journal notes.
Playing too long means to remain in a
game that is going nowhere and ignoring the signs that the game has
stalled. A game that goes back and forth - wins one, lose one, push - is a
dead game. After an hour and half to two hours, the game turns cold and,
in less than fifteen minutes, the entire betting stake is lost. (See
Irishsetter’s archive, January 2002, “The Wall”) Playing too long tends to
lull a player into a trance-like state of mind, believing that the game is
bound to turn around and become favorable.
Playing careless is usually a lack of
discipline. The player gets in a game that they have no business playing.
It often is a matter of ego or emotion that causes a player to think they
are invincible and that they can walk up to any table and make it pay.
Being too eager to play and getting into bad games is an unsuccessful
habit for both experienced and novice players.
Getting into a game that you have not
assessed for positive playing conditions, will usually rack up a win in
the casino’s column. The idea of playing anytime, on any table, is what
built the City of Dreams. The games are always on, you, as the player,
must have charge of your game by being patient. You are a winner when you
play at optimum times with optimum conditions. Realize that you are a
hunter, if you are going to “eat”, you must hunt smart.
Here are sample journal entries.
1/27/00, Mirage, Craps, 7:00am, $5 unit,
played 1.5 hr. +28 units, 6-7 players, Steady game, back and forth, no one
really doing much, short hands, 1 or 2 points or quick outs, treading
water, I broke the ice with a three point hand, next shooter rolled a six
point hand, then back to the earlier short game with the other players,
colored 28 units up. Never down more than 10 units, good crew, game moved
along, no one playing the prop bets.
1/28/00, Mirage, BJ double deck, 11:00
am, 10$ unit, woman dealer, two other players, 1 hr. 20 min., up 15 units
profit. Good start, winning 1-2-3 units per shuffle. Count never broke
away more than an exact plus 4, never got a big bet out, did well on
doubles, defended splits, Only 3 BJs, made a fair amount of stiff hands
without busting, hit the wall after about 1 hr of play (game
stalled), table filled with players, I colored up.
3/18/00, Big Rock, 9:30 p.m., BJ double
deck, 45 min., $5 unit, smart ass male dealer, down 23 units, played head
to head first 15 min., always just out by one or pushed on my 20’s, losing
after each shuffle, 1 BJ & 1 BJ push, lots of 12’s and 13’s, could not
pull a hand, few doubles and lost them all, smoker sits in at 3rd
base, count went plus, lost on a 4-unit double, followed by a 4 unit loss,
lost 12 units in two hands on a plus count.
My journal has shorter notes and cues,
but they are enough to remind me of the session. The idea is to record the
information for your benefit, and learn from it when you need a review.
When beginning the journal, more information is better.
Let’s look at the second example. It
details a winning blackjack session. Notice that although the count never
really got good, I was consistently grinding out small profits after each
shuffle. This was a good sign. It was an okay game to hang with until the
energy shifted as the table filled with other players. I won my doubles
and pulled stiff hands. Although I was light with the blackjacks, the game
was encouraging enough to play.
The third entry documents a loss. It is a
red flag when you are not receiving a fair share of blackjacks, (usually
5% of your hands or 5 BJs an hour). Pushing a blackjack is like an insult.
Too many stiff hands that bust, and not winning the moneymaking doubles,
are other red flags. The final blow was losing two hands with increased
bets when conditions were favorable. It was not my day and the signs were
present all along the way.
Here is what I could learn from the third
journal entry. I ignored the early warnings. Losing doubles and
blackjacks, the hands I should win, were warnings of trouble. I ignored
the fact that the dealer was a jerk, which is also a no-no. Be it cards or
dice, you can chose your playmates. It is one thing to get stiff hands and
bust, but to keep seeing the same repeating combinations was obvious that
the energy was trying to tell me something. When an undesirable player
enters the game, I know that I’d better be on my toes.
Actually, it is better to be on my
feet, walking away from the table. There were enough signals, before
the 12 unit hit, telling me to leave this game. Ignoring or missing the
early warnings was a mistake. The mistake cost me at least 12 units, plus
whatever I lost after the smoker sat down. I should have played defense
with these conditions and quit the game maybe 8-10 units down. I ignored
blatant warnings and played too long.
Profit games are usually the result of
hitting the plus count or catching a long craps hand. Play like the
patient hunter, waiting for your time to come. Sometimes you have to play
tight defense while waiting for your opportunity to come along.
Learn to recognize the difference between
a game with promise and one that is going nowhere. Record your sessions
and you will document the signals. It will become clearer when it is time
to bail out, and you will recognize the signs of a game worthy of your
Keeping a journal and reviewing wins and
losses can accurately paint the picture of your playing habits. You can
honestly evaluate your play, recognizing those things that you are doing
well, and the weakness that needs improvement. The rewards will be evident
as you educate yourself with the discipline of keeping a journal.