– By Rick “Night Train” Blaine
“A complete plan to winning at 21 by a Fortune 500 executive who’s made hundreds of thousands at the tables without having to give up his day job.”
[This is not to be confused with the book Blackjack Blueprint from 2000 by the same author. The original version was a 45-page booklet which outlined how to form and operate a Blackjack team. This updated version is vastly expanded with information on many different aspects of card counting.]
This book is an excellent introduction to card counting. The information is explained very clearly and it provides lots of practice drills and exercises that will accelerate the learning process. It covers a lot of intermediate and advanced techniques as well, but only briefly. It has an emphasis on using part-time play to supplement full-time employment, which is perfect for most beginners and intermediate players.
You can buy Blackjack Blueprint here.
About the Author
Rick Blaine is a retired Fortune 500 executive who has been playing Blackjack on the side for over 30 years. He has experience with both solo and various forms of team play. He has been involved in every aspect of team play including organizing, training, and managing groups of players. In 2015 he won the Grosjean Cup at the Blackjack Ball and earned the title “The World’s Greatest Blackjack Player.”
Chapter 1 tells the story of how Rick got his start in Blackjack. It’s always interesting to learn how people got exposed to the art of card counting and what aspects drew them in and held their interest through all of the dull studying and repetitive practice sessions. So many potential players become bored or lose interest when they realize how much work is involved and how monotonous actual casino play becomes. Learning the things that motivate successful players can help inspire new players and rejuvenate experienced players.
Chapters 2 through 4 explain the basics of Blackjack. They cover the house edge, how the game is dealt, and proper basic strategy. Rick takes his time and explains things in several different ways so that everyone will understand it clearly.
For example, he shows the usual basic strategy charts but also writes them out as a list of rules, such as “Double down on 11 vs. 2-10; otherwise hit”. I’ve noticed that some players learn much more quickly when they have the instructions spelled out for them instead of trying to look them up on a chart. Personally, I’m a visual learner so I’ve always used the charts, but I remember countless hours of my wife telling me, “I don’t care about the chart, just tell me when to split nines!”
Between the charts, instruction lists, flash cards, and basic strategy drills, this section has everything a beginner needs to understand the game and develop the basic playing skills.
Chapters 5-11 discuss the basics of card counting and prepare the reader for their first casino experience. Rick starts by describing the different types of systems (balanced, unbalanced, multi-levels, side counts) and gives advice on what to consider when choosing one. He then shows how to compare different systems using their Betting Correlation, Playing Efficiency and Insurance Correlation. Unfortunately he doesn’t give us those statistics for any of the systems mentioned in the book. It would have been very helpful to have a chart that showed several systems along with their statistics for comparison.
Rick gives example of each type of system and includes lots of practice drills to help the reader learn them quickly. This is really a fantastic introduction to card counting. It covers a lot of material, gives clear explanations, and gives the reader all the tools they need to practice and learn the skills quickly.
Each system also comes with some basic betting advice. The suggested spreads are fine for a beginner, but the book never really expands on this topic. There are references to other books where the reader can explore each system, but I would love the see a more detailed discussion of betting strategies in later chapters of this book. There is also a discussion of basic strategy variations, but index numbers are only given for the HiLo system. Again, the reader can find the rest of this information on their own, but a few charts in an appendix would go a long way here.
Chapter 11 gives the final pieces of the puzzle to help the player to prepare for their early casino play. Things like basic bankroll management, game scouting, record keeping, and general casino comportment are very important habits to get into from the beginning. There is also a strong emphasis on self assessment. Did the player find good games? Did they follow their game plan? What aspects did they struggle with? These are questions that players of every level need to ask themselves after every session. If the player cannot be honest with themselves from the start, there is little chance that they will improve enough to become a successful player.
We start with some very brief tips on bankroll management and bet sizing, but the reader is directed to other books such as Don Schlesinger’s Blackjack Attack for more thorough coverage. The majority of this section gives advice on how to deal with casino employees and handle the “heat” associated with card counting. There are some good tips on how to avoid suspicion, how to recognize the signs of heat, and how to handle the situations that inevitably arise. Entire books have been written on this topic and it is far beyond the scope of an introductory book, but Rick’s advice is very appropriate and will benefit both new and intermediate players. There is also some great information on casino technology such as counter-catcher software and player databases.
Chapter 15 describes several methods of cheating, both by players and dealers. There isn’t much here that is applicable to Advantage Play, but it is an interesting read and it never hurts to know some of the methods that cheaters sometimes use.
Chapter 16 gives very brief introductions to a few advanced techniques like hole carding and glimpsing other cards that the dealer may accidentally expose. These are just short descriptions without any strategy or playing advice. They are enough to make the player aware of these opportunities, but a motivated student will need to look elsewhere if they want to learn and possibly apply these techniques.
Chapters 17-18 will help players fine-tune their game plan for both pitch and shoe games. Rick gives some solid advice on how to pick your target games and how to play them effectively. There is a lot of good information here for players at any level.
Chapter 19 has a short history of the growth of the online Blackjack community. It includes several current web forums where players can ask questions, share experiences and network with other players. These forums are the backbone of Blackjack. There is almost no limit to how much a player can learn from these websites. People discuss everything from playing techniques, current casino promotions, casino conditions throughout the world, travel tips, tax information, and almost any other subject that comes to their minds. As with any website, there is an inherent danger that other members might be fishing for personal information or other exploitable material. This chapter also has some advice to help protect the reader from being taken advantage of online.
In chapter 20, Rick discusses his experience playing in the second season of the World Series of Blackjack television show. If you’ve seen the show then it is interesting to hear the stories from behind the scenes. He gives some basic advice to players interested in playing tournaments, and his recommendation of Stanford Wong’s Casino Tournament Strategy and Ken Smith’s website blackjacktournaments.com are right on the money. (Literally!)
Chapter 21 has some travel tips and valuable advice on saving money during casino trips. Things like overbooked flights, package deals, and comps can really go a long way when you are trying to keep your expenses as low as possible. While many players may have casinos in their area, the best games (and sometimes the only playable ones) usually require some degree of travel. With the tiny advantage that card counting provides, a player has little chance of showing a profit if they cannot take advantage of these types of deals.
This discussion continues in Chapters 22 and 23 where Rick talks about travelling with a bankroll (both domestically and internationally), the logistics of transferring money, and how to deal with international exchange rates. These are very important topics that many books don’t cover. Even low stakes players will need to carry enough money to handle the short term variance of a trip, which is usually enough to draw the attention of both criminals and law enforcement agents. There is no shortage of horror stories from people who have had their money stolen, or even confiscated under the guise of civil forfeiture. Some of the advice is a bit brief, but more importantly it makes the reader aware of these issues and encourages them to plan for these types of situations.
Chapters 24 and 25 are about more advanced Advantage Play techniques: Shuffle tracking and card sequencing. While card counting will give the player an estimate of how many high cards are remaining, these techniques give more specific information about the location of those high cards. These techniques are much more powerful, but they also require significantly more skill to perform successfully and the opportunities are more difficult to find. Once again, Rick gives several examples and practice drills to show how the techniques work and what skills are involved. The descriptions are detailed and easy to understand, and the included photos are very helpful. These chapters provide a solid understanding of the fundamentals and there are references to several great articles that cover these techniques in more detail.
This section is all about team play. It covers everything from team management, player compensation, theft, motivation, player recruitment, and much more.
Rick includes a few diary entries from one of his teams. As a refreshing change, he has decided to share a portion of their play where everything seems to be going wrong. The players are losing, they are constantly busy running errands and trading cash between themselves, they experience a few barrings, and everyone is becoming increasingly frustrated. This chapter is far more realistic and infinitely more helpful than the glamorized versions you see in the movies or other “based on a true story” books. There really isn’t much that can be learned from a team that doesn’t experience any problems. It is how they deal with external problems and resolve their internal issues that teaches us about the strength and resourcefulness that is necessary.
The problems inherent with organizing and running a group of players are far too numerous to list, but Rick highlights some of the major ones here. These are issues that have dissolved some of the best teams and confounded some of the smartest players and managers. They are not only logistical problems, but personal and emotional ones as well. In many cases there is not a simple solution. Every team is different and every group of players will have to find an arrangement that works between them. The biggest benefit of this section is the fact that it helps to prepare the reader for these situations and presents a starting point for the negotiations that will hopefully lead to an acceptable resolution.
In chapter 34 Rick describes the type of “act” he uses when playing for high stakes. This includes advice on interacting with casino personnel, how to dress and behave like a high roller, and some common pitfalls to avoid.
Chapter 35 covers a long list of things that the reader should consider before deciding to play seriously. The lifestyle of an Advantage Player is much different than most people think. It has a big effect on your family, friendships, hobbies, emotional state, and of course your finances. Even part-time and recreational players will experience it to some degree. These are all things that a potential player needs to understand, prepare for, and accept as a part of the profession.
Chapter 36 has suggestions and short summaries of other Blackjack books and software. All of the recommendations are solid and the descriptions are both helpful and concise. It should be noted that although Blackjack Forum is no longer published, many articles are still publicly available on Arnold Snyder’s Blackjack Forum website (https://blackjackforumonline.com).
This book has something for every level of player. The introductory material is very clearly written and includes lots of practice drills for beginners. The intermediate material has a lot of great advice and clever techniques to help experienced players improve their playing style, scouting, and game selection. The advanced material is very helpful and will encourage players to always keep an eye out for additional opportunities that are much more powerful than simply card counting. The chapters on recruiting and managing a team are, on their own, well worth the price of the book. There are a few sections that I was hoping would go into more detail, like bet spreads and long-term risk assessment, but the author always steers the reader to excellent resources that cover these topics in greater detail. This would be an excellent book for a new player to start with, and more experienced players should be able to get a lot out of it as well.