Colin Jones (S2 E1): Pushback

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If you’ve ever kicked the top off an ant mound to trigger and reveal an alarming frenzy of activity that is ultimately meaningless, then you know what it’s like to make an online post defending Colin Jones. The lurkers come out in full hater mode, trying to sting and bite everything in sight. A meta-analysis of the various websites now puts Colin Jones in a statistical tie with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, measured in terms of Villain Power Ranking. FiveThirtyEight projects CJ’s VPR to surpass Marlo Stanfield by the end of 2021.

There really weren’t any new criticisms. There are still three main categories: CJ markets easy money from counting like a snake-oil salesman; I learned on my own; CJ is killing the games.

What about this easy money? Is CJ an optimist?—sure. Is he favorably biased due to his own experience, which might have been lucky (I mean “above EV”)?—perhaps. But here’s a direct quote from his book, The 21st-Century Card Counter (p. 74): “It might be easier to become a card counter than a marine biologist, but it’s no walk in the park.  If you believe it is, it’s the first sign you probably won’t make it. There’s truly no shame in discovering that you don’t have what it takes to live the life of a card counter.” Hallelujah! I am healed!

Then, if you think he’s going for the upsell to the bootcamp, there’s this (p. 77): “Am I saying you have to attend a Blackjack Bootcamp to make it as a card counter?  No.  But if you want to be successful, you do need to invest the time, energy, and possibly even some money in developing your skills and knowledge base to make sure you’re playing like a pro and not just gambling with your bankroll.”

Where’s the upsell? Where are the false promises? Where is the bait-and-switch? Where is the mail fraud? Where is the Ponzi scheme? Tell me about Burisma! I’m not seeing it.

Then there’s the “I-learned-on-my-own” school of criticism. And your point is? And you are here regarding … ? What does that have to do with CJ’s teaching empire? The BJA empire consists of a book (good way to learn), software (really good way to learn), online videos (easy way to learn), a movie (good way to get inspired), and bootcamps (another pretty good way to learn and get inspired).

How is the I-discovered-X-on-my-own statement even relevant if we’re discussing the merits of CJ’s business? It’s not. It’s just a boast, and an empty one at that. Even if a guy discovered HC on his own, or practiced counting on his own, so what? Did he compute BS on his own, too? I’ve heard the same boasts from readers of Exhibit CAA, from “I didn’t learn anything from it” to “I could have written that” to the greatest boast of all time (the “G-BOAT”): “James may have wrote The Book, but I am The Book.” On that last one, imagine it with a Middle Eastern accent dripping with biblical melodrama, like when someone declares the founding of a caliphate, with lots of references to swords, blood, and infidels. Or when Qaddafi’s son boasts about defending the regime “to the last man, the last woman, the last bullet.” Easy there, big boy.

Learning on one’s own may be gratifying to some, or impressive to others, but it’s generally highly inefficient. Having the guidance of a competent mentor is vastly more efficient. Even if you could invent the wheel, why would you want to? You can buy one for a very reasonable price. I learned BS for a very reasonable price (pre-Internet) from the book Winning Casino Blackjack for the Non-Counter, by Avery Cardoza, and I never would have spent years running numbers if I could have just bought a book of charts for $250, or $5000.

A twist on the I-learned-on-my-own was I-learned-by-networking-on-my-own. The main argument there is that private networking keeps stuff proprietary. Fair enough, but CJ just isn’t giving out any proprietary info. His students might talk too much and lack discretion, but that’s actually common among all rookies, whether they be BJA rookies or not. So the real “problem” with BJA, so far as I can see, is not any flaw in the pedagogical method, or even the quality of the students, but the sheer number of them. The problem is that CJ is too successful! I’m reminded of the seniors on the Notre Dame football team who complained that Rudy’s work effort was making them look bad.

Some posts said that CJ is doing something that no one has done. GWAE co-host Richard Munchkin correctly pointed out that card-counting schools or teaching programs have been done. They just weren’t as successful as BJA. Johnny Chang, Mike Aponte, and Semyon Dukach have all tried to train people or distribute educational material. They just didn’t have CJ’s success at scaling. Revisionist history would say Aponte was trying to recruit BPs (that’s really just the evolution of the business plan after scaling card-counting instruction to the masses proved too difficult), and that Dukach “moved on” (that can be the result of success, but is often the result of failure). Those guys all had the MIT legend to build on, with a Hollywood A-Lister (Kevin Spacey!) cast as Johnny Chang, and now it looks like CJ’s BJA is the last school standing. CJ might be the true grand master of Wing Chun.

BJA’s success is creating a swell on the predator side of the predator-prey cycle, but that isn’t sustainable. If the wave of counters really does kill games, then the predators will start to starve or move on to new food supplies.

Are the games getting killed by CJ and BJA? That’s the big question, but the wrong one. The important question is: Are games getting wasted?  Having personally witnessed a game getting wasted by amateurish execution (multiple counters on the same table, yucking it up in front of the Casino Manager), I’m comfortable saying that some games will be wasted. But I do not believe that the total amount of money sucked out of casinos will be reduced, which is what some have claimed. Online, it’s hard to get through the sour-grapes whining, and the fox-and-grapes dismissals of CJ’s enterprise.

I even saw the claim that the size of the card-counting pie will be exponentially reduced as the number of counters increases. There is no theoretical basis for that claim. What if casinos just back off players they catch, and the games themselves remain largely unaffected? It is an empirical question how much the pie is affected, but I see no indication that there’s any exponential decrease. That’s just a bunch of pseudo-mathematical gobbledygook. (PRO TIP for online trolls: Try to insert “logarithmic” or “ergodic” or “heteroskedastic” into your next baseless claim. Those are really good buzzwords. And you can’t go wrong with “machine learning”!)

My experience with BC games has been that most or at least many targets die a natural death. The game ends due to some exogenous cause that has nothing to do with the AP’s play (for instance, a pandemic). Another common outcome is that the AP gets backed off, but the target games remain available. And there are many, many games out there—right now as you read this—that aren’t getting played to their fullest, if at all. In the last few years, I’ve seen four different games that were significantly positive with basic strategy. How many APs did we run into on those four games combined? One. And he was under water on the game.

Some counters are blaming CJ for the proliferation of CSMs, but that’s a trend that has been happening for years anyway. The CSM is an efficient machine. If all the Mericans visited casinos abroad, they’d see that CSMs have been the norm throughout Europe and Asia, since before CJ ever found the Glorious True 1. If you know a bunch of BC methods, you’ve noticed that casinos have adopted many new procedures and devices in recent years that make AP harder, but card counters notice only what pertains to them, and think that every casino change is due to them—or Colin Jones.


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