Colin Jones (S2 E4): Can’t Buy Me Love

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The 1987 film Can’t Buy Me Love was one of the greatest gambling movies of all time. Millennial APs probably haven’t seen it, so here’s the IMDB summary: “An outcast secretly pays the most popular girl in school one thousand dollars to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month.” Maybe the allegory is too subtle. Replace “An outcast” with “A card-counter”; replace “girl in school” with “dealer at the casino”; replace “his girlfriend” with “impressed by his bankroll.”

Still don’t see it? Replace “pays” with “tokes.”

This is like one of those pixelated, white-noise 3-D pictures, where you have to stare at a focal point beyond the plane to see the image. When your friend stares at it for a few seconds and then says he “kinda sees it,” you’re like, “Naw, you don’t,” because when he really sees it, you know he’ll go: “Whooooaaaaa!!”

Two hours from now, some card counter is going to post a blog comment that says, “I just watched the movie, and it doesn’t have any gambling in it at all, but the guy’s $1000 ploy actually kinda works!” Okay, let’s just stick to the title: “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

In his book The 21st-Century Card Counter, Colin Jones interviews SemiPro, a dealer-cum-card-counter who can confirm what we’ve all been saying for years: “There’s no tip you can give to a majority of dealers that will satisfy them. Period. … It’s important to realize this about the dealers who are openly angry at you ‘for not tipping.’ You can’t afford to buy them.” Amen, Sister SemiPro!

I once saw a dealer literally roll her eyes at a $1000 tip (ten black chips), at a joint where they keep their own tips, because the gambler won a $75k jackpot, so obviously the dealer deserved a bigger tip than just a measly $1000.

I know, counters tip for penetration. Sure they do. And they stay in lavish penthouse suites, and they win every time out. And they’re all savants. Yeah, I saw Rain Man and 21, too. I’m not going to go off script to rant about the Tipping-For-Penetration Myth, but since it would be on script right now, let’s do it, lunger!

First, let me explain the theory (read: “myth”). The idea is that at the moment the dealer has to place the shuffle card, Boudreaux tips the dealer so that the dealer will go thinner, which is obviously what Boudreaux wants as a card counter. Before I debunk this step-by-step, I’m trying to find the right analogy to give you an overview. Tipping for penetration is like cow tipping. Boudreaux swears to have done it, but if you press him hard for details, he eventually admits that he hasn’t personally done it, but he swears that he has a friend Thibodeaux who has.

Tipping for penetration is like some Rube-Goldbergian method to achieve a result, except complicated. First, the dealer would have to know that card counters like deep penetration. Right there, the chance of this ploy working is starting at less than 1%, because there is not 1 dealer in 100 who knows the importance of penetration. Take it from SemiPro: “The majority of employees in the majority of casinos know little to nothing about advantage play.” And that’s being generous. How many dealers even know basic strategy? I’ve encountered two dealers that I’m sure knew basic strategy.

What we APs consider so obvious is not at all obvious to a dealer whose beliefs have been shaped by Hollywood, degenerate gamblers at their tables, and ignorant bosses who used to be ignorant dealers themselves. I know a boss who thinks the best time to bet big is off the top … [wait for it] … because at that point all the Aces are in the shoe. Duh!

Next, the dealer would have to know that Boudreaux is a counter. That means Boudreaux probably screwed it up. And if Boudreaux is so clever that he can toke dealers for penetration, then he should have been clever enough to not get made as a counter.

Then, the dealer has to know that that tip is supposed to be an inducement for a certain action, which the dealer hasn’t performed yet. Only Boudreaux would try to train a dog by giving a dog the treat before the desired action has been done! The dealer who, like your dog, is not a mind reader, will accept that toke exactly like the dog accepts the treat. The toke/treat gets gobbled up without so much as a Thank-You, followed by puppy eyes waiting for another!

Boudreaux throwing a dollar chip on the layout is like throwing a dollar on the stage at a strip club. That space in their work area is theirs, and any dollars lying there, are theirs. Whatever they’re supposed to do to earn those dollars, they already did it. Tokes are a birthright. The thing they do to earn the dollar is: They deal the big winning hands! That’s what they do. Duh! Despite all the chants of U-S-A! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!!, they all become communists the moment those dealer uniforms go on.

Boudreaux hasn’t seen Can’t Buy Me Love, but he’s seen a lot of movies, so he’s got the mind-reading problem covered. He’s going to proclaim “Thin to win!” as the dealer cuts the shoe. When that Jedi mind-trick fails, he starts talking about how hard on the dealers hands it must be to shuffle all the time, and suggests that cutting deeper would mean less shuffling. When that Inception fails, Boudreaux tries cutting the shoe thin from the front, so that the penetration winds up being exactly where he wants it, since they use a second shuffle card on the bottom of the shoe. When that fails, he goes to all-out bribe mode a la Gilbert Gottfried in Beverly Hills Cop 2, holding out the dollar chip and asking, “Is there anything in my hand, that might make you forget you’re supposed to cut off two decks, and maybe cut off, say, just one deck?”

And then the dealer says … [wait for it] … “Oh no, I can’t, we get in trouble.”

So after all the machinations, Boudreaux has to overcome that final problem. If the dealer eventually realizes what Boudreaux wants, she’ll probably not be willing to risk trouble for a measly $1. And remember, even a nickel is measly to the typical dealer. Conveying his desires has backfired for Boudreaux. The dealer says, “Oh, when you said ‘Thin to win’ I thought that was just something gamblers say, but now that I know you really want me to cut thin to win, then no, I can’t do that.”

But Boudreaux says it has worked for him many times. Really? I’ve seen counters who looked so self-satisfied when a deep cut followed a toke, but … [let’s all say this together now] … “Correlation does not imply Causality!”  That should go on the list of nursery rhymes, along with “One, Two, bet the shoe, Three, Four, double for more, Five, Six, pick up chips! .. [you know the rest].”

Waddya know, the next shoe the same dealer cuts in the same spot without a toke! Or the toke is given again, and then the dealer cuts off two decks, realizing that the previous cut was too thin! Anyone who tries to call out the Tipping-For-Penetration Myth is then met with, “You just don’t know how to do it.” Okay, I don’t know how to tip cows either.

But I would come back with, “Maybe you just don’t know how to get something for free instead of paying for it.” Many things can be had if you pay enough, but the art is getting the thing as cheaply as possible, free if possible. Try to use all those psychological tactics, but minus the toke.

Or, another way to get penetration for free is to scout for it. Some players, and authors, poo-poo HC play as being impure or even unethical, because it is dealer-specific. Here’s a secret: ALL advantage play is dealer-specific, even counting cards. A counter should have a mental list (if not a written one) of the dealers who consistently cut deep, or who deal fast (some dealers deliver twice as many hands per hour as others), or who keep their mouth shut when you jump your bet 10x. And some dealers go on the No-Play List, because they’re simply too dangerous. I’ve had to call off team plays many times, because a dealer came who was too sharp, too dangerous.

If Boudreaux gave me a list of dealers who will cut deeper for penetration, that is precisely the list of dealers whose tables I would never play. A dealer who knows that penetration is key to counting, knows that Boudreaux is a counter, and who will cut it deeper for a $1, but otherwise won’t, is a dealer to be avoided. And one day Boudreaux is going to walk in the pit and see that that dealer (who is obviously sharp and ambitious enough to climb the ladder) is a boss.

My advice to Boudreaux is to stop trying to buy their love, or penetration. The best things in life are free. The great Yul Brynner might have said it best: don’t toke.

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