I can’t even count how many times this has happened: I introduce myself to someone at a party as a professional blackjack player and they start talking about professional poker. Maybe they know a professional poker player. Maybe they aspire to be one. Of course they have been hooked on watching the World Series of Poker, like all of us. Many times they will turn around and introduce me to someone else in the room by saying “Hey! This guy plays professional poker!”
I do not play professional poker. The association is understandable and downright adorable, but dead wrong. How are the two career paths similar? Well, I guess we are all in the casino playing cards. But how the game is assessed, played, and eventually beaten; well that is a different story altogether.
Beating the game of blackjack by counting cards is a very different undertaking than the trials and tribulations of being a professional poker player. Here are the top 5 reasons why:
- By design, poker pros are celebrities while blackjack pros stay under the radar. You have much to lose as a poker celeb. You get invited to tourneys, you get book deals and speaking gigs, you intimidate opponents with your largesse, and you amass other benefits with your name recognition and face. A blackjack card counter, however, has nothing to gain and everything to lose with notoriety. Casinos roll out the red carpet for poker celebs. They regularly squelch, back off, and kick out, notorious blackjack players.
- In poker, everyone at the table is your competitor except the dealer. In blackjack, everyone at the table is inconsequential to you except the dealer. Heck, even the dealer is inconsequential if you consider the fact that blackjack strategy playing decisions leave no room for decision-making. It is quite simply just you against the cards.
- Winning poker players trust their gut for playing decisions. There is a name for blackjack players who use their gut for playing decisions. They are called “losing blackjack players”, and they are everywhere. No wonder people confuse the two. But blackjack should never be treated like a guessing game, if you want to win at it. The same skill that gives the poker pro their edge is the downfall of the blackjack player.
- Every one of your poker opponents plays slightly different by virtue of style, setting, opponents, mood, and other moment-to-moment factors. Heck, the bad meatball sub they had for lunch might inform their playing decisions one day, and their team winning a playoff game might be a factor the next. It is actually strategic to vary your play in poker based upon your opponent; not so in blackjack though. Every one of your blackjack opponents – by which I mean your neighborhood blackjack dealer – plays exactly the same way every time.
- You can calculate and chart your exact odds in blackjack. In the long haul, you master the known quantities. Poker involves mastering all the unknown quantities (the gamesmanship/strategy/decision-making of other players). Blackjack pro-turned-poker pro (and WSOP bracelet winner) Andy Bloch put it this way, “In blackjack, you can calculate your exact advantage, if you don’t make mistakes. In poker, you don’t know your advantage or whether a game is beatable, even when you play perfectly. Blackjack is basic probability, poker is game theory against multiple suboptimal opponents.”
Both poker and blackjack are prime for the plundering if you have what it takes to master your craft. Both games take intelligence, discipline, and nerves of steel. But don’t make the mistake of treating the two disciplines the same way.