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Blackjack Progression Systems

A few words about progressions strategies. They don't work. That should be enough words:) Actually it is good that progression systems don't work. If a trivial method of beating Blackjack existed, then the casinos would no longer offer Blackjack. Beating the casinos has to remain just hard enough that most people won't bother to learn. Instead, they will learn Blackjack betting systems that don't work reaping huge profits for the casino industry. Let's take a simple case study.

Blackjack Betting System Test

Blackjack systems are tested with Blackjack simulators. An enormous number of hands are dealt following the rules of a system to see the results. For this test, I simulated four players as follows:

  • Player 1: Flat bettor. All bets are the same.
  • Player 2: Flat bettor that stops after four consecutive losses. This tests the belief that stop losses can affect the game.
  • Player 3: This player uses a popular strategy found in the book 21st Century Blackjack by Walter Thomason. Without going into details, this is basically a 2-3-4-5 positive progression, reset on shuffle, stop after four consecutive losses. But any progression will do as they are all the same.
  • Player 4: Hi-Lo card counter spreading 1-8. I call this a lazy counter because only very simple card counting betting is utilized. No indexes are used.
  • All players play exactly the same basic strategy except that the card counter bets Insurance according to the count.
  • All players receive exactly the same cards.
  • Total amount bet is measured including splits, insurance and double downs.
  • One billion hands were run.



Flat Bettor

Flat - Quit Point


Lazy Counter

Total Bet










Won per $100 Bet





There are only tiny differences between the flat bettor, flat bettor with quit point, and Thomason strategy from 21st Century Blackjack. The progression strategy is a bit worse than flat betting as predicted by Theory of Blackjack. Of course, the counter fares far better. The counter's profit is small because playing indexes were not used. In other words, progression betting and stop losses had almost no effect on results and loses. Card counting wins.

One Billion Hands

It is oft asked what does running one billion hands matter when I won't play that many in my entire life. The point is to increase the accuracy of the estimate of what will happen in the short-term. The above numbers show that a flat bettor making 1,000 ten dollar bets will, on average, lose 60 cents less than a Thomason bettor risking the same dollars. Progression books often look at a very small number of hands, say 10,000. Well, for any 10,000 hands it is easy to come up with a system that will win. But, it will only win for that particular 10,000 hands. That doesn't mean it will win for the next 10,000 hands.

Note: Many Blackjack progression system peddlers claim that simulators are not accurate because they don't shuffle like casinos. But, the CVData Blackjack Simulator can simulate any Blackjack shuffle in excruciating detail.

Empirical Evidence

A few words on empirical evidence. Progression books are always based on empirical evidence. The author won so the system must work. Many others have also claimed some sort of evidence based on what they or others have seen. If I won, I must have done something right. I would like to talk about the value of empirical evidence from three viewpoints - Example, Meaning and Quotes:

    Empirical evidence means evidence gleaned from experience only. Say that you go to George Burns' doctor. George Burns lived a century and smoked cigars constantly. Should his Doctor advise you to smoke for long life? Empirical evidence would say yes.

    What does empirical mean? Well, let's look at its roots. Obviously it comes from empiric. The Oxford English Dictionary defines an empiric as

    • A member of the sect of ancient physicians called empirici who drew their rules of practice entirely from experience, to the exclusion of philosophical theory…An untrained practitioner in physic or surgery; a quack. A pretender, imposter, charlatan.
    • That practices physic or surgery without scientific knowledge: That is of the nature of a quack nostrum.
    • That is guided by mere experience, without scientific knowledge; also of methods, expedients, etc.
    • Ignorantly presumptive, resembling, or characteristic of a charlatan.
    • Empirically - After the manner of an empiric or quack-doctor.
    • Empiricism - Practice founded upon experiment and observation; ignorant and unscientific practice; quackery.

    (Sorry, I'm just copying these out of the dictionary.)

    Not always of value, but telling. A few of the early quotes that tend to define a word. Warning, I'm going back to the earliest uses - so some of the spelling is in Middle English

    • A pedlar of medicines and tinker empirical to the body of man - Butler, 1680
    • The great majority of accidents are..the results of empirical management - Yeats 1872
    • By an empirical formula is meant one that is conceived or invented without any analysis or demonstration. - Nat. Philos., 1872
    • The chymistry of the galanical tribe is a ridiculous and dangerous empiricism. - Starkey, 1657

Is Card Counting Magical?

A few words on card counting. It has been stated that before Thorp no one counted. So perhaps we're just waiting for the genius of progression systems. Well, most people know that the fact that progressions fail has been known for centuries. But, card tracking has also existed for centuries. It dates back to the earliest days of Whist. Anyone that aspires to play Bridge, Poker, Rummy, Gin, Pinochle, Hearts, Spades - even GoFish knows that you must keep track of the played cards. In fact, primitive variations of shuffle-tracking have been used by Poker and Bridge players for as long as I've played. This is the way that cards have been played by experts for centuries. Not to take anything away from Thorp. He was the first to codify an easy process for card counting. But, the general concept of taking into account seen cards has a long history.

    "With no obstacles, and no fear Liberates herself, from illusion"

      -Donovan Leitch, 1996

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