The life of a card counter

Lifestyle Written by Squirrel, Feb 21 2018

Jo Chen, team leader for our Chinese Specialist team has led a fascinating life so far, and she sat down to share it for M2Woman Magazine. Here's part 2 of the series:

Last time I promised to dish the details on my experience as an international card counter. Now, as a Squirrel Mortgages BDM and mother looking back, it’s hard to believe I lived that life. The things you do when you’re young!

I was 24 years old and working in a car yard when I got my permanent residency in New Zealand. Despite the bare minimum of knowledge about cars I figured out I had a talent for selling.  It was at this point that I met Mr J. He was the top NZ card counter and I met him through a friend. I’m good at maths and have a good memory which is essential for card counting. But that’s not all that’s needed. Card counting is 99% roleplay and 1% memory and maths.

I spent my nights practicing blackjack in SkyCity, and finally passed the test to join Mr J’s team. Just like in the movie 21, we worked together. The effort you put into your story, the way you dress, the way you hold yourself – it’s all in the detail.

The person sitting at the table counting the cards isn’t the one doing the winning. Most of the time is spent doing nothing – you just wait and count and pretend to have fun. When there’s a good chance of winning, the counter steps down and the winner steps up. So for the casino camera, the winner hasn’t been there counting the whole time.

My role would be to pretend I was dumb and rich, go to a small table and bid big. So I’d choose the $5 table and bid $3,000 and people would think ‘what an idiot’, but what they didn’t realize was that I was going to win.

There are two important principles to card counting but I believe these apply to almost any successful enterprise:

  1. Do your homework. Every day before going into the casino we’d lay out the whole plan and decide on our roles. For example, could I speak any English and were we playing as a couple or singles?
  2. Don’t be greedy. You can’t always be winning. It’s too obvious, so you have to leave even if the odds are still good.

The role-playing didn’t end in the casino. Whatever town we were in, we had to keep up appearances, dining out, shopping and partying. But it was all for show.

Our biggest win would have been about $400k in half a day. Our biggest loss would have been around $85k in half an hour.

Despite living in the best hotels, driving the best cars, and shopping up a storm I soon tired of the secrecy. I couldn’t talk about my real life to anybody. Not my family, my boyfriend or my friends. They all thought I worked as an Accounts Assistant!

I was just 24 years old. At the car yard, I started on $40k per year but card counting I could make that in a day. I needed to go back to a regular job, but what?

So I did the obvious thing and asked Google. More next time…

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