In the early stages of AP evolution, much attention is spent learning new things. Many APs are eager to be taught “secret” plays and techniques, and to needlessly complicate plays that they haven’t yet mastered. How many forum posts have you read from novice card counters wondering if they should “upgrade” to a level-two counting system or complex side counts?
This is natural at the early stages, but as you accumulate skill and experience, you’ll find that there’s much more value in recognizing your own strengths and weaknesses, and tailoring your approach to them.
Of course, this gives you the opportunity to improve. If you can count down a six-deck shoe in a minute-twenty but you can’t recall the correct index for A8 vs. 4, then you know what you need to work on.
More importantly, knowing and being honest about your weaknesses helps to keep you from getting into marginal spots that can prove to be very costly. You’ve heard the expression that someone knows just enough about something to get into trouble. This applies extra to APs!
No matter how strong you think your game is, mistakes can prove to be a massive problem. An overestimation of your own skills will produce mistakes, which typically both lower your edge and increase your variance—two things we work very hard to avoid in most cases.
A lot of this comes down to ego. I see it especially in cases involving team play, where one player wants to impress the other with their apparent skill, but it’s also common amongst ambitious solo players, many of whom seem to be perpetually “below EV.”
If you think you have something to prove to yourself or to others, I’d suggest re-evaluating your objectives. The most impressive APs, in my opinion, are the ones who have gone in and got the money, over and over again, no matter how simple the means. They don’t need to put on a show because that’s not what they’re in business to do.
It’s neat hearing about unusual, niche plays that are completely outside the box, but these don’t always correlate with long-term success. In fact, some of the more obscure plays I’ve learned about came courtesy of players who also have a tendency to get in over their heads, playing under conditions that even more skilled players would pass on, and perpetually overbetting in high-variance, low-edge situations.
These guys fancy themselves to be really high-end APs: always on top of new plays, and always mixed up in stuff that seems brilliant on the surface. But their determination to outdo themselves is dangerous, and their willingness to gamble in marginal spots can be a liability if they work as part of a team.
If you know your weaknesses and are honest with yourself, you can avoid these kind of problems. But there’s another side to the coin, and that’s playing to your strengths.
It’s tempting to get wrapped up in new, sexy plays, but if you’re really good at a particular play, don’t be afraid to specialize for a bit. Avoiding becoming a one-trick pony is a good idea, but getting involved in a series of plays less valuable than the one you specialize in just because you feel compelled to diversify is generally not good policy.
Having bread-and-butter plays that you devote the majority of your time to will make things a lot easier. You can always work on new stuff, too, but you may find it more reasonable to spend 20% of your time on it, instead of 50%. Don’t give up too much value just because you’re afraid of specializing.
Prioritize the stuff you’re good at, and work on your weaknesses in your downtime, not at the tables. The money will be steadier, the work less stressful, and the end result a more solid AP foundation. As in many other ventures in life, checking your ego at the door will pay off in the long run.
Blake Phillips is a professional advantage player and contributing editor to AP Street. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org