Some of the best APs are ones that are hyper-aware of their surroundings. Veteran players can sense a backoff or barring long before the major signs appear; they also frequently play through situations that other players would identify as dangerous heat.
Some of this improved judgment comes only with experience, but a lot of it can be learned relatively quickly. One of my favorite tools for refining judgment at the tables is good old fashioned eavesdropping.
I’ve been in plenty of situations where I was sure the axe was about to drop, only for a partner to inform me that there was no heat at all. They’d been listening in on a conversation in the pit, and the heat was directed somewhere else entirely. Or, there actually was a lot of attention on me, but for reasons that weren’t at all worth worrying about.
Often, a money player on an attention-heavy game will take a bathroom break, at which point the pit and dealer will start openly gossiping about them! What may have originally felt like dangerous heat often turns out to just be the pit’s surprise at a player being so foolish with their money.
In one case, a partner of mine was receiving intense scrutiny on a game, so he decided to take a break to evaluate the safety of continuing play. Our table had a hovering pit boss, endless phone calls, visitors from other pits—the works.
While he was gone, the pit boss came over to chat with the dealer, specifically about this player’s conspicuous buy-ins. I had suspected that much of his heat was due to buying in heavy on a players card with little recorded play; a big chunk of his buy-in was in chips, which can look suspicious if a card doesn’t have a lot of recent play on it. The pit boss’s questions confirmed my suspicion.
After the boss walked away to answer another phone call, I mentioned to the dealer that I’d seen this player over at a craps table earlier. When the boss returned, the dealer told her that my partner had been playing craps earlier, which explained the chips. The boss was visibly relieved, and the phone calls and visitors subsided very shortly after.
In this case, my partner had already left the casino, assuming that his heat was too much to play through. It turned out that it was just buy-in heat that required a little suggestion to cool down. There was still money to be made, but we may not have known it if I hadn’t been listening closely.
Sometimes, you can figure out what the pit knows and what they don’t know, simply because they’ll tell you so.
If you’re betting big and making strange plays, then you’ll frequently get a lot of attention. If this attention is of the this guy is going to lose his ass variety, then you probably have nothing to worry about. If it’s something more along the lines of this guy is making some strange plays that seem to win more often than they should, and I want to know why, then you may need to make some adjustments.
Knowing the difference is often impossible by visual cues alone, but a listener at the table will frequently be able to sort it out in the absence of the player in question. Knowing why a pit is concerned tells you a lot about their sophistication with regard to various plays, and that can translate to lots of extra EV—if you’re paying attention.
Another valuable application for eavesdropping occurs when serious heat has occurred, and an estimation of the damages is useful in determining whether or not a casino or dealer can be played in the future.
I’ve had partners tossed on hole card games, only to learn that they were nailed due to heat that had nothing to do with the actual play. I’ve had flashing dealers corrected while I was away from the table, which is normally cause to leave immediately, but a keen-eared partner was able to rate the incident as fairly innocuous based on the conversation between the pit and the dealer.
Eavesdropping is not limited to team play, either. If I’ve learned anything in the eavesdropping game, it’s that people have a very poor estimation of audibility. Just as APs have a terrible tendency to talk about a play in hushed yet still fully audible levels at the table (cringe), casino personnel have a tendency to talk openly about players as long as they’re an arm’s length or so away. This especially applies to phone conversations.
One of the most common bits of advice is for APs to keep their eyes open. There’s value to be had in unexpected places, and the alert player stands a better shot at finding it than one with blinders on. But why stop there? Keep your ears open, too, as value also comes from knowing what your opponents know. You’d be surprised at how often they spill the beans when they think no one is listening.
Blake Phillips is a professional advantage player and contributing editor to AP Street. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org