If you have read articles on Counting Edge or seen the movie 21 then you are probably familiar with wonging. This is true even if you don’t really know what the term means. Wonging in blackjack is waiting for a deck to become beneficial to the player before entering the game. This technique has long been a tool of professional card counters and has even been used by famous blackjack teams.
What is Wonging?
Wonging is entering a blackjack game when the deck has become favorable to the player. It is also known as back counting. To be clear, wonging means playing blackjack only when the deck has assumed a positive count.
The technique is named after Stanford Wong. The legendary author of Professional Blackjack and other gambling books is really named John Ferguson. It is presumed that Ferguson adopted the Wong pen name as a tip of the hat to Chinese blackjack players. These players possessed a strong mathematical approach to blackjack and have traditionally been some of the best gamblers and card counters. Ferguson also invented a computer program for analyzing blackjack hands and owns his own publishing company for gambling books.
It should not be assumed that Wong is the inventor of the technique that bears his name. Other card counters were using it. The technique appears to have been named after Wong because many of the card counters who used the method were students of Wong’s card counting methods.
Semi-wonging is a variation of this technique which requires the player to exit the game at a predetermined point in the count or the shoe. For example, if a player entered the game at a count of +8 he or she might determine in advance to exit the game at the end of the shoe or when the deck cooled to +4.
How Wonging Happens in Live Blackjack
The single card counter practices wonging differently than a team would. To begin, the card counter familiarizes themselves with the blackjack pit and checks out all of the tables. They know the limits of the blackjack games being offered and which games serve up the most advantageous rules. This means spending some time in a live casino.
The wonger will position themselves where they can observe a blackjack table as the game is being played. They must be in a position to observe all of the cards being dealt. For this vantage point the card counter will then start keeping a count. Obviously, wonging is most effective when the player begins his observation at the beginning of a new shoe.
It may sound complicated to the novice card counter. Some people find it difficult to keep a count while sitting at the table, much less trying to keep one when they are just observing. Believe it or not, there are some people who do this that can even track multiple tables at the same time. Some wongers have even been known to use casino mirrors in order to practice the technique.
When the count becomes positive the player will then sit down at the blackjack table and enter the game. What they have done is create a very powerful scenario. They have preserved their bankroll by not playing when the deck is cold. They can now enter and make bigger bets while the deck is in their favor.
Wonging by teams is done differently and some contend that it can be more effective. In this scenario one team member will sit at the table and establish the count. When the deck gets hot they will signal another player on the team who will then enter the game and make big bets.
Wonging and the MIT Blackjack Team
If you aren’t familiar with the MIT blackjack team then you probably are a newcomer to card counting. This group of college students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology spent years card counting in many casinos and supposedly won millions of dollars. Their story was told in a popular book and adapted for the screen in the movie 21.
Wonging appears to have been a preferred technique of this blackjack team. Furthermore, they took it to a high level. Each team was constructed of a wonger and a Big Player. By working together these teams of two could rack up insane blackjack profits in a single night.
The team member wonging would begin by sitting down at a blackjack table to track the count. The player would only bet the minimum amount and not vary this bet. When the count reached a positive number the wonger would then signal the Big Player. This individual would enter the game and begin to make big bets. The signal used could be something physical such as crossing the arms behind the back or stretching as seen in the film.
Once the Big Player was seated at the table the card counter had to relay to them the count. Obviously, they could not say it directly because this would have alerted the dealers and pit bosses. In the movie the team had chosen several words which could be mentally associated with the number of the count. For example, when the Big Player sits down in the film the card counter remarks, “There goes that paycheck.” Because may people receive paychecks on the 15th of the month, the Big Player knew the count was +15.
Doing this as a team may sound like it is easy work but don’t underestimate the process. Wonging has many advantages but there are many disadvantages as well.
The Advantages of Wonging
Those who count cards in a live casino can indeed benefit from wonging when it is done properly. There are multiple advantages to this card counting technique that combine to make it a profitable strategy.
First, the card counter has the advantage of only entering the game when the deck is favorable. They do not have to risk even a minimum bet when sitting down to play because they are only playing when a deck is at a positive count.
You can see where this advantage helps to preserve the player’s bankroll. Bankroll management is very important to the card counter. To make a living at the game like some players do it is vital that every dollar of the bankroll be maximized for the most profit. If a player can save money by not having to make minimum bets while waiting on the deck to get hot, there is a greater chance for profit.
Another advantage of wonging is that it is not too difficult for the card counter. There is no special knowledge required beyond the ability to count cards. Of course, the player has to stake out a place in the casino where they can get a good view of the blackjack table.
The Disadvantages of Wonging
While Wonging is effective there are some disadvantages which make the technique difficult at best and downright dangerous at worst. It would probably be correct to say that many card counters have wound up on the bad side of the casino because they were doing this.
The risk of exposure as a card counter when wonging is very high. To practice the technique the player must observe blackjack tables, keep a running count, and only enter when the deck is hot. Surely you can understand that someone doing this will eventually get the attention of the casino surveillance. Players have come to invent a variety of methods to try and avoid this type of scrutiny.
A casino surveillance agent in Louisiana recently shared with us this story. A man was observed entering a casino on a regular basis. He would stand around the blackjack pit watching for a while and then enter a game. No sooner had he sat down the player was making minimum bets of $100 per hand at a $10 minimum table. When a player does this the dealer is required to announce to the pit boss that a black chip is in play. The reason for this is that a bet of $100 at a $10 table is considered very odd and the mark of a card counter.
The player seemed to do very well each time he did this, winning thousands of dollars. But, he had a problem. Every time that he would get ahead at the blackjack table he would leave and go to play the slot machines. On one night the player hit three slots jackpots but could not collect any of them because he did not have a valid ID on his person! Instead of asking him to leave, the casino allowed him to stay so they could observe his behavior.
When he would go broke on the slot machines the player would return to the blackjack pit and start the entire process over again. After watching for a little while he would enter the game, win a large some of money, and lose it all once again on the slot machines. He obviously had a leak in the form of weakness for the one-armed bandits.
But wait, the story gets better. Eventually, the casino had enough evidence to ban the player as a suspected card counter. He was told not to return to the casino. Imagine the casino’s surprise when he appeared again just a few days later. Surveillance immediately notified security personnel and the gentleman was approached. He produced an ID which proved he was not the card counter. The ID was legitimate but the player took great pleasure in informing the security guards that the banned player was his twin! Since the casino had no evidence on this second person they could not ask him to leave.
What they could do was refer to old surveillance tapes. What they discovered was amazing. The two players had actually been wonging for many months. Apparently they would take turns being the counter and the Big Player. One of them would wear a disguise. No one knows how much money the twins won before they were caught.
Another prominent disadvantage of wonging is that the player has no guarantee how long the hot deck will last once they enter the game. It could turn in a matter of minutes but what is more likely is that the shoe will run out and the decks will be reshuffled. In theory, a player could get only four or five hands of play depending on how many players are seated at the table. Then the entire process must start over again. There are few things that will raise a casino’s suspicion like a player that sits down, plays four hands, gets up, and then sits down again in the middle of a shoe.
How the Casinos Fight Wonging
As you might expect, casinos have devised methods to combat wonging. These range from preventive measures to sophisticated deterrents.
Have you ever seen a sign on a blackjack table that says No Mid-Shoe Entry? You might be surprised to find out that this rule was created as a direct response to wonging. What it means is that a player cannot sit down in the middle of a game. They can only join the game at the beginning of a new shoe. You will most often find this rule enforced on high limit, double deck games.
Another way that casinos have attempted to prevent wonging is by installing automatic shuffling machines at blackjack tables. This means that the cards can be shuffled after each hand to prevent card counters from establishing a correct count.
Wonging and Online Blackjack
As you might expect, wonging is not possible at online blackjack. Each time that you play an online session you will be starting with a brand new deck. This not only renders wonging ineffective but also prevents card counting in general.
This does not mean that playing online blackjack cannot have an impact on wonging that you might choose to do in a live casino. You can practice your card counting very effectively online. Becoming a better card counter will increase your proficiency at wonging if you choose to employ the strategy.
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