I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My interview with BJ Traveller

I interviewed BJ Traveller back in 2003.  He is still galavanting around the world playing blackjack.

The Traveller

            When I read the blackjack message boards I often see people bemoaning the state of blackjack.  The casinos have gotten smarter, they have software to evaluate your play, and after only 25 years they have snapped to the “Big Player” approach.  The players who write these things have one thing in common—they’re Americans.  It’s a big world out there, and there are about 100 other countries that have casinos.  BJ Traveller would like to visit them all.  You won’t find a copy of The Big Player in the casino gift shop in Romania, or Blackjack Survey Voice in Cambodia.  Blackjack is alive and well, and living outside the United States.

            BJ Traveller spends about 45 weeks per year on the road.  It’s an endless series of visas, plane rides, and customs stops.  Most of the time he finds games that are hardly worth playing.  Still, the trip provides material for the column he writes in a Taiwanese magazine.  But every once in a while he will wander into a casino and find that they pay 2-1 on blackjack, and have early surrender, and have a joker in the deck that gives the player an automatic win, but is useless to the dealer.  The Americans say, “That’s not possible.  No casino would do that.”  But the casinos can, and do.  BJT says, “It would be easy to visit 30 countries in a year, but when I find a good game, I stay.” 
            All this travel is not without risk.  BJT has gone to countries I would consider dangerous: Russia, Colombia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka.  Is he not worried carrying 100 years’ salary for the average person in those countries?  Even though he spent 76 days in a Southeast Asian jail, he laughs at me, “The higher the risk, the better the profit.  In the end I think I am a risk lover.”  I guess this answer comes easier to a man who won $1.5 million playing basic strategy.

RWM: Where did you grow up?

BJ Traveller: Taiwan.

RWM: How did you get interested in blackjack?

BJ Traveller: When I was in my twenties, I went to Las Vegas just for fun.  I was afraid of gambling.  I lost 25 cents in a slot machine.  I like to read, so I went to a bookshop and found there was a section about gambling.  I picked up one book, and took it to Taiwan.

RWM: Which book?

BJ Traveller: Beat the Dealer.  It was the second edition from 1966.  I thought this counting is very hard.  There are no casinos in Taiwan.  I went abroad to the Philippines, and America.  I went to casinos and played very small.  After several years I could play basic strategy. 
My major in college was economics, and I have an MBA from the University of Chicago.   After I graduated I went back to Taiwan.  I worked at some banks, and securities companies.  When I was 31 years old, I became the president of a securities brokerage company.  This was a very early success.  After one year the Taiwan stock market crashed, and I lost about two million dollars.  My income had been good, but it was related to the market, so my income shrank.  I had borrowed a lot of the money I lost.  I owed $100,000 per month on the loans, and I couldn’t afford to make the payments. I needed a way to make money. 
When I was working they opened many casinos in Korea on Cheju Island.  Koreans cannot play in the Korean casinos.  Only foreigners can play there.  They had to go to Japan and Taiwan for customers.  They had a junket program for Taiwanese, and Japanese, and someone invited me to play there.  Since I knew basic strategy, I thought, “why not?”  I didn’t think I could lose much.  At that time it was very difficult for them to get players from Taiwan, because the Taiwanese players were afraid they would be cheated.  The casinos said that there is no cheating, I would be treated well, and if I would introduce customers to them, they would give me a commission.  The program was to go on Friday, and come back on Monday.  Everything was free—hotel, airfare, food—but they wanted you to play twelve hours.  You had to bring $30,000, and play $400 minimum.  If you followed those guidelines, they would give $2,100 as a commission.
            At that time they had ES10 [early surrender versus ten] and all the other good rules.  The disadvantage was about 0.1% off the top.  If I played twelve hours, that is about 1,000 hands.  If I went to the toilet, maybe less.  In 1,000 hands I expect to lose $400, but they will give $2,100.  At that time I was president of the company, and I didn’t want to get people to gamble.  In Taiwan that would be bad, because most people lose.  I went to play, and had small wins, and small losses.  When I lost my job, I thought, if I bring six people with me and we all sit at the same table, I can help everybody play basic strategy.  The seven of us will lose $3,000, but I can get $14,000 in commission.  I got some friends.  I told them, “Come on a vacation with me in Korea.  Everything will be free.”

RWM: But you have to put up $210,000?

BJ Traveller: Yes.  I would put up the money.  Everyone would play under my instructions, and I would take all the wins or losses.  Seven of us went to Korea.  At that time there were about ten casinos, and all the casinos had similar programs.  The first week we went and played.  Wow, I made money.  The second week I went—I made money.  My friend had a trading company.  I asked him how many employees he had.  He said, “ten.”  I said, “Tell them to bring their wives, and have a company vacation in Korea.”  I got twenty people.  Now I had three tables of people.  I made a basic strategy manual, and I gave it to everyone.  I told them, “You are going to be playing for twelve hours.  It’s no fun unless you learn basic strategy.”   Very soon many people wanted to go.  When we went on the plane, I was sure many people had not learned basic strategy.  I gave a quiz on the plane.  People who scored best became table leaders.  We had three tables, and I would jump around.  Now with 20 people I could make $30,000. 

RWM: How long did this go on?

BJ Traveller: Three years.  Maybe 30 weekends a year.

RWM: How much did you take out in those three years?

BJ Traveller: $1.5 million.  That was from Korean, and Philippine casinos.  The Philippine casinos learned from the Korean casinos how to recruit players, so I started bringing my people to the Philippines.  Then I took my people on cruise casinos out of Singapore.  I used over 400 people during that time.

RWM: When did you finally learn to count cards?

BJ Traveller: After a year I bought The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book, by Lance Humble, and I learned Hi-Opt 1. 
            After three years the casino found out.  Every week those casinos would have about 30 customers from Taiwan.  Maybe 20 would play baccarat, and 10 would play blackjack.  So the casinos didn’t know they were losing money to me because the baccarat players lost money.  I was barred after the first year in Pusan at Paradise Beach. The Paradise Group is the largest casino company in Korea.  They own six or seven casinos, including Walker Hill in Seoul.  The reason I was barred was not for card counting.  I took a group, and all my people played blackjack.  Most other people play baccarat.  I was worried that if we kept making money the casino would suspect, so I hid chips.  I took eighteen $1,000 chips back to Taiwan.  We changed casinos every week.  After two months I went back to that casino.  When I got there I found they had changed all the big chips.  I took out one, and changed it.  They came and said, “How many of these chips do you have?”  I said, “eighteen.”  They said, “Why did you take these chips out of the casino?”  I said, “Because there is a currency control leaving Korea.  If I win money I cannot take it to Taiwan.  I know I am coming back anyway, so I just kept the chips.”  They said that 34 of these chips were missing.  That is why they changed the chips—to find out who had them.  They allowed me to cash my chips, but they now watched me very closely.   By that time I knew how to count cards.  I was playing two hands of about $120, and the count went good.  I jumped my bet to two hands of $1,200.  The dealer busted three times in a row.  Then the count dropped, and I went back to two hands of $120.  They barred me.  I had never been barred before, so I just jumped my bet.  I did not do any camouflage.  The interesting thing is that they did not inform any of the other casinos within the Paradise Group.  I played another two years in Korea at the other casinos.
            At the casino in Inchon it was very easy to win.  I won $50,000 each trip for three trips.  Then they barred me.  This was such a good game, so I still wanted to play there.  I found two friends, both girls.  We went to the casino, and we pretended we didn’t know each other.  I took off my glasses, and I bought a fake mustache.  We sat together, and I signaled them how much to bet, and how to play.  In one hour they won $10,000.  We stopped and went out to eat at a restaurant outside the hotel.  The casino manager was suspicious, and came to the restaurant and saw us together.  He was Korean/Chinese.  He said, “Why are you here?  You are not allowed to play.”  I said, “When you barred me, you said not to come without other players.”  Because I had come before with a player who lost $100,000 at baccarat.  He said, “These girls are not players.  They are figureheads.  They play for you.”   They were two Taiwanese girls betting thousands of dollars.  It did look strange.   He told me to look for him after my meal.  I went to see him.  He asked what I was going to do.  I said that I wasn’t doing anything illegal, and it is my right to play.  I was afraid they would inform other casinos.  I said to him, “I’ll only take half of my win.”  The owner and the casino manager went to discuss it.  He came back and said, “We will give you all your winnings, but you have to show your passport, and we will make a copy of it.”  They had given me a deposit receipt for my $10,000 capital and $10,000 winnings.  My passport was at Walker Hill in Seoul.  I went to Walker Hill to get the passport, and I realized that I had the right to collect on the receipt for six months.  I thought, “Why hurry?”  I played a lot during that six months, and then went back to collect.  When I returned to Walker Hill after collecting the money I was stopped at the entrance.  They had received a fax from the casino in Inchon. I didn’t know how many casinos would get that fax, but after I was stopped at Walker Hill, I was still able to play in Cheju Island.
After my barrings in Korea I started playing the Singapore cruises.  I played a cruise for 11 days and won $110,000.  After the cruise, the cruise manager barred me.  Then I went to the Philippines, and the same cruise manager was running the VIP room at a Philippine casino.  He recognized me and barred me again.  A government company runs the Philippine casinos, and he informed them so I was on a black list in all the casinos there.  I didn’t know they had sent out a memo to all the Philippine casinos.
I went back to Taiwan and started working. After several months of working at a securities house a new casino opened in the Philippines.  I went there, and no one recognized me.  At the same time, the job at the securities company was not working out well.  I wanted to leave that job, and just play in the Philippines.  I went back to the Philippines, and one casino manager recognized me.  He asked me to go to the office with him.  He was very polite.  He said, “Give me face.”  He didn’t want me to argue with him in the casino.  There were five security guards in the office with us.  He showed me the memo, which said that when I played, the casino was at a disadvantage.  Therefore they had barred me, and they recommend that all casinos bar me.  The Pavilion Casino had issued the memo, and I was at the Silahis casino.  I asked if I could have a copy of the memo.  He said, “No, because it is possible you will use this to promote yourself in some publications.”  I said, “How about if you write a certificate to me so I can show my friends.”  He said, “Okay.”  He wrote that I had been barred in this casino on this date.  Then he used the casino chop, and signed it.  There was a picture of me attached to the memo, but it is very dark because it was taken from the eye in the sky.  After that the security people said, “Okay, the official business is finished.  Now will you please teach us how to count cards?”

RWM: At some point you decided to travel the world.

BJ Traveller: After the first three years I was barred in Korea and the Philippines.  At that time I thought that Las Vegas must be difficult.  Card counting had been seen there for too many years.  I went back to work at a securities company.  I thought the fun was over.  At that time I bought many books from Las Vegas, and one of them was The International Casino Guide.
            I thought in other countries I could still play and profit.  I thought that maybe there are some other casinos that will not be as sophisticated as American casinos. 

RWM: I would think that the most natural place for you to go would be Macao.

BJ Traveller: Yes, I went to Macao many times.  But Macao did not have a good game, or a good rebate program. 
I looked in the book to pick the countries where I should try my luck.  I wanted to find a city with more than ten casinos.  I also wanted it to be a country with medium economic development.  I found Egypt and Turkey.  I decided I would try the casinos in Cairo, and Istanbul.  If I could win money there, then I would try France and England.  If I could not make money in Egypt and Turkey, then I would forget France and England.

RWM: Why?

BJ Traveller: Because the more developed the country, the more experience the casino has. 

RWM: Don’t you think it is important that the casino is earning a lot of money?  If they are earning well, they can afford to lose to you.  Isn’t that why Korea was good?

BJ Traveller: At that time I thought if the country was well developed, the casino would have more experience and be able to recognize card counters.  I went to Egypt and Turkey.  It was okay, but it was not so easy.  In Cairo the casinos were very small.  There were not many players, so they watched very closely.  In Turkey there were too many players. 

RWM: Did you have any problems taking money in and out of those countries?

BJ Traveller: No.  I did not win much there.  So I went back to my book, and said, “How about Romania and Hungary?”  I went to Bucharest, and Budapest.  In Bucharest I said, “Oh, early surrender against ace.”  That was good, but after one week I was barred in most casinos in Bucharest.  Then I went to Budapest to play.  A German company ran the casinos, so the game was not good.
            Then I read a newspaper that said there were 200 casinos in Moscow.  I went to Moscow, and I said, “Wow, great games.”  That was 1996.  It was very difficult to get a visa because I’m Taiwanese.  I went back to Taiwan, prepared the paperwork, and went back to Russia in 1997.  I lived there in Moscow for a year, and played every day. 

RWM: Did you feel it was dangerous when you were there?

BJ Traveller: Gypsies robbed me several times.  I lived at the Kosmos hotel.  First I was pickpocketed by Gypsies, and they got about $1,000.  Now they knew I had money.  Every time I would walk out of the hotel they would follow me.  I recognized them one time, and as soon as I saw them I went into a metro station.  It was winter, so I was wearing a big coat.  I was waiting for the train, and when the train came, and the door opened. I couldn’t move.  Two people grabbed my left arm, two people grabbed my right arm.  I struggled, and finally they released me.  I went into the train, and I saw eight or nine gypsy girls.  They were all about 15 years old, and every one of them was carrying a baby.  They got into the next car, but just before the doors shut they all got out.  Then I realized my wallet was gone. 

RWM: Weren’t you carrying a lot more than $1,000?

BJ Traveller: Yes, but it was hidden under my clothes.

RWM: Did you feel in danger in Moscow?

BJ Traveller: No.  In 1997 the casinos were not so alert at that time.  I felt a bit protected because the Russian mafia owned the casinos.  Maybe they protect their customers.

RWM: Unless they don’t like you as a customer anymore.  Did you eventually get barred?

BJ Traveller: I was barred by 12 casinos in Moscow.  When I made the money in Korea I repaid my debts, so I wasn’t betting as much.

RWM: Your goal is to play in 100 countries.  How many countries have you played in?

BJ Traveller: So far, 32.  The reason for not playing more already is that when I find a good place, I stay.  It is easy to go to 30 countries in one year if you want.  When I left Moscow I planned to go back, but I wanted to spend some time in Taiwan with my son.  At the same time my father had a friend whose company was going public.  He asked me to help him finance the company, so I went back to traditional work.  Also, my father hates that I have become a professional gambler. 

RWM: Still?  You are quite successful.

BJ Traveller: Kind of… still.  He feels that a well-educated person should be doing something that would benefit society.  My father is very uncomfortable with this profession.  When he first recognized that I was a professional gambler, he did not talk to me for one year.  My father never went on a trip with me, but my mother went maybe 100 times.  He did not approve of what I was doing.  So I went back to Taiwan to work for.  I worked for the largest cable company in Taiwan, but I really did not like the job.  Because I had been living freely it was very difficult for me to adapt.  Many people thought I adapted remarkably well.  After two years I decided to go back to the gambling life.  I went to live in Las Vegas for three years.  I found that I could play hit-and-run.  I formed a small team.  I had given a speech in Taiwan, and two of the guys who heard that speech came to Las Vegas and asked if they could play with me.  I said okay, and arranged for them to stay at my apartment.  Every day we would go out, and they would watch me play.

RWM: Were they spotters for you?

BJ Traveller: Not yet.  After several months of them learning, they were counting well.  Then I formed a small team.  We got a girl to be our big player.  We would sit at three different tables and signal her to jump in. 

RWM: How much was she betting?

BJ Traveller: From $1,000 to $3,000.

RWM: The casinos didn’t find it odd that a woman was betting that much?

BJ Traveller: I’m not sure.  We had no problems the first month.  She was young, pretty, and Chinese.  We won $66,000 the first month.  I thought we should give Las Vegas a rest.  Then we went to New Orleans, Biloxi, and Tunica.  Our BP couldn’t come, because she was a student.  She had to go to classes.  In New Orleans we would jump into each other’s tables.  One day before playing, I checked their money, and it was gone.  They lost it all playing roulette.  I said, “Why would you do this?  You can count cards now.”  They said, “Counting cards is no fun now.”  They thought roulette was more exciting.  Especially with other people’s money.  That is the end of my team story.
            We went back to Las Vegas, and I was trying to get my money back from these two guys.  The problem was that they started as gamblers.  Good card counters are not gamblers.  If I didn’t know how to count cards, I would not be a gambler.  I still used them as spotters, but I didn’t give them any money. 
            I went back to Taiwan for a vacation for a week.  When I returned one of the guys told me that the other guy had broken into my room and stolen my money.  It was $10,000.  He was afraid what would happen when I found out, so he called his sister in Taiwan.  He told her that he had a car accident, and the guy he hit threatened him with a gun.  He told her he needed $10,000 to pay for that.  She sent him the money, and he replaced what he took.  I didn’t know this had happened until the other guy told me.

RWM: Last year you toured South America.  How was that?

BJ Traveller: I went to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela.  I have been to Colombia seven times.  I first went there in 1996. 

RWM: You didn’t feel Colombia was dangerous?

BJ Traveller: [laughing] Once I was interviewed by television.  They asked me, “You go to so many dangerous countries.  Don’t you have fear?”  I said, “I was bankrupt in the stock market crash.  I will do anything for money.  The higher the risk, the better the profit.”  In the end I think I am a risk lover.

RWM: I guess so.  Did you go to Panama, and Honduras?

BJ Traveller: I went to Panama, but the game is not good.  I haven’t been to Honduras.

RWM: Aren’t the limits very low in Colombia?

BJ Traveller: Yes, but they had very good rules.  They had early surrender, and some casinos have a joker.  [A joker makes the hand an automatic 21.]  At one casino with a $50 limit, I won $10,000 in one week.  I have a friend that once found a game on a small island.  The table maximum was $50.  He won $600,000 in two months.  I don’t think low limits are a big problem.
In ’96 I went to Colombia for one week.  On the second or third day I got very dizzy.  The altitude is very high so I had a problem with a lack of oxygen.  I canceled my Ecuador trip because Quito is even higher than Bogata.  Two years ago I went again, and this time I went to Ecuador first.  This time it was no problem.  I don’t know why. 

RWM: When you go on one of these trips, how much money do you take with you?

BJ Traveller: Usually I take about $30,000. 

RWM: Some of these countries have currency controls.  How do you deal with that?

BJ Traveller: I always declare the money. 

RWM: And that has never been a problem?

BJ Traveller: Never in South America.  It was a big problem in Asia.

RWM: Tell me about that.

BJ Traveller: I went to a country I’d rather not mention.  When you enter the country you are required to declare your money if you are carrying more than $2,000.  There is a form to declare the money, and I did.  When I cleared customs they asked me why I was bringing so much money.  I said I came to gamble in the casino.  The customs officer stuck his tongue out at me.  Then he smiled and said I could go. 
When I went out of the country they found my money.  They asked if I declared it when I came in.  I said, “Yes.”  They said, “Where is your certificate?”  I said, “What certificate?”  When you enter, and declare, the customs officer is supposed to give you a certificate.  On the form it didn’t tell me that, so I didn’t know.  I had just come from Australia where there is no certificate.  In America when you declare there is no certificate.  I told them I was not given a certificate.  They sent me to the police.  The police asked the customs people to get the certification book.  The original declaration form, from when I entered the country, was missing.  For people who have a certificate, there is a copy in the file.  They brought the file, and there was no record of my declaration.  They said, “There is no proof that you declared.”   Because I was sure that I declared, and I was sure that I was innocent, I was afraid to propose a bribe.  I was afraid that would get me into more trouble.  I assumed that if the original form was found that everything would be settled.  I was sent to customs custody.  I was with my girlfriend, and she went back to the casino to find some help.  This was on a Friday so the conditions in custody were very bad.  It was one small room with eight people.  They were there for drug cases, or drunk fighting.  There were no beds, no blankets, and no lights. 

RWM: Were there cots or something to lie down on?

BJ Traveller: No, just lying on the floor.  After three nights, I counted 70 bug bites on just my right leg.  On Monday I was sent to the big jail.  I had played in the casino for one week, and won $4,500.  My friend had played baccarat, and lost.   So in total I wasn’t trying to take more out of the country than I had brought in.   The casino people came to see me in the jail, and they sent a lawyer to help me.  The casino paid the lawyer, and they gave my girlfriend a room for three months while she waited for me.

RWM: You were in jail for three months?

BJ Traveller: I was there 76 days. 

RWM: Did there ever come a point where the lawyer said, “If you pay a bribe you can get out?”

BJ Traveller: No.  We found out later that if customs catches you with illegal money, they can get 20% as a reward.  I think when I entered the country; the customs officer deliberately did not give me a certificate.  When I was caught 18 officers put their finger print on my report.  They could all share the money. 

RWM: What was the jail like?

BJ Traveller: The big jail was designed to hold 150 people.  There were 250 in the jail.  There were five big rooms.  In my room we had 70 people.  It was not separate beds.  They had a long, wooden platform, and everyone slept next to each other.

RWM: Are there mattresses?

BJ Traveller: You can bring your own mattress, or buy one.  There were eight Tibetans there—three were monks.  They had gone to India to see the Dalai Lama.  They were caught because they didn’t have passports.  China will not issue passports to Tibetans to see the Dalai Lama.  They helped me.  They gave me a sheet and blanket, but there was no space on the platform so I had to sleep on the floor.  There were maybe a dozen of us who slept on the floor.  There was a separate area for the toilet—four toilets for 250 people.  There were no bars.  When you enter the jail it is like a garden with the rooms around it.  But there are no bars.  While you are there you can do whatever you like.  You can walk around the garden.  The living conditions there are basically okay.  The average income in that country is $230 per year.  You can do some small jobs at the jail for 30 cents per day. 
When I came in there was a big boss at the jail.  He said that newcomers had to do some work.  He wanted me to wash the toilets.  I told him I didn’t want to do that.  I asked what my alternative was.  He said, “No problem.  If you don’t want to do it, just pay $12.”  $12?  I was happy to pay that.

RWM: You had some cash with you?

BJ Traveller: Yes.  When customs caught me, they let me keep my small cash.  My girlfriend had money also.  After a week some people were sent to a bigger jail, so there was an opening on the platform bed.  I got a spot on the bed, but each person only had about two feet of space.  I gave the boss some cigarettes, and then I got a bigger space—maybe three feet.  If you have money you can do anything in this jail.  There was a British guy with cable TV.   There was a Czech guy who was getting out shortly after I arrived.  He left me his mosquito net, which was important.  He also left me a small table light, so I could read at night.  There was a small library with some English books.  I read some of the English novels, and I also started writing.  I kept a diary, which is in my fifth book.  I had so much time I didn’t know what to do.  I would brush my teeth for 20 minutes.  I lost 15 kilos while in there.  [33 pounds]  I was thinking that when I got out I would tell my story.  Go to Asia if you want to lose weight. 

RWM: I take it the food was not good.

BJ Traveller: The meal allowance was 30 cents per day.  That 30 cents went for rice and the people who cook.  They would buy some vegetable, usually potato.  You can have as much rice as you like, and some potato with curry.  Every day my girlfriend brought food to me from the casino restaurant.  She also brought me some English novels.  Books were very cheap.  I never read English novels before, because English is my second language.  I read much faster in Chinese.  I would finish a book every two or three days.  My fifth book was written while I was there. 
            I was not allowed bail.  The law said I could be sentenced to three years if found guilty.  It was possible that I would be sentenced to one year.  The casino lawyer fought for me, but every day I thought I might be in there for one to three years.  I went to court to fight my case, and I showed that I had a certificate from Australia.  This showed that when I left Australia, I declared my money.  From there I came to this country.  My argument was, if I declared my money coming out of Australia why would I not declare it coming here?  They lost my original form, and I implied that they did that purposely.  I was very lucky, because during that period the director of customs from the airport was sent to jail.  They searched his home, and found 200 years’ worth of his salary.  Everyone knew the customs people were corrupt.  Finally, after being there 76 days, I was declared not guilty. 
I got out of jail, and my visa expired.  I had to go to immigration to get a new visa.  The court ruling was at five o’clock, and the customs office closed at that time.  I had to go back to jail one more day because I had to report back to immigration.  The next day I went to get the new visa, but my passport was in the investigation bureau.  I went to get the passport, but the officer wasn’t there.  I went the next day, and now they fined me for being two days late.  That is the way this country operates.
            The casino was very helpful to me.  I won money from them, but they were very generous and helped me. 

RWM: Have you found that carrying money in the U.S. is more of a problem since September 11?

BJ Traveller: It is not a problem for me.  I always declare my money.  I don’t look like a drug dealer.  Many American counters don’t want to declare their money because they don’t want to explain their income source. There is no income tax for me.

RWM: Have you been to Cambodia?

BJ Traveller: I’ve been to Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Sri Lanka…

RWM: Are there casinos in Vietnam?

BJ Traveller: There are three casinos in North Vietnam but I haven’t been there.  One of my books has a map that shows all the countries I have visited. 

RWM: What is it like in places like Cambodia and Laos?

BJ Traveller: There is only one casino in Laos.  They give you a 1% rebate on your play, but the maximum is low—$200.  The rules are okay, like Las Vegas, but no surrender. 

RWM: What I was getting at is: Cambodia or Laos are places I would be nervous about going.  My sense is that it would be dangerous to carry a lot of money in those countries. 
Is there any country you have gone to where you thought, “Oh, this is dangerous.”

BJ Traveller: When I played in Ecuador, in Guayaquil, I played with Bradley Peterson.  There was one casino with great rules.  Now it is burned out, but then they had early surrender including after doubling, S17, DAS, same suit bj paid 2-1, 7-card 21 paid 7-1, three 7s paid 3-1 and more.  It was at least +1% off the top.  The maximum bet was $30.  We played for one week and won $15,000.  One night we won about $4,000, and we had started with $5,000.  So we were carrying $9,000.  The casino was very small and nobody played blackjack.  Everyone knew we had all this money.  It was three in the morning, and when we went outside there were no taxis.  The casino security found us a taxi, but there was no sign.  It was just an ordinary car, and in very bad condition.  We got in the car, but we were both ready to jump out at the first sign of trouble.  We got back safely. 
            In Bogata there was a new casino opening.  For the opening ceremony they put two jokers in the shoe.  If you got the joker it was an automatic win.  If you got the joker with an ace or ten, it was a blackjack and paid 3-2.  If the dealer got the joker, they burned it.  It was only on Monday and Tuesday, and only until 10 p.m.  When I found the game it was Tuesday night at midnight.  I had to wait one week for the game.  I made a trip to Medellin, and came back on Monday.  The first night I won $5,900.  It was a $200 maximum.  They didn’t have U.S. dollars, so they gave me local money.  This made a pile of money the size of a basketball.  I left the casino about midnight with this money.  The taxi waiting outside I didn’t want to take.  I found another taxi.
            I was in Moscow last year.  One night I had about $10,000 and it was 3 a.m.  There was a shopping center in Red Square that had an Internet café.  I was a little nervous walking there with all that money, but I am a risk lover.

RWM: How much time do you spend traveling?  Where is home now?

BJ Traveller: I return to Taiwan about 4 times a year.  I stay at my parents’ house, usually for ten days.  Hotels are my “home” now.

RWM: How many books have you written?

BJ Traveller: Five. Traveling Around the World Gambling, Beat Macao, Beat the Casino, How to Win, and Blackjack Traveling
My nom de plume is three Chinese characters.  The first word is “son.”  The name means, “the gentleman who carries his son.”  I divorced when my son was three years old.  He was with his mother, and I missed him very much.  I put my son’s photo on some shirts.  When I went to the casinos to play, I would often wear those shirts.   There is a Japanese comic book about a samurai who carries his son wherever he goes, and he fights with many people.  The meaning for me was that I carry my son to fight with many casinos.   When I started writing that is the name I took.  [The Japanese comic book's title is “Tai-Z-Lan,” which translates to, “The Wolf that Carries a Child.”]

RWM: When did you write your first book?

BJ Traveller: When I was playing in Korea I read a lot of magazines.  There was nothing new.  Every issue had similar articles.  I thought what I was doing was interesting.  Professional gambling is interesting.  I proposed to several magazines in Taiwan that I write a column about gambling.  One magazine said they were interested, and I started writing a regular column called “Famous Gambler talks about Gambling.”  The magazine chose that title.  Every two weeks I wrote a column.  That was in 1994.

RWM: Was this about all different games in the casino, or just about blackjack?

BJ Traveller: In the beginning it was about all the different games.  That is when I started buying books.  When I started I had maybe 30 or 40 books about gambling.  Every time I went to Las Vegas I would buy 40 or 50 books.  Now I have over 400 gambling books; 100 of them are blackjack books.  I like to read.  I thought I would buy books with the money I was earning from writing.   Using the material I read I could write more.  If I find one thing in a book to write an article about, then I have covered my cost.  When I was in high school I wrote an article that was in the newspaper, and I was happy.  But I didn’t write again until this gambling column.  Then I went to Turkey, Romania, Hungary, and I started writing about these trips. 

RWM: I wish your books were in English.  I’d love to read them. 

BJ Traveller: I thought about that, but there are so many gambling books already.

RWM: But there aren’t many travel gambling books.  The only one that comes to mind is Blackjack Autumn, by Barry Meadow. 

BJ Traveller: There is also The Gambler’s Guide to the World, by Jesse May.  He learned a bit about card counting, but he is really a poker player.  I asked Bradley Peterson to co-write a book with me, but he is very busy.  My writing in English is not very good.

RWM: Was the first book a collection of your columns?

BJ Traveller: All my books are collections of my columns.

RWM: You’re still writing your column?

BJ Traveller: Yes.  It appears in “Firsthand” magazine in Taiwan.  Now it is called, “Diary of a Gambler.”  [He pulls out a Chinese magazine.]  Here is a column about a casino.   It has pictures of the beach, and the casinos, and this section is about shuffle tracking in that casino.

RWM: You write about that in your column?

BJ Traveller: Yes.  That is what is good about Chinese writing.  Here it says, “how to track shuffle in some casinos.”  What is good about Chinese writing is that it does not spread the information to casinos.  I can write about anything.  Sometimes I tell my readers, “You are lucky.  Here I write all the secrets without any disguise.  If you read an American book they will not tell you this, because it will burn the games.”

RWM: You have read hundreds of books about gambling.  What books stick out as the best, or your favorites?  Besides Gambling Wizards, of course. 

BJ Traveller: Wong’s Professional Blackjack is my bible.  I encounter so many new games.  I need a reference.  I always travel with that book.  Turning the Tables, and Burning the Tables, by Ian Andersen I use Jesse May’s book, The Gambler’s Guide to the World as a reference.  The International Casino Guide is great but the last version came out in 1997.  I liked Grosjean’s Beyond Counting.  I have that here in my bag.  I’m waiting for the second edition. 

RWM: You read the Internet blackjack boards—what do you think is the biggest mistake people are making?

BJ Traveller: So many people are saying that blackjack is dying.  Blackjack is alive and well in foreign countries.  Why don’t people travel?

RWM: Do you think blackjack is getting better?

BJ Traveller: It’s not getting worse.  When I was in Russia I thought, “This game is not going to last.”  Well, it lasted.  It’s alive and well.  When I left Moscow I left one of my books for a friend.  He didn’t believe in card counting, so he gave it to someone else.  That guy was a programmer.  He ran some simulations and saw that it was real.  He started playing, but he couldn’t count very well, and he only had $100.  He had two people sit with him.  One would count plus, and the other would count minus.  He sat in the middle and added them together.  He made $70,000 in one month.  The big mistake is to concentrate on American games, which are dying. 

RWM: You are here in Los Angeles for the Chinese Book Fair.  Is this an annual event?

BJ Traveller: Yes.  Last year was the first time I came to give a lecture, and people were fighting to get in.  Before that my books had ordinary sales America. Last year my book became the best selling Chinese book in the U.S.  Every year I will come for this. 

RWM: What do you think you will be doing in ten years?  Do you think you will still be playing?

BJ Traveller: I have become very fond of writing.  I started writing a science fiction novel.  I’m also working on a screenplay.  There are a lot of Chinese movies about gambling.  The people who write Chinese movies are not gamblers, so what they write is no good.  What I am doing now is perfect for me.  I like reading, writing, and traveling.  When I go out I usually play four or five hours a day.  Then I can read, and write. 

RWM: You have been all over the world, so this is an important question.  Where are the secret games?

BJ Traveller: Oh, for that you have to turn off the recorder.  [click]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting story - I can emphasise with his adventures since I've also played in many of the places he mentioned. Surprised he didn't mention South Africa which, in the early to mid '90's had the most amazing rules, early surrender, dealing down to the last card, and a kind of "reverse surrender" called "Bust Box" which was mentioned briefly in one of Stanford Wong's books although his correspondent didn't want to say where it was.