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!



Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Michael Konik

The guest this week is Michael Konik, on to talk about his new novel, Becoming Bobby.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest John Chang

This week's guest is John Chang, head of the famous MIT blackjack team featured in the movie 21, and the book Bringing Down the House.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advice to new card counters

It seems there are a lot of new card counters on the blackjack boards recently. I don't know if they received blackjack books as early Christmas presents, or maybe the movie 21 has been playing on cable, but for whatever reasons the new posts are proliferating, often with the same questions, and often making the same mistakes.  Here are a few suggestions to those just starting out.

1. Learn basic strategy backwards forwards, and in your sleep.
If your wife shakes you awake at 4am and asks, "What do I do with 13 against a 2?" you should know the answer without a blink. When people tell me they have learned basic strategy I ask them a few questions:
13 vs. 2
A7 vs 10
99 vs 9
If they get those right (which almost never happens) I ask which basic strategy did you learn? The one I recommend is DAS ( double after split) H17 (dealer hits with soft 17) LS (late surrender). I found I had to ask this when I was quizzing my son. I asked him when you double A7 and he said 3-6. I gave him the "incorrect" buzzer and he whipped out a basic strategy card he had been using. Unfortunately it had the BS for S17 and no surrender. That's okay. It's only a few tweaks.

2. Learn the right count.
Which is the right count? To answer that I have to ask, WHY do you want to count cards? Here are three different types of players, and a recommendation for which count to learn.

  • I want to excel at something difficult and challenging, that if viewed in a vacuum could be considered the count that would win the most money for a given session.
    Okay, you want the "hard" count. If an easy count would win $50 per hour you want the hard count that will win $51 per hour. Maybe throw in a side count of aces and 7s. Boost that win up to $51.05. The count for you is one of these - Zen, Uston APC, Revere APC, or Hi Opt II. But make no mistake - if your end goal is to make as much money as possible, these counts are not for you. These counts are for people who will not play lots of hours, and want to play single, and  double deck. These counts are for the type of guy who likes to be able to solve a Rubik's Cube.
  • Vegas Baby! I want gourmet meals, tickets to fights, champagne, and I want them to pay me for it!
    Right on. You want the simplest count possible. For that you want either the Red 7 which you can find in Blackbelt in Blackjack, or the KO which you can get in Knock-Out Blackjack. You should also pick up Comp City, which will help you get the most out of milking the comp system. Your approach here should be that you are making most of your ev from the stuff the casino is giving you, and you do not want to get any heat or barred by trying to earn extra money with a big bet spread.
  • Show me the money! It's all about the Benjamins!
    If you just want to make the most money possible I would recommend the Hi Lo. For that you should read Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong. Hi Lo is a simple strong count, and if you ever team up with someone chances are this is the count they use. The large successful teams of the past like the MIT team or the Hyland team used this count and won many millions of dollars.  I know you are saying, "Why can't I use the "better" count if my goal is maximum earn?" Obviously you can, but I don't think you will earn more money. Making money counting these days means playing shoe games. The stronger counts perform better on the single and double deck games. Playing one of these counts for long hours will cause you to make mistakes, and become mentally fatigued sooner. If you can play just one extra shoe because you are using an easier count then you have more than made up for any gain you would have had with a stronger count.
3. Learn what is important, and what is not.
There are 3 things beginners obsess over that are not important. Which count to use, keeping side counts, and the rules.
Here are 3 things that are important. 

Penetration - how much of the shoe do they deal?  Here are 2 games
6 decks cut 2 1/2 S17, DAS, LS - good rules, less decks, bad cut
8 decks cut 1 H17 no DAS no LS - terrible rules, more decks, good cut
Which game is worth more for the card counter? It's very close but the 8 deck game is worth slightly more.

Game speed - how many hands per hour are you getting?
If you are playing at a full table you might get 50 hands per hour. If you play by yourself you can get 150 hands per hour or more. That means you are winning 3 times as much if you play alone versus playing at a full table. Wouldn't you like to triple your paycheck? Game speed is important. A side count of 7s is not.

Your bet spread - How big a spread is there from your minimum bet to your maximum? Say that you have determined you will bet $100 at a TC 2, 200 at TC 3, 300 at TC 4, and 400 at TC 5 or higher. 
At a $50 table you are spreading 50-400 or 1-8 you win $24.02 per hundred hands
At a $25 table your spread is 1-16 or 25-400 you win $43.70
If you only wong your spread is 0-400 you win $63.37
Look at the way you win rate goes up by increasing your spread. Many new players think that when they increase their spread it increases their risk, but in this example you actually decrease your risk by increasing your spread.

And the most important factor...
Casino tolerance. You could find a casino that dealt 51 cards out of a single deck, super fast dealers that deal 200 hands per hour, and you spread 1-100, but if they won't tolerate your action the game is worthless. Some casinos, like The El Cortez, have a great single deck game. But they have been known to bar people that have not even played a hand! Just the way someone looks at the blackjack table can get them backed off. I know several players this happened to. There are other casinos where a $5,000 bet may get a yawn from a pit boss. If a casino will not take your action there is no way to make any money. 

So the next time you are headed to a new casino venue don't ask your counting friends - "any places with good rules?" Ask them, "Any places that take action, have good penetration, and lots of empty tables?"

And when you are ready to move beyond counting, check out advice to new advantage players.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Bob Nersesian #5

The guest this week is Bob Nersesian.  Bob is a frequent guest to the show, and always entertaining.  Bob is the lawyer who advocates for the players against the casinos, and has successfully sued many Vegas casinos on the behalf of players.  This episode is primarily about the laws regarding using a device in the casino. He is also the author of Beat the Players.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Eliot Jacobson

Eliot is a Ph.D. mathematician and former advantage player. Now Eliot works as a consultant designing casino games, auditing Internet casinos, and advising on game security. On the show Mike and Bob ask Eliot about switching sides, and the latest advantage plays, among other topics.
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Quote of the day.

"Learning to count cards is easy. Learning to get away with it is tough."
RWM

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Bob Nersesian #4

The guest this week is Bob Nersesian.  Bob is a frequent guest to the show, and always entertaining.  Bob is the lawyer who advocates for the players against the casinos, and has successfully sued many Vegas casinos on the behalf of players.  He is also the author of Beat the Players.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Today's Advantage Play

Last week I went to Frys to buy a battery charger, and a new lens for my camera. They have an odd system at Frys, you select your item in the department, and they print out a slip for you to take to the cashiers. The cashier then gets the item and rings you up. While I was walking to the front of the store I remembered I had an app on my phone called Shop Savvy. I had never used the app before but figured I try it out. You open the app and it allows you to scan the bar code on any item, and it tells you how much the same item is selling for at local stores near you, and online. When I looked at the lens I was buying it showed that it was $50 cheaper at Amazon, and had free shipping. When I got to the cashier I told her I no longer wanted the lens because it was $50 cheaper at amazon, and showed her my phone. She said, "We'll match any price." Is this a great country or what?!

Benjamin Franklin said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." But Franklin was wrong. A penny saved is worth much more than a penny earned. When you earn money you have to pay taxes on it, and saved money you don't. So take advantage of this shop savvy app. It's in itunes, and the google play store, and you can't beat the price, FREE!

Now if you are shopping at Frys and want to take advantage of their matching price offer you do have to take that paper over to customer service where they will do the price matching. In my case there was a long line at customer service and I didn't have time to get my lens. So if you are looking for a Christmas present for your favorite blogger...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Quote of the day

"All the evidence shows that God was actually quite a gambler, and the universe is a great casino, where dice are thrown, and roulette wheels spin on every occasion."
Stephen Hawking

Friday, November 16, 2012

Gambling in movies

Richard Roeper is a very good movie reviewer. He also considers himself a bit of a gambler. He wrote a really terrible book called,  Bet the House: How I Gambled Over a Grand a Day for 30 Days on Sports, Poker, and Games of Chance. To professional gamblers Roeper is what we call, a "ploppy." Now to be fair it would not surprise me if Richard thinks my movie reviews suck, and as a director he may call me... a ploppy. I don't really know since I was afraid to see if he ever reviewed one of my movies. But on one thing we agree. When it comes to gambling in movies they usually get it wrong. Here is an article of his about two upcoming movies that contain gambling.  Gambling movies not always a sure bet - Chicago Sun-Times.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Willy Allison

This week's guest is Willy Allison, surveillance expert, and CEO of World Game Protection Inc. I thought this was a really good episode with lots of good info on surveillance.
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Quote of the day

"Money won is twice as sweet as money earned." 
"Fast Eddie" Felson 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Interview - Mike Patterson VP of Table Games at Barona Casino

When I walk through a casino it is with a critical eye. You still have a Caribbean Stud table? What a waste of space. CSMs that pay 6-5 on blackjack and you can only double on 10 or 11? You must be kidding. I'd get rid of two of those crap tables, and put in four more carnival games. All of these decisions are the purview of the Director of Table Games. I wanted to know more about how tables games directors think, and was fortunate to be able to interview Mike Patterson, VP of Table Games at Barona Casino near San Diego, CA. Barona is the most successful casino in California, so they must be doing something right.

RWM: Let's start with, how long have you been VP of Table Games, and what was your path in the casino business to get you here?  

MP: I started out in 1994 as a dealer for Barona.  I worked my way up as a floor supervisor, pit manager,casino manager, director of table games which was later changed to VP of table games.  I have been responsible for the table games department since 2001.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guests Staci Alonso & Chris Brune

The guests this week are Staci Columbo Alonso - IGT Vice President of Global Marketing and Chris Brune - IGT Distinguished Game Designer.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ace - Duece Book Review

I moved to Las Vegas in 1977. I had just turned 22, and I was a pretty fair backgammon player. My plan was to go to dealer's school, hone my skills as a card counter, and in the meantime supplement my income with backgammon.  The backgammon club was at the corner of the Strip, and Spring Mtn. Rd in a disco called Dirty Sally's. The club was run by Mike Maxiculi, who everyone called Max. In the beginning I was in awe because legendary gamblers like Puggy Pearson, Chip Reese, Amarillo Slim, and later Stu Ungar would show up to play for stakes higher than I had ever seen. We young hustlers would salivate because these guys couldn't play a lick, but they were betting $100 a point while we were playing for $5. They would never let us into their game. It turned out lucky for us because these guys were always fucking each other. Max would team up with Puggy to play Chip Reese for $100 per point each, but in reality Chip and Max were carving up Puggy's money, and Max was making sure their side lost. Later weighted, shaved, and magnetic dice all made their way into the room.

Sunday night was tournament night. There was a group of about 20 regulars who would show up, and the entry fee was 10 or 20 dollars. One of those regulars was a soft spoken man named John Anderson. John was a strong intermediate player. I never knew much about him other than that he was always very well dressed, played a lot of golf, and drank a lot of scotch. He had a girlfriend who also played backgammon, golf, and was a dealer at the Sahara. One day I opened the morning paper to find that John and his girlfriend had been busted at the Sahara for putting in a cooler. For those not familiar with the term, a cooler is a deck that has been prearranged so the player will win every hand. In this case I believe it was a 4-deck shoe that was switched. I was relating this story to a friend recently, and he said, "Oh yeah. He wrote a book." I immediately whipped out my phone, and ordered it.

Ace - Deuce: The Life and Times of a Gambling Man is the story of Ryan, a young hustler, that starts in 1958. It seems an odd choice for the story to be told in third person with a different name. Everyone else in the book is named, and I can't find anything on it designating it fiction. The book opens with Ryan and his crew making two moves in Lake Tahoe. One is quite sophisticated, and the other as rank a shot as you can imagine. The first move is the "stolen die" move. An obnoxious shooter at the dice table keeps throwing the dice too hard, and one or more fly off the table. When this happens someone from the pit is sent to look for them. One of Ryan's crew secretly gets ahold of one of these missing dice and walks it over to a confederate at the opposite end of the table from the shooter. This player now bets table max on 11 and 12, and goes down to put a max bet in the field. He has the missing die in his hand with the chips. The shooter makes his throw trying to hit the confederate's hand, but he only throws one die. The confederate puts down the other die with a 6 up, and yells "Ow!" as the shooter hits his hand with the thrown die. The die that the confederate was placing 6 up is covered by all the chips he was betting in the field. In this case they end up with 6, 2 and lose all their bets. You can read much more about this move in the book, Loaded Dice by John Soares. This is a terrific gambling book if you haven't read it. So the crew loses their money, and heads to another little casino in Lake Tahoe to drown their sorrows and complain. While at the bar Ryan flashes a huge roll of cash and heads over to the roulette table. He puts $200 down on the end of the roulette layout with the bills half covering one of the columns just as the ball hits. The dealer goes to give him change, and he says, "That was a bet." Of course the winning number is in the column he was half covering. This is what I would call a "rank move" and I would think most places would throw you out on your ear, but he gets paid. And that is what you can expect from this book. Some clever cheats and hustles, and some just down and dirty thieving or shot taking.

Ryan travels around the country, and meets legendary figures like Titanic Thompson, and mobster Santo Trafficante. He cheats, and often gets cheated. But when he is cheated he seems to just shrug it off as part of the cost of being a road gambler. One story I liked was him going into a one table casino. While he is having drinks at the bar he notices the count sky-rocketing at the one blackjack table. He jumps into the shoe and gets beat for a few thousand dollars.  He realizes that there is something odd about the way the dealer is looking at the shoe, and figures out there is a prism in the shoe, and the dealer is busting him out dealing seconds. Does he throw a fit, threaten to call Gaming? No, remember this is the 60s when cheating was common, and Gaming Control a joke. He goes back to the bar as the dealer closes up the table, waits for an opportunity, and then just walks out of the joint snagging the gaffed shoe off the table as he goes. That is one of the reasons that dealing shoes are now chained to the tables. He later uses the gaffed shoe in an underground game he dealt at a California racetrack winning many tens of thousands.

There is a lot of golf hustling and scamming in the book. He uses grease on his clubs, deepens the grooves in his wedge, and has a magnet in the bottom of his putter. He uses a fake penny as a ball marker that is magnetic. This allows him to pick up the ball marker with the magnet, and move it closer to the hole under the guise of tamping down divots in the green. Ryan eventually settles down in Vegas, and for 8 years had a daily golf game with Jay Sarno. Sarno built Caesar's Palace, and Circus Circus, and dumped off millions of dollars at golf and other vices.

Ultimately Ryan's downfall is cocaine. It's hard for young people to imagine, but cocaine was everywhere in the early 80s. It was so prevalent that people wore gold coke spoons around their necks as jewelry. There were gold crucifixes that were coke spoons! It wasn't just people on the fringes, and the bigger the gambler, the more they seemed to be doing it. Ryan takes to dealing enough to support his own habit, and eventually gets busted. That is where his story ends, and no year is given.

I really enjoy this type of book, and this one was no exception, but it does point out the major problem with self-publishing. The book really screams out for a good editor. This is the 3rd self-published book I read in the last month, and every one of them could have been miles better with professional editing. My big disappointment with the book was this: the back cover states,

"Mr. Anderson went to Las Vegas in 1958 to shoot some dice. He went on to work as a dealer, became a floor man, pit-boss, Casino Manager, and eventually a Casino Consultant. During the same time period he played poker, golf, and any game you could gamble on. A few lapses in judgment, described in the book Ace-Deuce, led to his becoming an author rather than a player."

None of that is in the book! Not a peep about working in a casino, and nothing about the cooler. So John, if you're out there you should write a second book. I know you have the material. If you are like me, and you like the tales of the old crossroad gamblers, pick up Ace - Deuce: The Life and Times of a Gambling Man. You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Las Vegas Backgammon early 1980s

This article was written by Jake Jacobs in 2006. It is about the Vegas backgammon scene in the early 80s. I wanted to post it here as a prelude to my review of Ace - Deuce: The Life and Times of a Gambling Man. The book was written by J. E. Anderson who was a staple of that Vegas backgammon scene. The review will go up in a day or two, but in the meantime enjoy this article by Jake.

Las Vegas Backgammon

Silk suits. For me that is the first image that comes to mind when I think of Las Vegas backgammon in the good old days. Backgammon, for you kiddies, was a disco game, played in Pips, Faces, Maxims, Studio 54. Slick hustlers, the Gabby Horowitzes and Joe Dweks and Billy Eisenbergs, preyed upon Lucy and Hef and, yes, O.J. Tina Turner turned a cube or two. The man himself, Jim Brown, rushed a few thousand yards to get in the chouette. Vegas was the capital, epitomizing the glittery slippery “what’s that white cake around your nostril?” time. Frank and the Rat Pack? Your parent’s thrills. This era was neon and hip and in-the-know and what we knew your daddy (and Frank and Sammy and Dean “ring-a-ding-ding”) were too old to learn.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Brian McAllister part 2

This week's guest is Brian McAllister, a long-time video poker player. This is part 2 of the interview from the October 4th show.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Darryl Purpose - Next Time Around

For those of you not familiar, Darryl Purpose is a member of the Blackjack Hall of Fame. I did an extensive interview with him, which you can read here - interview. In the interview he said that when he was 16 his mother gave him a copy of Beat the Dealer, but he forgave her because she also gave him his first guitar. My first trip with Darryl was in 1983. We went to England, and Darryl brought his guitar. He performed for the people on the ferry to Dover, and at a folk festival in Enderby. Since that time we have made several trips to Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia, and the guitar is always there. I have watched him perform all over the world.

Darryl quit blackjack the first time in 1985 to join the Great Peace March. But like Michael Corleone, every time he thought he was out, we would pull him back in. But now he is out of blackjack for good, and has just released his 7th CD, Next Time Around. The genre of his music is called singer/songwriter and I would compare it to people like Jame Taylor, or Jim Croce. Here is a video of Darryl performing one of the songs that is on the album. The Ghost of Crazy Horse. I love his music, and hope you will too. If you would like to check out his other CDs you can do that here - Darryl's other CDs. If you want to know more about Darryl, and when he might be playing a gig near you, check him out at darrylpurpose.com.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Kelly Flynn

This week's guest is Kelly Flynn, a master of ceremonies that runs promotions at many casinos in Las Vegas.
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Saturday, October 13, 2012

1536 Free Waters - book review

The full title of this book is actually, 1536 Free Waters and Other Blackjack Endeavors: Finding Profit and Humor in Card-Counting. The author is Glen Wiggy, an amateur card counter, and a mathematician. The book is part "how to", part memoir, and part miscellaneous stories that started out as blog posts at blackjackstories.com.

This is NOT a book for someone starting out that wants to learn to count cards. Why? First of all the count he advocates is the Hi Opt 1. Now this is a fine count for playing against single or double deck games if you use a side count for aces. Glen is using this count, without the side count of aces, and using it against 6 deck shoes. He also divides his running count by half decks to get a true count. So he is using a weaker count that is more difficult to use. If you want a basic primer on how to learn card counting I would recommend Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder.

After Glen learns to count he runs a simulation of 500 hands, and compares the results of a card counter to someone playing basic strategy. WHAT?! This guy is a mathematician and he thinks 500 hands can tell you anything about anything? But he goes off and starts playing. And let me tell you this is one of the luckiest players you have ever heard of. He never says exactly what his starting bankroll was, or exactly how big a spread he was using, but he won 15 of his first 21 sessions. He steadily raised his unit size from $5 units to - well this is about 50 sessions into his play:

I entered Santa Ana Casino around ten o'clock on a Saturday morning. I was betting $50 per hand with a $750 bankroll.

Again, WHAT?! $50 isn't his top bet, it is his unit size. The fact this he never went broke is just incredible. Here is a graph of his first 5 months of play.

Now I'm sure if his graph had looked like this he would have quit playing long before the 5 months were up.

Now the losing starts. He goes to the casino with $1,000 and starts betting a $25 unit. He gets up $1,000 and decides to raise his betting to a $75 unit!? He gets a monster count, loses a few hands, and shoves out his entire remaining stack, $1,115, and gets a pair of aces. He has no money so he runs around the casino, and finds a guy he works with who loans him the money. He loses the hand, and this is what he says:

What happened? Was it poor money management? Was it simply the result of a stinky boot? (Glen's term for a bad shoe.)Was there a simpler answer? Yes. Greed. I could have quit several times during the day, even toward the end when the count was unbelievably high. There is no rule, written or unwritten, that says you must continue to play when the count is high. Greed got the best of me.

I know I keep saying this, but this guy is supposed to be a mathematician! Several times in the book he blames his losses on "getting greedy." No Glen, this is not greed, this is not understanding how to size your betting based on your bankroll. Something a guy with a masters degree in mathematics from the University of Arizona should understand.

One of the stories in the book involves Glen wanting to buy a TV. He is ahead $1500 for the day, but he needs $1600. He wants to win the extra $100 so he decides to Martingale it. The Martingale is a betting system where you make a bet, and if you lose you double it, and if you lose that you double again etc until you go broke. Because ultimately you will go broke as no betting system can overcome a negative expectation bet. Of course he loses his $1500.

I'm sorry, but this is a card counting book written by a ploppy.

Maybe the book has improved, since I got an advance copy that wasn't quite finished yet. If you look on Amazon you will see there is one review - 5 stars! You might also notice the reviewer has no other reviews. On my 4 aces scale I give it
one ace

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - Holy Rollers Blackjack players

This week's guests are Ben and Colin, two men who ran The Church Team, a team of card counters featured in the movie, The Holy Rollers.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Sunday, October 7, 2012

What makes a great AP?

I read a recent post asking what makes a really good advantage player (AP)?  If you ask professional APs who the best players in the world are, there are a handful of names that pop up. I've often said that the secret to my success was that I met the best players in the world, and convinced them to let me play with them. So I'd like to look at why these guys are considered the best, and what traits they share that may help you in your quest.

I was a dealer at The Castaways Casino which sat where The Mirage is today. We were right across the street from The Sands. We had 4 deck shoes, and also had 4 tables with single deck - S17, double any 2 cards. One of those singles decks was a $5 minimum, and the others were $2 minimum. Because of this every card counter in the world stopped into the Castaways. One day I was dealing to a guy who I spotted right away as a counter. His bet spread was $2 to $8. I dealt for a while until off the top of a freshly shuffled deck he hit with 10, 2 versus my dealer 6. I said, "You better go do some more practicing. That was a stand." He gave me a funny look, deciding whether he really wanted to have this conversation with a dealer, and said, "10, 2 versus 6 is a fine point of basic strategy hit." I said, "No, 10, 2 versus 4 is a hit but versus 6 is a stand." Now he was really shocked because dealers never said stuff like this. "It's one of the things in Peter Griffin's new book." I said, "Who is Peter Griffin?" He said, "He's a mathematics professor from Sacramento. He's got a new book, The Theory of Blackjack, and according to Wong's newsletter he's the best card counter in the world." I started laughing, and said, "He's probably one of these guys like Thorp that knows a lot about the math, but nothing about actually playing." Well he found this really hilarious, and as you may have guessed this was Peter Griffin. He used the Hi Opt1 with side counts of  2s, 7s, 8s, aces, the ratio of 5s to 6s, (because this is the only thing relevant to hitting 16 vs 10) and the exact number of cards played so he could get a precise true count. One time I was dealing to him with one other player at the table, and he didn't have a bet in the square. I gestured, and he said, "Are you dealing another round? You only have 15 cards left." I said, "that's plenty to get through another round." Yes, these were the good old days of card counting. Often we would get to the end of a deck and he would say, "There are 12 cards left. two 2s, one 5 one 6, no 7s three 8s four 10s and one ace." I would spread the remaining cards, and I never saw him miss. Not only did he have all this information, but he was probably the only guy that would know what to do with it on the fly.

Was he one of the great APs of all time? Not even close. He may have been the greatest single deck card counter of all time, but that doesn't make him a great AP. When my son was 13 he went to a basketball camp at U of A. One day they had a guy come in to teach free throw shooting. While the guy talked, and explained the mechanics he would shoot  free throws. He made 200 in a row. Does it make him a great basketball player?

What makes a really great AP?

1. Open minded, creative, and curious.

Great APs know that every game in the casino can be beat under the right conditions. That is why when they go into a casino they take the time to look at every game there. You never know what you might find. Too often card counters, or VP players have tunnel vision. They enter the casino, head directly to their game, put in their hours and leave without ever looking around. To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail. The creative players come up with some really innovative ways to get an edge. I know a great player who one night said, "What if we could find a way to see through the cards? Like X-Ray Specs." No one on the team asked him what he had been smoking, or called him an idiot. For every 99 ideas that go nowhere, one can become that million dollar idea. This player has sought out various scientists to discuss how this could be possible, and still no luck. But he hasn't completely given up on the idea either.

2. The ability to adapt quickly on the fly.

Sometimes you see a situation that is happening right now. You either take advantage of it or it is gone. Over my career there are a few plays that stick in my mind as memorable for one reason or another. One of my favorites happened about 25 years ago. I went out with Mr X-Ray Specs to play a hole card in Reno. We set up on a game, and the HC was mediocre, but X realized that the dealer was making a procedural error. He was able to communicate to me what was going on, use some considerable skill to take advantage of it, and also signal to me how many hands to play on a given round. All this was done without the dealer ever realizing we were together.

3. Follow through

All the best APs that I know read everything they can get their hands on.  This is part of the curiosity mentioned in number 1. If you do this you realize that there really are no secrets. If I were to list here every project or play that I know of that resulted in wins of 6-figures or more, these are the comments I would expect. (If you are well read.)
1. Oh yeah, I've heard of that.
2. I didn't know you could apply that to that game.
3. A lot of people said that isn't possible, or is illegal. (wrong in both cases.)

There are a lot of players who have the creative part. Get a group of APs together and you will here something like this, "I was reading about X. What if we tried it at this casino on that game?" Then the comment are, "Oh, that would be too hard." "We'd have to get a bunch of people together, and it would take a lot of practice." "There is a lot that could go wrong, and we might not really know what our edge is." And the idea just dies of inertia. The great APs say, "No, we can do this." and put one foot in front of the other to get the job done.

In the 90s there were still some good shuffles available. Al Francesco came out of retirement, and was briefly on a count team. He realized quickly that card counting was not what it once was, and that there were shuffles that could be exploited by sequencing. At this point he read 10 books on memory, and developed a technique for memorizing sequences. He commissioned people to shuffle cards and analyzed the gaps created by individual riffles. He recruited players, taught them his technique, and then scouted shuffles all over the country to give his team places to go. At the time he was close to 80 years old, and could remember a dozen sequences or more per shoe. That's what a world class AP does. Someone else says, "Sounds good, pass the bong."

Friday, October 5, 2012

Opportunities

Forget politics, this is money.  Elections are great times for advantage players because the lines are ridiculously screwed up. As of today, if you go to Intrade.com, Obama is trading at basically 7-3. That means if you bet Obama for $700, and he wins you win $300. Now if you go over to Pinnacle Sports and bet Romney you are getting 4-1. So say you bet $200 on Romney, and if he wins you win $800. But what if you make both bets? If Romney wins you lose -$700 at Intrade, but win $800 at Pinnacle. If Obama wins you lose $200 at Pinnacle, but win $300 at Intrade. You win $100 for every $900 bet! You can't find action like this very often.

Now this is a bit of a problem to have access to betting these places if you are in the US. Some people have been known to have friends in other countries to make these bets for them, and some have found other ways around this problem. I leave it to you to figure out how to get your money down, but these are the kinds of situations that advantage players look for, so keep your eyes open.

One of my favorite writers,  Damon Runyon said,

It may be that the race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong - but that's the way to bet. 


NOTE: I should have credited Mike Shakleford for fisrt mentioning this on Gambling With an Edge.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Brian McAllister

This week's guest is Brian McAllister, a long-time video poker player.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Good Wife

For my money The Good Wife is the best 1 hour show on Network TV.  Sunday was the first episode of the new season, and had particular resonance for advantage players. The main character is Alicia Florrick, played by Julianna Marguilies. She is a lawyer in a high-power firm in Chicago. This episode begins with her asleep in the back seat of a jeep she has just purchased for her son. Her son is driving, and her daughter in the front seat. They are driving south to Chicago on a highway that has been targeted as a "drug corridor." She wakes up when the kids realize they are being stopped by the police.

The show gets so much of this exactly right. First, the bullshit reason for being pulled over. The cop says that when the son passed him he noticed the kid hit his brakes , and slowed down (who doesn't when they see a cop) and the cop is just pulling them over to make sure they were all right. He pulls the son aside to question him, and then tells Alicia that the son seemed "nervous" when he was questioning him, and since they are on this major drug corridor he would like to run his dog around the vehicle, "just to be on the safe side."  He runs the dog around the car, and cues the dog to show a reaction. (Later in the show they get a dog trainer to show how this is done.) He now tells them that because the dog has reacted it gives him probable cause to search the vehicle. He searches the vehicle, and comes back, and says he found "shake" under the seat. Shake means some left over crumbs and stems of marijuana. (Later in the show when Alicia tells this to a former DA he says, "Yeah, that's what they say when they don't find anything.") Now the really interesting part. The cop now says he is giving them a ticket and a warning, and let them go. He looks down, and sees the son holding his iphone. He asks if the iphone is recording him. The kid says yes. The cop tells him that is a felony, and he must delete the recording right now. It escalates a bit, and the kid hits send, and emails the recording to himself. The cop then arrests him for, I think the charge is eavesdropping, but later they try to escalate it to obstruction of justice.

Bravo to this show for exposing this stuff to a national audience. They point out that cops do this across the country, and confiscate people's cash and cars as a way of boosting their revenue. I know many advantage players that have had exactly this kind of thing happen to them, complete with the prompted dog reaction. They left out two things in this show that are important for advantage players to know.

1. Are you carrying cash or drugs? This is the question the cop invariably asks.
2. You don't mind if I search your car do you? Notice how ambiguous the question is?

BIG DISCLAIMER - I am not a lawyer, but I once played one in a movie. That means, don't take legal advice from a guy writing a blog. But here is how I handle this.

1. My first answer to this question is, "What does that have to do with speeding?" (or whatever BS reason they pulled me over.) My second answer is, "Officer, if you will just write me a ticket I'll be on my way." My third would be, "Am I free to go?" My fourth would be, "This is starting to sound like a fishing expedition which I believe are illegal. I have nothing further to say."

2. My response to this question is, "I do not give you permission to search my car." When the cop says, "Why, what do you have to hide?" I would go back to the responses in number 1.

This does not mean they won't end up searching the car, but this is how I would deal with it.

3. I am a big believer in recording the whole thing. In some states it is legal to record a conversation as long as one party knows it is being recorded. In some states both parties have to know. In some states a conversation with a cop is considered "public" so it is legal to record it. Cops have been fighting hard to make it illegal to video them, but the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal has ruled that it is legal to video tape police.
Legal to video police is a link to an article on the ruling. In the show it is a key point because the old laws pertained to audio, and the kids iphone captured video but not audio. It would be a good idea to find out what the law is in your state, or in states you are going to be travelling through. A couple questions I would like answered is - what if you inform the cop you are recording him, and he says "turn it off." Is it illegal for you to refuse? Is it better to inform a cop you are recording him?

Here is a link to Good Wife. This is just their video page. The specific episode is called I Fought The Law.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hollywood casting

Terrance McNally wrote a play called Frankie and Johnny at the Claire De Lune. It opened off-Broadway in 1987, and the role of Johnnie was written for Kathy Bates. She starred in the play, it really helped propel her career. The play is about a couple of damaged, middle-aged people who work in a diner, and slowly fall in love. You know Kathy Bates right.

So when it came time to make the movie, who did they cast as the average, over-weight, middle-aged Johnnie?

Yeah, that troll, Michelle Pfeiffer.

About 10 years ago my Dad turned me on to a writer named Lee Child.  He writes about a character named  Jack Reacher. Reacher is a former MP who wanders the country, and generally gets involved in some kind of case where he ends up using his military policing skills to get himself out of trouble. He is described as 6'5", about 250 lbs. dirty blond hair. In the latest book several people describe him as a gorilla.

Who did they get to play this man mountain in the upcoming movie? 

Uh guys, that was supposed to be 6'5" not 5'6". Why do I think this movie is going to suck.

If you want to check out more about Lee Child's Reacher books here is the Lee Child Author Page.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Do casinos cheat?

Like the change of seasons, every 3 months or so a post pops up on the blackjack boards; I think the casino is cheating. This dealer was dealing seconds. This latest one really caught my attention:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Mike Fields part 2

The guest this week is Mike Fields, Vice President of videopoker.com talking about some of the new games they will be introducing at the upcoming G2E (Global Gaming Expo).
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Mike Fields.

The guest this week is Mike Fields, Vice President of videopoker.com talking about some of the new games they will be introducing at the upcoming G2E (Global Gaming Expo).
click to listen - alt click to download

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Conventional Wisdom

Recently on one of the blackjack boards someone posted something like this: "I'm going to be in Vegas this week. Does anyone want to meet, and maybe team up?" He was quickly slammed with responses like, "This is a good way to lose all your money." or "Don't trust people you meet on the internet." Loyal readers know that Rule #3 is "Don't listen to people on the internet," but it got me thinking about how rewarding, and profitable meeting people over the internet has been for me. I am not saying you should share your bankroll with the first guy that sends you a PM, especially if his handle is a synonym for Conman. But if you have any street-sense at all you should be able to make a judgement regarding whether or not a person is someone you want to do business with.

I met a guy in a chat room, let's call him T5. People prattled on about keeping a side count of 7s, or how much better the playing efficiency was of this count over that. This is all stuff I have no interest in, but T5 seemed to be actually interested in making money, so while they talked we would be having our own conversation using the private chat mode. He was very interested in shuffle tracking, and this was many years ago when shuffles were still good. He asked if he could fly out to California, and meet with me to talk about shuffle tracking. I tried to discourage him. He lived back east, it would be an expensive flight, and my kids were babies so he would have to stay in a hotel, but he said he wanted to invest his time and money if I would give him some of my time.  I said okay. He came out, and I taught him what I could about shuffle tracking. I felt kind of guilty because I wasn't much of a teacher, and didn't give him a lot of my time. Anyway, about a year later he calls me up, and says he found a very trackable game, but in addition he thought it would be good for sequencing. (Sequencing games are something I very much enjoy.) He described the shuffle, and I said, "Let's go." It turned out to be a nice mid 5-figure score.

Conventional wisdom; I guess I am just a contrarian. When people say they would never play at internet casinos because they probably cheat, and they have no reason to pay you, I think - sounds like that is where the money is. In fact, when internet gambling first started I did get stiffed for a very big number. A few year later I went back and tried again, and did quite well thank you.

Years ago I did an interview with Rob R. one of the founders of CORE. For those who don't know, when gambling first opened in CA it was Class II. That meant the casinos were not allowed to bank games, only players could bank against each other, and the casino would take a commission for each hand.  You can still find this structure in Oklahoma or the CA card rooms. CORE was the first group to take over all the banking in casinos. Their business grew all over the state of CA, and it became one of the most successful gambling ventures ever, taking in tens of millions of dollars if not more. But when this banking first started cheating was rampant. Stanford Wong, and Arnold Snyder both warned people about the dangers of banking because of the cheating. Rob told me this.

"Those articles were very good for us. People were terrified to bank. Our attitude was, they might be able to cheat us for a little while, but we’ll figure it out and stop them. That was part of the game. The fear of being cheated was much worse than the actual cheating. I always like to go into those areas where others are afraid to go."

So when some asshole on the internet tells you, Dice control is not worth pursuing, take what I say with a grain of salt.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Nathaniel Tilton

Our guest tonight is Nathaniel Tilton, author of The Blackjack Life. You can read my review of his book here. Review.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Retire?

I was reading the Nolan Dalla blog today, and he had a rant about how he thought the Rolling Stones should retire. This got me thinking about my own situation. For the longest time when people asked me what I do I would say, "writer."  (These are people to whom I didn't want to say "professional gambler" for various reasons.)  But I never really felt right about saying writer since I certainly don't make anything close to a living from my writing. I had been toying with the idea of saying, "I'm retired" or "I'm semi-retired," but I'm not sure I like the sound of that either. Which brings me to John Kretz.

When I first started playing blackjack in the 70s there was a legendary player named John Kretz.  The story went that he had made more than a million dollars playing blackjack, and had then had plastic surgery to change his face so that he could keep playing. You have to understand two thing. A million dollars in the 70s was a hell of a lot of money than it is now, and back then there was only one place in the US to play blackjack, and that was the state of Nevada. When I finally met John I had to ask, if he had a million dollars why have surgery? Why continue to play? He told me, "Playing blackjack is what I do, it's who I am. What would I do, sit at home and watch TV all day?" His answer made a lot of sense to me. He wasn't out playing just for the money, it was because he loved playing, and I am sure the same holds true for The Rolling Stones. It's the same reason that Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, and Mohamed Ali all tried to make comebacks when they were far too old. It's much more difficult for an athlete than a musician or gambler.

I have an older friend who knew quite a few of the old-time crossroaders.  One of them had been busted for some cheating. It was over a ridiculously small amount of money, and this was a guy who had more money than he could ever spend in two lifetimes. His lawyer asked him why the hell he would risk this bust over some small amount of money.  His answer is one of my favorite lines in gambling.  He said, "I may be a sick and twisted individual, but I just love fucking these casinos."

So let the Stones die of old age on stage, let them come out with walkers. I get it. And hopefully 30 years from now I'll still be stalking around the casinos looking for a game, but telling people, "I'm retired."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest I. Nelson Rose

The guest this week is professor I. Nelson Rose. This week we’ll be talking about his new book, Gaming Law in a Nutshell.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Steve Fezzik

Football season is here so time to talk once again with expert handicapper Steve Fezzik.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Monday, August 27, 2012

Interview with T Dane author of Behind The Black Dome

T Dane is the author of Behind The Black Dome: An Advantage Player’s Guide to Casino Surveillance. The book is new, and can be purchased at www.behindtheblackdome.com. T Dane has been working in the casino industry for a dozen years. For ten of those years he has been in casino surveillance.  He has worked as a surveillance operator, lead, and supervisor in joints big and small, and everything in between. Because he has also been an advantage player himself, he has special insight into the concerns of card counters, and other advantage gamblers.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Richard Munchkin

Guest this week is Richard Munchkin.  We discuss theft by team mates and other blackjack concerns.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Friday, August 17, 2012

I Get Paid For This - book review.

I just finished, I Get Paid for This: Kicking Ass and Taking Notes in Vegas, by Rick Lax. Okay, it isn't a gambling book, but it is about Vegas. Rick Lax works at The Las Vegas Weekly, and most of the material in the book appeared as articles in that paper. Rick does what he calls "stunt journalism." When George Plimpton joined training camp with the Detroit Lions football team, or when Hunter Thompson rode with the Hells Angels, that was stunt journalism. This? Not so much.

When I started the book Lax talked about being known for his piece about Town Square. Town Square is a shopping area in Vegas that sounds sort of like Stepford Land. Everything there is perfect, and the grass is always greener (because it's Astro Turf). People would stop Lax sometimes and say things like, "You're the guy who lived in the bathroom." His stunt journalism idea was that Town Square was so perfect he would move into a bathroom and live there. Good idea for a story right? Well he lasted all of about 10 minutes in the bathroom before being escorted out by security. You want living in a bathroom try reading, The Man With the $100,000 Breasts And Other Gambling Stories. Brian Zembic actually lived in a bathroom for a month to win a bet. And the guy who bet him was sending large men with gastric problems into the bathroom to try to stink him out.

Some of his other stunts include wearing a suit that makes him look like he is a huge body builder, getting elevator shoes, and stealing one of those pads in the urinals at Wynn to see if they actually prevented urine from bouncing back at you. They were all mildly entertaining, but very little substance. Urine pads are just for jokes, but I think he definitely could have gotten more depth out of how people treated him differently when he was 3 inches taller, or when people thought he was a huge body builder. By the way, this body builder suit looks really good under clothes, and professional Advantage Players may want to consider it.  A couple people have tried fat suits, so why not this?

One article that caught my eye was Casino Executive for a Day in which Lax got to follow around Felix Rappaport, president of The Mirage. Periodically Rappaport has a meeting with people representing all the different departments to listen to concerns, complaints, ideas etc. This is a great idea, and business school 101, but often executives don't take the time or don't listen. In the meeting Lax brings up the fact that he plays poker at The Mirage.  If he plays table games someone is always asking for a players card, and if the player doesn't have one they offer to get him one.  When he plays poker they ask for a card, and when he doesn't have one they tell him he should go get one. He points out that the last thing a poker player wants after waiting to get a seat is to leave the table, and go hunt down some player's club booth. Someone in the poker room should do this for him. I thought this was a really good point.  It has probably been a year since this meeting took place, and I would love to know if this policy has been implemented at the Mirage.  Any poker players out there? Also, to employees at The Mirage - Did the espresso machine in the employee dining room ever get fixed?

I don't want to offend Rick Lax, but there is one piece in this book that is actually a kick-ass piece of investigative journalism. A guy named Scott Ashjian ran for senate in 2010 as the candidate for The Tea Party of Nevada.  I found the article online so you can read it here - article. But what is truly amazing about this is that in Nevada you can make up a name of a party, and get on the ballot for senate, and all it requires is 250 signatures. Man, I may have a future in politics with the Mom, Apple Pie, and the Flag party. And for those of you with a larcenous bent, did you notice that no one knows anything about where his campaign contributions went?

I hope I haven't given you the impression that I didn't like this book. It is perfect bathroom material, each article the perfect length for taking a healthy dump. The stories are light, and airy, and many read like Facebook posts, which I think some of them were. There is one really annoying feature in this book.*

It is riddled with footnotes in a tiny font, for no reason.*

And sometimes there are footnotes within footnotes. Do you see any reason why all of this couldn't have just been part of the preceding paragraph?


If I lived in Vegas, and had access to the Las Vegas Weekly I would turn to Lax's articles first. He's a bit of a smart ass, and writes about the quirky side of Vegas. (Is there a non-quirky side of Vegas?)  See Rick, parenthesis, not footnotes. I give the book... 3 aces.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Buddy Frank

The guest this week is Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga Casino in Temecula California.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Friday, August 10, 2012

Hack Writing

Arnold Snyder is one of blackjack's best known, and most prolific writers.  He has a new blog called Write-aholic, which is not about gambling, but is about writing and book reviews.  I read a post today on his early days of hack writing.  You can read it here - Hack Writing. This brought back many memories of my own hack writing, although my writing was not in the trenches of porn; it was the low budget world of action, and martial arts movies.

My friend Joe owned a low-budget film company called PM Entertainment. I went to his office one day, we sit, he says,

"Kickboxing"

"Kickboxing?"

"Kickboxing.  It's very hot right now.  Have you seen Kickboxer with Jean-Claude Van Damme?"

"Uhm, no havn't seen that yet."

"I want you to do a movie for us. Kickboxing. We start shooting in February."

Wow, this was December so there were only 2 months to prepare. "I'd really like to do it, but that isn't a lot of time. Can I read the script?"

"Right, you have two months.  You better start writing."

Two months is not a lot of time to write a script, let alone, write it, cast it, and do everything necessary for preproduction. I called my brother Jake in Chicago, and told him I would be home in a week. He should rent every kickboxing movie he could find, and we had two weeks to write a script. I said, "With only two weeks we need a story that works. We'll steal from the best. Romeo and Juliet... with kickboxing!"

In writing porn, Arnold talks about the "flip strength." The flip strength means that a buyer has to pick up the book and flip to any page and find sex. Film producer Joel Silver had the equivalent for action films. "You have to have a whammo every 10 minutes. An explosion, a car chase, a fight scene, to keep the audience interested." At PM Entertainment we thought 10 minutes was far too long to wait. More fighting, less talk.

Some day I'll write much more about Ring of Fire, but we did write it in two weeks, shoot it in February, and screen it in June of that year. My favorite review was from a smart-ass critic who wrote, "What foot through yonder window breaks."

What happens next in the film world is the owners take their films to market. Film markets are just like fish markets. You tell the buyers how fresh yours is, they say they want a bigger fish or a different kind, you tell them why yours is better, and eventually you haggle out a price. Joe and George (the head of marketing) went to the big market in Milan, Italy where the buyers are there to buy the rights to films for their country.   These buyers offer helpful advice for your future films.

The French: More sex, less violence.
The Japanese: More violence, less sex.
The Korean buyer: Dreams are very important to my people. Especially the dream of Dragons.
The Scandinavian buyer: Many people die from bullets. Maybe you could kill someone with a harpoon, or bicycle pump.

Joe and George come back from the market, and now we have a meeting that is like entering the Twilight zone.

JOE: We have to rewrite the script.  It needs more sex and less violence.
GEORGE: Yes, and much more action, but not too much sex.
JOE: We're going to do it in Las Vegas and have a big stunt in the beginning like LETHAL WEAPON.
GEORGE: Yes, yes, and maybe our star could kill somebody by taping his mouth to his exhaust pipe and the guy fills with gas and his body explodes.
JOE: Right, but the fumes from the gas make him have a dream about a dragon.

Like porn - no jokes allowed. What is funny to us is not funny in Korea or Germany. It's only the meetings that are funny. But when you watch a low budget movie in the future, and you say to yourself, "Why does that cab driver have a scuba tank and spear gun in his taxi?" You can bet that some bad guy is getting shot through the eye with the spear gun, and someone's cab will explode when that scuba tank gets hit.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Anne Fried-Lefton

The guest this week is  Anne Fried-Lefton, a tax accountant who has made herself knowledgeable about the tax situations of gamblers.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Risk Intelligence

For those of you not familiar with TED, it is a group dedicated to "Ideas Worth Spreading." They hold various events where people give a 15 minute lecture about... well almost anything. Here is a TED Talk about risk intelligence given by Dylan Evans. Dylan is the author of Risk Intelligence, and his thesis is that professional gamblers do not think the same way that other people do. My wife could have told you that.


When I talk to civilians about professional gambling, they often equate gambling to alcoholism. Dylan says that in psychology most psychologists study gambling as a disease, and they use the same alcoholism analogy, but leave no room for the person who studies and appreciates fine wine. I believe my analogy is better.  I tell civilians that I am not like an alcoholic, I am like a guy who owns a brewery.  Every bottle that goes down that conveyor belt is dollars and cents of profit to me. Yes, bottles may fall and get broken, I could have a truck hijacked and lose the load, but the more bottles that run down that conveyor belt, the more money I eventually make.

If you would like to test your own risk intelligence, you can take the test here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Blackjack Life book review

I am always eager to read new gambling books, especially books about blackjack, so I was happy to see the new release The Blackjack Life by Nathaniel Tilton. The book chronicles the blackjack life of Nathaniel who is the epitome of the modern card counter.  These are the players that got hooked on blackjack from reading Ben Mezrich's book, Bringing Down the House , or seeing 21, the movie taken from Mezrich's book.   Nathaniel gets hooked on Mezrich's tale of the MIT blackjack team, and the follow-up book, Busting Vegas . He decided to pony up $500 for a blackjack class led by Semyon Dukach. Semyon is the Ken Uston of the last decade, meaning that he aspires to be the world's most famous blackjack player. At the class  Nathaniel meets D,A. his future partner. The class sinks the hook deeper, and  Nathaniel and D.A. begin their training. They meet frequently to slog their way through learning basic strategy, then to count, how to adjust for the true count, bet sizing, and on and on all with a serious commitment to excellence.

I have met two kinds of card counters over my career.  I will call them Alan and Peter. When I first moved to Vegas I met Alan, a counter from Australia, who also happened to play backgammon.  At the time Alan had a medium sized blackjack team, and I, and two of my backgammon friends were playing on our own for nickles. After about a week of daily backgammon parties in a suite at the DI where we ate lots of comped room service Alan offered to bankroll the 3 of us to play blackjack for higher stakes.  But first we had to pass a test. A few days later we met for the test, and the only one who did not pass it was Alan. Alan's feeling was - as long as you bet more money with an advantage, that was all that was important. Years later friends would joke that when a Quantas jet would land from Australia people would line up outside the plane yelling, "1 and 1 is 2," and Alan would step out and yell, "You're hired!"

Peter was the opposite of Alan.  At this time Peter also had a medium sized team, and both teams would often get together to party. At one of these parties Peter was having a heated argument with one of his players, Malcolm.  Peter had been watching Malcolm play at Caesars.  They were betting a $250 unit, and Malcolm had bet $425 with a running count of 6 with 2 1/4 decks left, and Peter was arguing that he should have bet $400. Their bankroll was over $100,000, and they were arguing over a $25 difference in a wager!

I would say that  Nathaniel, and D.A. definitely would fall into the "Peter" school of thought. There is nothing wrong with this, it is just a difference in personality type.  The really important thing is that you know which of these types you are. Do not team up with the opposite type.  You will drive each other nuts. An example of this would be when Peter teamed up with Ken Uston in Atlantic City.  You can read more about Alan and Peter in Gambling Wizards.

Nathaniel and D.A. appear to be a perfect fit.  They put in long hours, and a lot of effort, and became really good card counters. They used a combined set of techniques, wonging, big player call in, gorilla BP, and started winning money.  Anyone who has counted in a serious way will recognize many of the pitfalls and mistakes they run into:

  • team mates that are not as competent
  • team mates that are obnoxious and may have stolen from them
  • They get barred when  Nathaniel sees what he is sure is heat, but doesn't pull the play because he doesn't want to seem paranoid, and doesn't want his partner to think he is a wimp.
  • Dating a pit boss and having that awkward situation of lying about what you do. (Or dating a dealer who calls you Bob when your name is Richard, and keeps asking you about that import business you told a boss you own. Really honey, it was years before I met you.)
They persevere, and are successful, but eventually it all take a toll. They find that making money counting cards is an incredible grind, and eventually decide to give it up.  And just like Michael Corleone, "Just when I thought I was out..."  It is really hard to stay away. Trust me. My first retirement from blackjack was in 1983.

This is a really good book for someone learning to count cards.  It doesn't teach you how to count, but it will teach you exactly what to expect from the counting life.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Richard Munchkin

This week the guys discuss game shows. The Monty Hall problem, Deal or No Deal, and Jeopardy.
Click to listen - alt click to download

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - Listener questions answered

This week's show is devoted to answers to questions about gambling submitted by listeners.
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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guest Hollywood Dave Stann

The guest this week is Hollywood Dave Stann, known as "The bad boy of blackjack," and author of Hollywood Blackjack.
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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - guests Ed Miller and Arnold Snyder

There are 2 guests on the show this week to discuss reading players at the poker table.  The guests are Ed Miller and Arnold Snyder.
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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Gambling With an Edge - no guest this week

No guest this week so Bob and Mike discuss the current World Series of poker and other recent gambling news.
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Sunday, July 1, 2012

BJ episode of This American Life

If you have never heard This American Life you are missing one of the best shows on radio.  Fortunately the show has reached the modern era, and can be heard on the internet or as a podcast.  A recent episode was about blackjack, and has prompted a lot of discussion. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/466/blackjack.  Usually when I see someone is doing a show on blackjack, or casinos in general I know it is going to suck. It doesn't matter if it is 60 Minutes or The History channel, invariably they get it wrong. I'm happy to report, that this episode does not suck. They got Andy Bloch for the first segment. (You can hear my podcast with him here.) And they have member of the Holy Rollers team for segment 2.

I was talking with  a close friend, a high level professional player who has been playing on again off again for 35 years.  He told me that he was listening to the show, and at one point his body convulsed into a massive sob. Something in the show struck him so strongly that he had an immediate physical reaction. I knew exactly what moment he was talking about.  In the segment on the Holy Rollers they are talking to a player named Mike.  Mike said that he would have an enormous suite on the Las Vegas strip.  Everything is comped so he can eat in the finest restaurants, drink the best champagne, see any show.  But he would go up to his massive suite, order a club sandwich, sit looking out over the Las Vegas strip, and think about how lonely he was. Wow.  That is a moment of absolute truth, and I think every professional blackjack player has experienced it. I think this is one of the major reasons that people stop playing professionally.

I have a son who turned 18 this year. He is interested in playing, and asked me, "Why aren't X and Y out playing?"   There are players that would give up their left testicle for the opportunity X and Y had.  They both had been trained by some of the best advantage players alive. They never had to count cards, they went right to the good stuff. And both of them are now working at straight jobs. My son asked, "Wouldn't they make more money working as APs?"  I would have to think they would, even though I wouldn't bet that either of them could ace a basic strategy test. So why aren't they doing it?

As a parent we try to pass along some bit of wisdom to our kids, and we always hear that you have to "find your passion." Clearly X and Y did not have a passion for beating casinos. I also told my son that you have to find the things in life that make you happy. For me, I realized long ago that I am much happier working with people than working alone. That is why I will always be happier as a director, than a writer, happier eating with friends, than fine dining alone, and playing blackjack with a partner, rather than by myself. Right now there is a game I should be playing. It's worth between $500 and $1,000 per hour, and I can't get myself to go.  I tell myself it is because it is hard to get to, lots of travel, maybe it's burned already, yada yada yada.  But I know the real reason I'm not going is because my current partner has heat in that casino, and I would have to go alone. I would rather go to a worse game with a partner, than a better game alone. Oh well, I may not maximize my earnings, but at least I know what makes me happy. And if my son ends up learning that about himself, that will make me happy too.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Gambling Wizards makes it to Kindle

Wow, finally the Kindle edition of Gambling Wizards is available.  It only took 10 years but hey, better late than never.  And at $5.95 you can't go wrong. check it out.