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!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Repeat Until Rich by Josh Axelrad

I recently finished Repeat Until Rich by Josh Axelrad. I should start by saying that I am a big fan of this type of book. I devoured Ken Uston's books before playing on big teams myself; not for the “how to” but for the stories of what it is like to be a professional player. I thoroughly enjoyed Blackjack Autumn by Barry Meadow, and thought Kevin Blackwood's, Play Blackjack Like the Pros was reasonable even though I disagree with many of his conclusions. I'm sorry to say I couldn't make it through more than a couple pages of Stuart Perry's Las Vegas Blackjack Diary. It read like my old tax records, and really shows the difference between writing and record keeping.

Josh does a good job of capturing the excitement, fear, and insanity that go with high-stakes blackjack. Unlike Ken Uston, he does not think he is the world's greatest blackjack player, and actually admits to being a bad one. He struggles with simple things like keeping the count, and has a really hard time with things like adjusting for true count, and sizing bets. One of the team leaders says, “anyone who can calculate an 18% tip in a restaurant can count cards.” The team, called Mossad in the book, quickly hands him thousands of dollars, and throws him into the shark tank with very little instruction. To non-players this will seem insane, but it is very much my experience with big teams. They may argue for hours over what the proper bet is with a running 17, 3 ½ decks to go, and a $450 unit, but then throw 2 or 3 ten-packs at a guy in the car, and as they're getting out start yelling rapid fire, “Oh, this signal means 'come into game,' this is 'end of play,' this means 'bet more...'” all the while the poor newbie is pleading, “Wait, wait, where do I go? How much do I bet? How do I know when to quit?”

Josh starts as a spotter, and it seems within weeks he has major heat all over Vegas. Pros will want to scream at the book, “Dude! Cut off your freaking dreadlocks!” You're the only white guy in the casino with dreadlocks and you can't figure out why you are getting barred the minute you walk in the door.
But Mossad had a policy that no one would be dropped from the team for getting heated up. They may throw you in the fryer, but they wouldn't abandon you when you got extra crispy. I find this loyalty admirable.

Josh now goes from a spotter with heat all over Vegas, to BP. Say what?! While everyone in town knew the guy with dreadlocks, they didn't have his name. Maybe he cut his hair, or hid it somehow, but he was reborn as a BP and was clean... for a while. Now to me this is the most interesting part of the book. Every professional has to deal with issues like, carrying cash, CTRs (cash transaction reports), ID, and heat. Mossad's approach was this: No fake ID ever. CTRs, file them with your real name. Heat – ignore it. Go right into the furnace and keep firing until they threw you out. This approach was unique in my experience. Mossad encouraged all players to invest and had a very large bankroll. This allowed them to bet up to 2 or 3 hands of $10,000. They won millions (I remember one New Years week where the rumor was they won 2 million) but it fried BPs, and eventually burned out the “big player call in” completely in many venues. To this day if a player in Las Vegas, with no players card enters a blackjack game in progress and bets the table maximum he will probably be barred before the shoe is over.

The book flies along with crazy blackjack stories, and Josh doing even crazier things. He goes into his bank in New York and deposits $18,000 in cash. Two weeks later he withdraws it in cash to take back to Vegas. It sounds like he did these kinds of transactions dozens of times. Dude, didn't anyone tell you they have bank branches in Vegas, and safe deposit boxes there too? They have the usual run in with cops in Louisiana, and by some miracle the cops don't confiscate their $120,000 in cash, although they do get taken out of the car at gunpoint.

Then the book takes a hard left turn. Josh gets out of blackjack and becomes a degenerate poker player. What had started as a breezy, fun read now becomes bleak and depressing as he blows all his money, and wallows in his addiction. He should have made this a second book which we all could skip.

1 comment:

southAP said...

Are you going to have him on the show? I would like to hear more about his story.