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!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Advice to new Advantage Players

Over the course of my career in gambling, when people learn what I do they often say, “Can you teach me to do that?”  Some of them sounded really serious, and I spent quite some time with them only to learn that they really were not serious about learning once they realized that it actually requires effort. After wasting dozens of hours with a few people I developed a new approach.  Now when asked I respond, “Go learn basic strategy perfectly, and come back.” 99% of those people I never hear from again. People who read blackjack books are like people who buy books about diet or exercise. They want to read the book one night, and wake up the next day thin, or fit, or able to win money in casinos. A few people have come back claiming to have learned basic strategy, and I ask them, “When do you split nines?” or the killer, “What do you do with A7?”  Then I get answers like, “I mostly know it.”

This brings me to my son who recently turned 18.  A couple years ago he expressed interest in learning to play.  I told him he had years before he would be able to play, but if he wanted to get started he should read Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder, and then learn basic strategy. I usually recommend Blackbelt, or Knock-Out Blackjack for beginners even though my first book was Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere.  I told him there are also some good trainers for learning basic strategy online; one good one is at He’s had two years with the book, and now at 18 he can legally play at several casinos in California, but of course he hasn’t learned basic strategy yet. I have 2 friends of many years, one taught his son to play, and the other his son-in-law.  Both of these fine young men have made hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, and I swear neither one of them could ace a basic strategy test.  But they both have the benefit of nepotism as will my son.

Here is my advice to my son, as well as anyone else starting out as an advantage player.

1. Your success will be determined by how hard you work, and how many friends you have.

I think these two things are true no matter what your business, but many people fail to realize how important the second thought is.  I can not begin to count the hundreds of thousands of dollars I have made over my career because a friend called me up and said, “There is a really good game at “blank” or “We have this project starting up; do you want to be a part of it?” Just a few months ago I was walking through a casino with Bob Dancer.  We walked past a row of slot machines, and he casually said in passing, “These slots are beatable.”  I haven’t made any money from those slot machines yet, but you get the idea.

2. You must move beyond counting cards as quickly as possible. Counting cards has the smallest edge, and the most heat.  If you scout a casino, and the only option you see is a blackjack count game, you are better off leaving for another casino.

3. Do not listen to people on the internet. Here are some of the things you will read.

Computers are illegal, and if you use one you will end up in jail.  (They are in NV but that doesn’t mean they are everywhere else)

You can’t bet big without a players card.  (Total bullshit.  I do it all the time.)

Casinos don’t cheat because they would lose their license. (Nonsense, a casino in Las Vegas wouldn’t lose their license if they murdered someone.  Maybe someone would get fired.  They don’t cheat because it would be bad for business.  Cheating does go on, rarely, and not as a casino policy but usually by some dealer who has taken it on himself for some twisted reason.)

The world is a dangerous and scary place.  Don’t go to foreign casinos because they cheat, and you could end up in jail or worse. (The world is full of fascinating places and interesting people.  Don’t be afraid to go out and live.  And what can be better than seeing the world and earning money while you do it? Yes, you have to be extra careful in some places, but then that is true in Gary, Indiana or Atlantic City, New Jersey.)

6-5 games are the death of blackjack.  (For many players 6-5 has been a boon.)

4.  Your identity has real value.  Do not give it up for a free buffet, in fact never use a players card without a good reason.  Getting a room comp is NOT a good reason. The only good reason that comes to mind is your ev is coming from something the casino is giving you, like cash, airfare reimbursement in cash, fight tickets that are worth cash, loss rebates in cash. (note a pattern here) If this is the case then that is your ev and you should not play in any way that may get you heat as an advantage player.

5. Whether you study history, economics, or advantage play it is not about memorizing names, and dates, and numbers.  It is about learning how to think. I read a post on a blackjack forum.  A dealer was offering the shoe to be cut and exposed a few cards on the back of the shoe.  3 of clubs, 7 of clubs, ace of spades.  The player cut about 1 deck and then waited.  About one deck in he saw his 3 of clubs, bet big, and caught his ace of spades.  Good for him for keeping his eyes open, and taking advantage of a good situation, but what is more important is that you learn to think. When you run into this type of thing ask yourself:

“What caused the dealer to expose those cards?”
“Is it possible I could find more of these opportunities?”
“Are there other dealers who might be prone to this?”
“What if I scouted for dealers to see if I could find this opportunity again?”
“Is it possible that this could apply to other games?”

Actions speak louder than words - and get the money. 99/100 people on the boards will look at the above example and say, "Yeah, that is a big edge, but I'll only see that once every hundred years." (See #3)

6. I think one of the most important things I can tell you is this - right now there are games out there worth $1,000 or $2,000 per hour.  There are many games out there right now worth $500 per hour. They are there. If you go out and dig you will find the gold. (See #1) And when you find it... remember who your friends are.


ZenMaster_Flash said...

Kudos to R.N. for a delightfully valuable compendium of newbie advice; especially #3

Anonymous said...

I am new to card counting and practicing advantage play.

Can you please expand on #2?

Anonymous said...

I am a new card counter and AP.

Can you please expand on #2?

Byakuya said...

Concerning that last comment: there are games worth 1-2k an hour, they exist if you bet big enough, but unless you're a pro poker player or good at camouflage you're not likely to last long.

Harry Lime said...

In 2020 what you have written remains true.

Thank you Richard.