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, 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.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

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.