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.

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