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, 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."

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