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!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Becoming Bobby by Michael Konik

Becoming Bobby

When I was 13 I worked for a summer in my Father's law office in downtown Chicago. I would take the Chicago & Northwestern train down to the city. When you exited the back of the Northwestern station you were faced with the Chicago River. People streamed to the left, and right to walk across the bridges which fed them into The Loop. I remember standing outside the station watching thousands of men and women in their business suits, carrying briefcases, marching like ants across those bridges, and thinking, "I am never going to end up like these people."

The main character in Becoming Bobby never had that epiphany. We find him in his late 50s, working at a job he calls his prison, with an eight hour sentence each day. He's in an awful job, and a loveless marriage, and he dreams of becoming Bobby. Bobby is his manifestation of the guy every man wants to be, and every woman wants to screw. There is not much plot here. Perhaps our main character (his name is never given) is descending into madness, but as he becomes more like Bobby he goes in to see his boss, and demands that his salary be doubled. This is a salesman that hasn't added any new accounts in years. Bobby gets fired, leaves his wife, and heads off to Vegas.

Konik uses some odd writing conventions in this book. First of all the main character is never named, and neither is anything else. He doesn't go to Las Vegas, he goes to "the desert." There are no names of anything you would recognize. He doesn't drink a Coke or 7 Up, he drinks a "Fizz." Movies, TV shows, actors, everything is unrecognizable. This seemed odd to me and constantly pulled me out of the story. The story is told in a first person, stream of consciousness that made me feel like a psychiatrist listening to the ramblings of a stoned patient.

Everyone I know who has read this book agrees about one thing. The book really picks up steam when Bobby gets to Las Vegas. We recognize the craziness of both the casinos, and the "ploppies" like Bobby who thinks he is an expert slot player. I wish the first part of the book, the part about his boring awful life, was half as long, and the Vegas section were doubled. Make no mistake, Konik can really write. I have been a big fan of his non-fiction work for years. Fiction is a very subjective thing, and the satire on mid-life crisis really isn't my thing. On the other hand, satire on Las Vegas is. I give it...

2 1/2 aces

You can buy the book here. Becoming Bobby

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ping Pang Pong

I saw an article this week, Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas named one of nation’s best so I had to try it. Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities, and the best food city I have spent any time in. 

Thursday after the show my wife and I headed over to Ping Pang Pong, located in the Gold Coast Casino. We went with Bob Dancer (who had a comp of course) and Peter Liston, our guest from that night's show. 

When we entered the casino my wife commented, "This is the dirtiest casino I have ever seen." Now in Hong Kong it is common to have really dirty restaurants that serve tremendous food, so I thought maybe they were setting the stage. This is not a food blog, so I am not going to spend time describing all the dishes. I will just say that the food was one step above Panda Express. Now I eat Panda Express occasionally, but if they think this is one of the best Chinese restaurants in the US then there is a huge market waiting to be exploited.  There was one thing very reminiscent of Hong Kong. The service was terrible. Lots of waitresses running around ignoring the gweilos

I went back and found the original article in Travel and Leisure  and they mentioned the regional favorites, like frog legs, which we didn't try. And they loved the Dim sum. I love Dim Sum, but that is a brunch thing so it wasn't available. If you get a late-night craving for Chinese food, head to China Town, and give Ping Pang Pong a pass.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - guest Peter Liston

Our guest this week is Peter Liston, author of Million Dollar Slots which I reviewed here. Review. Peter turned $500 into millions playing advantage slots. Yes, that's right, he plays slot machines with an advantage.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Milk the cow, or butcher it?

Nothing lasts forever.

Write it down, tattoo it on your arm, use the mnemonics you learned when sequencing aces to memorize it. During the course of your playing life you will find some good games. You might find some great games. No matter how you decide to play it, the game will not last. I am sick of hearing people complain that they found a good game, and some "idiot" or "pig" burned it. Those people are not "idiots." An advantage player's job is to find games, and make as much money for himself (and maybe his team mates) as he can. His job is not to preserve it so some low level counters can play it a long time betting small. This is the point where the cliches get trotted out - "It's better to milk the cow than to butcher it." Usually the people arguing this point are betting small, not because they are milking, but because they don't have the bankroll, or perhaps the stomach for betting more.

Which is the correct approach? Is it better to milk the game, or butcher it? The answer is, it depends. The first question to ask yourself is, "What approach is going to make the most money for me, and my team mates?" I don't care if anyone else ever makes a dime from this game. How much competition am I likely to face? This is an important question. If the game is a card counting game in a major casino location like Las Vegas or Atlantic City, then you are going to face lots of competition. Burn it! Bet as much as you can afford for as many hours as you can play because this game is NOT going to last long. You find a promotion where the casino is paying 2-1 on blackjack? Burn it! Word is going to get out and people will be flying in from all parts of the country. Don't even think about trying to preserve these types of games. You live in Bumfuk Nova Scotia, and you found a hole card game with a $100 maximum at your local casino. Now this is a different story. This is a game to milk. First of all, your chance of competition is almost zero. Bumfuk is not part of the pro tour, and even if a pro heard about the game he won't be willing to fly to Bumfuk for a $100 max. You should now think about how much is this casino comfortable losing in a session. Maybe this casino gets antsy when someone bets the max $100 but is fine with 2 hands of $80. Maybe they start to sweat blood when someone gets up $5,000. So bet 2x$80 and quit whenever you get up close to $5k. The more experience you have the better you will get at judging these choke points.

Here are a couple real life examples.

1. My partner and I were given a game that required special skills to play. We thought that there would be very little competition because there are very few APs playing this move. We decided to milk the game. The casino had to call the eye and the shift boss anytime someone bet table max so we limited ourselves to 2 hands of just under the maximum. We decided that the casino was comfortable with a 15-20 max bet win. We never used player's cards, and we played about once per month. This meant that even though the casino had a sense we were winning, they never could track a cumulative win. We milked the game for 14 months, and won far more than we could have if we had just fired away until barred.

2. We found a very good game that required special skills, and took 3 people to play. We were not afraid of competition, but two things happened that made us realize we needed to go for the gusto.  The dealers were talking about how the procedures on the game were going to be changing sometime in the future. Then something happened which turned the level of difficulty of the game from a 10 into about a 5. We might never have had a second opportunity with conditions that good. We burned it. We made a score, but the game was gone.

There you have 2 examples where I think we made the right decision. You can examine the thinking involved, and I hope it helps you in deciding how to approach a game you find.

Here are a couple other questions you might ask yourself.

How desirable is the location? If the game is in a place that is difficult to get to, or just generally unpleasant I am more likely to want to burn it just so I won't have to go back.

How smart is the casino? If the bosses are smart you may only get one shot. They may figure it out after your first trip so get it while the getting is good.

I was talking to a friend about this, and he said that he is never bothered when a game is burned by someone winning a lot of money. What bothered him is when a good game gets wasted. When an amateur burns out a hole card game by putting his head on the rail, or leaning back so far that he is practically horizontal, he makes it so obvious what he is doing that it wakes up the bosses and closes up the game. That is a waste. When someone goes to a shift manager and says, "You know your shuffle is really easy to track. Want me to show you how?" That is a wasted game.

Milk them or burn them, but don't waste them... because

Nothing lasts forever.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - guests Arnold Snyder & Max Rubin

The guests this week are Arnold Snyder, and Max Rubin who are on to talk about the last 17 years of the Blackjack Ball.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Million Dollar Slots - book review

Million Dollar Slots is the story of how Peter Liston, an accountant, turned high school teacher, turned advantage player ran $500 into millions playing slot machines. Yes, that's right - he is an advantage player that just plays slots, and he's been doing it for 18 years. It bears repeating - Every game in the casino can be beat under the right conditions, and this book is one more example. How does he do it? Progressives

The book is mostly a memoir telling the story of how he discovered progressive slots, learned to figure out the math, and started playing with his new-found knowledge, and a bankroll of $500. Like many successful advantage players Peter got extremely lucky when he first started playing. (Many who get unlucky just give up.) In Peter's case he went from $500 to a million in (I believe) 15 months. In one case he dodged a bullet that could have bankrupted him, and ended this story. In the old days a slot machine was a mechanical device. You pulled a handle and the reels spun, and landed on a symbol. Each symbol on the reel had an equal chance of hitting. If there were 3 reels, and each reel had 20 spots, and there was one jackpot symbol on each reel then the chance of hitting the jackpot was 20x20x20 = 8,000. Easy right? Well about 25 years ago they started using computer chips to control the slot reels. Now the reel might have 20 spots, and one jackpot symbol on each reel, but the computer could be programmed that the jackpot symbol only comes up once in every 25 spins or 30... or 300! For example the Megabucks machines jackpot symbol only hits once every 368 spins. (But they can also program the symbol next to the jackpot to come up a lot so it seems like you are almost getting the jackpot.) So in the case of Megajunk the odds of hitting it are 1 in 368x368x368 or 1 chance in 49,836,032. Back to Peter. He played a slot that he thought had was the old free spinning type with 22 stops per reel, and later discovered to his horror that it was the newer computer controlled type, and was programmed for 25 stops per reel. It could have been 30 or 40 stops per reel in which case he would still be teaching high school, and we wouldn't have this book to read.

But Peter learned, and became quite a successful player. He started in Australia where conditions are very different than they are in the US. Some thing apply anywhere, like the following 2 quotes:

"In all forms of professional gambling your playing environment is constantly changing. Adaptability will help you to make the most of your opportunities."

"New casinos have several advantages. Their inducements are usually very good, the locals have no idea how to play the jackpots to advantage, and the casinos sometimes make mistakes."

Some of the differences are laughable:

"Venues don't really care who wins their jackpots because the money set aside in them belongs to the players not the venue."

This is definitely not the case in Las Vegas. It always has boggled my mind that Vegas casinos bar slot players, but believe me they do. Vegas casinos believe that if something is good for the player, it must be bad for the casino. They haven't figured out that it is possible to be good for both parties. Slot players have been harassed, assaulted, and 86ed.

Warning - don't read this book thinking you will have an easy explanation for earning tens of thousands of dollars. These opportunities take work, and the book will teach you how to think about these opportunities, but it will not hand them out on a silver platter. I can also tell you that Vegas is not a good venue for this type of advantage play. One of the reasons Peter was so successful was when he started there was no competition. When there are good opportunities in Vegas - pretty much at any game, you can bet there will be competition.

I've often said that you have to scout every game in the casino, but I admit I have not been scouting the slots. Reading this book did make me think I should be taking another look at the slot areas. I have experience playing progressive slots from 25 years ago, but that is a story for another time. I will say it is about the most boring advantage play you can imagine, although it would be better now that you don't have to feed coins in and actually pull a handle.

This book is not literature, but it is very short, and a breeze to read. You can probably finish it in a couple hours. There is too much - and then I played this kind of machine and won this jackpot, and then I won 3 BMWs, and then I won at video Keno. But I still say it is worth a read. It should give you some new ideas when walking though your local casino.

Peter will be the guest this week on Gambling With an Edge so be sure to check out the show.
Gambling With an Edge with guest Peter Liston
Here is a link to his book. Million Dollar Slots

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Name That Casino 2

I posted my first edition of Name That Casino here, and it was an epic fail. So it is time for a hint. Clearly 3 casinos at once was too much so we will start with this one.

Here is your hint.  You should start to see a motif here.

Name That Casino!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - guest Ken Adams

The guest this week is Ken Adams. Ken is a prolific writer about the gambling industry. You can read his work at
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Monday, February 4, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - Blackjack Ball 2013

This week Bob and Richard discuss this year's Blackjack Ball.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Bill's closed today

Bills - formerly The Barbary Coast closed today. I have to say I am really sorry to see it go because it was the best parking on center strip. I don't like to park in a casino where I am actually going to play so this was often my parking of choice. In the really old days when teaching someone how to count cards we would often send them into the Barbary to get their first barring under their belt. It usually took less than 10 minutes. There was a time in the 80s when they kept a Polaroid camera in the pit and would try to snap your photo when they backed you off. I miss you Barbary, but I will miss your parking lot more.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Most Memorable Hand

I was talking to some friends the other night, and the subject came up, what was your most memorable hand? Usually these discussions revolve around some massive bet involving many splits, and double downs, and either winning or losing a very large amount of money. I was trying to remember something memorable and came up with a hand that really didn't involve that much money, but was rewarding. I was playing with my partner, and he had $1,000 bet. He had caught the ace I knew was coming, and got a deuce to go with it. He had ace deuce against an 8. I gave him a signal that meant "freeze." I needed to think for a few moments, and I then gave him the signal for "double down." He paused for a moment, and then gave me a signal that means, "question" meaning, is that really what you want me to do, double A2 into an 8? I was very sure the either the dealer had an 8 in the hole, or an 8 would be the next card out of the shoe. So either he is doubling A2 into a total of 16, or he is going to receive an 8 and make 21. He doubled, and received the 8. I was quite pleased. In many cases play would move so fast that he would have hit the hand before I had a chance to do anything, so I was happy to have figured it out, and happy that we actually got to make the play. I think having a signal that meant "freeze" made the difference.

But that wasn't my most memorable hand. My most memorable came not as a player, but as a dealer. When I was a dealer I had a tendency to talk a lot to the players. If a player happened to be an attractive female you could make it times 3. So I was dealing a 4 deck, face up shoe game and having a great conversation with this girl on third base. The table was full, and I dealt the round. I had a ten up, and checked for BJ, and I had a 3 in the hole. (We used to check out hole card back then) The guy on first base doubles his bet, and without missing a beat I split his 7 and 4. I hit his 7 with a 10, and without waiting for any signals I hit his 4 with another 4 and then a ten. And I remember thinking as I was coming around the table, "he shouldn't split that against a 10. I wonder if he saw my hole card?" The girl is still talking when I get to my hand and turn over a 3 in the hole, and hit it for an 8 making 21. As I go around the table scooping up everyone's money I get to the guy at first base, and he is pointing at his hand, sputtering, "Uh, Uh, I uh..." I look down and realize he had been trying to double down on his 11. I call over the boss, who was one of those guys who had started dealing in Newport Kentucky in the illegal games in the 50s. I say, "Don, this guy split a 7 and a 4. Sir, you aren't allowed to do that." (As if it's the player's fault.) Don said, "Give everyone a push." As I went around returning everyone's money he gave me a look like you give the dog that just pooped on the carpet. "Kid, I been in this business a lot of years, but I never saw that one before."