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, April 30, 2013

Legal online poker started today.

UltimatePoker started online poker for real money today. The bad news is this is only for people in Nevada. UltimatePoker is a subsidiary of Station Casinos. Why in the world would they choose this name? Did they not know that Ultimate Bet was involved in a huge cheating scandal and ripped off thousands of players? What's next, Bernie Madoff Mutual Funds? Well, I wanted to review this software for you all, but the first thing I saw when signing up was that I would have to provide my Social Security Number in order to verify my identity. Are you kidding me? I am going to hand over my SSN to Station Casinos? I know for video poker players, and slot players this is no big deal, but for an advantage player worried about protecting his identity? Forget it!

Personally, I can't see traveling to Las Vegas, and sitting in my hotel room playing online poker. And you can't do this on a netbook because the software requires a bigger screen resolution. I am thrilled that the first crack in the dike is here for legal online gambling. I am eagerly anticipating the day when we can play all casino games on the net, in every state. But for now I will pass.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - guest Nolan Dalla - media director for the World Series of Poker

The guest this week is Nolan Dalla, media director of the World Series of Poker.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Monday, April 22, 2013

Random thoughts on random posts

A couple posts on the blackjack forums caught my eye this week. The first was from a player who asked, "What is the best casinos for APs to play?" I had to laugh. First of all, the answer to the question is going to be completely different for every player depending on his circumstance. A $5 players is going to have better conditions in one casino than a $500 player. A shuffle tracker is going to like a different casino, and a hole card player somewhere else. The other thing that struck me is how incredibly rude this question is. Imagine you owned a business, and I said to you, "I'm thinking of getting into this same business. Can you give me the names and numbers of your best customers?" You really are asking me to just give you money. With newer players I think they don't realize they are being rude. It is just ignorance on their part. But I get emails occasionally from players who should know better - "Hey, I heard there are bags of money laying around. Can you tell me where?" I call these players the "all take and no give" players.

I am a pretty open guy. I give people information if I think it can help them, or if it is the type of game I know they play that I don't. But I expect that they will do the same for me. I had one friend, Joe, who I literally gave 6 figures worth of info to over a period of years. I mean, I know he won 6 figures off the info. What I would get in return was, "Oh there was a really great game in X, but it's dead now." Or I would hear from mutual friends about an opportunity, and they would say, "Oh yeah. Joe has been pounding that for months."
Needless to say I don't talk to Joe much anymore.

The other post that caught my eye asked (paraphrasing), "What ratio of expenses to ev is acceptable for a blackjack trip?" Many responders answered that this is really a personal choice, but it brought to mind another question I was asked. After one of our radio shows Bob and I went out with friends. One of them asked us "What is your favorite game to play?" Bob's answer was simple. "Whichever game has the highest ev." My answer is a bit more complicated. When I consider what trip to make, or what game to play, the expenses really don't enter into it much. These are the factors I consider:

What do I think the game is worth in dollars per hour? Obvious right? But just because a game is worth the most money doesn't mean that is the one I would choose.

Where is it? If the game is in Minnesota in the middle of winter, or in a country I consider dangerous, well there better be extra reasons for going. By the way - I am not one of those people that thinks other countries are scary places. I like traveling to new places, but I have done a lot of it. I like living out of a suitcase less, and less. Russia = scary. Columbia = scary. Korea = not at all. Is it a place I want to visit anyway? This summer I plan to hit Singapore, and Philippines. I have family in both places, so if I don't find a game to play that is okay.

Who is going? This is actually a really important factor for me. Some people just make a trip more fun. I know I am going to do more laughing if Max Rubin is on the trip. Even though he snores, bursts out laughing in his sleep for no known reason, and somehow leaves chips under the dresser or in the shower. With a certain other person I know we will all make more money. He may work you 18 hours a day with no breaks for food, but the bottom line will be much higher.

What is the heat situation? Some places are really steamy, some are very cool. Obviously I like the cool places even if they are not the highest dollar-per-hour.

What game are we going to play? I have played many different table games in casinos. I like to play games that involve 2 or more team members at the same table. Bonus points if we can all act like we know each other. Counting something by myself, even if it is a new game or side-bet - this is misery for me.

Throw all those factors in the blender, add some secret sauce, (usually having something to do with what my wife says) and you get my formula. Want me to go count some new game in upstate NY in the middle of winter? It better be worth $1,000 an hour with little chance of getting backed off. They opened a casino in Bali, and a bunch of friends are going. It might be worth $100 an hour? Deal me in.

Thursday, April 18, 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

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Shuffle Tracking & Ace Sequencing

Card counters spend a lot of time learning to count. They memorize basic strategy, then slowly learn to cancel the pluses and minuses. Next they learn to estimate the number of cards in the discard rack, and adjust their running count to a true count. They memorize index plays so they know when it is correct to double 9 vs. 7, or A6 vs. 2. They then venture out to casinos where they have to put this all together. The dealers are faster than they practiced at home on the kitchen table. Cocktail waitresses are pestering them for drink orders, tourists are blowing smoke in their faces, pit bosses are asking them questions, and slot machines are dinging, and gonging, and clanging. Finally they get to the point where they can do it. They can count, and adjust for true counts, and make index plays. They get home from their weekend in Vegas, and... it's over. They spent dozens if not hundreds of hours practicing, and now what? How do they fill that time at home that used to be devoted to practice?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Gambling With an Edge - guest Cat Hulbert

Our guest this week is Cat Hulbert. Cat was a professional blackjack player 30+ years ago. She played with the Czechs, and on the Ken Uston team in Atlantic City. She then turned to professional poker. She is the author of Outplaying the Boys, and is featured in Gambling Wizards.
Click to listen - alt click to download

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gambling With An Edge - guest Mark Billings

The guest this week is Mark Billings, author of  The Ultimate Edge. The book talks about blackjack in the 1980s.
Click to listen - Alt click to download

Monday, April 1, 2013

Response to some emails

I've had some emails that I wanted to respond to, and now is as good a time as any. The first was from a new player that had a pit boss accuse him of counting cards. He wanted to know how he should handle that, and he had a concern about being flyered. He has heard that casinos will send out flyers about advantage players and he wants to be sure that it doesn't happen to him.

Let's start with the first question. What should you do when a boss comes up to you at the table, and says something like, "How long you been counting?" or "What count are you using?" Usually when a boss does this he is fishing. He suspects you are counting, but isn't sure so he wants to gauge your reaction. Many people strive for the clever response like, "Yeah, I counted them all and there are 316 cards in there," or "8 and 6, I got 14." Some people opt for the long story, "Yeah, I read one of those books, but it put me to sleep." I think the less said the better. You don't want to say anything that will make you memorable, and you want to leave as soon as possible without looking like you are running away. I think the complete non sequitur is a good choice, as if you didn't really hear or understand what he said. "Yeah, she should be here any minute but she is always late." That's a good time to receive a fake phone call and get up from the table. Pick up your chips while talking on the phone and head for the door. I think it is a bad idea to hang around and "convince" the boss that you are just a ploppy. The reason this is a bad idea is it gives the boss an opportunity to point you out to other bosses and compare notes. Nothing good can come of this. Just hit the door, and avoid that shift for a while.

You want to avoid getting flyered? I hate to break it to you, but if you play for any serious money there is no way to avoid it. Back-offs, barrings, and flyers are just a fact of life for anyone who bets serious money. If none of this is happening to you, then take a serious look at your game. You probably aren't a winning player.

Another player wrote to say he was accosted by security in one of the large chain casino in Las Vegas. He wasn't playing, just scouting games, and they said he had been 86ed. He argued that this was not true, and he had no idea what they were talking about. They gave him a name, and he said, "That isn't me. My name is X." He ended up showing them his ID, and they were now confused, and they let him go. So what happened?  I am pretty sure this was a case of the writer looking a lot like someone else. In poker we would call this a bad beat. The only thing you can do at that point is change your appearance as much as possible so you don't look like that picture floating around out there. Cut your hair, grow a beard, get contact lenses.

Many years ago in Korea my partner was pulled aside by a manager. He said, "We know who you are." My friend said, "What do you mean? Who do you think I am?" The manager said, "Steven Michael Goldberg." Now the old timers in the room will be laughing at this point. There was no greater insult this boss could have come up with. Steve Goldberg was the most vile, and reviled man in blackjack. His name came up a couple times in Gambling Wizards, and I referred to him as Ratso because he was still alive at the time. The name Ratso was due to a pet rat that he would allow to crawl around on him while conducting business. Anyway, our team had many a laugh over our member being barred as Steve Goldberg.

One more story. About 30 years ago my brother Jake was sitting on a blackjack table in the Tropicana in Las Vegas. He was betting quarters, and there was another guy at the table betting heavy black. The shift boss had come over and was talking to the big bettor. At one point he turned to Jake and said, "Are you a card counter?" My brother looked taken aback and said, "No, why would you say that?" The boss pointed at the other bosses in the pit and said, "Those guys think you're a card counter." Jake said, "Why do they think that?" The shift boss said, "I don't know. I'll go ask them." The shift boss came back with a Griffin flyer with a picture of Jake. The boss handed it over and said, "They think this is you." Jake's look was not what you would call nondescript. Think Santa Claus before his hair turned white. Jake said, "Well that kind of looks like me, but that's not me." The boss handed the flyer to the high-roller. "What do you think?" The high-roller said, "That looks like him." The boss said, "This isn't you?" "Nope." "And you're not a card counter? "Nope." "Do you swear you're not a card counter?" "Yep." "Okay, stand up and raise your right hand." Jake stood up and raised his right hand. The boss said, "Repeat after me. I swear I'm not a card counter." Jake said, "I swear I'm not a card counter." The shift boss said, "Okay, that's good enough for me," and walked away! One of my team mates happened to be in the Tropicana when this happened and witnessed the whole thing, so we had all heard the story already when he burst through the door saying, "You're never going to believe what just happened to me."

Keep those cards and letter coming.