The Greatest Blackjack Player of All Time

 

“I want to meet the greatest blackjack player in the world,” I said to Howard Schwartz, manager of the Gamblers Book Shop in Las Vegas.    If anyone knew the greatest blackjack player it would be Howard.

This was June of 1991, several months before my first gambling book would be published.

“Let me go to my office and see what I can do,” he said.

A couple of moments later, a shabbily-dressed worker came from the back.

“I’m Paul Keen,” he said.

“I’m just waiting for Howard. He’s getting something for me.”

Paul smiled. “I’m what he’s getting for you. Howard said you wanted to meet the best blackjack player in the world. I really don’t know if I am the best in the world but for many years I made my full living playing blackjack.”

Paul Keen?

I had heard of Ed Thorp whose book Beat the Dealer revolutionized the game for advantage players. I had heard of “the big player” Ken Uston, who was the most famous and flamboyant blackjack player of all time.

I’d heard of Lawrence Revere, Stanford Wong, Henry Tamburin, Lance Humble and Arnold Snyder. Of course, I wouldn’t necessarily know Paul Keen since he hadn’t written a book, but I wondered how this guy could be considered the best in the world at blackjack? Shouldn’t the best in the world be rich? This Paul Keen was a stock boy. How could he be the best in the world?

“You expected someone a little more imposing didn’t you?”

Howard came from the back. “This man is the greatest blackjack player that I know of.” He nodded at Keen. “When any of the great names have a question they come to Paul. Uston used to frequently come here to talk to him.”

The Ken Uston?” Ken Uston was the blazing star in the blackjack firmament.

The Ken Uston,” said Howard.

“Okay, dinner tonight at 7 o’clock,” I said. “I’ll give a call and let you know where I’ve made reservations.”

“Where are you staying?” he asked.

“The Maxim,” I said.

“The Maxim has the best blackjack game in the history of Vegas.”

And that is how I met Paul Keen.

The Maxim casino is no longer around; it closed in 2001. The building now houses the Westin.

My wife and I had selected the Maxim because it was inexpensive and two blocks from the strip. The place had a coffee shop and a good steakhouse. So the steakhouse it was for dinner.

I called and told Paul Keen that we’d meet him at 7pm at the Maxim steakhouse.

Paul arrived right at 7 o’clock. “This is Susan,” he said. “I live in her luxury trailer.”

I introduced them to the Beautiful AP and we went inside to have dinner.

We ordered drinks. “You count cards?” asked Paul.

“Yes,” I said.

“Are you any good?” he asked.

“We’re good,” said the Beautiful AP

“You’ll like the Maxim’s game,” he said. “It is the best single-deck game ever in Las Vegas. I don’t ever remember a game this good.”

The waiter brought us our drinks. We toasted to a great trip.

“The game uses all but one of the cards, which is discarded after the shuffle. If the dealer runs out of cards midway through the hands, he just takes the discards, shuffles them and continues dealing.”

“God,” I said.

“The rules are great too. Dealer stands on soft 17 [ace-6], you can surrender your hands, and you can double on any two cards and split three times.”

“God,” I said.

“And every time you get a blackjack with five dollars or more you get a one dollar coupon you can use anywhere in the hotel.”

“They are giving away money.”

“There are only four tables. The other players have to satisfy their urge to play so they play the six-deck games which aren’t so hot. The casino manager is pretty clever. He brings the players in for the best game in town but most of them play inferior games.”

“The crowd gets the adrenaline flowing,” I said.

“Some card counters are even getting hit at the single-deck games too,” he said. “They aren’t winning as much as they should.”

Paul Keen had started off as a relatively big player, betting green and black chips, but Vegas is not a friendly town to skilled card counters. The casinos have finely honed radar to catch them – with skilled players hired to catch other skilled players and now computer systems. Even though card counting is perfectly legal, the casinos have the right to tell you to stop playing and to never to come back to their properties.

Over the years Paul was banned from almost every casino. Then he managed to get some of the pit bosses to allow him to play five dollar games with his high bet no more than $15. As he said, “They gave me that at least.”

In card counting when the cards remaining in the deck favor the casino, the player bets small and in Paul’s case that would be five dollars. When the cards remaining to be played favored the player, then the player bets big and in Paul’s case that would be $15. The cards favored the casino when more small cards – 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 remained – and the cards favored the player when more 10’s, jacks, queens, kings and aces remained. Paul’s bet spread from low ($5) to high ($15), while quite small, was sufficient to get him the advantage against those great single decks of the early 1990’s.

Still Paul couldn’t really win a lot of money at those great games unless luck became his lady not just for one night but for the rest of his life.

So Paul Keen lived in his girlfriend’s “luxury trailer” and worked at the Gamblers Book Shop. Vegas would not allow Paul Keen to win substantial sums of money even if some casinos let him play. That’s not how Vegas works. Vegas delights in snatching money, not bestowing it. If Vegas were a science fiction movie it would be “The Invasion of the Money Snatchers.”

Paul certainly had his ups and downs over the years. At times he lived out of his car because he didn’t want to use his bankroll to pay for room and board. Thankfully, Howard Schwartz hired Paul and then Susan housed him so at this point in his life he had a job and shelter.

When we went to the casino after dinner, there were two open spots. Paul took one spot; I took the other. I had never played this type of single-deck game. As I played it just didn’t feel right.

“Let’s quit,” said Paul. He was up about $60. I was down about $20. My spread was $5 to $20. “Let’s go to your room.” In the room Paul took out a deck of cards and shuffled. “There’s a type of play, known as end-play, which almost no one knows nowadays. When all the cards are dealt out but not all the players have received their full hands, those discards now change the nature of the game – they flip your count. Understand?”

“Let me get this,” I said. “If the discards contain small cards, the count is high and normally you’d bet big but if the cards run out and you haven’t gotten your two-card hand what’s about to come out will be small cards.”

“Right,” he nodded. “So you have to know that if you are betting into a positive count [favoring the players] your big bets won’t be ruined because that second card you are getting will most likely be small. So you have to be careful and make sure you know approximately how many cards are left in the dealer’s hand so you don’t get caught by the reshuffle. Also, if a dealer is showing a small card and has to hit that small card, those discards coming into the game could help him make his hand. Or they can bust him if the discards contain a lot of high cards.”

AP jumped in. “So many card counters are actually hurting themselves not knowing this end-play?”

“Yes, the card counter might not be able to handle that reshuffling in the middle of a round of play.”

Paul continued: “Almost no one knows about end-play because games like this are never played. But card counters – most of them anyway – just play by rote. They rarely think to look at a truly unusual game and see if it has some unique pitfalls.”

Paul concluded: “You get the hang of [end play] and your edge on this game will be the highest you can imagine. Off the top the player has a small edge on this game [using] basic strategy. You will have the best blackjack game you ever played with end-play.”

At this point, there was no doubt in my mind that Paul knew his stuff. End play? Amazing.

The next night, Paul took out a deck and taught us end-play.

As we played Paul would ask us how many cards were left in the dealer’s hand and if he would run out thereby reshuffling the discards and how that reshuffling would affect our hands, the dealer’s hand and our betting and strategy decisions. At first A.P. and I were awful. After about an hour, we started to get close. Soon after that, we started hitting it just about right.         At the end of several hours, Paul put the cards down and said, “Let’s go down and give this a try.”

That night turned our blackjack playing careers around. I became a great end-player and the Maxim’s heaven-sent game took us from spreading $5 to $20 up to $25 to $200.

We extended our trip to eight weeks. What made the Maxim so great was the fact that the floor people and pit bosses knew we were counting; they knew others were counting and didn’t care. No sweat, no heat, nothing to do but keep the count and bet appropriately. It was like going to heaven.

The Beautiful AP and I then played for those eight weeks, logging in eight hours per day with each of us playing two hands. When the count was high, we’d jump bets – $25 to $100 to $200. High counts could have $800 on the layout – four hands of $200 – as opposed to $80.

By playing four hands for eight hours per day, we accumulated a fortune in $1 coupons because the average is about one blackjack every 20 hands so (on average) every five rounds one of us would get a blackjack. Those $1 coupons added up – except for the first couple of nights, we never had to pay for a meal while we stayed there. The Maxim did not comp us – one of the things that showed they knew we were playing with an edge.

With the best rules, with relaxed executives, and with personable dealers, the Maxim game was the best blackjack game I ever played.

Paul Keen played every night after work. I got to see him in action and he was truly in his own class.

Paul Keen seemed to have an uncanny ability to predict when he was going to get a blackjack. He was allowed to bet more than $15 at max in this game, so he’d jump to $50 in a player-favorable moment and it was stunning how often those blackjacks came to him. (That $50 was his maximum bet.)

During the eight weeks I gained a great appreciation for his blackjack skills. But there was still more in the offing.

Keen took me a step further – or at least tried to take me a step further. After touring the car collection at Imperial Palace (now the Quad), Paul said, “I want to show you a great way to add to your edge, card tracking.”

The concept of card tracking (also known as shuffle tracking) is quite simple. You follow the 10-valued cards and/or the aces as they come out. When a given round is played, if there is an abundance of 10s and aces, you watch them put into the discard rack and when the dealer finishes with all the cards you follow the shuffle to see where those cards wind up. Then as you play you keep your eye on those areas where the 10’s and aces sit and as they are about to be dealt you bet big. It is a step way beyond simple card counting; an extremely difficult step. Almost no card counters I ever met achieved mastery of this technique.

Paul Keen did.

We stood behind the players at a six-deck game and watched the rounds. Then it came, one round where 10’s and aces poured out of the shoe. Paul watched them being played then put into the discard rack. When the dealer finished this shoe, he shuffled the cards and put the decks back into the shoe. I had no idea where those 10’s and aces wound up. I tried to follow them in the shuffle but I just couldn’t do it. The shuffle became a blur to me. I couldn’t believe Paul would know either. How could you follow this kind of thing?

Somewhere in that shoe was supposedly a group of high cards and aces. Paul watched the discard pile. Then he nodded, “The next two rounds will have those 10’s and aces. If we were playing we’d pump up the bets. There should be some blackjacks and some hands of twenty.”

It was a miracle; a cascade of 10’s and aces came out in the next two rounds. Of course, there were some small cards mixed in with those 10’s and aces but there were three blackjacks and six hands of 20 in the next two rounds.

Paul did this several times and he always got the groups of high cards correct. Was this a perfect strategy? No. Other cards did mix in with the high cards, but overall it was a high percentage play favoring the player. So, I guessed, maybe this was how Paul got that extra edge at the Maxim game because he could follow a couple or several cards even in a single-deck game.

Yes, Paul Keen was an elite player; truly the best I ever saw and I have seen some other great ones. You could understand why he was a threat to the casinos – that is, if he had enough of a bankroll to play. Even Paul Keen, the best blackjack player in the world, was closer to broke than break even.

Keen’s lack of money didn’t allow him to play up to his potential. With the casinos banning high bets, his spectacular early career ended with a whimper. So here was blackjack’s greatest player on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. Such is the sad irony of life.

No books would be written about him. No young players would think, “I want to be the next Paul Keen.” No great gambling writers would flock to Vegas to pick his brain. He was Ozymandias, a broken, wind-whipped statue in the desert but, yes, he had been the true king.

Frank Scoblete’s newest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! and I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage Play Blackjack! and I Am a Dice Controller!  Join Frank on his web site at www.frankscoblete.com.

 

 

The Wheat Germ Man

 

(The following is excerpted from the book I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack by Frank Scoblete.)

The “Wheat Germ Man” was totally whacked out. First, he was a great card counter; not as good as Paul Keen (the greatest I ever saw) but in that elite category nevertheless. He had some three-level count and he could also track cards in the decks but not with the precision of Keen. He was fearless in getting his big bets out when the count favored him. He was an all-around pro. He would be what any blackjack player wishes to be – talented, perceptive to dealer mistakes, fearless.

And thoroughly insane.

I called him the “Wheat Germ Man” because he was a health food fanatic – his favorite drink was some concoction of wheat grass and Gatorade. He was completely convinced that such a drink prevented cancers, all kinds of cancers too, along with heart attacks, strokes, and body sores, and such a concoction would prolong his life into his early 100’s. “I will be the healthiest one-hundred-year-old in the world. That is my intention.”

His breakfast was wheat germ with banana and a whole grove of other fruit. Or oatmeal with the same grove of fruit. He took far more vitamins than I did – and I am almost a vitamin junkie. I would say he took a handful every couple of hours. He also loved seaweed, even that stinking raw seaweed just out of the ocean. He gave himself enemas just about every day.

“Enemas are great for cleansing you,” he’d say. “I use decaffeinated coffee as I find that cleans me out without the jangling from the caffeine.”

He ate almost no meat and he loved fish.

I met him in 1995 – during the Christmas vacation. During Christmas many of the big billboards at Caesars, Las Vegas Hilton and other major properties were written in Chinese. Vegas was crowded during Christmas with Asians. Wheat Germ Man was not a fan of Asian players.

“These Orientals and I call them Orientals and doesn’t that sound exotic instead of Asian? I think so. What’s with this Asian crap? They don’t know how to play. They are morons but they come to the table and throw their money around and yell in that stupid language. Why don’t they just shut up and play the slots? They don’t know how to play so why waste everyone’s time? I can’t stand them coming to the table and jabbering like monkeys. If they don’t know how to play they should go away.”

Wheat Germ Man was rarely in a good mood – everyone was a moron or, if they were of another race, a monkey to him. He always had something to complain about. He always had something to lecture you about. He believed he knew everything.

He thought he knew more about health and medicine than doctors. He thought he knew more about government than any political-science professor in America. His opinion of college political science professors: “They are all lackeys of the power structure. When the revolution comes they will all be broken eggs in the university system. In the revolution to make an omelet you have to break some eggs. I’ll have my baseball bat.”

He was also convinced that there were giant world-wide conspiracies. Some of these were among countries, some among politicians, rich people, Catholics, Jews, illuminati, masons and maybe even bricklayers.

He was a high school dropout. “School is stupid. Look at how many stupid people have gone to school and graduated. More stupid people have graduated than smart people.”

And he almost always had a cold or, as he said, “allergies” to the poisons around us. He was sniffling, coughing, incessantly blowing gobs of greenish mucus into tissues that tended to rip apart when such heavy loads were propelled in them. It was kind of like watching a movie called “The Blob from the Outer Nostrils.”

The daily enemas gave him a raging case of ulcerative colitis – a disease that is horribly painful and debilitating. The ulcerative colitis came about – according to the emergency room doctor who treated this anally bleeding, dehydrated, hallucinating wizened shell of a health-food expert – from those enemas over so many years.

The doctor explained that Wheat Germ Man probably had a genetic factor in the disease but his enemas and stress probably brought that factor out and that is what landed Wheat Germ Man into the emergency room.

When a strong regimen of prednisone, a steroid, halted the symptoms thereby easing his pain, Wheat Germ Man returned to the blackjack wars, and he told us, “What the hell do those doctors know? They wouldn’t give me the [wheat grass] juice and Gatorade. They pumped me full of drugs. They are all morons in a conspiracy with the FDA. My body being healthy cured itself.” Then he blew his green globule into his tissue. The fact that modern medicine might have saved his life was irrelevant. Wheat Germ Man’s famous saying was “Who you gonna believe? Me or the FDA?”

I sometimes wonder why so many of the great blackjack players I’ve met seem to have personality disorders – at least what seem to me to be personality disorders. Certainly, Wheat Germ Man fit right into that diagnosis. He was a health nut who was unhealthy; a high school dropout who knew everything, and an anti-“Oriental.” Still he was a marvelous blackjack player.

His saying was a simple, “Get the money out there.” That saying I have appropriated. I use it all the time. And he did get the money out there; he certainly did. If you want to be a successful card counter Wheat Germ Man – for all his madness – hit the nail on the head. “Get the money out there.”

He died in 2001 at the age of 38. From what I understand no one attended his funeral.

Frank Scoblete’s latest books are on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Read his web site at www.frankscoblete.com.

The Best, the Worst and the Between

 

In casino gambling there are good players and bad players and every type of player in between. Sadly, most players have no idea of the house edges on the games that they play and most don’t care to know these edges – such knowledge might diminish their fun. How fast is a game? Is it important to know how many decisions a game has per hour in order to understand the impact of the house edge on your bankroll? Not to them.

Knowledge to the unknowledgeable is a waste of their time.

Strange as it may seem, many casino players have actually bought a bill of goods that proclaims casino gambling to be an activity that is best engaged in with no knowledge whatsoever. Others have bought into the flawed concept that they are going to lose anyway so why play perfectly – it ultimately doesn’t help you win anything, does it? That’s a true but very limiting way to look at the casino gambling experience since the better you play the less you lose over time. The less you lose the more you can go to the casinos. The “you’re only going to lose anyway” philosophy results in greater losses and fewer possible trips to the casino.

Three criteria would have to be applied to casino gamblers to ascertain where they fit in the continuum of good to awful players – the games they play, the strategies they use at these games, and their emotional control while playing. Even the very best players can do foolish things if they lose control – just ask any card counter who over bets his bankroll and goes bust, despite his small edge.

So who are the best casino gamblers? And who are the worst casino gamblers?

The best casino gamblers are the “advantage players,” those players who have developed skills such as card counting at blackjack, dice control at craps, perfect strategies at video poker, and expert poker play. These players know how to beat the games they play by getting small edges, betting appropriately so losing streaks don’t cream them – yes, advantage players can have losing streaks, some of them quite long – and by always betting into their edge and not into their emotions. Of the 54 million American casino gamblers, maybe 4,000 are advantage players.

Just under the advantage player are those casino gamblers who play strong strategies at the games. They use basic strategy in blackjack, keeping the house edge around one-half percent; they only make the best bets at craps, generally the Pass, Don’t Pass, Come, Don’t Come, utilizing the odds bet to get their money on the table, and placing the 6 and 8. If our good players like roulette, they strictly bet outside “even-money” propositions at the roulette games where the 0 or 00 loses them only half their bet. In video poker they only play the strongest strategies at high return games such as 9/6 Jacks or Better. They never play slot machines. Based strictly on my observations of casino gamblers for the past 30 years I’d say the good players in this second category make up maybe two million casino players.

Thus, the two types of “best players” are in a distinct minority because they are overwhelmed by the legions of “worst” players. The worst players use their “instincts” at blackjack, giving the house edges of one to four percent. The worst players make all the ridiculously poor bets at craps, subscribing to idiot notions such as “see a horn, bet a horn,” which can lead to disastrous results. The worst players bet the inside numbers at roulette and play all the carnival games such as Let it Ride, Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Four Card Poker – without even knowing the correct strategies for these games. They love the slot machines, especially the mega-jackpot machines that have house edges around 15 percent. Losing $15 for every $100 they wager doesn’t seem to have any impact on their gambling choices.

The poor players play with real money – that is to say, they don’t have a special gambling account but rather they use household money to fuel their usually ill-fated adventures. They play for too much, for too long, and too poorly to ever have a chance of coming out ahead – except on rare occasions where Lady Luck pities them and gives them a winning session. But this or that winning session can’t make up for the horrid fact that they are way behind in their casino gambling careers – so far behind that short of a mega-jackpot they have no chance to ever catch up.

I think the majority of casino players probably fit into this last category – and they account for the overwhelming amount of money made by the casino industry. Advantage players will sometimes say that all the poor players make it possible for them to keep winning because without the poor players the casinos wouldn’t exist. That is probably true.

However, why should that be true for you? Let the other players play foolishly. There’s plenty of room for you in the first two categories of players. The Captain of Craps once told me, “There’s always room at the top.” He was right. You should join that top tier.

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at book stores. His latest? Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!

Streaking into 2018

 

Let’s talk about streaks. Every casino gambler, from the best of them to the worst of them, knows that all casino contests are streaky. You win some, you lose some; you win a few in a row; you lose a few in a row. You have good days; you have bad days.

Streaks and gambling go together like a horse and a carriage, love and marriage, Belvedere and a martini. We all know this for a fact.

However, some gambling pundits pontificate that the good and bad streaks even out in the games – which is not the case in almost all casino games. Indeed, if you are a betting man or woman wager your money on the fact that the casino will have more “good” streaks for them (good meaning they win more decisions or take a tax out of your winnings) than “bad” streaks against them. The players will face just the opposite situation. They will have more bad streaks and fewer good streaks.

The reason for this is in the nature of the games, which usually means the math of the games. Let’s take a look at the casino players’ favorite table game, blackjack. It is no secret that blackjack is a very close contest between the player and the casino – if (and this is a big IF) the player knows the correct basic strategy, the computer derived best play of each player hand against every dealer’s upcard.

In most traditional blackjack games, the player using correct basic strategy will face an approximately one-half percent house edge, which means a loss of approximately 50 cents for every $100 the player wagers. That’s a good game, pretty close.

However, blackjack is not the equivalent of flipping a coin where the player and the casino win half the hands and lose half the hands respectively. Absolutely not. The house will win approximately 48 percent of the hands; the player will win approximately 44 percent of the hands; and approximately 8 percent of the hands will be pushes (ties).

Clearly the house will have longer winning streaks and shorter losing streaks than the player because of these percentages. If there were no other betting options in a blackjack game, the player would lose $4 for every $100 he bet. Yet, the player does not lose this much; in fact, the player loses much less because blackjack has certain playing options that allow the player to get more money on the table in certain hands – he can double down on two cards; he can split; he can sometimes double down on his split hands; he might even be able to surrender his poor hands. A big benefit for the blackjack player is getting that 3 to 2 payout for a blackjack – with blackjacks appearing in about 5 percent of the hands.

These playing options bring the monetary edge of the casino down to that approximate one-half percent. Casinos that have instituted the 6 to 5 payout for blackjacks have therefore seriously hurt the players’ chances of winning at the game by drastically increasing the house edge.

At roulette the house is a solid favorite to have more winning streaks than losing streaks on the outside even-money proposition bets. On the red/black, odd/even, high/low propositions the house will win 20 decisions and lose 18 decisions. That translates into a 53 percent win rate for the house and a 47 percent win rate for the player. The house therefore is the favorite to have winning streaks, while the player is the favorite to have losing streaks.

On the center “straight up” wagers, the house wins 37 times and loses one time in 38 spins on average. Of course, no one would play the straight up wagers if the payout were one-to-one so the house pays 35 to one on these wagers. That brings the house edge down to 5.26 percent, which is fairly hefty. The only way the player can bring the winning and losing streaks even at roulette is to bet half of the numbers.

Unfortunately, while betting 19 numbers at roulette is a 50-50 game in terms of streaks, the house still wins more money since the payoffs are shortened by that 5.26 percent.

Craps puts the house in a favorable streaking situation on its most popular bet, the Pass Line. The house wins 251 decisions, while the player wins 244 decisions on this wager. While this makes it a very close contest you can see the house will have slightly longer winning streaks than losing streaks.

As with roulette’s straight up wagers, the proposition bets at craps are all long shots that pay less than their true odds. Take a bet such as the 12, known as boxcars, which has a one in 36 chance of appearing. Obviously, the player who bets the 12 each and every roll will find himself in enormous negative monetary streaks. However when he hits this number, the house doesn’t pay the win off at one-to-one as only the truly insane would then make such a bet. Instead, the house usually pays off at 30 to one – much less than the true odds of 35 to one, but far better than one-to-one. The house edge on this bet comes in at almost 14 percent, a huge edge nevertheless. You only have to be somewhat insane to make this particular bet.

All the carnival games such as Caribbean Stud, Three-Card Poker, Four-Card Poker, and Let it Ride also give the house a much better chance of having longer winning streaks than losing streaks against the player.

Let’s take Let It Ride as an example. While this game has a loyal following, that following plays a game where the house wins approximately 75 percent of the decisions and the players win approximately 25 percent of the decisions. The player will have much longer losing streaks; the house will have much longer winning streaks. However, to make up for this inadequacy, many winning hands at Let it Ride pay a premium bonus, bringing the house edge down to around three percent.

Information about the casino-favorable nature of streaks is not some arcane but useless knowledge. Knowing this tells you a very important thing – gambling systems based on the erroneous idea that the house and the player will experience the same types of streaks are wrong. Using them to win money at the games is a sure way to disaster.

Now you can streak into 2018 properly.

Read Frank’s Confessions of a Wayward Catholic!

Naked in the Bathroom

He was naked. In the handicap stall. In the men’s room. Sitting on the toilet. At Bally’s in Atlantic City. You could see in the stall because the door was not flush. He was Asian. Naked.

The great dice controller Jerry “Stickman” and I were on our Odyssey in Atlantic City. The Odyssey is a single day where we pool our money, and go to all the casinos on the Boardwalk (now just five of them as opposed to the 12 in AC’s glory days), where we play one hand of Pai Gow Poker, two hands of blackjack, two hands of mini-baccarat, $40 in a $5 slot machine (one credit per decision) and we each take the dice two times at the casinos whose tables fit our criteria — we have to get our spots and we want 12-foot, standard-bounce tables. If we can’t get that we skip playing craps.

Naturally, except for craps, we are not playing with an edge at any of these games. We don’t wait for high counts in blackjack or find tables where we can get the edge banking at Pai Gow Poker and there is no way to beat mini-baccarat. We don’t bet much at these games, just $25 on each decision. Obviously, there is no edge to be had at $5 slot machines. So in games where no edge is to be had, our tactic is to play very, very few decisions and pray.

At craps we go with our normal bets, obviously far bigger than the bets we make at the other games. This trip we ended at Tropicana where we had a great meal at Carmines. This Odyssey also allows me to scout out the various casinos to see what’s what.

Did we win? Yes. Just barely at the games where we had no edge thanks to a hit on the last slot machine we played. That’s short-term luck. And the power of prayer.

In craps we both had consistently good rolls so skill won out on our Odyssey.

In fact our almost-week in Atlantic City saw me shooting damn well, consistently hitting repeating numbers (which is a wonderful thing). We basically played at 6 am and 9 am with a break in between for breakfast. We did not play evenings or afternoons (except once each when a table was open).

And what of the awesome Stickman, the great, amazingly great, the dice controller with the perfect throw? He wasn’t as consistent as I. Poor lad. All he did was explode several times for monster rolls tickling the 50 mark! It was a dream trip, that’s for sure. Up from the first session and building each session from there. (Let me caution you: It doesn’t always go that way.) Great games; great conversations; great meals. A player’s dream trip.

And then there was this naked guy in the bathroom at Bally’s.

The moment we entered Bally’s from the Boardwalk, there on the stairs leading to the casino were three drug (heroin) addicts, two guys and a girl. I knew them (generically) from my life in New York City. Droopy eyes; sneers from the guy who was most awake; with the girl — totally zonked leaning on his belly — with the second guy blinking to stay awake.

Jerry “Stickman” recognized them too — Memphis had been good schooling for him in this world peopled with the zoned-out dregs of society.

In the casino, which was somewhat crowded, there they were, leaning against the walls, maybe every hundred to two hundred feet apart, the “salesmen.” The druggie would go to a salesman, tell him (they were all men) what he wanted, and then pay the salesman who would use his phone to call the “distributor” who was somewhere else in the building or outside the building.

The salesmen were throughout the casino. In the lobby too and in the portico where you crossed over into Caesars – brazenly standing right there – yet we saw none of these guys in Caesars.

It was then we headed for the restroom; going through the lobby which was empty except for a salesman waiting for orders. In the bathroom was a maintenance man trying to fix a stall door.

Inside the bathroom, we talked:

“Trump Plaza has moved here,” said Stickman.

“Yeah,” I said. “The outer world is closing in on the Boardwalk casinos.”

“Will the casinos last?”

“I really don’t know,” I said. “Resorts looked pretty crowded.”

“Bally’s is becoming the dumping ground from the Trump Dump.”

“Except Bally’s casino is bright and inviting; although some of the wrong people have accepted the invitation,” I said.

Trump Plaza had become known as the Trump Dump and it was always inhabited by the druggies. Its closing was cheered by many casino players who would no longer play in a casino where so many hazy creatures slithered along.

Then I saw the naked guy in the bathroom. He was in the handicap stall; just sitting there. He was Asian and he stared down and then lifted his head and stared straight ahead, then down, then straight ahead — over and over.

I didn’t know if Stickman had seen him. He was at the urinal and I tapped him on the shoulder.

I whispered, “There’s a naked guy in there.”

He whispered back, “Yes. Let me finish peeing.”

“Sorry,” I said and headed out of the bathroom. I passed by the maintenance man who was feverishly trying to fix the stall door.

“That was weird,” said Stickman as he left the bathroom.

“What do you think that was? He loses not only his shirt but also the rest of his clothes?”

“I don’t know. This place is really bringing in the wrong crowd,” said Stickman.

“If this were Vegas they might be able to throw out the drug crowd. I don’t know if they can do that in Atlantic City.”

Stickman nodded. I shook my head.

My God, a naked guy in the bathroom of a casino that had so many of the wrong types seemingly thriving.

That might be more of a herald of Atlantic City’s demise as anything else.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s books I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack, I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! All available from Amazon.com, on Kindle and electronic media, at Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

 

The Three Types of Blackjack Players

There are three types of blackjack players and sub-categories of these three. If you are a self-styled blackjack player using your own unique and probably wrong strategy and you are easily offended, you might not want to read this article. That’s my warning to you.

Blackjack players who are card counters, meaning they can get a small edge over the casino when they play, have certain things they look for. They want deep penetration into the deck, decks or shoe. This allows their count to become stronger as the cards have been played.

These players are not as interested in the rules as they are in the penetration (however, they will probably forgo the 6:5 blackjack games). Penetration is the key to the casino treasury. They would also prefer to play alone or with only a couple of players at the table. Advantage players want to play as many hands as possible. They love fast dealers!

Regular basic strategy players (basic strategy being the computer derived play of every player hand against every dealer up-card) want just the opposite. They want good rules, shallow penetration, a full table and slow dealers. The fewer hands such players play the better for them. Old, arthritic dealers or those dealers who love to talk are the best bets for a basic strategy player.

Card counters and basic strategy players are opposite sides of the blackjack coin; the two never to meet in their long-term expectations.

The third type of player, the category of which goes from stupid to stupider to “oh, my god, he did what?” Such players use their own well-thought-out-seemingly-logical strategy which is totally wrong and based merely on their own limited experiences in the casinos. (“I know what I am doing; I have been playing blackjack for years.” “Sorry, no, you don’t. You split 10s, double on 12, and annoy everyone by giving the wrong advice! And there’s a funky odor coming from you.”)

Players who try to use their psychic powers are long-term losers. Players who assume the dealer always has a 10-card in the hole, even though only about 31 percent of the cards are of 10-value, are long term losers. Players who always insure their hands, even their blackjacks, are long-term losers. Players who split fives…players who won’t hit their 16 against a dealer up-card of seven…players who don’t always split aces and eights – the list goes on forever – they are all losers.

Yes, basic strategy players are losers but they are basically losing a mere one-half percent of their action while our third category folks are losing their shirts.

Blackjack is a great game, for card counters and for basic strategy players, but each must play the particular game their strategies are suited for. And that third category? Sadly, there’s no talking to them.

[Read Frank’s new book I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack! Available from Amazon.com, Kindle and electronic media, Barnes and Noble, and at bookstores.]

Slots vs. Table Games: No Contest!

Slot machines and table games are two very different things – and the casinos know this quite well. Slot machines are the cash cows of casinos, bringing in often more than twice the money as table games.

It is easy to get a good idea of why such a case holds true. If we take a one-dollar slot of the traditional three reels variety, we can speculate how much money this machine will make for the casino. We can then make a comparison with a table game. Obviously this comparison will be a generalization but it will hold.

Let us say that a slot player puts in three dollars per spin every six seconds, meaning 10 spins per minute. That’s $30 per minute. If the house has an edge of 10 percent, the player can expect to lose $3 per minute over time. In an hour that comes to $180. That’s what the player loses and that’s what the casino makes.

Now let us look at a $10 blackjack player. He plays two hands a minute which comes to $20. The house edge is around one-half percent, meaning he loses 50 cents for every $10 wagered. In a minute he loses one dollar. In 60 minutes he loses $60.

We can see that a one-dollar slot player loses three times more money than a $10 blackjack player.

So why would anyone play those slot machines? Well, first of all, not all slots are of the traditional variety. They come in all sorts of arrangements, from videos of movies, cartoons, television shows and outlandish multi-play machines where you can wager a few pennies all the way up to five or more dollars.

Slots offer the opportunity to hit a big one whereas a game such as blackjack would require a long string of good luck – a really long string – to bring in some big bucks. All slots come in with high house edges and can be played quite fast. The more decisions a game has the better it is for the casino. High house edges and fast speeds are the bane of casino players – and slot players know this quite well.

So if you wanted to open a casino, the crowd you’d want to bring in is undoubtedly a slot-playing crowd. If you check many of the newest casinos, they have table games all right but they are mechanized – they are slot machines!

Slots are more economical for casinos too. Not only do they make far more money but they cost far less to buy and/or rent. Slots don’t need salaries, sick leave, medical insurance, and they don’t get into arguments with players. People are far tougher to handle than machines.

In the contest between slot machines and table games, well, it is actually no contest.

[Read Frank Scoblete’s latest books I am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps and I am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack. Both available from Amazon.com, kindle, Barnes and Noble, and at book stores.]