The Fat-Fingered Blackjack Technique

 

For several years some Las Vegas casinos offered a two-deck game dealt face up – mostly the Mirage properties. This was unusual since most double-deckers are dealt face down. You will probably find some casinos throughout the country that continue to do the face-up double-deck game and if so the “fat finger” strategy can give you a startlingly large advantage.

The ultimate spot on the table is at first base for the “fat finger” strategy so when you see that a dealer is falling into “fatitude” you must get yourself to first base [first base is the very first seat to the dealer’s left and is the first position to get cards].

So here is how this technique works: The dealer deals the cards to the players face up. When the dealer gets to third base [immediately to the dealer’s right] and he starts to flip the card over for the player, there are times when he double flips – that is, he starts to flip two cards at the same time. In a normal deal the top card is the player’s but in a double flip the second card is shown – that will be the dealer’s hole card. The dealer catches the almost-mistake and knowing he was about to show his hole card, he quickly stops the flip and fixes the cards so the player gets the correct card without the dealer’s hole card being seen or being flipped. Or so he thinks.

That hole card is often visible from first base. That’s right; he isn’t able to hide the card completely from the first base player – meaning you.  Now you know his hole-card and can play your hands with that knowledge. A huge edge has just now been given to you on a golden plate.

What makes this a great way to play has to do with some of the hitting and standing decisions that you can make. If you know the dealer has a 6 under his up-card of 10, you might want to stand on your 15’s and 16’s, or double on your 9’s. He will not know that you know he has a 6 in the hole. Your playing decisions can really help you bring in the money. Of course, you could go completely nuts with your decisions. You would be foolish to stand on a 12 against a dealer’s 10 card even if you knew the dealer had a 6 in the hole. That would be something of a give away. You have to keep yourself somewhat reigned in so the pit wasn’t aware of the fact that you were not actually dumb (as you appeared to be based on your strategies) but actually smart enough to catch a problem in their game. Smart is bad in a casino; dumb is prized.

The reason I call this the “fat finger strategy” has to do with which dealers tended to make this misstep. These were usually large guys with big, thick fingers. For some reason when they flipped the cards, they had a tendency to double-card flip. That double card-flip was no big deal when it occurred to the players before the last player since you were going to see those cards anyway, but when it was the last player being double-card-flipped – voila there was a nice fat edge for you.

Yes, at times all types of dealers made this mistake but the large, thick fingered ones made it the most. Be thankful so many Americans are out-of-shape and over-weight or nicely plump due to so much protein, sugar and fat in our diets – they’ve made it perfect for some blackjack players such as me.

The best dealer I ever had was at Bellagio; he did it almost ten percent of the time. Still, I didn’t go all out to take hits. If I had an 18 or 19 I stayed on my hand even though I knew the dealer had, say, a 20. Again, hitting an 18 or 19 would have been too radical a hit unless you looked like Alfred E. Newman with drool dripping down your chin.

I did, however, double-down on hands such as a nine against a dealer’s 10 up-card when I knew he had a small card in the hole. This merely looked as if I were stupid whereas hitting on an 18 or 19 would have made me look crazy or smart. Again: Stupid is loved in the casinos. Also: Crazy gives the casino pit people pause. Again: Smart makes the casinos hate you.

A.P. and I played these face-up two-deck games for over a year and it was a very, very satisfying year indeed.

The above was excerpted from Frank’s book I Am a Card Counter!

Frank’s books are available on Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

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 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.]