The Worst Players Club on Earth

 

I walked up to the Players Club counter. There was no line and I was able to get to a representative of the Club in a hurry. She was talking to the representative next to her and also checking her fingernails.

“Yeah, well, I told him that he could just pack his bags and go home to his momma if he kept cheating on me and you know what he said? He said his mother loved him more than I did. Well I threw the drink right in his face that’s what I did; smack in the face….”

“Ah, excuse me,” I interrupted.

“Just a minute, I’m talking can’t you see that? God some people,” she said, referring to me. “They think they can just jump into your conversation. Now, where was I?”

“I have some questions about the Players Club,” I said.

“Take care of him fast and we can get back when you’re done,” said her co-worker, a disheveled young man with little sprouts of hair on his face.

“What do you want?” my representative asked me as she checked both sides of her fingers.

“Hi, Ma’am, I just signed up for the Deluxe, Glittery Gold, Super-Dooper Casino Players Club, could you tell me how the points and comps are established?” I asked.

“I don’t have all day, you know, and it’s Miss, not Ma’am, got that? I ain’t that old. Oh, jeez, can’t you just follow the simple formula, for crying out loud? I could really use a cigarette. Joey, baby, when is my break?”

“You just went on a break,” yells Joey, her co-worker, from the position right next to her.

“Could you tell me what that comp formula is?” I asked.

“It is so simple even a two-year old should be able to figure it out. Can’t you figure it out?”

“Help me, please, okay?” I asked.

“Listen now because I don’t want to have to repeat myself. You earn one point for every one hundred dollars you put through the machine and when you have 13,567 points we subtract the weight of one-billionth of the earth from that amount then we divide by 16 and subtract 7 to assess your play. Of course on Tuesdays and Wednesday’s we subtract one ten-billionths of the weight of the planet Pluto from the formula to give you something extra as your slot club return. Good luck because you’ll need it if you gamble in this joint!”

“Look, I didn’t quit understand….”

“I have a whole line of people waiting.”

“Uh, there’s no one behind me,” I said.

“They’re coming. They’re coming.”

“Do you need to know the time?” I asked.

“I’m looking at my watch to see how much of my time you’ve taken.”

“What kind of comps do you give out for what types of play?” I asked.

“You’re full of questions, aren’t you? Oh, jeez, what do you play?”

“Some slots and some tables. I play 25-cent slots. And $5 on the tables.”

“You’re a squirt of a player so you won’t get much. You should play more and maybe we’ll give you something but right now you are just wasting our time when you play. The plastic in your Players Club card costs more than you’re worth.”

“Ah, ha, ha, ha,” roared Joey at that joke. Then a patron came up to him.

“I want to know how much in comps I have?” he asked.

“Can’t you use the automated machine? It’s not hard you know,” said Joey. “They are right over there.” He pointed and the customer begrudgingly obeyed him.

“You don’t get much in comps for my level of play?” I asked my representative.

“You’ll get some little ones and some crummy little gifts every so often, like plastic key chains and some cheap cups with our logo on them and the paint probably has lead in it. What do you want from your level of play anyway? You’re lucky we even give you a Players Club card.”

“I thought every player was valuable to the casino?” I asked.

“Yeah, right, where did you get that idea? I could really use a cigarette. Do you smoke?”

“I never smoked. Mark Twain discouraged me,” I said.

“Who’s he, some dumb doctor?”

“Never mind, thanks for your time,” I said and walked away.

“Yeah, well, you got any more questions we have some kind of booklet.”

“Could I have it?” I asked.

“Go over to hotel registration and they might have one.”

“Thanks,” I said into the air.

Okay the above scenario is not real and I have never met Players Club representatives who are so grossly uncivil and demeaning – and I belong to Players Clubs all over the country and in Canada. But there is some truth in exaggeration.

The purpose of a Players Club is to get players to want to play longer and for more money than they planned to. If you didn’t realize that, give some thought to the casino as a business entity. Any good business wants its products to be attractive so that a customer coming in to buy a toaster just might also spring for the unplanned microwave, if the microwave is presented in an appealing way. The representatives of the business need to be pleasant and friendly and encouraging so that business can thrive.

The representatives I wrote about above were the worst of all possible worlds – who would want to deal with people who were like that or even somewhat like that? No one.

Players must feel they are being rewarded with freebies for being such a great customer – and all players should feel that the casino wants their action, even if it’s small-roller action. But the bottom line is, after all, the bottom line. Good players clubs increase the bottom line for their casinos; bad players clubs don’t.

All the best in and out of the casinos!

Frank Scoblete web site is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from smile.amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, kindle, e-books and at bookstores.

I Am Calm and Cool with Others

My wife, the beautiful AP, says I have one criterion for judging people. According to her, “If they agree with you, Scobe, they are smart; if they disagree with you they are stupid. You have no in between.”

Okay, to show my beloved wife that she is wrong I took two people who have different opinions than I and we had a three-way conversation. Here it is, exactly as I recorded it:

 

HE: The worst table game in the whole casino is blackjack. I mean how do you know what decision to make? What are you supposed to hit? When do you stand? It is just too confusing.

SHE: Blackjack is a real pain in the neck because the people at the tables are all experts and some of them have big mouths and they tell you when you are doing something they don’t like. But I am betting my own money and how dare they try to intimidate me into playing the way they like?

ME: Blackjack is a good game if you know the right strategy. You can buy a basic strategy card in the casino gift shop and face maybe a half-percent house edge on the traditional game. If you play the correct basic strategy you can ignore what the “experts” at your table say because there is a good chance they are wrong. Just smile at them and then ignore them.

HE: I don’t want to look at a basic strategy card. People will think I am stupid. That would be embarrassing.

SHE: I really like to play those single deck games. I think you have a better chance to win at those games even with the 6 to 5 payout on the blackjacks. I heard single decks are the closest contest for the players.

ME: A lot of people use basic strategy cards. No one will make fun of you. It actually means you are smart. Now those 6 to 5 payouts on the single deck blackjack games, plus the fact that they hit soft 17s, will give the house about a 15 times greater edge on the single deck games than the casinos used to have in the good old days. You need to get that 3 to 2 payout on the blackjack to help make it a close game in terms of the house edge. So I think you must avoid all those games where the casino is taking too big a cut from you.

HE: I like craps because you have the best chance to win a lot of money at that game. You have bets that pay off like 10 to 1 and sometimes even higher. It’s a great game with a lot of excitement. I like to shake the dice up, blow on them, and then fling them down the table. I try to get them to bounce hard off the back wall and make it all the way back down to me!

SHE: Craps is too confusing. There’s too much going on.

ME: You know a lot of people think craps is confusing and it really isn’t. It’s a simple game. There are a lot of bets and almost all of them are bad. I hate to say this but all the bets that pay off large sums like 10 to 1 are bad bets with high house edges. Just use the Pass Line, take odds, place the 6 and 8 and the game is very close between the player and the house. You don’t even have to know the other bets because they aren’t worth making.

HE: I find roulette to be dull.

SHE: I love roulette. Some numbers get hot and if you are watching the scoreboard you have a really good chance to win.

ME: Roulette is fun and relaxing but the game is random so those hot numbers are not necessarily going to repeat themselves often enough for you to get an edge over the house. Because roulette at a crowded table is a slow game, the high house edge doesn’t hurt you as much as it would if you played the number of decisions you play in blackjack for instance.

HE: The other day I got a great comp from the casino. They treated us to dinner at the Steak House and I really enjoyed the meal.

SHE: My host loves to give us comps. She really likes us.

ME: Comps are rewards for play at specific levels. The host has some discretion but not a lot. If you get a gourmet comp that means you are betting enough that your losses will more than pay for that meal two or three times over. Comps are not given to people who are not going to make the casino enough money to warrant the comp.

HE: I always wanted to play baccarat but the losses at that game look like they are gigantic. All the high rollers play that game so they must lose a lot of money.

SHE: I understand it is a complicated game too. I saw the hitting and standing rules and I couldn’t even follow them.

ME: Baccarat is a good game with a relatively low house edge and the game doesn’t have a lot of decisions so your losses per hour are not so bad. In the high roller rooms the minimum bet is usually $100 but sometimes you can find games with $50 or even $25 minimums. The rules for hitting and standing have nothing to do with you. They are automatic and you don’t have to even know what they are. The dealers will tell you when to deal a card or to stand – which is one of the fun things about baccarat, you get to deal the cards at times. There is a mini-baccarat game too but this is very fast and the low house edge with a lot of decisions can still cut deeply into your bankroll.

There I did it. I didn’t tell either of these two that I was right and they were wrong. Of course, I was right and they were wrong. But I am sure you can keep that a secret from my wife.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at smile.amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, as e-books, on Kindle and at bookstores.

 

Winner! Winner! We Have a Winner!

Winner! Winner! We Have a Winner!

I am on every systems seller’s mailing list. I get emails, letters, flyers, and even some video promotions for “can’t miss” systems of play at whatever game I choose. Some of these systems are just for craps, some just for blackjack, some just for poker, video poker, slots, horse racing, sports betting and some, the really “incredible” ones, can be used for everything because they are – in the words of their inventors – that “powerful.”

Now there are some gambling “systems” that actually work – first because they aren’t systems by definition. Card counting at blackjack works, dice control works, optimum strategies at video poker work. I rarely get information shoveled to me about these “systems” because they all require certain levels of real work and the one thing a systems seller knows is this – most casino players do not want to work in order to get an edge. They want the edge handed to them. These types of casino gamblers are the welfare recipients of Lady Luck.

Systems buyers want a system that is so easy to use a complete fool could use it. Even the supremely easy card-counting system, which I write about in my book Beat Blackjack Now!, does require some modicum of effort. You have to add 1 plus 1 plus 1 and then occasionally subtract a small number from the total. For the system buyers this is just too much work. They don’t want to add; they don’t want to subtract; they don’t want to do anything but use a magic formula to win copious amounts of money – the kind of money the systems seller claims he has won over the past few years using this miraculous system.

The system seller knows how to get people to buy his or her stuff. He will write copious amounts of copy praising his product – liberally thrown in will be anecdotes and testimonials from people who have played the system and won hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of dollars. These people may or may not actually exist but who cares? The idea is to bombard the reader with so many words and so much positive information that his defenses are ultimately shattered and he will open his checkbook or pull out her credit card and buy the product.

Obviously, I am not opposed to people selling or buying products about gambling. After all, I sell my own books, DVDs, and my speaking engagements. There are many magazines with contributions from many established gambling authorities, many of which are also selling books and other products. There is a gambling-writing industry after all and I am a part of it.

So how can you tell the difference between a legitimate seller of gambling information and a systems seller of bogus information? First the legitimate seller doesn’t make any outrageous promises. There might be such a thing as card counting at blackjack but there is no guarantee that you will become any good at it if you try it. Dice control is real but it is not an easy thing to master. No systems seller is going to tout his system by telling you that it is not guaranteed; that you might not learn it or that your talent could be lacking. That would be economic suicide.

The systems seller needs to sell vast quantities of his system in order to make money. He doesn’t care that his system doesn’t work because once you have bought it you are stuck – you have a worthless system and he has your money.

When I first started my foray in the world of casino gambling I did buy a lot of systems – to see what they were like and, to be honest, praying that they would work. Except for books on blackjack, every system I bought left me scratching my head and asking this question, “How can he sell this junk?”

I bought the “Magic Wand,” a device that would allow me to locate hot slot machines the way a dowser supposedly finds hidden water – or gold. I used it in Atlantic City and the only thing it found me were stares from people who thought I was crazy as I walked through the casino with such a strange looking cheap cardboard thingy.

I bought several systems for blackjack. One had me look for clumps of high cards and then bet heavily on the next few hands because “high cards follow high cards.” One had me upping my bet after three losses because “blackjack is an even game and once you have lost a few nature brings everything back into alignment.” Well, as most of you know, high cards don’t follow high cards and nature is darn fickle about righting things in a run short enough to be understood by me.

The craps system that most impressed me in its ad promised that I would win 83 percent of my decisions. “You Can Win All the Time!” the ad proclaimed. The system was the old “Iron Cross,” where you bet the Field and the 5, 6 and 8. You have 30 ways to win and a mere six ways to lose when the 7 showed. The 7 shows about 17 percent of the time – thus your winning percentage was about 83 percent. Wow!

The problem came in right away – that 7 blasted all your bets into losers, while your winning was always curtailed by concomitant losing. You could win on the 6, for example, but you would then lose the Field bet. You could not win enough to make a profit with this “fool-proof” system because that 7 was just too powerful on the “mere” 17 percent of the times it showed its ugly head.

The system seller knew what he was doing, of course. He was not lying in the traditional sense. His system did win 83 percent of the time. But it was not a winning system. This systems seller was the master of equivocation – he just made you think what he meant was that the system would give you long-term wins; he never actually said it. He never told you that the house edge on the “Iron Cross” was about four percent – which is a pretty hefty edge indeed.

Today the Internet is host to hundreds, maybe thousands, of systems sellers. You can read long, drawn out advertisements for their systems. Many of them claim that they are retiring from gambling life and want to share with you their miraculous system before they go to the fancy island they just bought. Personally I think the only island they should be allowed to inhabit is Alcatraz.

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available at smile.amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, as e-books, on Kindle and at bookstores.

Truth About 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.

[Frank’s books are available from Amazon.com, Kindle and Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores. Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com

I Am a Broken Record

 

My wife the Beautiful AP just said that no one talks about broken or even unbroken records anymore. She is not sure many of my readers have much experience with records of any type so let me update that opening and say that I am a tape recording coming unraveled.

No, wait; tape recordings are pretty old too, aren’t they? So let me go modern and say I am an eight-track tape. Oh, for crying out loud, my neighbor’s annoying kid was outside lounging by his pool and I asked him about eight-track tapes. He laughed at me.

The nerve! The kid just got rid of his braces and his teeth are still multi-colored. He didn’t care that he is one weird-looking kid. He still snorted and snickered and disdainfully told me no one discusses eight-track tapes. “Get with it, Scobe,” he said to me. “Get with the real world dude.”

Just for your information this kid is a PITA which stands for Pain in the (ahum). I got that directly from the person who gave birth to him. His mother knows best.

Okay, so what is it that’s broken? Am I a cracked CD or wacked-out digital download into something that takes digital downloads? What is going on?

Oh, screw it, I am a broken record. Look, I prefer records, just as I prefer real coins making coin sounds in a slot machine. The new-fangled-slot-world that has evolved around simulated sounds and dancing animation these past 15 or so years is not going to get to the eight-track-tape-deck of my heart.

True, I have to deal with the world as it is (I’m trying, I’m trying) and you my dear slot players do too. So here is what’s broken about my record:

Speed Kills!

Let me put it another way: The faster you run head-first into a brick wall the more your head is going to hurt as a result. You might even die.

Whether you are playing an old machine or a brand new machine one thing has always been true – the greater the number of decisions you experience, the better chance you have of losing because you are bucking big house edges on almost all slot machines.

Fast equals not good. Slow equals good. Relax, there is no rush.

Use this as your new mantra: The more you play, the merrier for the casino; the less you play the merrier for you.

A leisurely pace is the best method to contain your bankroll and avoid getting hammered too soon and too often. Is it really so joyous to play as fast as a whirlwind when such a wind could easily blow your bankroll away?

I think I have been giving this slow-down advice for decades now but still so many slot players – who obviously have not read my broken-record of slow down you move too fast, got to make your money last – just seem anxious to play faster than the speed of light.

Albert Einstein would have changed his theory concerning light’s speed had he witnessed the swiftness of today’s slot players. “Hmm, I zink it eez e=slot-player-speed squared.”

I will admit that there is a tendency to speed up the number of decisions a slot player faces as time passes. This is similar to how fast a drinker drinks. A person takes the first drink, sips it, and savors it. “Ah, that was delicious, my good man, simply delicious.” He gently wipes his lip with his silk handkerchief.

By the 10th drink, our sophisticated sipper has become a wet-mouthed raging lunatic: “Ah, whool haf mo ma man! Jus po it dowen ma troat!” as he power snots into the bar.

There are relatively easy ways to slow down the pace. Do a spin every 10 seconds. If you must sit at the machine and actually count from one to ten, then do so. After a while it will become second nature.

I think one of the most important realizations that slot players – and all gamblers for that matter – come to is the fact that anticipation is the driving force behind our play. We are looking forward to the next decision. We want a win!

That anticipation of what’s coming next is the fuel that can fool us into playing way too fast. Containing the speed of play will not diminish your anticipation; in fact, I believe it will do the opposite.

I think the anticipatory fun is even more fun the longer you allow it to play itself out. Do six decisions per minute and allow yourself the delightful feeling as you prepare for the next decision. Let the anticipation grow; savor it the way you would savor that first sip of a great drink.

Come on now; your drink almost always tastes better on the first couple of sips than on the swilling of gallons on the 200th swallow.

Okay, so here is the denouement: I am a broken record but what I am saying is the right advice for the smart slots player. I don’t care if my neighbor’s kid thinks I am a “dude” who has to get with it. Listen kid, I’m a gramophone on a mission!

Frank Scoblete’s new books are I Am a Dice Controller: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Craps! and Confessions of a Wayward Catholic! and I Am a Card Counter! All available on Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, and 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.

Doctor Ego and Mister Id

 

Just about everyone knows the Robert Louis Stevenson story of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll, a mild-mannered, logical doctor, gives himself a formula aimed at bringing out the being deep inside him, in short the basest, most vicious, sexually propelled, avaricious creature that he believed was within us all. This being became known as Mr. Hyde.

Hyde becomes the dominant force after a while and this monster creates chaos and pain for all around him.

There is an even more modern version of this story about one doctor, Bruce Banner, who gets hit with gamma rays and turns into the incredible Hulk, a monstrous, totally angry creature hidden in Banner’s subconscious. Hulk enjoys smashing and fighting. It is the essence of his existence and over time the Hulk comes out more and more until he too becomes the dominant personality.

Sigmund Freud postulated that every human being has both a Dr. Jekyll in them, which he called the ego, and a Mr. Hyde, which he called the id.

The id contains our innermost drives; our hidden fantasies; it is a primitive, instinctual part of our minds with us from our very births. It is a totally aggressive part of our sub consciousness devoted to satisfying its urges, be they sexual or materialistic or totally irrational.

On the other hand, the ego is the break-pedal on the id, the part of our minds that is logical, controlled, in command of our being. Because of our egos we are usually able to control the id, stopping it from going to self-destructive extremes. Let me make this point clear; today we use the word “ego” to describe a person’s usually exaggerated sense of self. It can be a totally negative word in our lexicon. It was never meant to be that.

Now I am sure that many of you have experienced these elements in yourselves. While many psychologists and neuroscientists now reject Freud’s ideas, they are useful as a guide to various types of human behavior, especially as I see it, in the casinos. That’s right, casino players can be Mr. Hyde’s and incredible Hulks sometimes in their play.

I have heard players say such things as “I can’t believe I did that!” or “I was out of my mind last night.” or “What got into me?” or “I bet how much?” I know these expressions are not unique; I have been there, I’ve uttered them, especially in my first year of casino gambling almost three decades ago. Playing games can release some of those inner drives; drives best left buried.

The player who says “I lost it last night” is admitting in effect that his ego could not control his id which took control and made him play foolishly.

In my scenario, the id would play the games until it caused the player to collapse. Certain elements in the casino experience can help the id emerge, drinking is one and (this may sound weird) joy! The fun of playing casino games can thrill a player so much that he or she wants more and more. That last is great but not if it goes too far and releases the Mr. Hyde (or Ms. Hyde) inside us.

In Las Vegas there is something called the Las Vegas flu, a term which emergency room workers apply to those patients who have been brought there because they drank too much and played too long in the casinos. This flu is the aftereffects of Hyde coming out of hiding, the id taking over.

I am not a spoil sport; I think casino gambling is a truly fun way to pass the time. Letting a teeny-tiny part of the id to appear now and again is not a horrible thing; after all, without the ids of our mommies and daddies none of us would have been conceived. Eating a fine meal is also a measure of the id’s pleasure principle. The id is a part of us; it just shouldn’t be the part of us that is in total control. When such a thing happens, it is usually bad news.

Savvy casino gamblers know how to handle their Mr. Hydes. These players give themselves a set bankroll against which they play a session. If they run out of that bankroll they will take a break. They do not throw more money out after losses to make up quickly what they just lost. They keep their desire to “let it all hang out” a safe distance from their actions.

In games where specific strategies are called for, such as blackjack, then the players have learned the proper way to play their hands. In craps, they know what bets to make to keep the house edge against them to a minimum.

In fact, even those players who do not follow the best strategies can still control their ids if they know when to quit their games. Mr. Hyde would never quit until he was done-in by himself; the Hulk just wants to roar and fight until he meets up with something stronger and tougher than he is. The Hulk might not find such an opponent but the player will hit up against such an opponent, the casino itself.

In short, keep the id contained, except in those special times as mentioned above, and enjoy the pleasure the ego allows you to have. The heck with Hyde and the Hulk!

Visit Frank’s web site at www.frankscoblete.com . Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; 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. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.

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!

The Annoying Phone Call

 

I usually have my secretary answer the phones – or a pleasant answering service takes over in the “off” hours; a service that usually gets about 50 percent of the messages correct and the other 50 percent so completely botched up that I have no idea what the person calling wants. Who knows?

But every once in a while, I answer the phones. This is not a trial for me, except every once in a while the person on the other end is either a nut or a talker who tells you his long life story and how it relates to casino gambling — his long, incredibly boring life story.

The other day, however, I got a real nut who also told me his long and totally boring life story and then proceeded to badger me after the interminable thing ended. After the War and Peace version of his dull life, he then said. “You see, I want to get a way to beat the casino at craps when the other shooters are rolling. I don’t roll the dice. I don’t like to roll the dice.”

“You mean the regular random shooters?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “Do you have a system for that? So I can win when a regular shooter is rolling?”

“No,” I said, “there is no system to beat craps just by betting. You have to control the dice to have a chance to win at the game.”

“That’s not what I heard,” he said.

Then I heard the “click” which meant I had another call behind him. “I have a call behind you,” I started to say.

“There are many systems to beat the game of craps, “ he said. “You should know that. You can watch a table and discover what kind of trend is working at the table and bet that. Or you can bet against that if you think it is not going to last. What about those?”

Click!

“They don’t work. Random is random. There’s no predictability in random trends,” I said.

Click!

“Nah, nah,” he said, “I have seen trends last for quite awhile at the craps tables.”

“Okay, well, look, I have another call…”

Click!

“What about hedging your bets? You hedge your bets on the Pass Line with any craps so you reduce the impact of the seven. That’s a good system. Right?”

“No, no, it stinks,” I said. “Give me a second.” I pushed the button to see who was the other caller. He or she had hung up.

“The hedging is a good thing, all the great gambling people know that,” he said. “I am surprised you don’t understand it. I mean you’ve written a lot of books on craps. Aren’t you supposed to be an expert?”

“I understand hedging,” I said, “and I have written about it on my web site and in Casino Player magazine. Hedging doesn’t work. You lose more money by hedging your bets.”

“You don’t know what you are talking about,” he said. “You find a trend and bet with or against it by hedging your bets. That is a great way to bet.”

“Okay, fine, look, you bet any way you want to bet. It’s your money,” I said. At a certain point some conversations are just not worth pursuing and this one had gotten to that point.

“So you have no betting systems that can get me to win on the other shooters?” he asked.

“I told you that there are no betting systems that can overcome the house edge. You have to control the dice in craps. In blackjack you have to count cards. Betting systems just can’t overcome negative expectations.”

“That’s not what I heard,” he said.

“Like I said, it’s your money, bet it any way you choose,” I said.

“But you sell books on craps and gambling and you don’t know any systems to beat the house when other shooters are rolling?”

“Is this a joke?” I asked.

“What?”

“Is this a joke? Are you someone who is pulling my leg?” I asked.

“I’m gambling for 40 years. I don’t joke. You should know the systems to beat the games.”

“Look, I can talk about any system you want but none of them works. I’ve written about, well, just about all of them and they don’t work. Random is random. There are trends but they are not predictive – they are random. You hedge and you’ll lose more money. You can use the 5-Count to reduce your action but against random rollers you still can’t get the edge.”

“What about the idea if you see a horn you bet a horn?” he asked.

“Stupid, it’s stupid,” I said.

“Why is it stupid?”

“Because the game is random and that horn number is no more likely to come up next than it was likely to come up the time before. The house edge is about twelve and a half percent. You’re going to lose twelve dollars and fifty cents for every hundred you bet on that.”

“I’ve been gambling for forty years,” he said, but I cut him off.

“Look, why do you need a new system?” I asked.

“What?”

“Why do you need a system? If you know all these systems and have been gambling for forty years haven’t these systems won you money all those years?”

“Huh?”

“You must be a billionaire by now. You must have seen and bet a lot of horns in forty years. You must have been on or off a lot of trends in forty years. You must be so rich with all that hedging that you could own a casino now.”

He hung up. He must have heard the sarcasm in my voice. Guys like him can make you go crazy. Then the phone rang again. I picked it up, “Look, you idiot, I told you, there are no betting systems that can beat a negative expectation game! You’re an idiot for thinking there are!”

“Frank?”

“Go away, go away. Go away! ” I shouted.

“It’s me, Margaret,” said my mother-in-law.

“Ah,” I said. “Oh…Hi, how are you?”

And she told me, for the next hour, how she was.

Frank’s latest books are Confessions of a Wayward Catholic; 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. Available from Amazon.com, Kindle, Barnes and Noble, e-books and at bookstores.