Blackjack, from Steve Leslie

March 29, 2008 |

21I worked the East Coast blackjack circuit back in the 90s from Atlantic City through the Bahamas and Mississippi, not on the level of the MIT team profiled in the new film "21"  but I had full comps — RFB, show tickets and air. Mostly on the weekends. I did it for the comps and the travel. I read the books, Ed Thorp's Beat the Dealer, and Stanford Wong's Professional Blackjack. My bible became Million Dollar Blackjack by Ken Uston, perhaps the greatest blackjack player ever. Back then the game was beatable and you could still get single and double deck games in Mississippi. Played at the highest level and flawlessly and if the rules were fair — dealer stands on any 17 and player can double down on any two cards — the player had a 1.5% advantage over the house. Believe me, played alone it is a lonely grind. Uston perfected the counting strategy to three levels and organized teams working through the 70s and early 80s. Ultimately, he was barred virtually everywhere, and the teams were very hard to keep together. It has been nearly 10 years since I seriously played blackjack. I am not sure the game can be beaten today.





Speak your mind

6 Comments so far

  1. George Parkanyi on March 29, 2008 2:42 pm

    I prefer craps myself - not to try to make big money, but because it’s high energy and entertaining. And the odds are good if you stick to the pass line and odds bets. You can play low-stakes for a long time without it costing too much, and just have fun.

    I don’t think there’s a speculation analogy here as such, but I have thought from time to time it would be a gas to just once get jostled around in a trading pit during a fast market - just for the experience of that energy.


  2. Anatoly Veltman on March 29, 2008 2:42 pm

    On Card Counting:
    George Parkanyi posted intro to Commitments of Traders (C.O.T.). His opener made sense: in the context of futures zero-sum, one is generally best to side with Commercials. Alas, this alone is not enough to outperform. George’s notion that any market will sooner or later substantially correct to let you out of mis-guided entry - can not be adapted by a professional trader. Point is: no position should originate from C.O.T. data. C.O.T. is useful secondary or tertiary dimension; your counting must originate elsewhere, George.

  3. jeff on March 29, 2008 3:57 pm

    Any game that has a negative nathematical expectation is too tough for me. Slots, 21, roulette, and craps are just too tough for me to beat and I avoid them like the plague. They didn’t build the great casinos on anything but their positive nathematical expectation of paying out winners slightly less than true odds. When they say that you have the best odds on the pass line, I think they’re still 1.414 against you. With the cheaters, collusion players, ante stealers, and vig, poker still offers the best edge if you are good. I’m sure that Mr. Leslie would agree with me that poker is more of a game of skill than gambling.

  4. steve leslie on March 29, 2008 10:42 pm

    For action, nothing beats craps. The best odds in the casino for table games are to bet the pass line, take the odds and you will just be about even with the house. 

    For relaxation gambling, roulette is nice. It is slow paced, the drinks are free, bet the colors and odd or even and you may be laying around 3 percent to the house depending on whether there is just one 0 or two.

    Baccarat is widely misunderstood. It requires no real thought but has an air of mystery to it because the areas are usually roped off, the stakes tend to be very high and James Bond played it in the old days. Here you will lay around 5 per cent for the pleasure of playing.

    Let it Ride, Caribbean Stud, Pai Gow and the other table games stay away from altogether. Those games are a license to steal.

    Poker is the only game that you play against others. In this sense, it is similar to pari-mutual wagering. You are waging your skill against others. Plus you can choose, who you want to play against. There are plenty of poor players or "fish" to play against. Find the softest table, and look for the tourists. Try to be the best player at the table. Beware the locals. There are cheats and team play in poker. Remember in a casino, that the house gets paid first with the rake. Then the player. Thus with each hand 5-10% of the money can be raked off the table. Include the dealer toke or tip and it quickly becomes a hill to climb. The game is beatable but it isn't easy. Tournaments are front loaded and the house may take 15% or more off to offer the game.

    Back to blackjack. It is interesting that Dr. Thorp who first articulated basic strategy and developed the first and albeit crude counting system only did it for a very short time. Then he wrote his now famous book (which is largely outdated) and went on to making a large fortune by running a hedge fund.

  5. Mark on March 30, 2008 5:19 pm

    21 is a tough gig now. One of the better opportunities offered today is sports wagering. The game is still a matter of opinion. Add to that the public's throwing its money on the wrong side inflates the numbers creating some reasonable expectations. One of the best opportunities are in the sports futures markets. The variance among sports books is amazing. Some of the lesser known sports can be beat and baseball with 8 cent and 10 cent lines can be terrific. The syndicates in Hong Kong are still making there fortunes plying there trade with the ponies taking the publics cash.The casino's make it very very hard with 21, multi decks, early shuffle, eye in the sky etc etc. Better to play for fun. Same is true for all the casino offerings.I believe that aside from running a hedge fund, the best opportunity's still exist in sports betting but it ain't easy.

  6. Jason Leavitt on April 9, 2008 5:49 pm

    Was in Vegas a couple months back. It took a while to find, but Tropicanna had the best odds I could find. Dealer held on all 17’s and blackjack paid 1.5-to-1 (if you haven’t been in a while, most of the casinos now pay 6-to-5). I’m not a big player and I do if just to prove that it can be done. I made enough to cover my wife’s loses. :)


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