Counting Cards, from Scott Brooks

September 20, 2007 |

 When I was in grade school, my dad went on a business trip to Vegas. I gave him a quarter and asked him to "win me some money". Dad came home and didn't have my quarter or my winnings — he lost my quarter in Vegas!

A few nights after he came home, he had his buddies over for a poker night. I got to sit and watch them play. If memory serves me correctly, my Dad talked the group into playing Black Jack. Instead of one guy being the dealer, they took turns dealing passing the deck around the table clockwise (just like in a normal poker game).

As I sat there and watched, I became enthralled by what I saw. Little did I know, the seeds were being laid in my mind for a very powerful money making idea.

As I watched the game, I noticed a clear pattern develop. It didn't matter who the dealer was, the dealer won a disproportionate number of times. Now, at the time I wasn't able to ascertain completely what was happening and why the dealer won so often, but it was clear to me that dealer had have some advantage.

So the next day, I grabbed a deck of cards and started to play black jack against invisible opponents. As I dealt the hands out, I would always play each hand honestly, just like I would have played the hand if I was only that particular player. Even as I played against myself, I always came to the same consistent conclusion. The dealer won far more often than not.


Well as many of you well know, I'm not the brightest bulb around, but I am extremely tenacious … so I kept playing and playing and playing … until one day it hit me like a ton of bricks. The dealer won so often because in many cases, he didn't even have to do anything to win! He could sit there and watch others play and go bust without doing a thing!

So after many weeks of practicing and testing and practicing and testing and more practicing and testing (you need to do a lot of practicing and testing before you take a big leap with real money), I took my cards and got some of money out of my piggy bank (I was a prodigious saver), and went to school.

Once at school, I told my friends about this great new game and taught them all how to play … with no money involved at first. Then I took a deep breath, laid my money on the locker room bench and told the guys, "I'm willing to play all of you for money. And I'll take all of you on … it will all five (I don't remember how many were) of you against me. You should be able to take my money since there are five of you and only one of me!" (now keep in mind that may not be exact quote because we're going back 30 plus years in time here … but you get the idea).

I had put the bait in the water and these five guys had bit, so I reeled them in.

I took most of their lunch money that day……Mrs. Mooney in the cafeteria was probably wondering why there were so many IOU's for lunch that day.

My little enterprise grew and I made more and more money. Older kids (who had more money) got involved in playing and I made more and more money.

This was great! I was making a few dollars a day (which back in the early 1970's wasn't bad for a kid who was only ten years old!). I had visions of grandeur, wealth and treasure! I could see myself building a small fortune this way. Then, as all things that aren't thought through seem to do, my little enterprise began to unravel.

TaseYou see, there were "unforeseen" consequences to my actions. As my little game got bigger and older kids were playing and trying to beat this little snot nosed kid, I discovered that some people don't like losing money, even if they lose it fair and square. One day, I realized that it was in my best interest to "give back" the money that some bullies had lost, rather than face the fury of their fists. My game came to an end.

My buddy told me to go get one of the Jr. High tough guys and get him to act as my body guard and pay him a cut to protect me, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. First of all, I didn't think it was fair that I had to pay someone to protect me when I was playing an honest game (how naive I was), and secondly, I didn't want to put myself in a position where I could get hurt. I did live in a fairly rough neighborhood.

So I retired to my house and had to be satisfied playing black jack against myself … which got to be pretty boring. So I decided to figure out how I could, as a non-dealer have an advantage. I concluded that I had to know what cards were played and memorize every card that I saw come out on the table.

Not being as clever and as intellectually gifted as many of you, I had to take a more tenacious and persistent route to remembering cards. Vic asked me once how I became a good poker player and how I remembered the cards so well. I was embarrassed to tell him the truth, but here is how I became great at memorizing cards: I practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced … and I did it constantly.

I would take the deck of cards in my left hand, turn the top card over and say, "two of clubs". I would then turn that card face down on the table. I would then say, (in reference to that one card pile) "the two of clubs". I would then look at my left hand and name off every card that was in my left hand that I hadn't turned over.

That may sound easy to do. It is. Now repeat it again….and now you've got 2 cards face down on the table. Name both of those cards and then name the 50 remaining cards in your hand.

Then do it with a third card. Then a fourth, then a fifth, then a sixth. Do it until you have every single card face down on the table … and do it until you can accurately name every card from that deck identifying where it is … in your left hand or face down on the table.

Then play 7-card stud against yourself … and play every hand honestly. Play with seven imaginary players, bet as you would bet, fold when you would fold. And then, when the game is over and all the cards are face down on the table (still in their respective piles) accurately name every card in each pile, and then when you're done, name the remaining cards that are still in the deck.

After a while, I could see all 52 cards in my mind, neatly lined up, in order all suited up, and then when a card came up and I saw it, I would "check that card off" in my mental deck. So I always knew which cards had been played and which ones were still available to help/hurt me.

So anyway, time progressed and I got into playing poker. I never got into weird games like a lot of my friends played. I didn't like games with a lot of wild cards, or with too many random things happening that could change everything. I liked straight seven card stud. I loved (heck, I ate up) the wealth of information that was on the table.

As time progressed, and I got so good at remembering cards, I started concentrating on reading people. Remembering cards became second nature … literally a habit.

As for reading people, I do not know how I do it. You see, in the movies, Hollywood shows poker players having a "tell". Usually, they play with their ring, or twist their Oreo cookie (like in the movie Rounders), or some other overtly obvious thing that only an idiot could miss. I can tell you, that does not happen in real life, and if it does, it doesn't happen often.

It really came down to little, almost imperceptible clues. And I really can't do a good job of describing it to you either. All I know is that all I had to do was glance at the table to take in the data from the known cards that I could see (and check them off my mental list … all of this was done in a second or so), and then I could concentrate on the people and their reactions … and watch for little inconsistencies and little clues. Did they blink a bit differently? Did they seem a slight bit hesitant? Did they glance the wrong way? Did they pick up or put their cards down differently? And even when I did spot something that gave me a clue as to if they were bluffing or not, I still rarely ever went against the statistical odds that my mind was "seeing" when it looked at mental deck in my head.

As a result of this practice practice practice, I developed a keen ability to play poker and win far more often than not. And if I did have a losing night (which I have to say, was very rare), I didn't lose very much. As a result, I was able to pay for my senior year of college, and that's because I was introduced to whole "poker underground" that I participated in.

But that's a whole different story, and I'll make a point to tell it soon. I think it's a good story and many of you will like it, but I will tell you the ending now. I do not play poker anymore, because I became a great player …and I won a lot of money. And everyone that I took money from was a gambler, and they stood absolutely no chance of beating of me, and I couldn't stand to look myself in the mirror any longer knowing that I was taking someones mortgage payment or the money they needed to buy food.





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