The following is part of a series of interviews of notable blackjack figures by Robert V. Lux, produced for the Swedish gaming website, Kasinocentralen. Each piece is of one-half of the total interviewRobert V. Lux is the author of a number of interviews with well-known poker writers and strategists. He is also a succesful poker player and was in the 2004 Online Poker Nordic Championship. He currently resides in Florence, Italy. with the complete interview reserved for Robert's future book. This interview was done in 2002.
Q For how long have you been playing blackjack?
A I have been playing blackjack for 33 years, since 1970.
Q Why did start playing the game?
A I was teaching Aspects of Gambling, a full credit course, at York University in Toronto in 1970. I knew about horseracing only but several of the students wanted to learn how to beat casino games. So, like a good professor, I went to the library to look for books on casino games. There were only a few. So I contacted the Gamblers Book Club in Las Vegas and purchased about ten books on casino games. Thorp's Beat The Dealer
fascinated me. I realized that a permanent mathematical advantage could be gained in the game of blackjack and not in any other casino game. I learned the simple Dubner point count and the blackjack basic strategy
from Thorp's book. Perry Burns, one of my students, took me on my first junket to the Sahara in Las Vegas. I was very nervous at first but came home with a profit of $625. I felt a strong sense of power and accomplishment having proven that the game could be beaten and that I could beat it. I tried to teach my students the count and basic strategy in that first gambling class of 1970 but they found it to be too much work so they turned to craps and horseracing. After a few trips to Vegas, I met John Luckman at the Gamblers Book Club. John introduced me to Lawrence Revere and his book Playing Blackjack as a Business
. I took several lessons from Revere and learned inside information that only professional gamblers know. (Some of this information will be revealed in a new book John Marchel and I are now writing.)
Q At what stakes do you usually bet?
A When I was playing regularly, I would bet the table minimum or bet nothing until the count became positive, then I would wager gradually up to as much as $500, occasionally playing two hands of $500 each.
Q What's your greatest and worst blackjack memory?
A The best memories are winning sessions when a lot of money is involved. My worst memories are refusing to quit when on a losing streak and getting barred
from every illegal game in Toronto in a six-month period. (I won about $40,000 in that six months in 1971. That was a lot of money in those days. It helped me buy a house, which I parlayed into a second, larger house in 1980 that we currently live in. This house is valued at about $500,000.)
Q Do you spend much time playing in the casinos? If not, why so? And, do you play any games besides blackjack? If so, which?
A I only play several times a year at the most now, and when I do play I seldom sit down. I just walk around with about one thousand dollars worth of chips, get the count from a new deal, wait till it's positive, start playing, then leave when it turns negative, never sitting down. I wear a large brimmed straw hat so the eye in the sky does not see my full head. I have been playing like that for years and no one has bothered me. It is very easy to win with that method since one is always only betting into a positive situation. At my advanced age, traveling from place to place and from casino to casino is not as exciting as it once was.
Most of my serious gambling these days is on the harness races. I usually bet through my telephone account right from my bedroom/study and view the races with a satellite dish or on the Internet. My betting volume currently is about seven thousand dollars per week. I plan to get it up to over one hundred thousand in about three years. It is possible to wager that much and not affect the odds at large tracks such as Woodbine in Toronto and the Meadowlands in New Jersey. I prefer the horses because one can bet from home and is never hassled. This is very pleasurable and convenient. We are very close to an age where the bettor will be able to wager on any sporting event or gambling game or race (political races included) in the world right from their home and watch the event on their TV screen. John Stronach of Magna International is aiming for a monopoly in this field.
Q Who do you consider the greatest blackjack player or author, ever existed? Explain why.
A There are many good authors. I really liked Barry Meadow's recent book; it was entertaining, accurate and instructive. I also enjoyed both of Ian Andersen's books. They offer innovative and psychologically effective approaches to the game. Stanford Wong publishes very valuable material, as do Arnold Snyder and Donald Schlesinger
. There is no one author that is greater than another. However, we all owe a debt we can never repay to Dr. Ed Thorp who introduced the game seriously to the public. The best player I ever knew was Lawrence Revere. He was barred from practically every casino in the world. He would use any method to win. When he played, morality was nowhere in sight. (Oh the stories I could tell you about Revere and Humble playing together in private games!) Today I am sure there are a lot of great players out there who will never be discovered. This is true for every gambling game. The greatest are never known.
Q You are most famous for writing The World's Greatest Blackjack Book
together with Kenneth C (Carl) Cooper. This is a comprehensive and excellent piece of work. Despite the book is written by the two of you, Cooper is rarely mentioned. Who wrote what? Did you both do 50% of the work, or should any of you be given more credit for the work?
A For that book I gave Ken all my material from my gambling courses, notes from my junkets, etc. And Julian Braun provided the tables and checked all the numbers for accuracy. Ken put everything together then I re-wrote and edited it certain parts. Ken did not play much and never for high stakes. He was a serious student of the game, perhaps like Arnold Snyder is today. Incidentally, Ken and I did not choose the title The World's Greatest Blackjack Book. Doubleday the publisher chose that title. We submitted several titles, but they rejected them. Ironically, the American Library Association has chosen that book to represent the game in their libraries. So perhaps our book did turn out to be the greatest, at least from one perspective.
Q Cooperating when writing a book must have both advantages and disadvantages. You got the opportunity to combine two knowledgeable minds, which resulted in more accurate and thorough information. Though, when collaborating, you do not have as much liberty to chose and decide, as every decision must be discussed and approved by the other person. What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages with co-working?
A You ask a very good question here. I believe LUCK in finding a compatible co-writer is the greatest factor. Almost every great couple met by luck. For example: Laurel and Hardy, Abbot and Costello, Crosby and Hope, Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, Simon and Garfunkel, Martin and Lewis, Leiber and Stoller (they wrote more than 100 rock hits, including Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock for Elvis Presley.) Ken Cooper and I never disagreed on anything. It was a lucky match made by destiny.
Q In the selected biography source in The World's Greatest Blackjack Book, Jerry L. Patterson's A Winner's Handbook is listed. By many serious players and authors he is considered being a rip-off. For what reasons did you chose to use his work as a source of information?
A Ken Cooper listed that book. I did not realize that the book was not very useful. I was too busy gambling, owning race horses, teaching and researching at the university, and practicing psychotherapy as a licensed therapist (as well as raising a family!) in those years. I apologize to all the readers that spotted that faux pas.
Q As a professor of psychology, do you feel that your knowledge in psychology has helped you much during your blackjack career? In what ways do you think it has been of assistance? How do you believe you would have done without your skills in the area?
A Lawrence Revere taught me, by example, that the most important use of psychology is to use it on yourself. By this I mean the player must be very aware of who he or she is and why they are devoting all those hours to the game. One must also be aware of his or her weaknesses and must try to not allow them to creep into their game.
Q Blackjack conditions keep changing as the players find new ways to beat the game and improve the odds. Every once in a while new methods have been originated, such as shuffle tracking, camouflaging of any kind, reading the dealer's hole card, just to mention a few. What new approaches and methods do you believe will take place on the new blackjack era (for example; beating the CSMs, etc.)?
A When it comes to money or survival humans can become extremely creative. I have been teaching courses in creative problem solving for ten years, i.e., lateral thinking, reversals, scenario planning, guided imagery, etc., and I am continually surprised how creative people can become in order to solve a problem or to earn a high grade. In the future of blackjack I would like to see the use of miniature high tech equipment; for example, laser readers that provide x-ray viewing. (However, such a tool would probably kill the game!) In the present, at the interpersonal level, I would like to see players, especially opposite sex players, become experts at persuading opposite sex dealers to deal them easier games and perhaps to make more pay-out errors.
Q You are the founder of two of the most famous card counting systems
in the world, Hi-Opt I and II. What were your thoughts and intentions when developing these systems? Did you ever believe they would reach such magnitude as they did?
A Julian and I had no idea how popular those two systems would become. The systems were developed for me and for the world by Julian Braun, at my request. Both Julian and I were always educators. Julian taught programming for IBM in Chicago for many years. He was a perfectionist always striving for errorless numbers. (I have taught psychology, psychometrics, psychotherapy, gambling, and creativity for thirty-five years.) We both wanted to teach the average person how to win at blackjack. From my interaction with gambling students I saw that they all wanted a simple system. I asked Julian to devise one and thus the HI-OPT I was born. (HI-OPT stands for High Optimum.) Julian provided the tables for me and I provided the instructions for the player in the HI-OPT I package of materials. The second system, the HI-OPT II, was developed because many players did not believe that such a simple system as the HI-OPT I could be powerful enough to earn large profits. They were wrong about the power of the HI-OPT I. We gave them the HI-OPT II because they wanted it. However, the HI-OPT I is all one needs to win substantial amounts. The only exception is in the single deck game. In single deck games the HI-OPT II out performs the HI-OPT I significantly.