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 learned how to play blackjack for the first time when I was nine. Several older kids I associated with liked to play for pennies. While living in Las Vegas as a teenager I used to sneak into casinos and play single deck BJ on 50 cent tables. I didn't truly understand basic strategy but I had a good understanding; i.e., standing against dealer bust up cards and doubling on ten and eleven. When I started dealing blackjack in 1976 I read How to Win at Blackjack
by Mike Goodman, Sr. (1963, Hollaway House), and gained a better understanding of proper playing strategy and the difficulties of overcome the house's natural advantage
Q Do you spend much time practicing, reading and updating your blackjack skills?
A If you're talking presently, no I haven't. At this point in time it would be a waste of my time since I'm no longer interested in playing blackjack professionally. If you asking me about general casino information the answer is yes because I eventually plan on getting back into the casino/resort end of gaming.
When I first started dealing cards I became very bored with the process very quickly, however I was interested in other aspects of blackjack and the casino industry. Back in the 70's the topic of card counting
was paramount in the casino. Several casino employees who I associated with were into counting and playing. I can give credit to several, including Steve Forte, for providing me with information about counting, advantage play, bankroll requirements, etc. I also became interested in different forms of cheating because it seemed like no one in the gaming industry I had met know much about the subject. I still remember being told that card counting was cheating and if I was caught counting cards in another casino I would lose my job and probably get arrested. I learned later that was false.
Q What do you consider the trickiest parts in blackjack (i.e. converting to true counts, index numbers, basic strategies for various games, etc.)?
A This is an interesting question. I have taught many people how to count and have given numerous seminars on card counting and advantage play, and I've been asked this same question many time. What's the hardest part of learning how to count cards profitably? The answer is not what you would expect. I believe the trickiest aspect is overcoming the psychological pressure placed on the counter when experiencing negative fluctuations; i.e., living through the losses
Most people can learn how to count down a deck of cards, recall basic strategy, apply index number play deviations, and devise a usable betting strategy through many hours of practice. Some quicker then others. However, if the player is not thoroughly prepared to accept the fact that several weeks of profits can be whisked away in one day from bad cards and bad luck, and understand that this situation is a normal characteristic of card counting and gambling in general, then he shouldn't attempt to play for a living with serious money.
Q What's your greatest and worst blackjack memory?
A My greatest memory in blackjack was the first time I walked into a casino, counted cards, played for several hours undetected and walked out with more money than I started with. I felt I finally accomplished professional player status. I think I won $30.
My next greatest memory occurred as VP at the Aladdin hotel and casino in the 90's. Once I was in charge of the live games I made some very radical changes, particularly blackjack. We dealt out all but twenty-six cards from both the six deck shoe and the double deck games, added surrender and double after splitting, and simplified the shuffling process to increase games speed and number of hands dealt. I was told by different executives in the business that I was asking for trouble, and even the blackjack players that applauded the looser games felt I would be changing the rules back to the more standard approach after a month or two. During the next five years the Aladdin had some of the highest win percentage of all the Strip properties.
My worst blackjack memory had to be getting kicked out of Jerry's Nugget in North Las Vegas for shuffle tracking. It was the only time I was barred. The casino manager put me and two other players out of the casino personally. It wasn't a pretty scene. Several years later while I was the casino manager at the Maxim Hotel/casino I had the chance to reciprocate when I barred him for counting cards.
Q What card counting system do you use and which have you been using? What system did you like the most and the less? Reasons?
A I started out using the Hi/Lo, progressed through Lance Humble
's Hi Opt and Hi Opt II, and settled on Snyder's Zen count. In recent years I have gotten away for the Zen and have returned to the Hi/Lo. Since I was teaching classes on how to detect counting I needed to use a standard system that could be easily learned but could also have a high degree of confidence when used to identify card counters. The Hi/Lo, using Donald Schlesinger
Illustrious 18 indices, is the best all around system for that purpose.
Several years ago I taught a girlfriend how to count and had her learn Snyder's unbalanced Red Seven count system. It was easy and required no conversion and simple strategy variations. If I were to teach someone to play today I would lean towards the KO count system. It's similar to the Red Seven but is slightly stronger and more flexible for different blackjack game types.
Q At what stakes do you, usually, bet?
A The last time I counted blackjack I used green ($25) and black ($100) chips. I like the bet progression using those two denominations especially in six deck shoe games. When betting correctly you never have place more then two chip into the betting circle. Back in the 70's when I first started counting I used dollars and reds ($5). When I moved to advanced advantage plays I usually bet greens ($25).
To estimate my bankroll requirements I use a variation of Kelly Criteria
. I take my estimated advantage and divide it into 100. I then take the product and times it by my average bet and then again by my largest bet. This gives me an idea what size of bankroll I'll need. I still use the same formula when banking pai gow and pai gow poker, and I once used it in the casino business to determine my maximum table limit.
Q You are a professional pai gow player. For what reasons did you give priority in becoming a pro at this game instead of blackjack?
A There are several reasons why I playing pai gow and pai gow poker (also known as double hand in Northern California). First, the money is good and steady. Second, I have the opportunity. I practically feel into what I doing and I probably wouldn't have been interested otherwise. And the third, no heat. I play in a card room environment against other players and not the house. In California the card rooms can't bank their own games. All they can do is provide the players with cards, tables, chips, dealers, and a safe environment in which to play. For this the card rooms collect a fee from each player prior to each hand played. Although no heat is like being in heaven, the opposite side is that you have to keep a close eye on the other players. In actuality I'm like a small casino because I bank against the other players.
Q You are probably the most prominent author on casino cheating. For what reason did you get interested in casino cheating? For how long have you had this interest?
A I started becoming interested in cheating techniques when I was breaking into the casino business as a dealer. Since I planned on staying in the business I felt it was imperative that I learned as much as I could so I could become an expert in certain areas. With the help of several knowledgeable people I started reading about the different approaches to card and dice cheating as well as learning some of the basic moves. After a while I progressed to a point where I could have been an amateur magician.
In 1979 I joined the Nevada Gaming Control Board as an agent with their Enforcement Division. During my period with the board I learn quite a lot about card, dice, and slot cheating, as well as internal thefts and major scams. I also got involved in giving game protection seminars for many of the law enforcement agency in Nevada and throughout the western United States. At one point I was assigned to survey all the casinos in the rural areas of Nevada and to make sure they weren't taking unfair advantage of the public. In doing so I prepared myself by going over the files of all cow county casinos from the period starting in the 1960's through 1979. In those files I read about the different casinos that had been closed over the years for cheating the customers, what the investigations had found, and what the Gaming Board had done to prevent it from happening again. I also got to inspect and analysis numerous cheating device that had been seized from both casinos and cheater. The education I receive from my time with the NGCB was invaluable.
In the past several years I have given various seminars on game protection throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia, to casinos, gaming expos, and law enforcement agencies.
Q Theory and practice are two poles apart. You are known for being a know ledged individual on the theoretical part of cheating. Though, are you skilled enough to implement the various cheatings described in your book, How To Detect Casino Cheating At Blackjack
and actually perform them at the level of a professional cheater or magician?
A Yes and no. I have developed a basic ability to do certain gaming moves such as false shuffles, dealing seconds, hole card switch, etc., over the years. However, performing these moves is not my primary means of employment so I don't spend much time perfecting the slight of hand moves. Also, most of my seminars on game protection deal with the methods, indications, and procedures for prevention instead of slight of hand demonstrations. Many of these slights are considered obsolete in the age of computers and electronic miracles, and should only be shown for entertainment value.
There are actually two more elements needed to by a professional cheat. These elements are nerve and a lack of conscience. Fortunately, I lack the prior while I strongly possess the latter.
Q As a surveillance manager at several casinos, you have probably seen all kinds of hoaxes and frauds. What are the worst, most extreme and callow deceptions you have ever experienced? How common is casino cheating by players?
A Under the extreme and callow deception category I would say the stealing practice know as distract and grab is the worst. The technique is performed by two thugs who cruise the slot department looking for persons with full buckets of coin sitting on their machines. Once a victim is picked out (usually someone older or disabled) one thug will scatter several dollars of coins on the floor at the intended victims feet and bring the victims attention to the coins by tell them they must have dropped them. While the victim reaches down to scoop up the coins on the floor, the other thug reaches out and scoops up the victims coin bucket. Usually the thugs make their escape before the victim realizes the coin bucket is missing.
The most common cheating practices in the casino are the simple acts; i.e., putting more money out on winning bets before their paid, taking money back from known losing bets, stealing chips from other players at the table, etc. The more sophisticated the cheating move the more uncommon it will be and the less likely it will be to discover. However, the majority of people that enter the casino are not there to steal or cheat, they're in your casino to gamble and be entertained. After every game protection seminar I always finish the class be say that 99.9% of all casino customers are our friends, but it's that 0.1% we need to identify and neutralize.
Q What are the most common gambling scams in general in the casinos? What is the most frequent cheat in blackjack, both by player and by dealer?
A Because of the excellent surveillance coverage and the more stringent game procedures, most live game cheating is all but nonexistent today. It is very difficult to create loop holes in the system without increasing ones chance of being caught cheating and subsequently being prosecuted for a felony charge. If I were to list the top five methods of cheating against a casino it would include the following; dice sliding in craps, past posting in roulette, pressing wining bets on face up shoe games in blackjack, marking cards in hand held games in blackjack, and dealer false shuffling in mini baccarat in collusions with the players.
Several years ago a group of players used a false shuffle scam in mini baccarat to take off three Las Vegas casinos for over $700,000. This group was later identified on video tape committing the scam, arrested and convicted in Federal Court in Las Vegas. This scam has also been seen in other gambling states throughout the United States, including the countries of Canada and Australia.
Q You owned, operated and instructed at a dealing school in Las Vegas. How did you like it? Do you still run it? Positive and negative sides with the establishment?
A In partnership with an old friend, we opened Personalized Casino Instruction (PCI) in Las Vegas in 1985. It was our dream to operate a dealing school that trained students in the craft of dealing cards and dice while orientating them to the ins and outs of the world of gaming, not just take their money and sent them down the road. The school was a success and is now the longest continually operated dealing school in Nevada. I however, did not stay with it very long because I didn't like the repetition of teaching the same techniques over and over again. At present the school is operated by my ex-partner, Joe Lauer, and I would recommend PCI to everyone. Joe does a great job and has thousands of alumnae to prove it.