Ed Thorp, the father of card counting, is a professor of mathematics who was the first to prove that the casino could be beaten in blackjack. Other blackjack players had used rudimentary techniques to take advantage of the 3 to 2 payout for a blackjack, but he was the first to make it into a rigorous strategy that works reliably.
He gambled in casinos throughout the country especially in Reno, Tahoe, and Vegas.
And he did all this in the mid-1960s.
But Thorp didn’t just beat blackjack – he also gambled (and won at) games like baccarat and roulette.
There’s much you can learn about the subtle art of casino gambling from such a man, and this post goes into detail about five of those lessons.
Beating Blackjack Might Be More Science Than Art
Even that might not be entirely accurate. After all, blackjack is just a math problem. Once you’ve solved the math problem, the rest is execution.
Of course, the execution is where beating blackjack becomes more of an art form.
If you want to learn how to count cards, you can find plenty of good resources online, but I suggest starting with a good blackjack book like Blackbelt in Blackjack by Arnold Snyder. He compares counting cards to a martial art – which isn’t a bad comparison.
The art of being a successful card counter has several aspects. Counting cards is just one of them. Avoiding casino scrutiny is another big one. Building and maintaining a bankroll is another.
Making serious money at the blackjack tables is rarely an individual endeavor. For one thing, coming up with a bankroll big enough for serious card counting is beyond a lot of people. Investors are common.
Advanced techniques in card counting require dealing with a team, too. This means having confederates (not dealers) on the casino floor with you. Getting along with a team of advantage gamblers is an art all by itself.
Becoming a Comp Wizard Is Another Related Casino Art Form
One of the best books I ever read about casino gambling was Comp City by Max Rubin. In it, he explains how to become a “comp wizard.”
One of the interesting things about being a comp wizard is that part of the approach is radically different from being an advantage player. Card counters do their best to go unnoticed in the casino. If the casino figures out what card counters are up to, they’ll run them off their blackjack games. Sometimes they’ll even ban them from the casino altogether.
But comp wizards want the casino to notice their play. They also want the pit bosses to overestimate how much they’re gambling so that they will over-reward them with casino comps. Being loud and noticeable is part and parcel of being a comp wizard.
The approach to this is simple enough:
You master basic strategy blackjack and are rigorous about game selection so that you’re only playing blackjack games where the house has almost no edge to speak of. This means finding games with favorable rules and playing PERFECT cards.
Casinos award comps based on their average hold at a blackjack game. Since most gambler don’t use basic strategy or misuse it, the casino often sees an actual edge of between 2% and 4%. They calculate comps based on this average.
But if you’re playing with perfect basic strategy at the right table, you might only face an edge of 0.3% or so.
For example, if you leave the table for a few minutes to visit the restroom, the casino is still clocking you as if you were sitting there.
If you superstitiously decide to sit out a hand or two because of a gut feeling, you’re also reducing the number of hands you’re playing per hour.
These techniques combine with perfect basic strategy to minimize your average hourly losses while simultaneously convincing the casino that you’re putting more money into action than you really are.
This means the comps you get are worth more than you lost, making you a comp wizard.
But How Do You Beat Roulette?
I don’t think it’s practical to try to beat roulette today, but understanding the mathematical principles behind how men like Thorp beat roulette back in the day can make you a more artful gambler.
The first thing to understand is how the house makes money from roulette. The assumption is that every number has an equal probability of coming up on a spin. Since there are 38 numbers on a standard wheel, you’re looking at a probability for any specific number coming up of 1/38. That’s the same thing as 37 to 1 odds.
But the bet pays off at 35 to 1 odds, which means that over 38 spins, the casino will win 37 units compared to the 35 units you win.
What if the roulette wheel were somehow imperfect, though?
What if a specific set of numbers on the roulette wheel came up a little more often than 1/38 of the time, while other numbers come up a little less than 1/38 of the time?
The casino would still make the same profit unless a player noticed the difference.
For example, suppose one number comes up 1/34 of the time, while another number comes up 1/42 of the time.
If you bet on the 33 to 1 shot, over time, you’d see a profit. You’d collect 35 units in winnings for every 33 units you lost.
To find such a discrepancy, you’d need to spend some time “clocking” the roulette wheel’s results. The more results you record and analyze, the more confident you can be that you’ve found a biased wheel.
Unfortunately, most casinos use state of the art roulette wheels that have true odds. They change out these wheels before the machinery starts wearing out. And they also switch out wheels from table to table during slow periods to make clocking their wheels impossible.
Beating roulette sounds cool, but it’s practically impossible in today’s casino environment.
Gambling With Reckless Abandon Can Be Fun, Too
I’ve written before about the best way to double your money in the casino. It’s just a matter of making one big bet on a nearly 50/50 shot. It’s a foolish thing to do with your money, but if you’re a gambler, it sure does make your odds of doubling your money improve.
This is called a “maximum boldness” strategy. William Bergstrom went down in history for using this strategy when gambling in Las Vegas. I hesitate to call it “artful,” but it’s another example of how understanding a basic mathematical principle can be useful for a gambler.
Here’s the premise:
Roulette is the classic example.
If you bet $100 on black, you have a 47.37% probability of doubling your money. You’ll either double your money or lose all your money.
But if you bet $50 on black twice, you must win twice to double your money.
You’ll win twice in a row only 47.37% X 47.37% of the time, or 22.42% of the time.
You’ll lose twice in a row 27.7% of the time.
The rest of the time, you’ll lose one bet and win one bet, which will cause you to break even.
Knowing What You’re Doing on the Casino Floor Can Seem Magical
One of my favorite things to do on a date is to take a woman who hasn’t spent a lot of time at the casino gambling and teach her how to play the table games. Most of the time, she won’t have any trouble figuring out how to play slot machines.
But knowing how to play the table games can seem like magic to someone with no experience.
Of course, most casino table games are intentionally designed to be easy for a newcomer to play. This doesn’t meant that such games are easy to play well.
And, of course, the game that’s most fun in the casino anyway is craps, and that’s not an easy game to pick up quickly if you’re completely new to casino gambling. It’s worth it to learn how to play craps, though.
Also, blackjack is an easy game to play, but playing the game well requires mastery of basic strategy. That’s something fun to show off and to teach, too.
There’s so much more to say about being able to gamble in a casino with finesse, but no one wants to read a 100,000 word blog post.
Those are the 5 best tips I can think of about how to become a more artful casino gambler, though.