With the help of the easy-to-master steps in this book, even a novice gambler can go from being a traditional blackjack player to a card counter—an advantage player with a true edge over the house. For a dozen years, Frank Scoblete was a devastating card-counter, consistently beating casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Tunica, Mississippi and angering the casino bosses by knowing more about how to win money than almost anyone who ever challenged a casino. He employed sophisticated methods, including card-counting and little-known advantage-play techniques to turn the tables on the house. Now Frank, known as an icon of the gambling industry, shares with readers everything he knows about beating casinos at blackjack, including techniques for one, two, four, six, and eight deck games such as “end play,” “the fat finger method,” “card groupings,” and several card counting systems that are easy to learn, but powerful and effective to play. I Am a Card Counter is an essential resource for any gambler looking to succeed at the blackjack table.
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About the Author
Frank Scoblete is an authority on gambling authority. His bestselling books, DVDs, articles, websites, and television shows have helped millions of people become better casino players. He lives in Malverne, New York.
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I Am A Card Counter
Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack!
By Frank Scoblete
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Frank Scoblete
All rights reserved.
In the Beginning
I was part owner in a theater company on Long Island, New York, from 1979 to 1990. It was called the Other Vic Theatre Company, in honor of the Old Vic Theatre in England. By the way, you never say "I live in Long Island" the way you would say "in New York" or "in Cleveland" or "in Las Vegas." For some reason you live "on" Long Island. And Long Island is exactly what it sounds like — a long island, going from Brooklyn and Queens, which are two boroughs of New York City, all the way to Montauk Point, which is at the very eastern tip. Usually when folks refer to "the Island," they forget about anything to do with New York City and just consider it two counties, Nassau and Suffolk. I live in Nassau.
The theater company was thriving. We toured various libraries, charitable organizations, and dinner theaters and we also had our own 500-seat permanent theater. My partner in the company was a smart and interesting woman — a teacher by day and a producer, director, and actress by night (with matinees on weekends). We had a good partnership.
In the late 1980s I decided to produce The Only Game in Town by Frank Gilroy, a brilliant play that (go figure) only ran for a couple weeks on Broadway. My co-star was Alene Paone, who had been working with us as a stage manager for about three years. Alene was a lithe, good-looking, effervescent 29-year-old woman — a perfect fit for the role of Fran Walker, a Vegas chorus girl throwing her love away on a rich businessman using her for the usual reasons a rich businessman uses a woman. Rich businessmen make great villains, don't they?
I played degenerate gambler Joe Grady, a craps player who wished for luck on every roll of the dice but rarely had any. He did have an electric personality, but he was a short circuit as a human being. He was down and out. He was looking — hoping — for one big score so he could leave Vegas and start a normal life. It did not look as if that score would ever come. He was — to make this short but not sweet — a loser in life and a loser in love.
Joe and Fran meet, they fall in love, and after some dramatic ups and downs, the play ends happily with Joe making the big score at craps and an even bigger score with Fran. And the businessman gets screwed — figuratively. As I said, a very happy ending.
The problem we had with the play was a problem we had with ourselves: we knew nothing. When it came to casino gambling, we had no idea what we were saying. Alene knew about the idea of being a chorus girl: you danced and maybe sang some songs as a backup to a star. But she had no idea of what I was saying when I discussed the game of craps, though onstage she had to look as if she was totally cognizant of what everything meant. I had these great monologues that can really stretch an actor and rivet an audience, but what the hell was I actually saying? I had never played craps; I knew nothing about the game. Indeed, I had never played any casino games, nor had Alene. Blackjack was news to me, although I did know what roulette consisted of — I had seen scenes involving roulette wheels in movies, and, of course, James Bond made a fortune betting on number 17. In college I had played poker, but that was it as far as gambling went.
Alene and I decided we'd go to Atlantic City and learn craps and watch it being played. Alene, even at 29 in an age after the sexual revolution (the revolution that gave men the wonderful license to have sex without worrying about having to marry the woman — nothing like "getting the milk and not having to deal with the cow," as my late grandmother scornfully said), insisted on having her own room. After all, I was a married man with two young sons. I don't know if she knew how much I actually did love her; in fact from the very moment I met her, I loved her, but that's a tale I told in my book The Virgin Kiss.
We stayed at the Claridge, a small casino in a beautiful old-world building. It was also the building in which I was conceived, which proves the saying, "What goes around comes around" ... or maybe, "You can go home again." At the Claridge I was lucky to meet up with the man who would ultimately become my gambling mentor, "the Captain" of craps, along with his crew of 22 high rollers. He taught me the game, and when I performed my role as Joe Grady, I knew exactly what I was talking about.
I also knew that casino gambling offered me a new life, because I was becoming disenchanted with theater, disappointed with my relationship with my partner, and disenchanted with my life, my wife, and my future — in short, I was a kind of Joe Grady, the very character I had played, looking to get out.
I did stay with the Other Vic Theatre Company for another year or so, during which time I did one of the best plays ever written, my own Dracula's Blind Date, certainly strong competition for Shakespeare's best plays. During that time I studied casino games. I wanted to know if it was possible to actually beat them.
When I had been in the Claridge, I watched a few blackjack games and wondered, If no aces are left in the shoe, no one can get a blackjack. Is there a way to follow the cards to get an edge at the game? I thought this was a profound insight on my part, not knowing that far greater minds than mine had figured out just about all the ins and outs of the game far better than I ever could. They had discovered something called "card counting" that allowed a player to follow the cards and bet more when the edge in the game favored him and less when the game favored the casino.
Most casino games are stagnant. The casino's edge is the same from decision to decision, and there is no way a player can change that. However, with blackjack the play of the cards changes what will come up in the following hands. If there are no aces left in the deck, there will be no blackjacks. A player can wish, pray, and hope, but if those aces are gone, those blackjacks are gone. Card counters can exploit this knowledge of what remains to be played.
Most casino games couldn't be beaten — at least not by average people like me. But blackjack and craps were different. Blackjack could be beaten with card counting, and the Captain was showing me that craps could be beaten with dice control. During my time with the Captain and his crew, I got to see the Captain roll, and I also got to see the greatest dice controller of all time, a woman known as "the Arm."
The difference between card counting and dice control is the difference between night and day. Blackjack probabilities change with the play of each hand; what cards have been played determines what cards will be coming up. If the decks favor the player, the decks will favor all the players, whether those players know it or not. In craps, the probabilities do not change unless a controlled shooter can change them with his skill. The shooter determines whether the game favors him, not the play of the cards or the play of random shooters who compose the overwhelming majority of craps players. The shooter dictates the nature of the game.
While I toured in Dracula's Blind Date during my last days of working in theater, I studied the game of blackjack. Unlike craps, I did not have a personal mentor. I went it alone and studied constantly.
I bought many books, such as Beat the Dealer by Edward O. Thorp (the first real card-counting book ever written); The Theory of Blackjack by Peter Griffin (filled with math and also fun stories); The Big Player by Ken Uston and Roger Rapoport (a knockout book with the story of the most famous, flamboyant "big player" of all time, Ken Uston, who has inspired many blackjack players over the decades); Million Dollar Blackjack by Ken Uston; The World's Greatest Blackjack Book by Lance Humble; Professional Blackjack by Stanford Wong (a bible for me, Wong put it all into perspective);Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere; Ken Uston on Blackjack by Ken Uston; The Beginner's Guide to Winning Blackjack by Stanley Roberts; The Blackjack Formula by Arnold Snyder (whose magazine Blackjack Forum was a must-read in my early career); Two Books on Blackjack by Ken Uston; Blackjack Your Way to Riches by Richard Canfield; and Blackjack's Winning Formula by Jerry L. Patterson.
Some other books not put on this list were basically junk, selling betting systems that could not beat the game. I learned about betting systems when I used a martingale at the Sands casino in Atlantic City. The martingale is a betting scheme where you double your bet after a loss, the philosophy being you have to win sooner or later. True. The problem is that after six to eight losses in a row, doubling your bet after each loss, you usually hit the table limit and are destroyed. I was betting five dollars and doubling after each loss. While successful for two days, each win only won me five dollars. When the axe fell, I lost a lot of money. So much for betting systems.
It was one thing to read about blackjack, but I had to practice card counting to get any good at it. I bought a blackjack shoe (the contraption that holds multiple decks of cards) and practiced a count called the Hi-Lo. In this count, the 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are counted as plus-one, and the 10, jack, queen, king, and ace are counted as minus-one. The 7, 8, and 9 are neutral. When the shoe favors the player, meaning the 2s through 6s have come out in sufficient numbers to make the shoe positive (favoring the players), you bet more money; when the 10-valued cards and aces come out, making the shoe negative (favoring the casino), you bet your minimum bet. To be sure, there are many wrinkles in this method. The count has to favor you sufficiently so you really do have an edge and you have to bet enough in these counts to overcome the overall edge the casino has in the game. For example, if you are playing a four-deck shoe and the count is a +8, moving your bet from $10 to $20 is not going to be enough to overcome the overall house edge. If $10 to $20 is the only increase you make in counts that favor the player, you will not win at the game in the long run. In shoe games you also have to establish the "true count" in addition to the "running count" — by dividing how many cards remain into the running count. This "true count" gives your true edge, which is the edge you use for wagering amounts. Positive edge, bet more; negative edge, bet less. Simple idea with a profound impact on playing the game.
Another very important aspect of playing advantage blackjack is making the correct decisions on your hands against the dealer's up-card. This method is the computer-derived "basic strategy." Playing by whim is a poor way to go and probably a losing way, too even if you do count cards. (I doubt there are card counters who play their hands by whim.) Certainly, there are slightly different basic strategies for different games, usually based on the number of decks. But the changes are relatively small and certainly not all that important in four-, six, and eight-deck games.
In 1990 Alene Paone — forever now known as the beautiful AP — moved in with me. She had her own room in my rented condo; I was not going to let my sons think we lived together as anything other than friends — even though we were much more than that.
I spent every afternoon and many nights playing hands on the dining room table. I dealt myself round after round after round of hands — keeping the running count, converting to the true count, and betting accordingly. I played four-deck games, six-deck games, and even eight-deck games, which were starting to take over Atlantic City. The more decks, the more patience you must have, as the counts change somewhat slowly. The casino generally has a higher edge the more decks a game contains. [There are some exceptions to this; for example, the new single-deck games that only pay 6-to-5 on blackjacks are probably worse than just about any multiple-deck games that I played.]
I did learn certain things that served me well. Many advantage blackjack players hold false notions about the game. One has to do with how fast you can count down a deck of cards. You just keep flipping the cards over as fast as you can to see if you can count down the deck properly. Some blackjack teams actually use this as a test of how good a card counter is.
At first I thought this was important, and I would practice counting down a single deck — bam, bam, bam, bam. Then I watched games in the casino and realized that even the fastest of the fastest dealers were actually pretty slow. The key was not to watch the dealer scurrying through his cards but simply to watch the cards on the table. The dealer could not deal like the superhero Flash, and those cards sat on the table for a sufficiently long enough time to have no problem counting them. It was nothing like the bam, bam, bam, bam of counting down a single deck. I learned to simply keep me eyes on the cards and not on the dealer's motions.
Gamblers have myths about play — almost all of which are wrong — but so do advantage players. Belief systems can make you see what you want to see. This is called "confirmation bias." Counting down a single deck in a few seconds does not have any real meaning in a real game. The speed of blackjack games is actually easy to handle. I would say that all blackjack games are relatively slow, even the ones everyone thinks are fast. As I said, don't watch the dealer, just watch the cards.
Once I had a handle on how to play and I knew I was good, I told the beautiful AP, "I want you to learn blackjack. I want us to eventually become a team. I want us to take it to the casinos."
"Okay," she said. And she started learning the Hi-Lo count as well.
The Problems Pile On
Even though AP and I were living together, at that time my financial state was a mess. My then-wife, Lucille, was dragging her feet on our divorce. I had written up what I felt was a fair divorce agreement that we could take to mediation and avoid conflict and unnecessary expense (my lawyer thought I was nuts and said, "You are giving her everything"). She'd get the house, I'd pay for her to go to graduate school to get a degree in library science, I'd pay child support, I'd pay the mortgage until the divorce, and I'd take the kids every weekend. (Yes, I hate to say this, but I even took the kids to Atlantic City and Vegas.) I'd also give her spending money until she could find a job.
While Lucille happily took everything I offered, she wouldn't budge on giving me a divorce. She was a woman who never wanted to work. She hired a radical feminist attorney who wanted all of the stuff I had offered her plus half my pension from teaching plus both of my testicles, nicely roasted, on a sterling silver platter.
I had sold my theater company by that time. My partner had tried to get me to pay off all the company's liabilities while she got all the assets. Our company's lawyer explained to her that any liabilities the company had must be bought along with all its assets. The company was in a great financial position: the liabilities were small, the income was great.
Still, I wanted out, and I took a minimal payment for my half of the company. My partner — my former partner, that is — could have it. I was done with theater, and the prospect of going through endless "negotiations" with her made me essentially walk away.
During that period of time, it seemed that life was done with me. I was a loser, perhaps a worse loser than Joe Grady. Even though I actually wanted to lose some of those things I lost, I was sinking into deep debt.
I remember sitting on the beach at Cape May, New Jersey, a place I have always considered my retreat, with the beautiful AP just before we started our team play. I was morbidly reflecting on my life's situation. (I'm a good morbid reflector.)
I intended to send my kids to Chaminade, a private Catholic high school, perhaps the best on Long Island. I was sending Lucille to graduate school. I couldn't get the damn divorce without a battle in court, meaning lawyers' fees. And I had taken too little for my half of the theater company. I was almost $50,000 in debt at that point (remember this was in the early 1990s), and with the ongoing child-support payments and giving Lucille spending money, I was in quicksand. I was sinking.
Oh yeah, another little (make that big) knife plunged into my back during this time: I was told I would lose my teaching job of 16 years at the end of the school year. The superintendent of the Lawrence Public Schools in Cedarhurst, Long Island, was Dr. Alvin Baron, and I had alienated him over the years by being obnoxious (totally my fault — as a young man I was too stupid to be cordial to those in authority) and also being a strong union head at the high school when he was principal there for a year before assuming the superintendent's position. I set the framework for this guy to screw me.
Excerpted from I Am A Card Counter by Frank Scoblete. Copyright © 2014 Frank Scoblete. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Yes, I Am a Card Counter ix
Chapter 1 In the Beginning 1
Chapter 2 The Greatest Blackjack Player 15
Chapter 3 The Beginning of the End-Play 21
Chapter 4 Masters of End-Play 29
Chapter 5 Paul Keen Was the Greatest 41
Chapter 6 Those Devastating Scobletes 45
Chapter 7 The Long Run 55
Chapter 8 Assorted Nuts 61
Chapter 9 Playing with Blackjack Teams 71
Chapter 10 The Working Man 83
Chapter 11 Glory Days / Gory Days 93
Chapter 12 Horrors! The Bruising World of Advantage Players 125
Chapter 13 Tanned, Tortured, and Banned in Las Vegas 153
Appendix I Card-Counting Methods 171
Appendix II Books and Resources 197