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THE GAMES I PLAY

By Henry Tamburin

 

Henry Tamburin has been an advantage blackjack player for some 30+ years. During this time he also has taught more players how to be successful at card counting in his courses and seminars then any other instructor living or deceased. He currently teaches Speed Count in weekend classes, edits/publishes this newsletter, runs a book publishing company with his wife Linda, and writes the Total 21 column and Blackjack Magic columns for Casino Player and Midwest Gaming & Travel magazines respectively. He is a prolific writer with over 800 published articles, and a dynamic speaker that motivates his audiences. He also teaches advantage video poker classes in Las Vegas. After all these years, he still enjoys playing blackjack mostly in casinos in Las Vegas and Mississippi.

Iíve been going to casinos for nearly 40 years and Iím not broke. On the contrary, casinos have been very good to me. What Iím about to do is share with you what games Iíve played, what strategies Iíve used, where I play the games, and other tidbits from someone who has been around the block a few times when it comes to casino gambling.

I became a gambler in the late 1960ís. Actually, it only lasted four days. I was in graduate school at the University of Maryland doing research for my doctorate in organic chemistry. I made hardly any money as a graduate assistant, and in fact, my wife Linda supported us by working as a secretary at the University (we married in 1968, and will be celebrating our 40-year wedding anniversary in June). We were friends with a fellow graduate assistant and his wife, and they kept badgering us to come with them to Vegas. Even though we had very little discretionary money to spend on gambling, we relented and went with them on our first trip ever to Las Vegas.

Like most gamblers who come to Vegas unprepared, we lost our meager bankroll quickly. No surprise here. But unlike most gamblers who take their losses in stride, I was angry about losing. I enjoyed the glitz and glamour of Vegas, and because I had a math background, I decided to do a little bit of studying to see if there was someway to beat the casinos. That desire changed my life. Because from that day, till this day, Iíve left the ranks of gamblers, who consistently lose their money in casinos in the name of having "fun," and instead I joined the ranks of a very small minority of advantage players, who know how to beat the casinos at their own game.

So how did I do it? For starters, I learned to become a blackjack card counter. First, I learned the basic strategy. Way back then, there werenít any computer programs that could drill you to make learning the basic strategy quick and easy. No, I used the good old fashion index cards. On one side I wrote the total of my hand and the dealerís upcard, and on the other side I had the correct strategy. Linda flashed those index cards in my face every day until I got them all right. It wasnít a fancy learning system, but it got the job done.

Next came learning how to card count. The first system I learned was Hi-Lo by just turning over one card at a time from a shuffled deck of cards and keeping the running count. I use to be able to count down a deck of cards accurately in 20 seconds. Then I mastered play variations. I again reverted to index cards to help memorize about 40 indices. From start to finish, I estimated it took about four months to master the basic playing strategy and card counting. Then I took my next trip to Vegas.

I can remember that wonderful feeling sitting at the blackjack tables and playing with an edge over the house. When the count increased, so did my bet size, and it wasnít long before I was actually winning money playing a game I loved to play. The rest is history. I went on to a successful 38-year career playing blackjack in casinos all over the country (and also overseas), always with an advantage over the house.

Many players have asked me how Iíve been able to be so successful for so long without getting barred from every casino, or going broke. First, Iíve never over bet my bankroll from the first day I became a card counter. I understood the variance in the game, and how my bankroll would fluctuate from the euphoric highs to the gut-wrenching lows. Emotionally, the losses didnít bother me as much as it did other advantage players because I always knew I had enough bankroll to weather the short term swings and still be in the game for the long haul. This is a very tough concept for most fledgling card counters to understand, and I harp on it over and over in my blackjack classes and seminars. Secondly, I was content to grind out a profit with card counting. I avoided very large bet spreads at high limit tables, and preferred instead to play and bet conservatively for relatively short periods of time, usually for no more than an hour in any one casino. Yes, this is a conservative playing strategy but it has allowed me to play blackjack for a long period of time with steady profits.

The games I play today are much different than the ones I played when I started my card counting avocation. Back then I played the single deck games at Binionís Horseshoe casino in Downtown Vegas, and any number of six deck games on the Strip with s17, das, ls, rsa and 1.0-1.5 decks cut off (all the Strip casinos offered those games). In Atlantic City I was fortunate to have played their 6-deck games with early surrender. In Tunica, their single and double deck games were the best in the country. But times have changed and so has my playing habits. Nowadays, I play mostly the 2-deck games in Vegas and the Gulf Coast where the penetration is at least 60% (Santa Fe Station and Red Rock in Vegas; Palace, Treasure Bay, and Beau Rivage in Mississippi). Iíve learned to scout the games and be selective to get the maximum edge over the house. Itís a strategy that has been financially very rewarding for me.

You are probably wondering why I didnít play blackjack professionally. Believe me I had seriously considered doing this because I had the skills and the bankroll. But then along came our first son, and then our second. Your priorities in life change dramatically when you have children. I had a good stable job with a large international chemical company making a good steady salary with excellent benefits. Becoming a professional gambler meant Iíd be traveling a lot, my income would not be so steady, Iíd have no pension, and no medical and dental benefits (i.e., Iíd have to pay for them). I decided to stay put and play blackjack as an avocation. In retrospect, it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Hereís a tidbit you might not know about me. After graduating from University of Maryland, I accepting a teaching position in the chemistry department and taught chemistry to freshman. I liked teaching and got the teaching bug in me, which led me to start teaching card counting to players. In fact I opened the first card counting school in New Jersey shortly after casino gambling was legalized in Atlantic City. I had hundreds of students attend my classes. Although I no longer have the school, I continued teaching card counting to players in Vegas, Mississippi, and elsewhere. Over the course of my card counting career, for one reason or another I learned and used the following card counting systems: Hi-Lo, Hi Opt I and II, Ten Count, KO, Red Seven Ace-10 Front Count, Speed Count, and probably a few more that I canít recollect at the moment. Iíve also taught several of these counting systems to students during my teaching career. Presently I teach mostly Hi-Lo and Speed Count.

One of my goals as I got older was to retire early, and purchase a condo in Las Vegas. I figured if I kept growing my bankroll at blackjack, Iíd be able to financially do both. It was a goal I relentlessly pursued as I grew older. And you know what? I achieved both. I was able to take early retirement, and instead of a condo, my wife and I purchased a home in a beautiful community in Henderson, NV, a stones throw from Vegas. I call our second home my "play house," because if it wasnít for my winnings playing blackjack, I donít think I would have been able to purchase the house (or take early retirement).

Next up in my arsenal to beat the casino is video poker. I first met Lenny Frome, whom I consider to be the Godfather of video poker playing strategies, back in 1990 in Las Vegas. Lenny had a technical background (like me), and he loved living in Vegas (he moved there from east coast). In fact every time I met Lenny, he would harp to me about moving to Vegas. Lenny shared with me his video poker playing strategies even before he published them in his first book. But I was still winning money playing blackjack and didnít see any reason to switch to video poker.

Enter Jean Scott. She finally convinced me to try video poker because of the cash back possibilities. I can remember when she shared with me the amount of casino checks she was receiving weekly just for playing a game where she had the edge. "If Jean could do it," I thought, "so can I."

I learned the strategies for jacks-or-better, deuces wild, and double bonus by practicing on video poker training software (WinPoker and Frugal Video Poker). I also taught my wife video poker strategies using the same software. Linda and I have been playing video poker for six years and every year we have collectively shown a profit (that includes the cash back and bounce back). Case in point: I just returned from two days of heavy play in a Mississippi casino where I had a 0.5% monetary edge thanks to a super casino promotion. I netted a $3000 profit which included $500 in cash back and bounce back). I taught my slot-playing father-in-law video poker, and in three years he has nearly tripled his bankroll (he will be 90 years young this July). You can definitely make money playing video poker, but you have to know the tricks of the trade and have a sufficient bankroll (the variance in video poker is something you need to understand). Read Jeanís article in this special issue for more tips on video poker and the cash back possibilities.

Which video poker games do I play, and where do I play them? My games of choice these days are 9/6 Jacks-or-Better, Full Pay Deuces Wild, NSU Deuces Wild, 8/5 Bonus Poker and 10/7 Double Bonus. In Vegas, I can usually find all these games, but where I play varies depending on the casino promotion when Iím there. Right now Iím in a state of flux because several local casinos have recently changed their slot club reward system. I was playing at the Palms, Gold Coast, and Fiesta Henderson, but on my next trip to Vegas (in June), I will have to re-evaluate the VP landscape again. In Mississippi, my current casino of choice is Island View because of their very strong promotions, and the fact they offer 9/6 Jacks-or-Better progressive machines. But again, Iíll play whereever I have to play to get the highest return from the game itself and the cashback/bounceback.

Another game that I play with an advantage over the majority of recreational players is blackjack tournaments. I dabbled in tournaments way back when they were implemented by International Gaming Promotions in Atlantic City (got to be the 1980s but Iím guessing). Then within the past five years, I started again to play in tournaments, including the Las Vegas Hilton Million Tournament, World Series of Blackjack, Ultimate Blackjack Tour, and others. I learned a lot about tournament blackjack strategies from three BJI writers: Joe Pane, Ken Smith, and The Babe. You can get the edge in tournaments by playing better than your opponents (in tournament play, you are competing against other players, not the house). Iíve also played in tournaments on the Internet, and in local weekly tournaments in Vegas, Mississippi, and Laughlin. I havenít won a major tournament yet, but managed to finish first in two medium size tournaments ($12K and $3K wins). My problem with playing in tournaments is time, or lack of. Iím so busy these days writing, teaching, playing, and being with my grandkids, that I just canít seem to find enough time to play in tournaments. But you can definitely have the edge if you know what are doing, and my recommendation is to start by reading Ken Smith's e-book, How To Win More Blackjack Tournaments (available in our BJI store... click here).

The last casino game that I dabble in is craps. Several years ago I was a skeptic when I heard about dice control. But I knew something was up when surprisingly, Frank Scoblete started shooting craps when we met in Vegas, rather than playing blackjack as he had successfully done for so long. "Has this man lost his mind?í I thought. Frank showed me the details of dice control and then I started to play with him, Dominic, and the other Golden Touch Craps instructors in casinos all over the country (Mississippi, AC, LV, New Mexico, Chicago, and Canada). What I observed amazed me. I saw these guys having 30, 40, and even 50 rolls before sevening out. Needless to say I was impressed. But I wanted more proof, so I took the GTC course and also convinced my math partner Dan Pronovost to attend a course and see if he could statistically determine if dice control can give the player the edge. Dan did this with a new software program that he developed which can determine with statistical certainty where a player can control the outcome of his throws (for details go to http://www.deepnettech.com/SmartCraps.shtml).

I wasnít the only skeptic about dice control. I remember sharing my discovery of dice control with another skeptic and friend, Stanford Wong. After he studied what I told him, he also became a believer. I attended the GTC class where dice control is taught and I hold the student record for most rolls (45) without sevening out. I have a practice throwing station, and when I get the chance I practice my dice control. But alas, time is again the issue. So for now I dabble in craps in the casino because Iím still not consistently affecting the outcomes of my rolls to bet serious money (some days I average 6.5 non-sevens before seven; other days Iím below 6.0; to be successful in craps, you need to consistently exceed 6). But Iím convinced you can have the edge in craps using dice control but with this caveat: itís not easy because you have to practice a physical skill for many many hours (this is not a mental skill like card counting). For more details on dice control, I recommend that you read the book, Golden Touch Dice Control Revolution (available in our online store... click here).

Being an advantage gambler has been a wonderful and rewarding experience for my wife and I. I encourage all players in my articles and my seminars to stop being gamblers, and start being advantage players. After all, winning is a lot more fun than losing.

 

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