By Noah Isaacs
Noah Isaacs is the pen name for a long time professional blackjack player who recently retired from advantage play and is a guest reviewer this month. He is enjoying the fruits of over 15 successful years at the tables, which give him time for casual reading, travel, and fun. He has seen the game evolve and deteriorate in several cycles, but views the current cycle as the most ominous.
Review of: The Blackjack Zone: Lessons in Winning at Blackjack and Life
Book Author: Eliot Jacobson
Review written by: Noah Isaacs, NoahIsaacs@hotmail.com
Is there really anything new to be said about blackjack? The answer is yes. The game is constantly changing and the old worn blackjack manuals haven’t kept up with the times. With shuffle machines, weird variations in the rules (like a payoff of 6-to-5 for a blackjack, what a rip-off!), and the new adult Vegas attitude, the games are getting harder to beat all the time. Add to this the onslaught of the "…stays in Vegas" marketing campaign and casinos are separating players from their money with more efficiency than McDonald’s selling Big Macs. It’s way past time for someone to come to the defense of the players. The first shot has been fired by Eliot Jacobson in his new book, "The Blackjack Zone."
The Blackjack Zone sounds like some bizarre road sign you might see traveling up I-15, with tables set up along the roadside instead of orange cones. The author uses the title as a "Twilight Zone"-esque metaphor: the same hand happens over and over so we had better get it right. By showing how much the gambler stands to lose over his lifetime when he violates basic play, Jacobson tries to motivate the reader to learn something. Good luck! People just want to be entertained; they don’t care if they lose. They think losing is fun. Good grief, we’ve got a bunch of Charlie Browns parading through our casinos. Jacobson is right. You need a verbal hammer to hit today’s gambler square on the head – winning is possible.
It might work, it might not, but the "Blackjack Zone" is one of the most innovative approaches to teaching blackjack to come along in a long time. One way Jacobson makes it unique is by bringing in topics that seem unrelated to blackjack to make his points. He invokes baseball, Zen, pop-psychology, and his personal stories to keep the reader thinking about the issues. In what may be the strangest twist ever in a gambling book, Jacobson uses blackjack as a metaphor for "life lessons." But it works. There really is a connection between losing at the tables and making mistakes in love, work, money, education and other parts of life. Jacobson is the first to make the connection. He stares down the Las Vegas media blitz as he brings a welcome dose of reality back to gambling.
Jacobson is an academic but he doesn’t write like one. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics and has been working in universities his whole life, so you know his book is not full of the same snake-oil-get-rich-quick-progressions-winning-is-easy crap that most authors try and sell. He also runs a popular blackjack website, www.cardcounter.com, and has appeared on radio and television, most recently in the National Geographic Channel program "Beating Vegas." For all his credentials (and maybe because he has been a teacher for so long) he writes in a way that is very easy to read and understand. The pages are not full of equations, tables, charts, and technical explanations. Instead, he knows who is reading the book and writes for his reader: the average gambler who is tired of losing and wants to know why and what he can do about it.
Jacobson covers a wide range of topics and has more than enough information to make a winner out of the reader who cares enough to really learn what’s in this book. Some of the highlights include blackjack mythology, card counting, casino protocols and a long section at the end that delves into the world of the advantage player in a very personal way. I especially enjoyed two chapters towards the end of the book. One was written by his wife: "When Your Partner Counts Cards" and the other was an interview with a professional blackjack player: "Interview with a Bear."
There are times that the book doesn’t work. The chapter that listed references and mini-reviews of books and then told me to read one of them should have been an appendix. Jacobson could then refer to it as needed. The chapter on "The True Cost of Making a Mistake" could have made its point without as much technical information. Jacobson overuses the name "Fred" as a character. At times I wished that "Wilma" or "Ethel" would make an appearance. These are minor blemishes in a highly polished and enjoyable read.
Jacobson focuses on today’s player: overwhelmed by mass-media misinformation and casino ploys to skim his wallet. His easy-to-read style makes this book one of the best on my shelf for the beginning to intermediate player. It is certainly the best new book on blackjack to be written in a long time. Buy this book. More importantly, read this book!
Note: "The Blackjack Zone" can be purchased online right here at www.bjinsider.com. Click here for details.
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