Las Vegas Card Counters
Last year you may have heard of Hollywood megastar Ben Affleck getting in trouble for his card counting antics. Although the card counting in itself isn’t illegal, casinos do reserve the right to refuse card counters entry to the gaming floor, and can eject players whom they suspect them of card counting. As the professional player Anthony Curtis says: “the science [of card counting] is knowing how to do it; the art is being able to get away with it.”
Ben Affleck of course isn’t the first, nor will he be the last person to be ejected from a Las Vegas casino. This being the case we thought we would provide you with a list other gamblers that have found themselves in trouble for their card counting ways, or got away with remarkable winnings.
Keith Taft isn’t one of the best known members of the card counting club, but he is one of the more interesting ones. Taft is one of the members of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, because of his innovative strategies for card counting that involved a whole series a different wearable computer devices over the years.
Taft unusually came from a very religious background, he first got hooked on the game of blackjack when on a family holiday to Reno. He received a token to gamble at Harrah’s Casino, he warily went into the casino, but as luck would have it the 3 hands he played were all winning ones! Taft was hooked, and from there on in he would study card counting, and even practise the game with his family. The breakthrough for him happened when he came to the realisation of why he should be doing all the card counting in his head when a computer could do the calculations for him.
This lead to the invention of George, a manually wired clunky 15 pound machine strapped to his chest, which attached for 4 switches hidden in his shoes which he controlled with his toes. The information of the dealt cards was then conveyed from the computer to his glasses where LED lights had been concealed. Who needs Google Glass when you have George right? Technically, this is one of the earliest pioneering forms of wearable tech, amazing when you consider that at this time in the early 70’s people like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were just dropping out of college, and hadn’t even begun to work on the first prototype of the Apple 1.
Eventually Taft and his crew got busted when their invention called Belly Telly. This involved hiding a camera in a belt buckle and filming the action, whilst a van with a huge satellite picked up the video feed, was discovered by a security guard. Although the law surrounding using computer devices was unclear at the time, the judge ruled that they be sentenced to 6 months in prison. Keith didn’t do time though. This incident also lead to the passing of legislation that prohibited the use of technology to aid gameplay.
Phil Ivey’s game was a little bit different from the standard form of card counting. Phil Ivey who is one of the world’s greatest poker players won £7.7 million ($11,490,000) playing a form of Baccarat at Crockfords Casino in Mayfair in London called Punto Banco. This is amazing when you consider that the game of Punto Banco is purely luck and requires no skill whatsoever. However, what the unsuspecting casino staff didn’t know that night is that Phil Ivey’s partner Cheung Yin Sun knew a skill called edge-sorting. Edge-sorting is a skill whereby the player notices imperfections on the back of cards, and memorises them to know what value the card has before it is turned over. This comes in very handy in the game of Punto Banco where a player has to guess which hand, the dealers or the players has a value that adds up closest to 9.
Unfortunately for Phil he would never see his winnings. Crockfords decided that what he was cheating, and therefore went on to withhold his winnings, and only returned to Phil his original £1 million stake. This decision was upheld by a Judge at the High Court and as such Phil won’t ever see his winnings.
Although this man is technically not a card counter he is worth mentioning as his ‘lucky’ streak meant he walked away with $4 million from Caesars, $5 million from the Borgata, and $6 million from the Tropicana in Atlantic City. In one hand he won a staggering $800,000. The latter casino ended up having the 2nd lowest profits in April 2011 of any of the Atlantic City casinos. As a result the president and CEO of the Tropicana Mark Giannantonio got the boot a few weeks later. So how did he do it?
Well although he may not have been counting cards, in Tony Rodio’s words (the man who succeeded Giannantonio as CEO) “He plays perfect cards.” Don Johnson is very good at maths, and his method is based on calculating the odds against the house. What Johnson knows is that the best way to do well, is by running a smaller number of hands and paying attention to variation. As Johnson puts it the way averages work, the larger the sample, the narrower the range of variation. A session of, say, 600 hands will display wider swings, with steeper winning and losing streaks, than the standard casino charts. That insight becomes important when the betting terms and special ground rules for the game are set—and Don Johnson’s skill at establishing these terms is what sets him apart from your average casino visitor.
He knew how to play the casinos and get what he wanted from them to give just enough of an advantage over the house.
Although these people all managed to do something exceptional in their own way, they are the exception rather than the rule, card counting or trying to get an advantage over a casino in any form can get you into a lot of trouble, so before you start trying to mimic any of these methods, it’s best to weigh up the risks against the rewards. However, nothing can beat the thrill of beating the house, whatever the risk.