What do you know about a group of college students who were featured
on NBC Dateline who beat the casinos in Las Vegas out of millions
by card counting? Doug F.
First, Doug, a quick point of
fact. It was ABC Primetime who did the segment, not NBC Dateline.
Here's how it went down. During the 1990s, six MIT students by
employing card counting techniques made millions of dollars playing
blackjack in Vegas casinos on the weekends.
Your typical card counter can be spotted easily because they tend
to make large bets for no apparent reason, but these counters
had four individuals spread out making them as a group much harder
to detect. They used a back-spotter that would stand and count
cards, but not play. A spotter, who would make small bets at the
table and relay messages to the Gorilla. The Gorilla would move
around from table to table placing huge bets when the spotter
and back-spotter indicated that there might be an advantage at
a table. And finally, you had the Big Player, who would play large
hands and count the cards.
Casinos fastidiously keep track on card counters by employing
agencies that seek out, and monitor suspected card counters. They
were caught when someone from their own inner circle sold their
names to an agency in Las Vegas. After that, anytime they entered
a casino; they were shown the door.
It is an interesting story, yes, but hardly new. Ken Uston described
the same sophisticated of team collaboration and mathematical
mastery two decades earlier in his book, The Big Player: How a
Team of Blackjack Players Made a Million Dollars. But, Doug, if
you want to read more about this group of counters, check out
Ben Mezrich's book, Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story
of Six MIT Students who Took Vegas for Millions.
Do you happen to know the origin of strip poker? Russell R.
I received a question similar
to yours a few years ago, but to date, I have yet to find the
actual origin of the game strip poker.
I can perceive risk takers of past cultures sitting around a campfire
playing with black walnut half shells filled with pine resin and
charcoal shaking die trying to induce the opposite sex to shed
a garment or two, but I still cannot find any lineage of the game.
Your question, Russell, does remind me of a true story a dear
friend shared with me that happened in a casino in Monaco. An
American consultant working out of Milano, stopped off for an
evening of fun while en route to Paris to pick up his wife — of
French extraction — who'd been visiting the family farm up around
He staked out a roulette table where a gorgeous brunette, very
nearly into a low-cut gown, had done well early on, but had been
on a slide for the last several spins and clearly didn't have
enough moolah left to play again. She stamped a pretty little
foot and began to leave with the bravura look that needs no translation:
"OK, you bastards! Just you wait!"
She and my acquaintance had been playing on opposite sides of
the table and were aware of each other but hadn't actually spoken
until she now stormed past him. He had been quite lucky and now,
like the generous philosopher he was, he tapped her on the elbow
and offered to stake her for another round or so.
"And why would monsieur want to do that?"
"Blind faith, cash overload, not to mention an eye for the
chic and decorative."
"Too kind, a gallant gesture .... and collateral ?"
"Your underwear — at so much per item."
"Oh, mon Dieu, jamais, jamais; I'm not that kind ... etc.,
And so it was arranged that in exchange for his loan, she would
visit the ladies' room and return leaving in his hands whatever
she wore under the gown — at 30,000 francs per item.
As it turned out, bit by bit, she lost the 90,000 francs and along
about dawn withdrew to her hotel. The consultant, a man of wide-ranging
concepts, well above dreary details, was left with three items
of intimate apparel in his pockets.
Typically, he failed to dispose of the evidence, and would his
wife ever believe how he got them out of a pure humanitarian gesture?
Of course not.
Gambling quote of the week: "Vegas holds a warm place in my
heart, although, I used to go in a $30,000 car and come home in
an $800,000 bus." —actor James Caan