Wild Cards by Philip Reed
Wild Cards; My Year Counting Cards with a Professional Blackjack Player, a Priest and a $30,000 Bankroll, is now available.
Who is this book for?
Every year 36 million people visit Las Vegas and lose $5.5 billion. However, there is an elite group of pro gamblers who has cracked the code, bringing home reliable wins from the hostile Vegas desert. Bill, the professional blackjack player who travels with his video poker-playing priest Father Randy, is one of those winners. And he shares his secrets in Wild Cards, available on Amazon.
Wild Cards is essential reading for anyone who has ever wanted to win money in a casino. It explains card counting but, more importantly, teaches the life of the card counter and how to play the cat-and-mouse game with casino security. It also describes the pro circuit used by professional gamblers when they travel. It’s the story of how an average guy, not particularly good at math, used that same strategy to start winning money. Wild Cards goes beyond the charts and stats in blackjack books to reveal insider secrets on how to beat the casinos.
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Excerpt from Wild Cards
Learning the Count
Mathematicians call the dealing of cards “dependent sequential events.” I call it “making money.”
-Lance Humble, The World’s Greatest Blackjack Book
The dealer spots us across the casino floor and watches us approach. As we settle onto the stools at the blackjack table, the dealer’s hands automatically sweep up the cards fanned out in front of him.
“Hey guys,” he says and starts shuffling. The cards make a soft, seductive ziiippppp on the green felt. The dealer is a young guy, powerfully built, wearing a white shirt and vest. The tray in front of him holds neat rows of colored chips worth up to $5,000 each.
It’s Sunday afternoon on the Strip and, around us, cocktail waitresses are hustling drinks while flashing Vegas-sized cleavage.
“How’s your day going?” Bill asks the dealer as he reaches into his front pocket for a wad of hundreds. There’s a grand in each of his four pockets, separated for easy access during playing sessions.
“Slow,” the dealer says, looking around. “There must be a game on.”
Bill counts out ten $100 bills and lays it in front of the dealer. It strikes me as a lot of money. But the dealer doesn’t blink. He carefully counts the money, laying the bills out on the table so the surveillance cameras overhead can record the transaction.
“Thousand coming in!” the dealer calls over his shoulder. The pit boss, standing nearby, is heavyset, dressed in a dark suit with graying hair and a face made of granite. He grunts his approval.
The dealer places the money over a slot in the table and then uses a plunger to ram the bills down into a safe below the table. It’s jarring to see so much money disappear so quickly and irretrievably. But it doesn’t bother Bill in the least. The dealer counts out a stack of green and black chips and slides them across the table.
The pit boss slides over to our table and eyes Bill.
“Do you have a card?” the pit boss asks. Most casinos issue player’s cards to track your wins and losses and, supposedly, to award points for free rooms and meals.
“No card,” Bill answers, arranging his chips.
“I don’t think so, thanks.” Bill smiles. The pit boss smiles, too, as if they are playing a little game.
The dealer offers Bill a yellow plastic card the exact size of a playing card. He holds out the stacked decks to Bill who inserts this yellow card randomly into the middle of the decks, cutting the cards in much the same was as in other card games such as bridge. The dealer then inserts this cut card about 26 cards from the end of the stacked two decks.
When this card is dealt, the round is finished and then the dealer reshuffles, leaving about 20 cards unplayed. The closer to the end of the deck this cut card is placed, the deeper the “penetration,” the more accurately Bill can count the cards. Despite the name, he doesn’t really count cards. Instead, it tracks the cards to see when the deck is favorable to the player or favorable to the dealer. When the odds are in Bill’s favor, he raises his bets.
The dealer “burns” the top card, removing it, sliding it carefully across the table so Bill can’t see it and placing it face down in the discard tray. Bill puts two green chips — $50 — in two betting circles on the felt playing table.
“Okay, good luck,” the dealer says, and raps on the table with his knuckles. He begins snapping out the first cards. “You guys in town for a convention?”
“No, we’re just here to relax and play some golf,” Bill answers, scanning the cards. He has a 16 on one hand and an 18 on the other. The dealer has a queen up. The dealer’s other card, his “hole card,” is face down. Bill signals he wants to stand on the 18 and hits and busts on the 16. The dealer flips his hole card over to show a 7 and, according to casino rules, has to stand since he has a “hard 17.” Hard hands are those that don’t include an ace, which can be counted as either one or 11. The dealer sweeps his hand over the chips, indicating that Bill lost one hand and won the other.
“Where’re you guys playing golf?” the dealer asks, laying out a new hand.
Before Bill can answer, a cocktail waitress appears. Her breasts are nearly spilling onto her drink tray due to some unseen underwear apparatus. “You gentlemen want a drink?” she purrs.
“I’ll have a martini,” Bill says, placing one chip on each hand as I order a vodka tonic. “We’re playing Boulder City.”
“Never played there,” the dealer replies. Bill has an 11 on one hand and a jack and queen on the other for a 20. He slides out another chip, signaling he is going to double down on the 11. Meanwhile, the dealer has a 6, which is a weak card — a “bust” card, according to some players. When the dealer’s up card is a 6, there’s a 30 percent chance that the hole card is a 10, and since dealers have to hit until they reach 17, the hit card will bust the hand.
The dealer gives Bill one more card for the double down, but it’s a 4 for only 15. The dealer draws several small cards to reach 16, and finally a 5 to bring the total to 21. He winces sympathetically, then sweeps up all Bill’s chips.
“Ever played Paiute Country Club? It’s a nice track,” the dealer says.
“Never have,” Bill answers, pushing two chips onto each hand. I realize the count must be high, because Bill is raising his bets. So while he’s been ordering drinks and chatting about golf, he’s also been silently counting cards, looking for an advantage so he can raise his bets. After all, if you knew for sure you were getting a blackjack, you’d bet every dollar in your wallet.
Play continues and I see that Bill’s stack of chips is shrinking. The dealer is sympathetic, rooting against the cards he deals himself. But time and again the dealer unexpectedly puts together hands that total 20 or 21 to beat Bill’s 18s and 19s. I don’t know the game well, but I know enough to realize Bill is down about $800. I can’t imagine taking that kind of loss in stride. But Bill’s face shows no emotion.
Before long, Bill is down to a small stack of chips. My inclination would be to bet less to extend my play. But the count must be high, because Bill now places two chips on each circle. The dealer gives him a pair of 8s on one hand, and two cards that total 11 on the other. The dealer’s up card is a 6. Bill splits the 8s into two separate hands and doubles down on the 11. On one 8 he gets a 3 for another 11. On the other he gets yet another 8. He wants to split and double but he’s out of chips.
“Hold on,” Bill says. He slowly stands and digs two more one hundred dollar bills out of one of his pockets. He tosses the money on the table. The dealer snatches it up.
“Two hundred coming in!” He counts out eight more chips.
Bill places his bets and now has four hands on the table totaling $400. Bill settles back on the stool. I look over at him to see if he’s nervous. He takes a slow sip of his martini and returns my gaze with his quiet, probing eyes.
And then he winks at me.
For a moment I struggle to interpret this surprising gesture. And then it occurs to me. He knows what’s going to happen.The whole idea of counting cards is to predict the future, and he knows that good cards are coming.
“Good luck,” the dealer says, rapping the table again with his knuckles. He gives Bill a 9 for a total of 16 on one hand. The other card is a jack for 21. The other 8 gets a queen for 18. And on the double down Bill gets a king for 20.
High cards are good for the player, low cards are good for the dealer, I recall Bill saying during one of our interviews. And lo and behold, here come the high cards in all their colorful glory. I want to cheer, but the hand isn’t over. And, even though I’m a rookie, I know that, at these tables, weird shit happens.
The dealer flips over his hole card to reveal a 9 for 15. His next card is an ace for 16. Jesus! I think, and realize that I’ve almost stopped breathing. The dealer pauses dramatically and then lays out one more card. It’s an 8 and he busts.
“Yes!” Bill says and holds up both hands for a double high five. I slap his hands, sharing the moment. Later, he’ll explain that it was merely an act. “That was gambler bullshit. I was just making it look like a big win for me.”
To me, it certainly seems like a big win — he won $400 on a single hand. With the $400 he bet, he now has $800 on his side of the table. He’s nearly back to even money.
I don’t recall exactly what happens next except that Bill keeps playing and winning. Often, he has $100 on each hand. I notice that he puts the black chips, worth $100, on the bottom of the stacks. This way, he tells me later, the eye in the sky can’t see how much he is winning.