Numbers Game

On Card Counting, Beating the House and Living to Tell the Tale

None Winning big at blackjack can get you a lot of things—money, necklaces that spell your name in gold... and tossed out of every casino in Vegas, if you’re not careful. We sat down with a man who tasted all three, Avery Cardoza, a former professional gambler and founder of Player magazine, for a few tips on beating the house...

UD: What’s your best advice for someone headed to Vegas?
AC: Play what you enjoy. Don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose, either emotionally or financially.

UD: You sound like our mom.
AC: Well, it’s a terrible thing to win a ton of money and lose it all back to the casino.

UD: But aren’t you some sort of blackjack savant?
AC: I used to play professionally in the late ’70s and early ’80s, but I was barred from all the casinos. They had my picture circulating.

UD: What was your secret?
AC: When I played, I came in and out, tried to keep my sessions to 40 minutes before they could get a good look at me. I never went to play for fun; it was my job.

UD: Did you count cards?
AC: To take advantage over the casino, you need to count cards.

UD: Does that take Rain Man–like skills?
AC: Card counting is not as hard as it sounds—it’s basically balancing high cards against low cards. There are tricks you can use that make it easy to count cards. You just need to practice.

UD: We’re in. Wait, what happens if we get caught?
AC: People used to get their jaws broken. In the old days, if you cheated the casino or had a problem with the casino, you wanted the police to come take you. You didn’t want for it to be handled internally.

UD: Okay, having second thoughts. Is it still like that?
AC: Now, it’s so corporate.

UD: Which means safer, but probably less interesting.
AC: Back then, it was personal—they took care of you, knew what you liked. They made you feel like you were someone big. And now, a lot of the personal attention is gone, and a lot of the big-time players do not like that. They like the old days, the good ol’ days.

UD: So it’s different rules now?
AC: If you have a lot of money, these days the casinos will put up with anything. I mean people throw cards, rip their cards, throw them at the dealer. But if you’re playing $10,000 a hand, they will just go and get a new deck.

UD: Unsavory. Do you still gamble?
AC: I only play poker in the World Series of Poker right now. Last year, I came in 10th in one of the tough events. The sevens, lowball.

UD: Congratulations...

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