Pursuits: Blackjack

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The Independent Culture
BLACKJACK IS the only casino game you can beat. The technique known as "counting" is based on keeping track of the cards as they are dealt so as to increase the size of your bets when the remaining cards in the shoe are favourable, that is, when there are more tens than low cards left.

A lot of people count, but few succeed. Why? Because the casinos, who fear and detest counters, give them "heat", by shuffling up the deck - or banning the players altogether. It's a continual struggle for players to disguise their skill and avoid detection and, at the same time, last out the inevitable losing runs. The advantage of counting is only about 1 per cent.

Two new books on the subject may be highly recommended. One is Burning the Tables in Las Vegas by Ian Andersen, a comprehensive and well-written account of the state of the art, in all its aspects. The book is a sequel to the classic Turning the Tables, published in the Seventies, which focused on casino deportment. Obviously, much has changed since then. The new book covers psychological aspects of the game, which are, in fact, essential to master as a counterpart to the maths of counting.

The other new book is a short paperback called Knock-Out Blackjack. The authors, Olaf Vancura and Ken Fuchs, claim to have devised a revolutionary new counting system that "eliminates the mountain of mental arithmetic necessary to win at blackjack".

"Everything should be as simple as possible, but no more so," the authors quote Einstein. Having met Dr Vancura, who is a sort of mathematical genius, I have no doubt (without trying it out myself) that their system will work. But beware - counting is not a fun way to make a living. The long hours, the loneliness, the constant hassle to outwit the casinos, takes a very heavy toll on players, and defeats most of them.

Andersen says he has not made his living exclusively in the casinos. He still spends 500 hours a year playing more than 50,000 hands, but divides his time in managing his share portfolio. Here in Britain, the rules of the game are slightly different (to the detriment of the player) from America. On the other hand, there is no tipping of dealers.

`Burning the Tables in Las Vegas, keys to success in blackjack and in life', by Ian Andersen, $27.95; `Knock-Out Blackjack' by Olaf Ventura and Ken Fuchs, $17.95; (Huntington Press, 3687 South Procyon Avenue, Las Vegas, Nevada 89103.