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Winning at the Big 3

Everyone's got a buddy or an Uncle with winning gambling strategies, here are some that actually work.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 2)

We spend about an hour at the table, throwing dice, making bets, watching the cubes bouncing off of felt bumpers. When our numbers come up, we put additional chips behind the pass line, taking odds that the number will hit again (this bet gives the craps player the best odds against the casino). Post-point 7s hit with alarmingly high frequency, and I am grateful that I have some money down on the come line.

"These are surrogate 'don't pass' bets," DeMarco says, referring to wagers that put money on the thrower hitting 7 before making his point. "What you want to do is last long enough till a streak comes up and maybe clip a few bucks along the way."

Unfortunately, hanging in there and clipping a few bucks are about all we're doing. When a lanky blonde has a hard time establishing a point, DeMarco mutters, "Cold as ice. This table is horrible. Let's play somewhere else."

We find a table that seems a bit livelier and have better fortune. Then the croupier passes me the dice. I blow on them for luck and let the bones roll. They bank off of the felt, establishing my point (9). I don't get it right away, but we make our come bets, and a couple of those happen to hit. The 9 eventually comes through as well. So, yeah, we make some money. We have a little bit of excitement. But other players' roars turn to groans when I crap out before hitting the point again.

I'm ready to lay down a fresh bet when the dice get handed off to an elderly man, rail thin and miserable-looking. At a table full of players placing money on the pass line, he drops his chips upon the "don't pass." DeMarco grabs my wrist before our chip hits the felt. "This guy is death," he says. "I don't like it."

We back away from the table and I realize that we've beaten the game by about $60. It's not all the money in the world, but it is a decent return on $100 -- especially when the dice never got particularly hot. DeMarco suggests that we end this session while we're ahead and the tables are cold.

As we retreat to the bar for a couple of beers, he recounts his best-ever run at a craps table: "I was playing at the El Cortez, a real dumpy place, not too far from here. Suddenly the shooter began throwing numbers without hitting craps. I was playing with $25 chips and they became $500 chips real quickly. I saw a statistical aberration taking place and I began pushing everything." He takes a swig of beer and says, "You never know when it will come up or where it will come from. So what you need is a system that will escalate your bets without letting you go broke while you wait for the aberration."

This is in my mind a couple hours later, when I return to the Mandalay and stroll past an obviously busy craps table. I cash in $100 and follow the Einstein technique. By the time the dice turn chilly, I'm ahead by another $80 and heading up to my room.

The London Club inside the newly renovated Aladdin Resort & Casino is Vegas's elite place for gambling. Designed to have a racy James Bond air, the room features female dealers in evening gowns, men in tuxedos, and a private dining room for super-high rollers. Posh though the joint may be, a blackjack wizard whom we'll call David Tall doesn't like it one bit. All the games with minimums below $100 a hand use six decks. Tall recognizes this as a serious disadvantage to any player who wants to count or at least keep track of cards that pass through the dealer's shoe.

He suggests that we seek our fortune elsewhere. Heading out of the casino and across Las Vegas Boulevard to the Bellagio, he says, "I'll walk past 1,000 tables before I'll sit at a bad one." Tall has been counting cards since he was a teenager. He played in a gang headed by the notorious Ken Uston, and he's good enough that most of the casinos in town have banned him from playing. Tall views the lack of hospitality as a nod to his prodigious talents. "There are only two ways to win at blackjack," he says. "You must understand basic strategy, perfectly, and learn to count cards. If you only want to play on a casual basis, then at least learn basic strategy and stick to it. That cuts the casino's edge down to .05 percent, which is as close to 50/50 as you're going to get."

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