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Playing Partners

A professional gambler explains how he takes advantage of casino promotions that the normal player might miss

Playing Partners

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is an excerpt from a new book by Arnold Snyder, Radical Blackjack. Snyder is a professional gambler, and has been one of the most important writers in the gambling and blackjack field, including Blackbelt in Blackjack, The Big Book of Blackjack and How to Beat the Internet Casinos and Poker Rooms, and was the publisher of the Blackjack Forum, a now-defunct trade journal for professional gamblers. Radical Blackjack is being published by Huntington Press. In it, Snyder reveals the names of previous collaborators and the locations of his biggest wins, which he always carefully shielded in his previous books and columns. Radical Blackjack is available at the usual online locations and at LasVegasAdvisor.com.

Most of my gambling over the past 45 years has been on my own money or with a single partner. I’ve also been involved in a half-dozen team ventures, where a group of us pooled our money to play at higher stakes than any of us could afford to risk on our own.

But I’ve also had several opportunities to play on money fronted by investors. I’ve probably had more opportunities to do this than most, because I knew so many big players through Blackjack Forum. I turned down most of the offers to play for investors or teams where I wasn’t required to contribute to the team bank. But in this chapter, I discuss a few of my experiences playing with other people’s money.

Playing for an investor is essentially a free roll. If I lose, I lose nothing; the investor takes the hit. If I win, I get a portion of it. Because it’s a free roll for me, the investor gets a bigger share than if we’d both contributed to the playing bank. The upside for the investor is that the player puts in the hours and uses skills the investor may not have or exploits opportunities that may not be available to the investor.

One of the most easygoing investor relationships I’ve had has been with Max Rubin.

Max Sends Me to Play the Tribal Casinos in California

Max Rubin was the first person to put money behind my play, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. This was in the early 1990s when I was still working at the Post Office. I’d started visiting the Native American casinos in northern California to report on in Blackjack Forum and discovered crazy-valuable promotions at a couple of places.

California’s laws at the time forbade the tribes from banking their own games. One of the ways the tribes got around this was by having the games banked by a “player pool,” essentially the money the house won from the players. These winnings then had to be “redistributed” back to the players; in theory, the tribes weren’t allowed to make money on their blackjack games. The casinos redistributed the money by having regular promotions where the players had the edge over the house.

I know that sounds crazy, but that’s why the Native American casinos in the state had so many valuable promotions. Tribes added Jokers as wild cards to the decks, paid off busted hands, paid 2-to-1 on naturals, etc. Sometimes they held these promotions once a month, sometimes for a few hours every week.

The promotions I found weren’t advertised, other than with a small sign in the casinos announcing them for whatever players happened to see it. When I found them, their tables often weren’t full on promotion nights.

These weren’t rule variations I’d seen covered by Stanford Wong in his newsletter or by any other blackjack expert. I had a half-dozen different software programs I was selling through Blackjack Forum that simulated strategies for blackjack games and I went through them one by one, trying to find a way to figure out the value of and strategies for these rule variations.

Two programs I believed could be useful for this purpose were Stanford Wong’s Blackjack Analyzer and Buddy Hack’s Blackjack Subsets. But neither did exactly what I needed. I knew if I told Wong about these promos, he’d analyze them, but he’d also publish his findings and mention the casinos where the promos could be found. Wong was always open about his policy of revealing information he heard about. “If you don’t want it published, don’t tell me about it.”

So I contacted Buddy Hack. I knew that if anyone could analyze these new rule variations, Hack could. His Blackjack Subsets was one of the most incredible blackjack-analysis programs available to the general public. In my 1993 Blackjack Forum review of the program, I called it “Theory of Blackjack on Disk” (referring to Peter Griffin’s masterwork on blackjack).

In a short time, Hack provided me with complete analyses of the promos’ profit potential. He also devised both playing and betting strategies to take full advantage. As I’d suspected, one of the promos was especially juicy, but I didn’t have a bankroll sufficient to play the house maximums.

I called Max Rubin and told him about the promos and Buddy Hack’s analyses. “Nobody knows about these games, Max. There are no pros in there, no one who knows what he’s doing at all as far as I can tell. The tables aren’t crowded.”

I told him I planned to post details about the promos in Blackjack Forum, but I’d keep them out of the mag and play them myself if he put up the money for me to play.

He asked me how much of a bankroll I needed and fronted me the money on a handshake for half the win. I didn’t put up any of my own money. I never alerted any other players to these games. Max and I both made money over a period of a few months while these promotions were going on. It was as easy as an agreement with an investor can be. I kept him informed via phone about what was happening trip by trip, but didn’t submit detailed reports. I put in the hours and covered my own expenses.

Max was also a mentor to me when I started playing at higher stakes. He knew the casino industry from the inside better than anyone else I knew. I frequently asked him for advice on how to milk comps, avoid heat, and stay under the radar.

When I was first shuffle-tracking at the Aladdin on a different investor’s bankroll, I finished a playing session and went to my room to count my chips. I’d beaten the Aladdin for $98K. I’d never won that much money from a casino before. I was on a full RFB comp and had been told by my host before my trip that my airfare would also be covered.

“Max,” I said when he came on the line, “I’m at Aladdin and I just beat them for close to a hundred thousand at blackjack.”

“Holy shit. Nice win, Snyder.”

“Thing is, I’ve got to go down to cash in my chips. My flight back to Oakland is leaving in two hours and they agreed to pay my airfare. But I’ve been seriously abusing my comp. I’ve been getting these room-service breakfasts. I mean, the guy comes in pushing the cart and starts looking around like, where is everybody? It’s breakfast for four. I’m getting eggs with bacon, sausage and ham. Plus orange juice and grapefruit juice, French toast and apple turnovers and bear claws and walnut-cinnamon rolls smeared with cream cheese and cappuccino, in addition to the pot of coffee and the mixed-fruit platter. I can’t eat even half of it and I can hardly stand up after breakfast.

“For dinner, it’s steak and lobster with a half-dozen side dishes and appetizers. I’m having $200 lunches and I’m eating alone. My host asked me if I wanted tickets to the big fight at MGM next month. I told him no thanks, I’m not into boxing. I think that fight’s sold out and the scalpers are asking a couple thousand for tickets. But I just took 100K off their blackjack tables. So how do I go down now and ask them to cover my airfare too? Doesn’t that come off just a bit too greedy?”

“Snyder, are you shittin’ me? Get your ass down there and tell them to pay up! I can’t even believe you’re asking me this.”

“So I just act like it’s normal?”

“Yes! Listen, it’s expected. Just do it. And tell your host you changed your mind about those fight tickets.”

That’s how naïve I was about being a high roller.

Rich Get Richer

Rob Reitzen was another player I asked for advice when I started playing big money. “I don’t have any designer clothes, Rob,” I said. “I’m wearing a Monado watch. Not a Movado, a Movado ripoff. It cost me $9. Do I need a Rolex? Do I need a pair of $500 shoes? I don’t want them to take one look at me and say, he must be a card counter.”

“Arnold, it’s not like that. Rich guys, I mean really rich guys, don’t wear Rolexes in a casino. When I go in to play, I wear cargo shorts and sneakers with no socks.”

Later, I saw for myself that Rob was right. Baccarat whales were playing at MGM Grand in their pajamas. Rob went on to become one of the most successful pro gamblers in the world. He was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame in 2019.

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