Big Friday sale

Cheating At Blackjack Squared: The Dark Side Of Gambling by Dustin D. Marks

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii March, 1996)


Readers may recall the predecessor to this volume, Cheating at Blackjack, by the same pseudonymous author (reviewed in Genii , December 19 94 ). That book was noteworthy for bringing to light accurate and reliable information concerning a number of blackjack scams which, while generally known among experts and practitioners, had not been widely dispensed to the public. The information therein was largely rational, presented with a minimum of hype—at least considering the general tone of these kinds of works, which often seem to be written by wrestling promoters—and appeared to be offered by someone who had probably engaged in enough of the kind of questionable behavior described to at least have some actual idea of what the hell he was talking about.

Given the widespread favorable response to that volume, the author appears to have roped in his suckers and is ready to make another big score. Where in his previous work he was occasionally circumspect (as when he neglected to point out that the kind of cold decking procedure he described is a two-man move), he rarely relied on hyperbole. In order to fill out this volume, however, he seems to have spotted some green pasture and shoveled it full of manure. You'll love this sentence I lifted from the promotional cover letter accompanying my copy of the book: "In fact [this book] will likely take its place alongside Ernase's (SIC!) _The Expert at the Card Table—_still in print after 93 years!—as the modern classic on card manipulation (at any game, not just Blackjack)." Break out those shovels and hip boots, kids, we're going for a ride!

That is not to say there isn't material of value in this text. What particularly pleased me about the previous volume was that the author seemed to be speaking primarily from his own immediate expertise and experience; hustlers tend to specialize, and few excel in a wide catalog of difficult techniques and abilities. In this volume, the author strays into what I suspect may be rather uncharted waters for him; hence, while some of the most interesting information concerns switching cards—that is, stealing cards out of play, sneaking them into play, and switching them during play, i.e., "mucking"—one would be hard pressed to master the requisite sleight of hand from these descriptions. For that, one might be better served by George Joseph's 1982 manuscript, Hand Mucking— although as with all difficult sleight of hand, from the shift to the retention vanish, the timing and fluidity of such actions is virtually impossible to completely convey in print. There is even a description of, in essence, the Curry Turnover switch, which I find all but impossible to imagine being done under fire in a gambling setting. Since the author obviously has a deep understanding of the game of blackjack (and a good mind for the math where relevant), the opening two chapters of covering strategies for stealing (or "chopping") cards out of play, and returning cards into play, are fascinating and substantive, and worth the price of the book to the serious student of hustling. The Double Down technique, a method for stealing cards out of play that the author claims is original, is a particularly fascinating dodge, thoroughly and capably explained, and accompanied by some excellent diagrams.

There's also a superb chapter on "Adding to the Bet," which is to say, secretly increasing the cheater's bet after it is legal, meaning once he's seen his cards; the Drink Move seems darned close to fool-proof, and the author's analysis of the misdirection for the Spreading of the Cards move shows an excellent grasp of the concept. A chapter of "Miscellaneous Moves" begins with some hackneyed peek techniques, but then expands into some interesting areas, including flashing cards to co-conspirators, peeking in games dealt from a shoe, and more. There is one chapter of additional thoughts on card counting, a useful if more generalized addition to the quality information in the author's previous text. A chapter of "Outside Plays," i.e., scams carried out without the aid of the dealer, contains some practical knowledge, including a brief description of breather work, now a popular fad in conjuring circles. Finally, there are some great anecdotes in a chapter entitled "Stories From the Road." Based on the material described so far, the purchase price has probably already been fully realized, in approximately the first 125 pages of a 200-page book.

And a good thing, too, because much of the remainder of the book is unadulterated crap. This guy may have given up his career on the grift, but he doesn't seem to have quite fully contented himself to life on the square.

Put plainly: Be careful what you believe in this book. Even in the first paragraph of his introduction, the author claims that "I was a professional card cheat and my specialty was cheating at blackjack. I was never caught." I'm willing to believe either the first or the second sentence, but I find the both together to be doubtful at best. There is a chapter on "Disguises" that, while admittedly relevant to those who need to return to the scene of their crimes in order to continue to ply their trade, is nevertheless mostly just silly. There is a chapter entitled "High Tech Cheating" that is unintentionally hilarious; the author better sack to cheating at cards, because he doesn't know diddly about computers. Without doubt, such a thing as "high-tech cheating" does exist, and in several forms, but the author certainly provides no meaningful evidence of it here. His discussion of such practices in his previous volume, while not exhaustive, was far more reliable. If you think the movies JFK and Johnny Mnemonic were reasonably factual, you'll love this author's approach to conspiracy and technology. His paranoid rants and nonsensical blather in these areas, full of talk-radio philosophy and libertarian to militia-minded sound bites, are almost as pathetic and tiresome as his defenses for his own sub-Neanderthal morality.

The real crackpot stuff kicks in hard at about page 130, in the midst of the card counting chapter, where the author declares that "90% of all $100 bills contain traces of cocaine." Yowza! Where the author happened upon this particular urban myth is anybody's guess, but if you look at the numbers of bills in circulation and the percentage of the population that is suspected of snorting cocaine...well, you do the math. The author claims to possess a "simple solution to shuffle tracking" (briefly put, a way of keeping track of cards about to be dealt), but he's not telling anybody, because, of course, he don't like them nasty casinos who have the terrible habit of winning legally (thanks to the innumeracy of the general populace). I doubt said casinos will be holding their breath waiting for the author to impart his wisdom; surely if this nut could think of something clever, so can someone with an honest bend of mind, too.

This is not to say the author doesn't manage to slip in some actual facts in the latter third of the book. He does state, for example, that "I have NEVER seen anyone who could do a center deal under fire. There is a big difference between sitting in front of a mirror practicing versus doing it in a live game." No argument there. And he does provide some rational commentary on the controversial subject of "Do the Casinos Cheat?" But within this very chapter, he also writes that "Everything in this book is the truth, except for a few facts to protect the identity of the guilty. I am not going to lie to make the casinos look bad." Surely not. But a few tall tales to sell a book—hey, it's a living.

He also does a great deal of frothing about casino security experts who are lousy card counters, nowhere near as skilled as our brilliant writer. I have little doubt that some of the self-styled experts are as full of it as the author is, but it seems to me that a DEA agent doesn't have to be a drug addict in order to catch a drug smuggler, so much of this ranting reads as a big "So what?" We even get a clue or two as to the author's identity. He describes his "act," when he was employed as a dealer, as that "of a slow, clumsy, fat boy." In the world of sleight of hand, bull artists, and even magic dealers within reach of Nevada—say, Idaho?—that still doesn't narrow it down much. But my hat is off to the author of this book for at least understanding what many on today's national political scene, from the extremes of both the right and the left, fail to understand, namely his admonition that "Information itself is neither good nor bad—it just exists." On that, at least, the author and I heartily agree.

8 - 1/4" X 6-1/2" perfect bound; 201 pages; illustrated with 65 drawings and diagrams; 1995. Publisher-Index Publishing Croup