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Best of John Grochowski

Gaming Guru

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Grochowski Reviews

22 October 2002

Most of the gambling books I read are of the "how-to" variety. There's always a new twist on craps from Frank Scoblete, an insight into the comps game from Jean Scott or Max Rubin or a slightly different approach to blackjack from Arnold Snyder, Fred Renzey, Ken Fuchs, Olaf Vancura and many others to be considered.

Gambling fiction, on the other hand, rarely appeals to me. No matter how good the story, the gambling scenes are usually so bad they ruin the book for me--unrealistic set-ups, and unrealistic results.

Kevin Blackwood's The Counter ($14, Wooden Pagoda Press) is different. The author has spent years among the ranks of blackjack card-counting pros, and it shows. In this book, the gambling scenes don't destroy credibility. They don't get in the way of the story, they enhance it.

When, with lead character Raven having a big bet on the table, the dealer goes from soft 13 to hard 13, then pulls a deuce and an Ace for 16, I find myself going through the rising anticipation right with the counter. And when the dealer finally turns up a 5 for a 21, I feel the crushing blow right along with Raven. I've been there, as have all blackjack players--not for the big bucks Raven has on the table, but I've been there.

Blackwood takes Raven from low-rent, low-stakes beginnings through building a bankroll and involvement in big-money team play is Las Vegas. Along the way he has choices to make in a gambling career that frequently put him at odds with his own values. Should the teetotaling Raven, in pursuit of blackjack cash, throw in with a hard-drinking partner who skates the lines of ethics? How will his lifestyle and his struggles within himself affect his romance with the upright woman he loves?

It's a story that rings true on many levels, and one that kept me turning pages long past my normal lights out. Gambling fiction isn't normally my cup of tea, but The Counter is.

* * * * *

Slot machines are the most popular casino games in the United States, accounting for more than 80 percent of casino revenue in some jurisdictions.

That's partly because they are the easiest casino game to play. Just drop in your money, push the button or pull the handle, and you're on your way.

But if you want to get the most out of the experience, there's a little more than that to playing the slots. John Robison provides a handy little 85-page helper in The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots ($6.95, Huntington Press).

Robison takes slot players through definitions and how-tos on all types of slots. How do you identify a low-hit frequency machine? How can you avoid having to lug around buckets of coins? How do you choose the machines that are best for your budget and style of play?

Those confused by the Australian-style multiline video games that are the fastest growing segment of the slot market will find his advice and strategy particularly useful. One helpful hint: Be on the lookout for "Easter eggs" that programmers sometimes hide in video games with touch-screens. Touch the graphics surrounding the reels, and see if the programmers have left any surprises.

Robison has a bigger project coming with Huntington Press, but he packs a lot in a little book with his rock-solid Slot Expert's Guide.

* * * * *

One more recent addition to my gambling library is Barney Vinson's Ask Barney: An Insider's Guide to Las Vegas ($14.05, Bonus Books).

Vinson, a longtime Las Vegas dealer, floor supervisor, pit boss and gaming instructor, has cornered the market in true-life gambling anecdotes. Nobody tells a story like Barney, as he's shown in Las Vegas Behind the Tables, Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II, Casino Secrets and Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas.

In Ask Barney, Vinson delivers the answers to visitors' questions about Las Vegas, and he does it with style and wit.

Asked about cheating, Vinson relates a string of anecdotes on players trying to rip off the casino. Then he goes off on a slight tangent on a time a slot machine was fixed in a player's favor:

"In 1948, [Eleanor Roosevelt] was in Las Vegas on her way to visit Hoover Dam, and made a stop at the old El Rancho Vegas on the Strip. The casino owner invited her to play a 25-cent slot machine, but she had no luck whatsoever. The owner grabbed his slot mechanic and had him fix another machine so it would pay off eight out of 10 times. 'You're playing a cold machine, Mrs. Roosevelt,' he told her. 'Why don't you try this one?'

"Soon the quarters were dropping into her tray and she was chortling with delight. She wound up cashing in $680, and never did visit Hoover Dam."

Bonus Books is my publisher for my Answer Books series, and also publishes Frank Scoblete's gambling books. I'm proud to have Vinson as a new teammate.


Books reviewed:

The Counter by Kevin Blackwood
The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots by John Robison
Ask Barney: An Insider's Guide to Las Vegas by Barney Vinson

Other books by Barney Vinson:

Casino Secrets
Chip-Wrecked in Las Vegas
Las Vegas: Behind the Tables
Las Vegas Behind the Tables Part II
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski