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Kids, Counting, and Strategies

4 October 2005

A "flurry" doesn't begin to describe the number of new books on gambling that have crossed my desk recently. It's more like a blizzard, or, given the perpetual state of my desk, an avalanche.

For now, let's just pick out three that are fun and different, and take a look at what's new on the bookshelf.

Kidding Around Las Vegas, by Kathy Espin. ($12.95, Huntington Press, 194 pages, softcover). Las Vegas passed out of its marketing to families phase in the mid-1990s and is full bore into selling to adults again, with its "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" campaign. Nevertheless, families do travel to Las Vegas together, and there is quite a lot to do outside the gaming floors.

Subtitled "A Parent's Guide to Las Vegas," Espin's book takes you around the Strip, downtown and to the outskirts to show you the best in family fun Vegas has to offer. In a spin around the free attractions on the Strip, she makes her way from the circus acts at Circus Circus ("the kids will enjoy it and the price is right") to the Sirens of TI show outside TI (more of adult show since "they have added sex to good old-fashioned violence) to the tour at M&Ms World ("free if you can resist 26,000 square feet of retail space offering everything you can think of with an M&Ms logo on it."

Beyond the Strip, there's a big city out there, and Kidding Around Las Vegas is your guide to the museums, skating rinks, bowling centers, zoos and parks that can make for family fun and vacation stories that don't have to stay in Vegas.

You've Got Heat: The Vegas Card Counting Adventures of LV Pro, by Barfarkel. ($21.95, Research Services Unlimited, 231 pages, softcover). Barfarkel, also known as LV Pro, is a regular contributor to Dr. Henry Tamburin's Blackjack Insider online newsletter (www.blackjackinsider.com). The 26 articles in this book were originally published in Blackjack Insider, and trace an amazing journey from average, play-for-fun, donate-to-the-casino gambler, to advantage player.

At the beginning of You've Got Heat, Barfarkel is a card-counting newbie, with a goal of increasing a $2,000 bankroll to $10,000. With such a small bankroll, that means playing in a lot of low-limit games, sweating out each adjustment than can be made to add just a little to the counter's edge.

There's no sugar-coating here. Along with the good times, Barfarkel describes the bad in vivid detail. For instance, there's the time he bought in for $200 at a $10 double-deck table, and was ahead for about $100. The count was very high in the players' favor, so he played two hands, betting $100 on each. The dealer had a 2 face up, Barfarkel split a pair of 2s, then split again when dealt another deuce. He wound up with two 15s and a 17 on the hand that start with the 2s, and had a 17 on the other hand.

"I wish I could tell you the dealer had a 10 in the hole and busted," he wrote, "but I can't. She did have the 10 but drew a 7 for 19 and wiped me out. Once again, I let out a sustained "Noooo!" and staggered away from the table."

There are plenty of triumphs, too, in Barfarkel's four-year learning experience. Any blackjack player will be able to identify with both the thrills of the winners and anguishes of the losers. Those who have tried counting cards will nod in agreement as Barfarkel demonstrates that advantage play, while ultimately profitable, is not all smooth sailing.

Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino Games, by Michael Shackelford. ($14.95, Huntington Press, 158 pages, softcover). Casino players who want to know the house edges and numbers behind virtually any casino game have relied on Shackelford, "The Wizard of Odds," and his www.wizardofodds.com Web site for years. In bringing the wisdom of the numbers to print, he starts with a "Ten Commandments of Gambling," in which I found the Third Commandment particularly appropriate: "Thou shalt trust the odds, not hunches."

Gambling is math. The casinos count on it. It's the mathematics behind the games that give the house its edge. The smart player doesn't have to be able to do the math --- folks like Shackelford can provide the information --- but the most successful players accept what the math tells them to do.

In Gambling 102, Shackelford doesn't bore you with how the calculations are done, but he presents the results for all the major casino games. Explore with the Wizard the effect when casinos pay 6-5 on blackjacks instead of 3-2, the different available pay tables on the Let It Ride Bonus bet, keno probabilities, or the takeouts that account for most of the house edge at major horse racing tracks around the United States.

At the end of the chapter on each game, Shackelford gives a best strategy, guided by the math. And he'll call a bad bet a bad bet: "Overall, Big Six offers the worst odds among all the table games," he writes. "However, if you must play, the best bet is on the $1."

No matter what your game, Gambling 102 can help. It has the math behind it.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com.

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:

> 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