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Best of Howard Schwartz

Gaming Guru

 

Of Rats and Men; Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook Hottest Arrivals

8 October 2003

Oscar Goodman, clearly Las Vegas' most colorful mayor ever and Arnold Snyder, one of Nevada's most imaginative blackjack counters, take center stage this week at Gambler's Book Shop (Gambler's Book Club), with Of Rats and Men (419 pages, hardbound, $25.95) and the Blackjack Shuffle Tracker's Cookbook (114 pages, paperbound, $49.95). Each appeals to a distinct audience.

Mayor Goodman's controversial, colorful life involves good guys, bad guys, wise guys and Las Vegas. The truly gifted John L. Smith, columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal (who also wrote the controversial Running Scared, biography of Steve Wynn, No Limit, biography of Bob Stupak and On the Boulevard, a collection of his best newspaper columns), has written this authorized biography. Anyone who has read one or more of Smith's books will definitely appreciate this one.

Smith takes us back to Goodman's earliest days, when he was growing up in Philadelphia, where he dreamed of producing documentaries of that city's neighborhoods, worked for Arlen Specter (then a former assistant district attorney now a U.S. Senator) and how after writing 150 letters asking about a job, he answered the call of Las Vegas.

He arrived in the summer of 1964 when casino profit skimming was rampant There were nine hotel casinos in The Strip at that time. The Mob was running the show in many cases and licensing procedures were sloppy. (Smith outlines who was in power; how they got there and how the city operated in this era of the Green Felt Jungle --the book by the same title was published a year earlier in 1963.)

Warned that criminal cases paid little, Oscar nevertheless wanted to be a criminal lawyer so he specialized in that area. Apparently he had vision.

This is a book about the city, the people, the controversies, how the system works and how one man not only survived, but also thrived beyond it and how a city grew beyond many wildest dreams. Well indexed (13 pages) with names and places made easy to find, you'll find them all: from Tony Spilotro to Bobby The Midget to Lefty Rosenthal; Jimmy Chagra; Harry Claiborne; Billy Walters and Jay Sarno.

This is the story about an old Mob city now in the final changeover stage and an old mob lawyer who may one day make a move to higher office. It's well done; packed with photos and never boring if you want to know more about an imaginative, sometimes stubborn, enigmatic man, his city and the future of both.

When it comes to blackjack, Arnold Snyder is among the best. He also knows what players want in the way of reading material‹advanced players‹counters who are constantly seeking the slightest edge against the house.

What casinos fear are sharp, disciplined players who have some form of photographic memory and the knowledge of when to increase their bets and when to leave the table (either because the count is bad, table conditions have worsened or "the heat is on.")

Shuffle tracking is a form of card counting‹but in an advanced form. "Think of it as gourmet card counting," Snyder says.

In 1994, Snyder published a three-part series on shuffle tracking in Blackjack Forum and a shortened version appeared in the now out of print Blackbelt in Blackjack. Much of what appeared in those articles are in this new book along with new material, with the new stuff falling into two main categories--practice and testing methods for those learning shuffle tracking for the first time and methods for analyzing the potential gain from shuffle tracking in various casino shuffles.

A key to being a good shuffle tracker, or more specifically, a winning shuffle tracker, is visual acuity‹your ability to see cards‹especially what Snyder calls "a glorious slug of high cards." He emphasizes that shuffle tracking never assures you of winning, but shuffle tracking will help see those high cards.

There are five major sections to this book, published in October 2003.

It begins with the Theory of Shuffle Tracking, including mapping a shuffle; the tops and bottoms map and estimating your advantage. Part II looks at how much you can actually see; the properties of riffles; the stepladder and the fan riffle; cutoff integration and top plugging. Part III examines trade secrets of the shuffle trackers including mapping multiple passes; dealer selection; the lopsided break; sequential tracking; imperfect riffles; keying and aces; steering the aces; steering to the dealer; ace cutting; double steering; identifying the keys; remembering the keys.

Part IV involves estimating your advantage. Here Snyder discusses everything from Six-deck, 26-card slug, Hi Lo; running count distributions; post-marriage values; what a second pass does; estimating your advantage within a slug; danger zones; exploding slugs; overbetting. A final section tells you how to read the charts, then in 2, 4, 6 and 8-deck hi-lo count situations and their slug values.

This is the book hundreds of inquiring minds have been asking for since Snyder's original work no longer became available and little information existed for shuffle trackers. I'm sure intelligent casino management will be purchasing copies as well. The counters have their methods; the house has its counter-measures. Where all this will lead I'm not sure‹but I have a vision of new rule changes in years to come. If you have the mind and discipline to shuffle track, you've got to read Snyder's work.
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com
Howard Schwartz
Howard Schwartz, the "librarian for gamblers," was the marketing director for Gambler's Book Club in Las Vegas, a position he held from 1979 to 2010, when he retired. Author of hundreds of articles on gambling, his weekly book reviews appear in numerous publications throughout the gaming industry.

Howard Schwartz Websites:

www.gamblersbook.com