Las Vegas Sun

January 17, 2018

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Wit, wisdom in the highs and lows

Reviewing the gambling year that was in 2008, with an emphasis on events of great social and political import


Leila Navidi

Three of blackjack’s “Four Horsemen,” James McDermott, clockwise from top left, Roger Baldwin and Wilbert Cantey, chat during the Blackjack Ball last January. All four Horsemen, who derived through mathematical calculations a basic strategy for the game, were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame during the Blackjack Ball in Las Vegas.

‘Four Horsemen’ ride again

A big year for blackjack started when Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, Herbert Maisel and James McDermott — known by blackjack insiders as the “Four Horsemen” — were inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame at Max Rubin’s 12th annual Blackjack Ball in Las Vegas. While serving in the Army at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in the 1950s, the Four Horsemen became the first analysts to determine the optimal strategy for playing blackjack. They published a book on their findings in 1957 before moving on to careers in business, government and academia. Their research laid the groundwork for later blackjack figures including Edward O. Thorp, author of the influential 1962 book “Beat the Dealer.”

Blackjack on the big screen

The movie “21,” starring Kevin Spacey, Kate Bosworth and Laurence Fishburne and inspired by the exploits of the MIT card-counting teams, received solid reviews from a couple of critics whose opinions should carry some weight. Neither Mike Aponte nor Dave Irvine had any role in the production of the film, but both were members of a real-life MIT card-counting team that terrorized casinos in the 1990s. “It did a good job capturing the lifestyle of these kids, who were typical students during the week, and how they had to adjust to becoming Vegas high rollers on the weekend,” Irvine told the Sun. Aponte thought the scenes in which the heroes get roughed up were “over the top.” “I hope people don’t think that’s what happens to card counters,” he said.

I felt the same way when ‘The Wire’ ended

Looking back on his long career as a professional gambler in Las Vegas, Alan Boston acknowledged that vivid emotions and images of gambling have always been intertwined in his psyche. He recalled watching an episode of the old TV show “Maverick” as a kid, enthralled. “What an amazing show,” Boston said. “And when the closing credits came up, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, when I die all this good memory is going to be gone.’ ”

The year of unrelenting misery?

Boston, long respected for his college basketball handicapping, said in an interview with the Sun that he underwent psychotherapy to deal with depression. “My shrink actually wanted to commit me,” he said. “I would never go. He wanted me to take antidepressants. I would never do it. I’m an old school manic. I want to feel everything. Even if I feel unrelenting misery, so be it.”

Another Great Dane

At the age of 22, Peter Eastgate of Odense, Denmark, became the youngest winner of the World Series of Poker championship event, earning the top prize of $9.1 million after the final table reconvened at the Rio in November after an unprecedented 117-day break in the tournament. The entire World Series drew 58,720 entrants from 124 countries competing for a prize pool exceeding $180 million, all records. It was a fairy-tale ending for Eastgate, appropriate because he shares a hometown with Hans Christian Andersen.

Surely this is why they created the Internet

After the question was originally presented in a column on ESPN’s Web site, a discussion forum on the Two Plus Two Publishing poker Web site featured a debate, in disturbing detail, on the over/under of the total number of sexual partners the nine World Series of Poker finalists have had. columnist Bill Simmons put it at 73.5.

Planet Brooklyn

When it was announced that the World Series of Poker final table featured players from five countries (the United States, Canada, Denmark, Russia and Indonesia), one wag at the Rio suggested the number should be amended to six, including “whatever planet Ylon is from” — a reference to Ylon Schwartz, the notoriously free-spirited New Yorker.

Gee, you would have thought Vegas and spray-on hair were a match made in heaven

TV pitchman Ron Popeil resigned from the board of MGM Mirage in May. Popeil had served on the board since 2000. His inventions include the Veg-O-Matic, the Pocket Fisherman and Mr. Microphone.

If only my suggestion to put some $1 full-pay deuces wild machines on the casino floor went over so well

The Palms began taking bets on NBA games, even though the Maloof family owns the casino and the Sacramento Kings, after the NBA Board of Governors approved the move. The new rule took effect just a couple of months after I called the old prohibition “silly” in a Sun column. Coincidence? I think ... so.

After I busted out he panned ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Casablanca’

Olympian Michael Phelps created a stir by frequenting, and achieving some success in, the poker room at Caesars Palace shortly after he won a record eight gold medals in Beijing. That didn’t stop the guy to my immediate right at a poker table at Caesars from criticizing Phelps. According to this genius’s rant, Phelps “really didn’t win that race where he stuck his hand out at the last second,” and his teammates did most of the work in the relays. Oh. OK.

Only in Vegas I

On Kentucky Derby day at Sunset Station, Sun columnist Ron Kantowski spotted a fan in the crowd watching the action on the video screen in the race book ... through binoculars.

Stop making sense

After a seminar on “game protection” in Las Vegas, Jeff Murphy, an executive with the Seven Feathers casino resort in Oregon, wrote an essay suggesting the vast majority of self-styled blackjack card counters pose little threat and that casinos should change their approach in dealing with counters. “Card counting is not criminal. It’s not even a significant problem,” Murphy wrote. “Let’s take our hats off to the true artists of card counting who don’t delve into any actions that could be deemed criminal ... A couple of years from now, who knows? All of us may see the first billboard reading, ‘Card Counters Welcome.’ ”

Still more sensible stuff

During the taping of the long-anticipated fifth season of the show “High Stakes Poker” at the Golden Nugget, poker pro Howard Lederer dismissed concerns that live high-stakes cash games have become tougher in the past couple of years. “You have to adapt,” Lederer said. “If you’re going to have a 40-year career in poker, there are going to be ebbs and flows in skill levels and in the quantity of the players. You can’t obsess about it. You have to buckle down and win. That’s what poker is all about.”

Old school rules

During the taping of “High Stakes Poker,” which chronicles a no-limit cash poker game, Doyle Brunson said regular, longtime participants in Las Vegas’ biggest cash games have a significant edge against Internet hotshots and other newcomers. “I just wonder what would happen if they sat down and played live every day with the cash-game players,” Brunson said. “I think a lot of them would have to quit. They want to look clever. We want to win the money.” Brunson was asked if his assessment applied to online poker stars or to the wealthy businessmen and entertainment figures who sit in on “High Stakes Poker.” He growled in reply, “Either one of ’em.”

Hey, that’s always been my own personal motto, too

“If you can’t trust Woodbine, who can you trust?” a Brampton, Ontario, resident named David Fasulo asked the Toronto Star after a dispute with the racetrack regarding an online fantasy horse handicapping game. Fasulo expected to win $6,000 in the contest but got only a $10 credit when Woodbine claimed a software glitch caused the game to be shut down.

Only in Vegas II

Besides its solid selection of good video poker games, here’s another reason to like the Skyline casino on Boulder Highway: While the Venetian hyped an appearance by one of the Black Eyed Peas as part of its New Year’s Eve entertainment, the Skyline promoted actual black-eyed peas (along with ham and all the trimmings) as part of its New Year’s festivities. Seriously.

So we’ve got that goin’ for us, which is nice

Gambler’s Book Shop owner Howard Schwartz, addressing a convention of IRS workers and several FBI officials at the MGM Grand, made a case for studying the possibility of expanding legal sports betting in the United States. “Among sports bettors, very few become mass murderers,” Schwartz said. “They’re too busy betting.”

Actually, come to think of it, this is one tout who might put up some results

After losing his license under the “non-trier” rule — which applies when horses don’t run to the best of their ability — banned British jockey Dean McKeown began offering his services as a racetrack tipster, bragging that he has “a mole in every hole.” “I’ve got to earn a living somehow, haven’t I?” he said to the Daily Mirror, a British tabloid.

What were the odds of another Hans Christian Andersen reference?

Joseph Walsh, the screenwriter and producer of “California Split,” named by the Sun as the best gambling movie of all time, published a book called “Gambler on the Loose.” It’s about Walsh’s lifelong affairs with gambling and show business. Both began early: For instance, as a kid, Walsh appeared in the 1952 movie “Hans Christian Andersen” with Danny Kaye.

Love that Bob

In an interview with the Sun, Walsh recalled the copious amounts of gambling that he and director Robert Altman engaged in while filming “California Split” in Reno. “We’re shooting dice and they’re beating us to death,” Walsh said. “One pit boss is there the whole time Bob is gambling and losing. Finally Bob says, ‘Sir, you must leave. I’ve been here two nights losing, and you’re there the whole time. You’re like an albatross.’ And this pit boss is one of the old dese-and-dose guys. He’s probably thinking to himself, ‘What the hell is an albatross?’ ”


An avid British bettor found himself under police investigation after hanging a red-and-white sign reading “licensed betting shop” on the side of his house in a residential neighborhood. But Peter O’Neil claimed it was just a joke, the Lancashire Evening Post reported. “My friends come round and we all sit and watch racing and we all have betting accounts on the computer,” O’Neil said. “My girlfriend said one day, ‘You’re always on the computer. It’s like a betting shop in here.’ So when she went out, I put the sign up.” One neighbor, who asked not to be named, described O’Neil as “somewhat eccentric,” according to the Evening Post.

Lange on a roll

Comedian Artie Lange performed a well-received gambling-oriented routine during an appearance on “The Late Show” with David Letterman. “One time, years ago, I had $500 to my name,” Lange said. “So I put $1,000 on the Giants. You want to spruce up a boring Sunday, Dave, I’ll ya what. Put double your net worth on a football game and then get drunk watching it. Beats the hell out any New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had.”

You don’t say, or this year’s requisite Pete Rose item

An economist at Rutgers analyzed Pete Rose’s betting data during the early part of the 1987 season, when Rose allegedly lost $47,200 wagering on baseball, and reached the following conclusion: “Assuming these bets are Rose’s, his expertise (24 years as a player, four years as a manager, major league leader in games played) was not an advantage when betting on his own team, on other teams in his league that he studied and competed against, or on teams in the other major league.”


Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, influential sports gambler and bookmaker, died at age 79. Wilbert Cantey of the Four Horsemen died at age 77, less than five months after being honored at the Blackjack Ball. “It was an honor, in so many ways, to be able to use mathematics to figure out the game of blackjack,” Cantey said when he and his friends were honored in Las Vegas.

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