RWM: That is true. The Barona Casino did one of the smartest things I think they ever could have done, which is host and sponsor a party every year called, ‘The Blackjack Ball,’ which just happened a few weeks ago. Part of the agreement is the players who attend the ‘Blackjack Ball,’ the best blackjack players in the world, agree not to play at the Barona Casino. In addition to that, they sponsor the Blackjack Hall of Fame and the people who are in the Hall of Fame are fully comped. I can stay there anytime, eat for free, play golf for free but not play. So, they basically comp us not to play and I think that’s saved them millions of dollars over the years.
Q: Millions? Really?
RWM: Oh yes. Between all the players, who have agreed not to play there, yes I think it’s in the millions.
Q: Card counters, the true pros, they’re just so good, they’re always going to win in the long run, correct?
RWM: Yes, they’re going to win in the long run and the vast majority of them have learned other ways to beat the casinos that are much more powerful than counting. Card counting is the smallest edge against the casino, the easiest for the casino to detect, and the most amount of heat. As you get into more advanced forms of beating casinos the edges get bigger and harder for them to detect. So there’s no doubt in my mind, the Barona saved millions with that agreement for guys like me not to play there.
Q: When you talk about finding bigger edges, more powerful moves, are you talking about the deals made before the play actually begins, things like insurance against losses or the negotiation of comps?
RWM: That would be one aspect. There’s the famous case of Don Johnson, voted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame this year, who won $15 million dollars in Atlantic City, taking advantage of loss rebates, among other things. That’s just one move, I would say. One thing I’m really proud of about our show is that we’ve had guests on talking about how to beat every single game in the casino, how to beat it legally and how to do it with a mathematical advantage. There’s no BS about finding streaks or any of that crap. I’m talking about hard math in every game; slot machines, lottery tickets, every possible game, we’ve had people on talking about ways they can be beat legally and mathematically.
Q: When there’s big money involved you’re always going to find sharks staying ahead of the curve, trying to beat the game?
RWM: That is what professionals do. They constantly try to find new ways to beat the game. I’ve said for thirty years, that learning how to count cards is easy but learning how to get away with it is the hard part. The professionals, as I say, many of them have moved on from card counting because there are so many better options. More than half the battle is figuring out how to take the money out of the casino before the casino realizes you’re a professional.
Q: You started playing chess and gin rummy when you were three years old. At 12, perhaps a life changing moment, when you realized you can play backgammon for money?
RWM: That’s true. My father and grandmother taught me to play gin rummy and chess when I was three and I just loved playing games as a kid. I grew up in Chicago where the winters were very harsh, so people stayed indoors in the winter and played a lot of games. When I was 12, I discovered backgammon. My father had a wealthy friend who had a son around my age and he told me that he was playing backgammon with his dad for money. I thought, ‘Oh my God, if this idiot will play for money this has got to be worth money to me.’ I had learned how to play backgammon before but I was a novice, so I immediately went to the library and took out whatever books they had on backgammon, started studying and taking the game seriously. I never did get to play the wealthy guy but it did lead me on a backgammon path, which I played at a very high level through college and a little bit after college, until I retired from the game. There just wash’t enough money it for me at that point because I was playing blackjack.
Q: Is it this simple, you’re good at these games because you’re good at math?
RWM: No not at all. I would say math has very little to do with. I was good at these games because I had a passion for them, I was willing to work and really try and get better at them. I think that’s the secret to anything in life. I tell my kids you’re success in life is going to be based on how hard you work and in order to work really hard I think you need to find your passion.
Q: I read that you worked as a dealer and pit boss in the 70’s at the Castaways Casino in Las Vegas, the place where legendary bookie Sonny Reisner put out odds on the TV show Dallas, and who shot JR?
RWM: I was actually working there when that happened. There was a tiny sports book that was just a window, it looked like a pick-up window at a pizza place, and it was called the Hole in the Wall Sportsbook. He put out odds on who shot JR, which for your younger listeners was a very popular television show called Dallas. The cliffhanger at the end of the season was the lead JR got shot but you didn’t see who shot him. Sonny put out odds on who shot him, made international headlines for doing so, but the gaming control board came in and shut that down. it turned out you were not allowed to book action on non sporting events at least at that time, it may have changed by now.
Q: What was it like for you bccd in the day in Las Vegas when you started out on your gambling quest?
RWM: Well, it was exactly the time portrayed in the movie Casino. It was great for counting cards because they brought in multiple deck games, either four decks or six, and many, many bosses said things to me like, ‘Oh, nobody can count a shoe.’ They were very protective of single deck games and double deck games but not protective at all of the shoe games. For card counters, the two things that are really important are how big is your spread, that is the difference between your smallest bet and your biggest bet, and how many of the cards they were dealing. Back then, they would deal three-and-a-half decks our of four, or five-and-a-half decks out of six. Nowadays, a card counter’s teeth would fall out if he found a game like that. Also, when I started, we would commonly spread from $5 to two hands at $200 and on a shoe game nobody cared because, as I say, they didn’t think you could count a shoe game.
Q: Who are the biggest gamblers in the world?
RWM: Actually, the guys who bet on horse racing, even mrs so than sports betting. There’s just a finite amount you can take out of a casino simply because he amount they have to lose. In horse racing, the top guys are taking down about $100 million a year.
Q: Some brilliant minds in the Blackjack Hall of Fame.
RWM: For example, Blair Hull! After blackjack he went into options trading and sold his company a few years ago to Goldman Sachs for $600 million. Then, he decided to get into politics and ran for Senate in Illinois. He got beat by an upstart Barack Obama. So, yes there are some incredibly talented people, wealthy people, who got their starts in blackjack and then moved on to other, what I would call, other forms of gambling. I mean, the stock market is the biggest casino in the world. They’ve been able to take the information and concepts they’ve learned in blackjack and apply it to other areas, be it the market, sports betting, horse racing or whatever.
Q: What do these top gamblers have in common? Similar traits?
RWM: A disdain for authority is one. They’re all people who don’t want to be told what to do so they really wouldn’t fit into the 9-to-5 world.
Thank-you Richard W. Munchkin!
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It’s not often you put out an interview request to a Blackjack Hall of Famer and minutes later you’re chatting with him. This guy’s a professional gambler, a blackjack aficionado & one of the best card counters on the planet. He appeared on Season One of the World Series of Blackjack and hosts the popular podcast, Gambling with an Edge. He’s talked to all the gambling greats and written about it too. His book, Gambling Wizards is a must-have for any wanna-be advantage player or gambling junkie in general. Richard W. Munchkin our guest today, Richard, welcome to show, thanks for being our High Roller today.
RWM: My pleasure, happy to do it.
Q: You’re no longer allowed to play blackjack at the Barona Casino in San Diego?