Celebrities are famed for hardly ever missing a trick. Their media-covered exploits dubbled by a plunge into the excesses that count as the particulars of the rich and famous are already a familiar Hollywood plotline. In one such scenario, the background happens to be one of the money-sizzling gambling hotbeds for big screen darlings. The stakes run high- in the millions- and the games cover the gamut of green felt skill tables, from blackjack to poker to craps.
But there’s more. The plot thickens and blasts towards a climax when these celebs turn out to be brilliant card counters, a talent veiled under their high-profile status and dazzlingly free-handed game.
Ben Affleck, however, has ruined this cover-up for every celeb card counter out there when he got himself banned for life from the Hard Rock Casino.
Ben Affleck: The Real Good Will Hunting the 21 Hand
Already a proficient poker player with one California State Poker Championship win under its belt, the sweetheart of Hollywood made international headlines when he raked in approximately $1 million while card counting on The Strip.
The first time, the actor played modestly, raising his payroll to $140,000 in a single blackjack sitting, and tipping it all away to the casino staff. The second time, however, Affleck raised the stakes- and the already mounting suspicions of the casion staff- to $20,000 and walked out with a whopping $800,000 in chips.
Nothing he had done during those two Las Vegas stints could have been labeled “illegal”. In Nevada, card counting classifies as the edge to which skilled players are entitled to by law, especially since the casinos have changed the rules of the game to make it almost impossible for true blackjack connoiseurs to still enjoy the rush.
After all, the house employs and constantly upgrades technologies, statistics and legislation to keep its own upper hand. And to bar recreational players with a penchant for professional play and a dog-eared edition of Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer by their side is legal too.
Casinos Training to Spot Card Counters
Thus, the Cold War between the card counters and the casino industry rages on. Silently, politetly, in the midst of glitzy décor and with a jazzy elevator tune as soundtrack.
Pit bosses and croupiers go through a quick psychology workshop, learning how to spot card counting signs like low-key mumbling, a face twisted by the mental efforts of keeping track of the card decks, the patterns in criss-cross betting from lows to highs.
Casinos also employ automatic card shuffling. A machine will compensate for what the dealer can’t humanly perform. In a discouraging economic climate, casinos can’t afford to slack into the hands of card counters.
Moreover, if card counting had lent itself as the upper hand to anyone who had leafed through a Blackjack for Dummies book, the gambling venues would have vanished into a dustbowl of financial collapse.
It turns out the best players know how to work not only the game, but the gamemaster as well.
How to Count Cards in Blackjack? Don’t Make a Show Of It
The science of blackjack is knowing how to do it. The art is being able to get away with it. – Anthony Curtis
Anthony Curtis, proprietor of the Huntington Press and the online Las Vegas Advisor, is no stranger to card counting himself. The technique has been buttered up to the general audience by characters like Dustin Hoffman’s Rainman and Kevin Spacey’s MIT team in 21.
All the same, you don’t have to be a mathematical genius or work up the mnemonic muscle to the level of memorizing six packs of cards at once.
The essence of card counting lies in keeping tally of the key patterns in the hands that have already been dealt. This, in turn, will give you insight into the remaining cards and you’ll be able to readjust your wager accordingly.
In the end, card counting is more a matter of addition and substraction. You can note the cards higher than 10 with a plus 1, and the lower cards with a minus 1.
At one point in the game, the deck will hide more of a batch than another. That’s your cue on how to place your bets and when to hedge them.
Celebrity Gambling: Behind the Scenes
Inside Molly Bloom’s Viper Room, the high rollers of Hollywood and Wall Street would come together for a game of poker. Some of the names carry enough weight to make any crowd break into an anticipatory sweat, intense game or not.
Leonardo di Caprio, Tobey Maguire, and Ben Affleck are some of the A-listers of this underground establishment. They’re secretively skilled at the mind tricks that make poker a great game of deception. They’re actors and bluffing is their second nature. Their Royal Flushes carry entertainment value, gracing the table with flair and pizzazz.
It had become a piece of celeb trivia that Ben Affleck used to host his own high stakes poker games in Beverly Hills. He could lose thousands on a single hand, like that time when he got cleared of $400K by Ron Meyer, the movie mogul.
However, pretty soon we might be posting an eulogy for the card counters of yesteryear. While casinos are doubling down on the skilled players by shifting the classic 3:2 payout to a 6:5 payout, the game is as good as dead and burried.