Wanted: James Grosjean, A Serial Killer of Casino Games

When pubescent tech-whizzez hack into the Pentagon, some of them choose the white hat path by reporting on the network security vulnerabilities that they come across. In the casino world, James Grosjean is a top-tier hacker of blackjack.

He uses data based of his own coded software and an innate understanding of the psychological trappings and statistical eventualities in games of chance to beat the house.

And it’s not just blackjack. Three-card poker, baccalette, single-deck blackjack, pai gow poker and an entire repertoire of sucker games with low payouts, low surveillance and sloppy dealers arouse Grosjean’s interest as well.

Cards-based craps almost vanished from the map of the green felt tables when Grosjean reverse engineered the game and his team upped the ante, winning $335,000 in a casino near Palm Springs. It helped that some states made it illegal for dice to produce a monetary outcome in games of chance.

James Grosjean: How to Beat the House Like a Fully-Evolved Sapiens

Casinos run on massive egos. Add an unwillingness to officialy declare a game “penetrable” once penetrated, and you can almost touch the crack in their armor.

James Grosjean has reaped millions of dollars so far by betting on this psychological failing that casinos execs display. It may not amount to the colossal net worth of the likes of Ed Thorp or Phil Ivey, but Grosjean hankers for something of a more ellusive nature.

Spotting the frailties within the behemoth industry of casinos is the game within the game for this Harvard graduate in applied mathematics. He analyses the situation on ground, then spends month at his computer simulating different game scenarios and quantifying the odds.

One piece of advice, though. If you ever catch Grosjean in action, don’t commend him for his hole carding techniques. In a 2009 interview for Cigar Afficionado, Grosjean- the mental acrobat admired for always storing scams and statistics on the tip of his brain- explained the divide between his skills as a statistician and those of a typical card counter. 

"There are some people who think that the average card counter is the equivalent of a chimpanzee and I am a fully evolved human. But that's not quite accurate. In reality, card counters are more like salamanders just crawling onto land—even though they think they're swinging through the trees."

A Timeline of Evolution: From Gambling Amateur to Casino Scare

Grosjean is not a cheater. Instead, he cruises down the tightrope between legally divining the odds with brilliant math and card counting and frustratingly (for the casinos, at least) capitalizing on the games’ weak points to milk the gambling dens for all their worth.

Whenever a prototype game goes through a plethora of experimental phases before being introduced on the casino ground, James Grosjean is the gambling expert to identify the gaps and reveal it like a house of cards that lends itself easy to attacks from advantage players and card-counting sharks.

The professional player has shuffled so many of the casinos’ cards that he has become an undesirable element on the gambling floor. And that has come at a cost for his anonymity, a trait that’s as necessary to advantage players as lucky strikes (those aren’t a myth, they do add value to the game).

When Casinos Pay For a Student’s Faculty Loans

James Grosjean recalls the day when, as a student in economics at the University of Chicago, he was cruising the casino riverboats in between classes.

When he first placed a bet on a game of baccarat, the would-be casino scare said he recognized how the game was rooted in a few mathematical principles. He would beat the house edge by reading into the dealer’s hole card.

The croupier turned out to be a key element in his strategy, pushing Grosjean to embark on a lifelong quest into spotting negligent dealers.

Taking Blackjack Beyond Counting

In 2000, at the turn of the millennium, Grosjean spinned blackjack off its axis with his wildly successful book Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker.

The read became so popular that one could only buy at a prohibitive price for a book- $500 a piece, while its author turned into the world’s consigliere in the tug-of-war against the gambling dens.

What kind of useful advice could you find in James Grosjean’s literary hit?

  • Mathematical strategies- from card counting analysis to shuffle tracking- designed even for the mathematically challenged.
  • Tips for cheating solo or in a duo.
  • Tricks on partner play and spotters.
  • “What if” quizzes to test different scenarios and the gambler’s imagination.
  • In-play techniques on other games of chance such as Caribbean stud, bix six wheel, craps, Let it Ride poker, and three card poker in online and brick-and-mortar casinos.

An updated treatise, Exhibit CAA, was published a few years later with the price tag of $250.

Hole Carding Is Legal in Nevada: Not If You Upset the House Edge

When James Grosjean was handcuffed by the security of the Imperial Palace and shoved in a backroom holding cell in full disregard of the law, he took his case to court.

That’s the moment when he became a vigilante in the fight against casino managers who constantly jettison advantage players with rough handling manners.

The court overwhelmingly decided in his favor, awarding him a whopping $500,000 in punitive damages.

The figure was downsized to $300,000 but Grosjean’s status as a fighter for the civil rights of American gamblers only increased as he pursued other litigations including Caesar’s Palace Casino (the two parties reached an undisclosed settlement), the Griffin Detective Agency (a casino investigative agency that filed for bankruptcy as a result of the lawsuit) and four agents of the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

But James Grosjean can show off more than a wallet with a six-figure dollar bulk and a sad graveyard of games of chance that were prematurely dead and buried at his hands. The 40 year old casino killer was also the youngest player to be inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame and invited to compete in the Ultimate Blackjack Tour along with many of his brilliant peers.

How Not to Blow Down a House of Cards

At the pace he’s “whacking games”, as he calls it, one could say that James Grosjean is a man with a pretty straightforward mission: to insert the kind of extreme climate change within the gambling environment that will wipe out the house edge for good. That could mean end of game for the entire casino industry, an apocalypse to finish the reign of this money-making behemoth.

Fortunately, James Grosjean finds more pleasure in writing software codes to divine the odds and running the combinatorics that will give him a %100 edge over the house. To take down the beast would also put a suicidal coda on his lifelong endeavor: not to pummel the casino security gaps, but force the games to upgrade to the final unbeatable phase.

James Grosjean hacks for the sake of learning. And that’s almost a religious pursuit worth the royal flush of praise, glory and fame.