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Gambling 'smart' is key to winning in Las Vegas  
BY:  OTIS GARDNER

On balance, everybody seeks to minimize bad things and maximize good things. We do this by the numbers in our day-to-day choices. We obey traffic laws, exercise, and pay attention so we don't walk in front of Greyhound buses. Life's a gamble so you need to play "smart."  
 
The same can be said of "real" gambling, which I love to do, leading me to mention a recent movie right up this alley. It's called "21" that tells the story of some mathematically gifted MIT students who hit Vegas for millions on the blackjack tables.  
 
They did it by counting cards. This isn't a new concept but these folks raised it to amazing heights by great talent and execution. It's a straight forward principle. Anytime the cards yet to be dealt in a shoe become rich with 10s and face cards, the advantage moves from dealer to player. When this happens, the "counter" increases his or her bet to take advantage of the good math.  
 
It sounds easy but is a very daunting chore - but doable. And, these students did it especially well. I look forward to the film.  
 
I head to Vegas in a few months, as I do every year. I generally do decently, which isn't all luck. I gamble "smart" because I love to gamble but hate to lose.  
 
I'm careful to play games with low house advantages and, by playing well, further reduce that edge. Does this mean I always win? Of course not, but in that glittering city, sometimes a tiny loss passes for a "win."  
 
My favorite games are craps, blackjack, poker and a particular brand of slot machine. Without a doubt, the most fun is craps. I learned how to play only a few years ago.  
 
I'd noticed that almost all of the cheers and yells on a casino floor came from the craps pit. Those folks obviously had fun and I wanted some but was intimidated. The game seemed way too complicated and haphazard for little old Southern me.  
 
Finally, I did something I'm forever grateful for. I got "professional" help. I visited the Web site Dicecoach.com and made arrangements for private lessons on our next trip. They sent a car to pick up Ann and me at the hotel and took us to their teaching facility. We got a few private hours of instruction of how to play.  
 
Truth be told, there isn't all that much to learn. It's simple. Bet the pass line with odds, place the "6" and "8" and that's about it. Don't bother with those interior sucker bets such as hard ways, field and horn bets. That education money was some of the best I've ever spent - college included.  
 
Blackjack runs a close second to craps but isn't near as much fun. Last year I learned the "Speed Count" from Golden Touch, a teaching company that specializes in craps and cards. It's a wonderful system because it's so simple and basic. Look it up.  
 
Through the book and DVD, I learned the basics in 30 minutes and some hours of practice time on the computer. I also bought the perfect strategy cards, which I use without a molecule of embarrassment. I don't play to lose.  
 
My first opportunity to use this counting system was last year. I played four sessions of blackjack and won in all of them. Statistically, that's way too small a sample to be meaningful but I was pleased nonetheless. It's not MIT quality but easy for me and allows me to play the game with a level of comfort and logic. So far, it's worked. There can't be a downside.  
 
I generally don't waste any money in slots but if I do, I'll play IGT's Double Diamond machine. Their pay scale is arithmetical, which means two coins pay exactly double one coin. In other words, there's no premium to be gained by loading in multiple coins, so I can play a higher denomination, which has lower RNG (random number generator) retention percentages.  
 
And, of course, there's poker. I play limit Hold'em, no no-limit. I play a very unsophisticated (some would say boring) game. I play my cards and don't worry about guessing much about what others hold. They can have most of that psychological drivel. Good grief, it's a card game. Play cards.  
 
I look forward to the movie and my trip. As I've written here ad nauseam, Bret is playing in the world series in July and I'll be there to watch. Hopefully he won't join me at the rail too soon.  
 
But, win or lose, it'll be a hoot as it always is. While there, I'll do research at the tables for my upcoming book, "Whew, My Luggage Didn't Stay in Vegas."  
 
Otis Gardner doubles-down every chance he gets at ogardner@embarqmail.com.
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Casinos will entice you to "win" all the comps you can. But do you want to win comps, or do you want to win money? - From Wit & Wisdom To Help You Win, by John Gollehon -

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