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My friend the Blackjack Pro discusses what it's like to play in Las Vegas now. It was never easy but now it's even tougher to win at blackjack what with counter-​measures in place these days for Most Popular In: Investing.


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Don Johnson won nearly $6 million playing blackjack in one night, These winning streaks have made Johnson one of the best-known.


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Blackjack, formerly also Black Jack and Vingt-Un, is the American member of a global family of There is a popular myth that, when Vingt-Un ("Twenty-One") was introduced into the United States in the early s - other sources say during the If the dealer exceeds 21 ("busts") and the player does not; the player wins.


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Michael Geismar: “Breakfast.


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Blackjack, formerly also Black Jack and Vingt-Un, is the American member of a global family of There is a popular myth that, when Vingt-Un ("Twenty-One") was introduced into the United States in the early s - other sources say during the If the dealer exceeds 21 ("busts") and the player does not; the player wins.


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From progressive jackpots to lucky bets, we unearth some of the biggest casino blackjack wins ever committed to felt. One of the most famous.


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But even though he has been around the gambling industry for all of his 49 years, Johnson snuck up on Atlantic City. The wagering of card counters assumes a clearly recognizable pattern over time, and Johnson was being watched very carefully. He was the only Atlantic City casino executive who agreed to talk to me about Johnson. Compared with horse racing, the odds in blackjack are fairly straightforward to calculate. Johnson had not played a game at the Borgata in more than a year. He had been trying to figure out its blackjack game for years but had never been able to win big. He started to learn a lot about gambling. Johnson was on an amazing streak. All of these gambling houses were already hurting, what with the spread of legalized gambling in surrounding states. Some wear disguises when they play. Arrayed on the table before him were the four eights. Little interferes with his concentration. The last thing a skilled player wants is a big reputation. When revenues slump, casinos must rely more heavily on their most prized customers, the high rollers who wager huge amounts—tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars a hand. Whenever the racily clad cocktail waitress wandered in with a fresh whiskey and Diet Coke, he took it from the tray. He stood 6 foot 1 and weighed only pounds. The industry pays close attention to high-level players; once a player earns a reputation for winning, the courtship ends. A tlantic City did know who Johnson was. The new Parx racetrack and casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania, a gigantic gambling complex, is less than 80 miles away from the Atlantic City boardwalk. For the casino, the art is in telling the skilled whales from the unskilled ones, then discouraging the former and seducing the latter. To look at him, over six feet tall and thickly built, you would never guess that he was once a jockey. The first and most obvious suspicion was card counting. He had the money to wager big, he had the skill to win, and he did not have enough of a reputation for the casinos to be wary of him. D espite his pedestrian attire , Don Johnson is no average Joe. He is a veteran player. For Johnson, the game began before he ever set foot in the casino. Who could? It hurt. An ordinary guy in a red cap and black hoodie had struck it rich, had beaten the casinos black-and-blue. For most people, though, the newspaper headline told a happy story. Made famous in books and movies, card counting is considered cheating, at least by casinos. Hard times do not favor the house. But two years ago, Johnson says, the casinos started getting desperate. Word spreads when the betting is that big. A session of, say, hands will display wider swings, with steeper winning and losing streaks, than the standard casino charts. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. The software his company employs analyzes more data than an ordinary handicapper will see in a thousand lifetimes, and defines risk to a degree that was impossible just five years ago. They negotiate. High rollers are lured with free meals and drinks, free luxury suites, free rides on private jets, and … more. Two cards are placed faceup before the player, and two more cards, one down, one up, before the dealer. The headline in The Press of Atlantic City was enough to gladden the heart of anyone who has ever made a wager or rooted for the underdog:. As good as he is at playing cards, he turns out to be even better at playing the casinos. But he was not considered good enough to discourage or avoid. About a decade ago, he founded a business that does computer-assisted wagering on horses. By April, combined monthly gaming revenue had been declining on a year-over-year basis for 32 months. More useful, for his purposes, is running a smaller number of hands and paying attention to variation. The basics of blackjack are simple. It seemed a fantasy come true, the very dream that draws suckers to the gaming tables. He was neither nervous nor excited. He has served as a state regulator in Oregon, Idaho, Texas, and Wyoming. Beyond the usual high-roller perks, the casino might also sweeten the deal by staking the player a significant amount up front, offering thousands of dollars in free chips, just to get the ball rolling. When his second hand was dealt a two, he doubled down on that, too. But the vast majority of players lose, and the longer they play, the more they lose. He was just getting started. Fifteen million dollars in winnings from three different casinos? The goal is to get to 21, or as close to it as possible without going over. Johnson was in charge of day-to-day operations, including the betting operation. When you add gaming tables or slots at a fancy new venue like Revel, or like the Borgata, which opened in , the novelty may initially draw crowds, but adding gaming supply without enlarging the number of customers ultimately hurts everyone. Caesars had cut him off, he says, and then effectively banned him from its casinos worldwide. What gives Johnson his edge is his knowledge of the gaming industry. The tactic requires both great memory and superior math skills. Nobody gets that lucky. The player still loses. He drew a 10, so the two cards he was showing totaled This was a good bet: since all face cards are worth 10, the deck holds more high cards than low.

D on Johnson finds it hard to remember the exact famous blackjack winners. The way any discount works, you have to lose a certain amount to capitalize on it.

But the story was even bigger than that. So it was no longer worth famous blackjack winners while to play there.

The marketers present casinos as glamorous playgrounds where workaday worries and things like morality, sobriety, and prudence are on holiday. His body quickly assumed more normal proportions, and he went to work helping manage racetracks, a career that brought him to Philadelphia when he was about He was hired to manage Philadelphia Park, the track that evolved into the Parx casino, in Bensalem, where he lives today. When this happened to Johnson, he knew the ground rules had skewed against him. With their table-game revenues tanking and the number of whales diminishing, casino marketers began to compete more aggressively for the big spenders. He does not just walk into a casino and start playing, which is what roughly 99 percent of customers do. The towers of chips stacked in front of him formed a colorful miniature skyline. At the height of his hour blitz of the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, last April, he was playing a hand of blackjack nearly every minute. Because the casino values high rollers more than the average customer, it is willing to lessen its edge for them. Card counters seek to gain a strong advantage by keeping a mental tally of every card dealt, and then adjusting the wager according to the value of the cards that remain in the deck. It was a growth industry. For one thing, he is an extraordinarily skilled blackjack player. Almost everyone knows them. Many casinos sell laminated charts in their guest shops that reveal the optimal strategy for any situation the game presents. Pennsylvania is likely to supplant New Jersey this year as the second-largest gaming state in the nation. The regimen was so demanding that he eventually had to give it up. When casinos started getting desperate, Johnson was perfectly poised to take advantage of them. By late , the discounts at some of the strapped Atlantic City casinos began creeping upward, as high as 20 percent. Scanning the cards on the table before him, the player can either stand or keep taking cards in an effort to approach His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. As another skyscraper of chips was pushed into his skyline, he signaled for the next hand. You play against the house. Dozens of spectators pressed against the glass of the high-roller pit. He worked with a physician to keep weight off, fighting his natural growth rate with thyroid medication that amped up his metabolism and subsisting on vitamin supplements. How did he do it? The way averages work, the larger the sample, the narrower the range of variation. He had beaten the casinos fair and square. Johnson won all four hands. In most states but not New Jersey , known practitioners are banned. In his best years as a professional jockey, he was practically skeletal.