Turning the Tables on Las Vegas

by Ian Andersen


While most Blackjack books rehash the standard drivel of Basic Strategy and card-counting, Turning the Tables on Las Vegas was/is the first to focus on the psychological aspects of the game of Blackjack. In the process of this review, I am going to take the opportunity to communicate some aspects of the Introspection Therapy approach I use with patients and clients (I am also a therapist).

Written in 1976 under the pen name of "Ian Andersen", you might expect this book to be written from the rock-star point of view, or something equally bizarre. Instead however, this book offers a fascinating perspective of a well-seasoned business person which reads more like fiction than non-fiction. While many of the tactics described in the book apply mainly to single-deck play, MUCH of the material applies to all forms of Blackjack play.

Although somewhat antiquated in scope and probably read by most well-seasoned casino execs., Turning the Tables on Las Vegas is nevertheless STILL an important book. While this book was my first introduction to point-counting in 1978 (I had been using Thorp's ten-count previously) it is not intended as, and I don't recommend it, as a comprehensive book on the subject of card-counting. Instead, "Turning the Tables" is a book which focuses mainly on the psychological aspects of the game of Blackjack; a subject usually completely overlooked by most Blackjack "experts" in favor of the more "important" aspects of the game.

After a brief introduction to Las Vegas (as it existed in the mid 70's) and a short yet reasonably detailed chapter on card-counting (with strategy tables), Andersen lays out the reality faced by MOST card-counters in his chapter entitled: "Some Good News and Some Bad News". In this chapter, Ian tells story after story of how he would make a big win at the tables, only to find himself ejected from play at the Blackjack tables. A couple of examples are worth noting, although is descriptions are far more compelling than mine.

After saving the life of a dealer who went down for the count with a heart-attack ("Having been trained by the boy scouts in emergency first aid, I quickly pulled him off the table and onto the casino floor"), Ian was given an RFB comp for as long as he wished to stay. Then after four days of continuous winning (most specifically after a play in which there were only ten-value cards left in the deck), after the remaining cards we spread face-up, he was told by the casino manager "friend, you're too tough. Please stay as our guest as long as you like, but no more twenty-one, OK?".

In another example, after losing $7,000, Andersen "started winning at a precipitous rate" and quickly recovered half of his loss. After betting $500 on two hands and receiving Blackjacks on both, the pit attitude changed. As Ian explains it, "Within minutes a neatly dressed casino employee appeared. He was quiet, friendly, and thoughtful. He watched me play. Ten minutes elapsed and I lost $1,000. I was now $4,000 behind. The suave floor man approached me. "We would rather you didn't play here any more", he whispered. "But I'm losing a fortune". "I know, and we intend to keep it. Thank you for coming. Can I buy you a drink before you leave?" This was becoming a recurring nightmare. I had been in Las Vegas only ten days and I was already running out of places to play".

After a number of not-dissimilar barrings, Ian informs us:
"The story was the same everywhere. Although the amount of time differed, the result was invariable. I was either evicted from the casino or the dealer was instructed to shuffle after every hand.... My system was just too easy to detect... I decided it was time to leave Las Vegas and develop a new, more sophisticated strategy. I did not return for six years".

Chapter 5 (How Not to Be a Counter) shifts gears and is the beginning of what this book is REALLY all about. According to Andersen, during his six year absence in Vegas he spent time reflecting on WHAT it WAS that marked him as a card counter. On Page 34, Ian gives us a 2 column Table; one side listing the traits that identify a counter; the other side detailing traits we should adopt to NOT look like a counter. Three sets of illustrative examples of such traits are:

There are an additional 7 sets of specific items in the Table, and dozens of related items scattered throughout the text (in context with that particular chapter). I found it an instructive challenge to locate them "all"; at least the ones I could find.. One day, I will write an addendum to this book - it's long overdue. Back in 1976, Chapter 5 of this book was NEW material. For most people it still is.

In Chapter 6 (Camouflage) Ian Andersen recommends taking on the traits and mannerisms of the high-roller (assuming of course that your betting-level warrants this). Being an alleged high-roller, Andersen seems well-qualified to discuss this topic. Other authors have spent time on the subject of camouflage; Andersen is the first to present the topic in a truly enlightened manner. One of his ideas is to emulate superstitious behavior (common to high-rollers); with the following disclaimer:

"Although acting superstitiously can be effective camouflage, it is imperative that you not succumb to superstitious ideas. I know a number of proficient counters who have been greatly distracted by an unfortunate series of events.".

In this chapter (and then again later in the book), Ian talks about the valuable role women can play in the winner's arsenal. While some of his ideas may seem sexist, they in fact ARE; and this is as it should be. Let me explain. To begin with, realize that this book was written in 1976 when the war of the sexes was in its infancy. However, ALSO realize that the casino world is QUITE sexist and always HAS been; although it has toned down considerably in the last 20 years since this book was realized. What works in life, is to find out what is SO wherever you find yourself and then blend in with that. In other words, when in Rome..... The danger here is two-fold:

If it is not natural you will draw undue attention to yourself. Be CERTAIN that you do not fall into trap of believing your own bullshit.As a Introspection Therapist, the second item becomes quite important. I have treated many people with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD); sometimes known as Disassociative Personality Disorder. An extreme example (although admittedly not common) is demonstrated in the 1978 movie "Magic", with Anthony Hopkins (although this story is a variation of an earlier theme involving a ventriloquist dummy).

I know a couple of serious Blackjack Players who have crossed the line and are now taken in somewhat, by their own bullshit. While they have winning playing sessions, there are sessions that go COMPLETELY awry. Then as they get caught up in their bullshit (read: camouflage), things become even worse.

Being on a losing streak the player's "act" attracts too much attention. Then when the cards "turn" and they begin to win some of their money back, they are barred. The psychological impact of this blunder is doubled. Undetected, it spells the beginning (if not the end) of a professional Blackjack career.

In Chapter 7 (Money Management) Ian takes the camouflage concepts further, and overall, offers a WEALTH of useful information. Be careful however. He intermixes psychological advice with betting advice. While I agree with most all of his ideas in this chapter, it is important to draw the distinction between the psychological aspects .vs. the "technical" aspects of the game.

I believe that this book is the first to make mention of specifics regarding the existence of a typical casino's player-rating system. It is also (to my knowledge) the first suggestion that a stop-win (as well as a stop-loss) might be important. This ties in with his discussion about WHEN to play .vs. HOW-LONG to play (a given session). My problem with this advice is that in TODAY's casino environment, because there are more players, the "windows of opportunity" seem to blur somewhat. Ian's advice should be used as a guideline, not as an absolute.

Andersen's suggestion of keeping a diary is a good one. The only thing I might add is to recommend keeping a FORMAL version of your diary on a laptop computer, which you update after EACH playing session (not each table), or at LEAST at the end of the day, compile your handwritten diary notes onto the computer. If you devise a little database for your data, you can compile statistics on all aspects of your play, for future evaluation.

Near the end of the Money Management chapter, I an discusses a most important topic: Handling Losses. My only concern with this discussion is that the given advice is too sparse. However, his opening comment is well worth repeating:
The true test of a winning gambler is not how he handles winning, but rather how he reacts to losing. There are times when you are going to lose. Prepare yourself for these occasions.
The implications of this advice will be explored under the Mind Body Connection page on this website.

In chapter 8 (The casinos strike back), Ian Anderson addresses the issue of whether or not the casino is "the enemy" and how to avoid combative encounters or relationships with casino personnel.

(As an aside, to my knowledge, a footnote at the bottom of P.84, makes the first mention of Kenny Uston and his big play. Although referred to only as a "stock broker", the mention of his $1,000,000 lawsuit against "a strip hotel" (I believe, the Sands), aligns with the news reports of that period. Later (P. 87), Andersen describes a team of players using the "BP" approach as related a year later Ken Uston is his first book The Big Player. It has also been strongly suggested that Kenny and Andersen were, not only acquaintances, but shared playing secrets and experiences. Indeed, Uston makes a more than casual remark about Andersen in one of his books.)

Andersen's "solution" to avoiding combative encounters is a good one, but only IF you are skilled enough socially, and quiet enough emotionally, to pull it off. For Andersen, this was evidently rather easy, aided by his constant reminder of why he was playing Blackjack in the first place: Greed, pure and simple; he wanted their money.

To accomplish his goal, he put his attention towards raising the self esteem of THOSE AROUND HIM, rather than (futilely) attempting to boost his OWN self-esteem by winning. If you do not understand this distinction, it is my professional opinion then that YOU should not be playing Blackjack, at least not professionally; unless of course you LOVE to lose.

On P. 88, Andersen gives some interesting advice that could easily be misinterpreted. Essentially, he recommends being vocal about one's losses (most card-counters quietly slink away). This however can be interpreted as advice to DOWNPLAY your winning. People who attempt an attitude of downplaying their winnings end up engaging in overt (and therefore noticeable) deceit This is not only unnecessary, it will often produce the reverse-effect of what one might desire from such behavior.

Floor personnel are trained to remember how much money (in chips) you walk away from a table with (notice how quickly most of them can do a chip tray count?). However, t hey are ALSO human and can be EASILY programmed with a strong memory of your loss; properly done.

Regarding winning, Andersen's advice is very simple and quite clear:
When you win, let the casino know how fortunate you feel, not how smart you are... No one, least of all casino personnel, like to be shown up or played for a chump... ...the situation in which I doubled down on a 3-2 .vs. a 6, and all the remaining cards were 10's... was my last hand at that casino. For the most part it doesn't pay to make a highly unusual or brilliant play. This is usually done more for ego aggrandizement than for loot.
(Tell this to my Clump-tracker friends.)

In Chapter 9 (The Twenty-one Dealer: a $10,000-a-Year Gift) Anderson talks about the importance of cultivating relationships with dealers. However, he assumes that everyone is as adept at dealing with people as he seems to be. I warn you: if your attempts to be personable with the dealer does not come off as natural, you will gain undue attention as people attempt to figure out what your payoff is in being so phoney. Next, Ian talks about the advantages that can be gained via toking the dealer at the right time and in the right way. However again, it MUST be natural, lest you throw your money and STILL end up being barred.

This chapter is rounded out with a rather lengthy discussion (I believe the first of it's kind) on the subject of reading the dealer. Years later Steve Forte wrote an entire book on the subject (still available at the Gambler's Book shop in Las Vegas, for, I believe, $40; although the book is pretty much useless in today's casino encounters). One wonders if Forte was influenced by this writeup in Andersen's book.

Chapter 10 (The Pit Boss: Friend or Foe?) Is a continuance of Chapter 9, but focuses on dealing with Pit Bosses and Floormen. Rather than taking an adversarial stance with pit personnel, he suggests bringing them into your camp by placing them in the role of counselor. He also discusses the idea of treating the floor personnel as you would a business client; someone to be wined, dined and wooed.

Andersen allegedly went so far as to distribute little presents to the various people in charge, based upon their position. He makes an interesting comment in this regard:
"As a rule I distribute presents by position, not by emotion. Which pit bosses you like is inconsequential." We can extrapolate out this advice into OTHER areas of our play. In other words, we must keep our emotions out of it.

Because Ian is into"blending" with people, he explains how to take a typical situation and work it either way as follows:
I love being hustled like this by the pit bosses. I'm not easy, but I can be had. At one club in northern Nevada, I'm a regular. I wait until a table empties, then sit down. The pit bosses all know me and asks, "What'll it be, Ian?" "I don't know", I say. "What limit do YOU want me to play. I'll play for fives, twenty-fives or hundreds, whatever you say." "In that case let's make it a hundred", he say resolutely. "That's okay with me, if that's what you want", I reply. If I win, I thank him for HIS idea; if I lose, I congratulate him for his competence in hustling me into a big game, and recommend to his superior that he be given a raise.

Andersen also recommends keeping a diary. That way, events like the one described above can be noted for the future. Diaries are to be reread and learned from when the future warrants it.

In chapter 11 (Other Casino Games: Someone Has to Pay for All Those Lights) Ian gives us a brief rundown on the major casino games, as they were in 1975. This chapter is a ho-hummer except for the quote from a casino manager who said
"Look, I don't care if the guy has a halo around his head and recites Hail Marys, if he wins regularly he's out! It's not our business to figure out how a guy is winning. We're not in business to support winners while we figure out how they're doing it. If we don't like their action, that's it!
THIS, was said about craps players with potential winning methods.

In chapter 12 (Poker: Or Having Champions for Breakfast), Andersen switches gears away from Blackjack to the subject of poker, mainly from the people (i.e. psychological) side of things. His focus is to demonstrate the lengths players will go to create a "set up"; which is why I prefer to play Blackjack. Assuming the game is "on-the-square" (and 99+% of them are), I know exactly how my opponent (the Blackjack dealer) will play his/her hand.

This chapter (if you will) is continued in Chapter 14 (on cheating). Ironically, the best comments he makes about Poker appear not in this chapter, but in the next one for women when he says:
...Poker, on the other hand, is a contest between individuals. The reality of Poker is conflict. In Blackjack you go out of your way to avoid confrontation, in Poker you create it. Poker is a game of balance. The more off balance you can keep your opponents, the greater your chances of winning. Upsetting traditional role relationships is an outstanding way to disturb an opponent's balance, and, once again, women have the inside track.

Chapter 13 (For Women) is truly unique in the annals of Blackjack. The only other writeup I am aware of that addresses issues uniquely feminine, appears in Jerry Patterson's Blackjack's Winning Formula, the chapter written by none other than Jerry's wife, Nancy - unfortunately, it is lacking in detail and depth. Anderson opens this chapter on women in gambling by pointing out:
"Male players must devote considerable attention to establishing warm, compatible relationships while assiduously avoiding competitiveness and power struggles. Women, on the other hand, are well received from the outset. Casino representatives at all echelons lower their guard and begin to covet the affections of the fairer sex. They naturally fall into the role of wooing, rather than defending.

This chapter may seem sexist to some readers, and in a sense it is; in the sense that casino management (itself) is still rather sexist. Chapter 13 explains to you women how to profit from casino management's duplicitous nature. As Andersen explains it, a sharp woman player is
"...cautiously flirtatious and extremely feminine, accentuating her assets and minimizing her deficiencies. The courtship has begun and the astute female player is well on her way toward winning a fortune.... She will fine acceptance easy. Her entourage of casino personnel will actually go out of its way to facilitate her winning. Remember, Las Vegas is operating on the lower levels of human need - money, sex, and power."

Switching to the subject of Poker, Andersen ends the chapter with the following comments:
A new breed of female player is emerging. As women become more liberated, some of them are applying their newly found assertiveness to the poker table with formidable results. Abandoning their traditionally submissive role, they are fomenting conflict and winding up with all the marbles. I predict you will see, in years to come, a rapidly increasing number of winning professional female poker players. The male pro, so long the dominant figure in these games, had best become liberated himself if he hopes to stand a chance.

Chapter 14 (Cheating) focuses on the seamier side of gambling. While much of the material is outdated (cheating mechanical slot machines for example), much of it is nonetheless quite entertaining. He relates an incident told to him, by a card-counter friend, of an elderly couple who had mastered the art of switching cards between their hands, converting (for example) a J-6 and A-5 into a Blackjack and a 6-5 (11) double down. Ironically, the card-counter was busted for counting and was barred. The older couple kept right on trucking. Although I am not a Poker player, Ian's description of team scams (Pp. 172-5) is quite interesting. It makes up for the obsolescence of much of the material in this chapter.

Andersen's personal statement on cheating is very telling of his own integrity:
If it seems that I have been lauding cheating in this chapter, I want to correct that misconception. I think any form of theft and cheating is deplorable. Some of these schemes are devilishly clever and inspire a certain amount of awe. I often wonder about the results such ingenuity would yield if legitimately directed. There are many games that can be beaten (such as twenty-one), and it seems that those capable of such feats of chicanery would be eminently capable of winning without jeopardizing their careers.

Ian Andersen wraps up the book with two quickie chapters; the first on Gambler's and Gambling (Ch. 14) which mainly discusses the profile of loser mentality. Ch. 16 (Managing Stress While Gambling) opens with the following comment:
"Gambling is full of stress, and gamblers notoriously have difficulties in dealing with tension. The winning gambler must learn to manage the inevitable stress and strain of playing. Winning demands awareness, alertness, decisiveness and clear thought. Body and mind must be integrated. Diet, sleep, exercise, and relaxation techniques are fundamental to consistent winning."
My only problem with Chapter 16 is that it is too short. It is a good introduction on the subject however. He discusses such things a "blood sugar" and how it can affect your play, along with the importance understanding and aligning your self with your sleep pattern/style (Are you a "lark" or an "owl"? I am an Owl). Ian ends the chapter with mentions on exercise solutions (he personally prefers yoga and swimming) and relaxation techniques (many adapted from a popular book on the subject, written in 1973).

Summary Comments

As you can see, I find most of Turning the Tables on Las Vegas to be an excellent book, even though much of the material is dated, and most of the Blackjack material applies pretty much to single and double deck (i.e. hand held) games. I gave this book a B+ rating in stead of an A because of the fact that much of the material IS dated. If the publisher (Vintage Books - a division of Random House) were to reissue the book, in properly updated form, I personally believe it would again become a TOP SELLER, as it was back in 1976-77. At the very least, this book is entertaining reading, and is to be recommended on that basis alone.

The Afterword for this book is very telling and in some way or another applies to ALL professional or semi-professional players alike:
"And so time passes. Each trip I make I fear will be my last, but I continue to play, unmolested. How long can it last? I am beginning to thinking, indefinitely. As long as the pit bosses are motivated, for one or another reason, to maintain contact with me rather than sever relations, I remain safe. After hundreds of hours of big play, I have not been barred from one casino in the entire state of Nevada. I haven't yet played in over half of them. There are still many fertile fields to plow. Artfully directed and well disciplined, a polished newcomer has limitless potential.

Over twenty years have elapsed since this book was written. In that time, 13 casinos have sprung up in Atlantic City, Indian reservations and some states around the country now offer casino-style gambling, riverboat gambling has finally once again appeared, and even the conservative south now sports casino centers (such as Louisiana and Tunica Mississippi). I often wonder if "Ian" is still with us and plying his trade at some of these newer places. I would be interested to hear how he plays TODAY's game(s).

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If you have questions or comments about the above review, e-mail me at: BorisBJ21@Earthlink.Net.