By Hooker by Crook …

This is a “counter’s-intelligence” story.
In June of 1978, Christian Cooper, my wife and partner in Jack Byrne Advertising, determined to re-enter show business with her own act, which would become Christian & The Lions. Since the venues were likely to be casino/hotels as “opening act” or in the cabarets, I was concerned for my financial health. I was an avid blackjack player in such environments but, truth to tell, I lost more than I was likely to admit to. I did the only thing a man could do: I enrolled in the Stanley Blacker School of Winning Blackjack. I was fortunate in that I was the only student for two instructors, who used me as a guinea pig for in-depth training. At the end of the training, I went to Reno, Nevada where $1 games were available, and in four weeks put in twenty-eight sixteen-hour days at the tables of some twenty-four casinos. I came back prepared.

Not your everyday adult education environment.

In October 1978, Stanley Blacker closed its New York school. I called Stanley and obtained the eastern seaboard franchise. Thus, as a second business and rather exciting hobby, I opened a new blackjack school on 43rd Street between Second and Third Avenues in Manhattan. I called it The Jack Barnes School of Winning Blackjack. I was “Jack Barnes.” My students ranged from a lonely seventy-five-year-old lady, looking to make more money than slot machine play in Atlantic City, to a rough-edged, stogie-chewing fellow from the Bronx whose pistol jutted out of the back of his pants belt, and, a lot of types in between.
Each one-week, sixteen-hour class was restricted to a student body of seven (the number of positions at a table), with each student paying $475 for the course. The school’s advertised purpose was to help people who liked to gamble to keep from getting their asses kicked by the usual casino odds. Its deeper purpose was to develop talent, which might fit into various teams of professional blackjack players scattered around the land. Through my own previous instructors, I had a foot or two into that world, which was internationally known as the “subculture of blackjack.”

Where Dream Teams were created.

As blackjack dealers deal out cards, counters have means of tracking the ratio between the remaining cards in a deck, which are classified either as good-for-the-player, “tens” (including 10s, Jacks, Queens, and Kings) and “aces”, or good-for-the-dealer (twos to sixes) and, thus, bad for the player. Sevens, eights and nines were considered neutral and not affecting the odds. The higher the ratio of good to bad, the more the odds shift to the player’s favor.
When the cards left to play are in the player’s favor, the player wants to get the most money on the table. When they favor the house, the counter wants to bet the least. Thus, if a player could bet $1 every time the remaining cards were in the house’s favor and $1000 every time they were in the player’s favor, there would not be a casino still standing.
Since the house is professional, too, it knows these things. If a house doesn’t know enough about them, it hires counter consultants to explain it to them.
So the house watches players from all angles, from video recording cameras above, from floor managers below, from dealers and even from spotter-gamers mingling with the players. The first thing the house keeps an eye out for are players who “jump their bets,” who may be playing red chips ($5) for ten hands or more and then, suddenly, put up green chips ($25) or black ($100).
The next thing they watch for is how the player plays certain hands that are played differently by pros depending upon “the count,” such as the taking of insurance when a dealer shows an Ace, or the splitting of tens.
Although basic counting is nothing more than using your brains to play cards, as do poker players and bridge players, it is treated as a “crime” in casinos, which consider it a form of cheating. The casino industry, depending upon the state in which the casino is located, is permitted to restrict a counter up to and including getting him arrested and locked up (in Nevada, that’s for second-time “offenders”). And all casinos subscribe to a mug book, supplied by Griffin Investigations, Inc., in which photos and other identification information appears of all known card “cheaters and counters.” Griffin and the industry makes no distinction between the two—both are undesirables to them.
At a minimum, the casino management in most states can refuse a suspected counter the right to play. Today, thanks to a lawsuit against Resorts International, instigated by famed counter Kenny Uston in 1982, New Jersey law does not permit exclusion for intelligent play (counting). The refusal option not being permitted in New Jersey, the Atlantic City casinos, when they suspect a player of counting, will shuffle the deck more frequently or cut off half of the six-deck shoe so fewer cards get into play, which will usually eliminate the counter edge that arrives as more cards are tracked and discarded.

The Art of Non-recognition.

Obviously, it behooves every counter not to be recognized as a counter, permitted or not.
The successful counter must be a master of disguise. He must disguise his betting moves. He must disguise his play of hands. Often, he must disguise himself. (Kenny Uston was known as the master at this.)
Countless counter stories of disguise and misdirection can be found in blackjack books. I will tell a few during these confessions. This is one such story.
One of the best disguises for a counter is to be a woman. Casinos are chauvinistic. Casino managers don’t believe that women can count. Another is to be black. Casinos believe only white men count. Another is to be old. Casinos believe counters are almost invariably young white male products of high-tech colleges and graduate schools, who have majored in science or mathematics.
It follows, therefore, as night does day, that one of the best disguises is to be a black woman. Another is to be an old man.
In 1979, a black woman, an assistant vice president of Citibank, attended the Jack Barnes School. Her name was Betty. Betty had a graduate degree in math. She was about thirty-five but looked ten years younger. She became a razor-sharp counter even before completing my sixteen-hour course. I invited her into the subculture.
For a short but productive time, we teamed up to play Atlantic City. This was before the law stopping Atlantic City casinos from barring counters. Disguise was in order. We created our own counter-intelligence characters before embarking on our project.

Age and Beauty Counter’s Style.

At the time, I was just past fifty but generally looked younger. For this role, I aged my appearance a decade or more by graying my reddish beard, by sagging my posture, and by developing an arthritic limp. To support the wealthy image that I desired to project, I bought a handsome mahogany cane topped with a bright brass British Eagle. I wore a crested English sport jacket. I became a distinguished, though somewhat foolish, aging man of considerable means.
As I piled on my years, Betty stripped off hers by donning platform shoes, hot mini-skirts, and skimpy tank tops. She churned up her hairdo. She developed a hip-shaking, eye-fetching walk and taught herself to pop and snap chewing gum while she talked her rather trashy talk. The make-up she wore would have embarrassed any but a hardened hooker. Which was exactly who we wanted the world to think she was.
A couple of times I was fooled myself, but she invariably pushed me away.
I would check into a casino hotel as a single. During my stay, I’d let this “girl” into my room. We never walked through a lobby together; a proper man out on the town avoids such incriminating actions. But we would always end up as a “couple” in the casino and even sometimes on the boardwalk between the casinos. The “couple” were seen as: a well-off, white-and-aging business gentleman who liked to gamble but who was an obvious mark for a black-and-sexy Atlantic City hooker. Observers would shake their heads, knowing she surely would divest him of his money and might give him something else in exchange, something contagious, to bring home to his unsuspecting wife.
Betty’s new name became Letty for Leticia. Mine became Jack Brown. No man in this situation would give his right name. But in the event we slipped up on our cover. Betty sounded like Letty and Mr. Barnes was close enough to Brown to pass. Of course, Betty knew me only as Barnes; Byrne was not a name known in the “subculture of blackjack.”
I would buy in at a new blackjack table for a thousand dollars or so and give her two hundred or more dollars’ worth of chips to bet. Immediately, dealers would start harassing her and advising me not to give her any money. But she’d be hooker-sassy and laugh at them and grab more chips from my pile.
Sometimes I’d purposely “mistake” her first name, and she’d correct me with a little slap at my hand. Sometimes I would rub the back of my upper arm against her pointed breast, and we’d stay like that for minutes. People tried to look away and tried not to shake their heads. But they failed at both.
On this trip, late on a Sunday morning, we were in Resorts International, the first casino to open in Atlantic City (and later, the defendant that lost to Kenny Uston in the New Jersey Supreme Court).

It Pays to Be Disgusting.

When we sat down, there were already four of the seven table positions occupied. But for a better play situation, we preferred our blackjack table to have the fewest additional players possible. So my “hooker,” between card hands, would move her hands under the table, obviously planning to fondle my aging privates. I would lean toward her from time to time and whisper, a little too loudly, sweet thoughts like, “I’ll let you lick it later, if you win some money for me now.” By the time the second six-deck shoe was completed and the six decks were being reshuffled, the fellow players with morals having left, we had the table to ourselves.
The area remained filled with disapproving glances from the departed players, who had moved to two adjoining tables, and from the pit boss and the floorman. But we were where we had wanted to be, head-to-head with the dealer. Thus, if the deck got “rich,” we would have more hands to play before it got “poor” again.
The lady dealer, who had a kindly heart, became so distressed by my situation; she finally spoke up while she was agitatedly shuffling up the three hundred and twelve cards of the six-deck shoe. Obviously her conscience drove her to warn me, despite the “hooker” sitting within hearing distance of her. “Mister, you seem like a nice man. These Atlantic City girls down here are dangerous. If they don’t rob you, they’ll leave you some sickness to take home to your family.”
I acted like a jovial idiot. “My dear, you are speaking of my daughter!”
And my “hooker” and I snorted our dirty little laughs at my little joke, thrown at the concerned middle-aged dealer.
I had about $1200 on the table. My hooker had about $300 in her spot. When the shuffle was finished, I put up a green chip to bet the minimum allowed at the $25 table. My sexy friend put up two chips. I pushed one back to her pile. “You think you should bet more than me?”
She answered, “I’ll bet what I want. You’re chicken!” She pushed her chip back into the circle.
For the next twelve or thirteen hands, we ranged our bets only between one and two green chips ($25 and $50). But I was tracking the basic count, and the deck was getting near the amount favorable to the player. My hooker was side-counting aces, which, if staying in the deck, could give us an extra edge on insurance bets and splitting tens. We communicated the information by a series of prearranged codes expressed by obscene touches and phrases and the fumbling of chips of different colors. We were losing quite regularly, but we were waiting for the moment to strike. As the deck kept improving, I started to talk about “getting out of here.” I referred to needing some “sack time.” She grabbed under the table a few more times. Then a total of thirteen cards, including hits of low hands, were dealt out to the three hands on the table, our two and the dealer’s one. All cards ranked between three and six without a single ace or ten being dealt.
That drove our tracked count up high enough to give us a strong players’ advantage.

How to turn $900 into $6,100 in just 10 minutes.

As the dealer picked up the low-count cards before us, I rose suddenly from my seat, tilting on my bad leg, and said, “Shit, I’ve got to have a piece of your ass. Let’s go to the room!” The dealer looked more disgusted than shocked.
Betty said, “Let me bet some of this first.”
I said, “Why not bet all of it!”
I pushed all my remaining $725 in chips up to the betting circle for my hand and started to push all hers, about $175, up also, but she grabbed a couple of $25 chips back and said, “Hey, you, that’s my money.”
I said “Who’s chicken now?” She slapped the retrieved chips back into the betting circle.
The dealer’s kindly nature was now totally turned off by me as well as by my hooker. She slapped the cards down on the table hard. I drew a 10, my hooker drew an 8, and the dealer’s first card was dealt down. For the next card, I drew a 6, and the dealer smiled because she was now hoping to see me lose, seeing the pompous asshole that I was. My hooker drew another 8. We both had 16, the player’s worst hand. Our only hope was for the dealer to bust. The dealer dealt her second card, turning over one card and showing a two. I said, “Damn, just my luck” and waved off the dealer’s offer of another card. Letty called for the dealer to split her 8s, and I had to pull another $175 cash from my pocket to cover the two bets. “Damn,” I said, “now you’re costing me!”
The dealer hit the first 8 with a 6. Letty said, “Shit, hit the other one!” The dealer hit the second 8 with a 4.
I said, “Oh great! Next time we play at the slots!” And I acted as one ready to walk away in a huff. But, we were delighted—now the odds for a 10 hidden under the dealer’s 2 and another 10 to come on the draw to her 12 were high indeed.
We would rather have had the dealer show something like a 5 or 6, but at least she didn’t have a pair of 10s, which was a good possibility in a rich deck. But when she turned over her second card, it was a 10. The dealer had a total of 12 and had to hit again. We both hoped the laws of averages would hold up. With a player-rich count, she was likely to get another 10 and bust. She did the right thing. She drew another 10 and busted with 22.
She paid $2,150, and I started to rake in our chips. My hooker stopped my hand and started to push her chips back, “Chickkkkkennnn!” she said, drawing the words out and then, sounding like a baby chick, “Cheepcheepcheep!” The deck was still positive to us players. My hooker was very inventive in giving the reason to raise the antes. I said, “Chicken, eh!” I pushed all my chips back to the betting circle. She squealed with delight. The dealer dealt with disgust and with vengeance in her eyes. She dealt me two 10s. She dealt the hooker a blackjack. The dealer’s up card was a 6. I split my 10s into two hands, covering the second bet with $1450 in cash from my pocket. The lady dealer sneered at my “stupid play,” splitting 10s, and then cursed under her breath as each hand drew another 10. The dealer turned over her under card, another 10 for 16, and then drew another card, another 10. The deck had for this hand delivered seven 10s and an ace and only one non-ten—a six. The odd couple had turned $900 into $6,100 in just two deals. But the spill out of many tens had taken away the player’s edge. It was time to get out of there.
I grabbed the chips in front of me and said. “That’s enough. Come to my room. I’ll pay you a grand for a piece of ass.”

The Happier Hooker.
My hooker laughed, “I’ve already got a thousand dollars. I may be too expensive for you now.” She kissed me on the lips, depositing enough lipstick to leave me looking more foolish than ever.
I told her to open her large “hooker’s purse,” which was packed with a change of clothes and some very personal items. She did, and together we poured all the chips off the table and into the purse, ignoring the dealer’s request to allow her to upgrade the chips to higher value ones. I threw two green chips to the dealer. “Thanks for all the advice.”
As we left, the well-intentioned dealer tried to give me a last warning: “You’re going to lose everything that way, Mister.”
But I appeared “too hot to trot” to listen to her, and we hurried through the tables toward the casino hotel elevators with one ass shaking and one leg limping. Acting nasty and horny, we took the elevator up to my floor, where we waited for the next elevator going up, went up one floor, and then we waited standing apart. She took the next down elevator to the lobby. I waited five minutes and took the next elevator down. Thus, we entered and left the lobby separately. Outside, we took separate jitney buses along Atlantic Avenue. She got off at the Tropicana, and I got off at the next stop, the Golden Nugget.
I entered the Nugget and walked into its small bar near the street entrance and ordered a black Russian. As I stood at the bar, sipping my drink with one hand and leaning on my cane with the other, a very sexy-looking black girl came up next to me and said, “I’ll have whatever he’s having.”
As the bartender started to say, “No you won’t, and get the fuck out of here,” I held up my hand and said, “It’s OK. Give her what I’m having.”
The girl quickly nuzzled her breasts against my arm and squealed, “Yeah, I’m his new business partner.”
The bartender answered, “How long does that last—an hour?”
But he got her the drink.
We weren’t as productive on every stop or every trip as at that one table at Resorts International, but, during the few months it lasted, we were well ahead of the casinos and had great fun at the game.
Unfortunately, it did not last too long because Betty got herself promoted to vice president of her bank. She became concerned about being unmasked in Atlantic City.
Her job came first.
I came second.
Figuratively speaking.

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