As long as there have been casinos offering ways to gamble, there have been people trying to work out ways of swinging a house edge to their favour. Some of the best gamblers to have achieved this are relatively unknown by most people, but if you enjoy poker, you will recognise one or two names that have turned their hand to casino games and been successful.
Most recently, Phil Ivey was involved in the ‘edge sorting dispute’ which led to him having to pay back millions in winnings. With a partner, the sharp minded Ivey recognised imperfections in the designs on the back of cards while playing Punto Banco, and saw that if certain cards were rotated 180 degrees before being placed back in the deck, they would be recognisable when they were on the top of the deck. He simply asked the dealer if they would mind doing this, and they agreed. After winning £7.7 million (Around $11.5 million.) The casino told him they would wire the money to him once the bank holiday period had ended. They suspected something was amiss, and never paid the sum. A court case followed, which Ivey lost.
Stu Ungar is another famous poker player who could beat the casinos at their own game, having a great deal of success playing Blackjack until he was banned from most Las Vegas casinos. He was said to have an incredible visual memory and a high IQ. Casino owner Bob Stupak didn’t believe in the amazing memory of Ungar and so bet him $100,000 that he couldn’t count down a three deck shoe of cards in his head and know what the final remaining card would be at the end. Stupak lost.
Stu Ungar had an incredible visual memory and a genius IQ
Edward Thorpe and the MIT Team
Lesser known people who have beaten Blackjack include mathematics professor Edward Thorpe, who was the first to apply the theory of card counting, winning vast sums of money in the 1960’s. He was followed by the more famous MIT team who put his principles into practice as a disciplined team of skilled operators. They are rumoured to have made $5 million in the mid 90’s from counting cards, before the heat from casinos became too much for them to operate.
“21” is the fact-based movie about six MIT students who were trained to beat Blackjack
Tommy Glenn Carmichael
In the world of slots, Tommy Glenn Carmichael was the most notorious at beating casinos, but in contrast to the individuals mentioned above, he didn’t use sharp minded talent alone to gain an edge. He simply cheated, and was incredibly good at it. He began in 1980 by crafting a small metal device which could trigger coin payouts when inserted into coin slots. As machines updated, so did the ploys of Carmichael. His next devices were the ‘Slider’ and ‘Monkey Paw’ which could be used to activate switches to release coins. When slots became based around computers, Carmichael fashioned a ‘Light Wand’ which blinded light sensors within a machine, causing them to payout money. His motto in life was “Give me a slot machine, and I’ll find a way to beat it.”
Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo and Roulette
Roulette is a very difficult game to beat, and many players will have tried to think up elaborate ways to beat the odds at this game. Gonzalo Garcia-Pelayo came up with an incredibly simple and highly effective one – He watched an individual wheel for countless hours and noted all the results. His theory was that tiny imperfections in each wheel might lead to certain number coming out slightly more often than others. This could be due to tiny flaws in the gears, or the roulette wheel not being level by a fractional margin, or tiny mistakes being made in the size of one or two of the pockets. He began in Spain noting down thousands of spins and their results before risking any money. It was extremely difficult for his methods to be detected by casinos, but he was soon banned from those in Spain, and moved to Las Vegas. He eventually became well known there too, and was eventually banned because he won money consistently, but he pocketed around $1.5 million from his scheme.