System Smitty and the Blindfolded Monkeys
By Arnold Snyder
(From Blackjack Forum, March 1987)
© 1987 Blackjack Forum
Take the case of Benjamin F. “System Smitty” Smith. You may recall System Smitty’s name from Ed Thorp’s 1962 classic, Beat the Dealer. According to Thorp, Smitty was a Las Vegas character he heard about in the late 1950’s, who had personally devised a near perfect basic strategy for casino blackjack, years prior to the publication of any such strategy. Smitty had also devised a valid card counting system — his own variation of a “ten count” — based on 100,000 self-dealt hands.
A few years ago, Julian Braun, the IBM computer whiz who did the programming for the 1966 edition of Thorp’s book, told me some stories about System Smitty, whom he'd known personally in the early 1960s.
Smitty made his living as a professional gambler. But, although Ed Thorp credits Smitty for developing one of the first valid card counting systems, Smitty did not limit his play to the blackjack tables. He could often be found playing craps, roulette, or any other game that the casinos offered. His nickname came from the fact that he had systems for every game and every situation.
Smitty’s advice was sought out by many out-of-town high rollers who came to play with big money. Smitty charged them nothing for his services if they lost. If they won, he took a percentage of the win.
Because Smitty used many traditional types of gambling systems — progression systems, parlay systems, cancellation systems, etc. — Smitty did win for his clients most of the time. In fact, on negative expectation games like craps and roulette, Smitty's clients lost more money overall than they won, but Smitty would bet wildly toward the end of a client's play if the desired win result had not yet been achieved, and he often pulled out a lucky win. It made no difference to Smitty whether his client lost a small amount or tapped out his entire trip bank, since Smitty only got paid when his client won.
Traditional gambling systems like these may not have a long run advantage, but most of them have healthy short run positive expectations. This is why such systems have always appealed to gamblers. Smitty made lots of short-run money, and when one of those horrendous occasional losing situations occurred, where Smitty’s client tapped out, Smitty didn’t lose a cent. He simply failed to collect his percentage of the win.
Smitty had lots of repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising from satisfied clients, who always remembered the preponderance of wins. These customers, like Smitty himself, tended to forget the losing sessions, choosing to remember the more common winning sessions. The losses could be chalked up to extraordinarily “bad” cards, or “cold” dice, or the “wrong” system at the wrong time, or any other typical gambler’s excuse. Smitty never lied to his clients, never cheated them or stole from them. He did his best to increase his clients' bankrolls, since that was the only way he could get paid. He didn’t want to work all weekend for nothing. Most of the time, he won.
Smitty was not, while working for a client, a professional gambler. He usually didn’t have a long run edge over the house. He was, in a sense, a system seller.
This is not to say that Smitty didn't believe in all of his systems. Often when one of his many clients left town after a big score, leaving Smitty with a handsome “consulting fee,” Smitty would hit the tables again with one of his systems. Although he experienced many of those “infrequent” wipe out sessions throughout his life, it never bothered him. There was always another client around the corner.
A lot of players are tempted by “short-run” systems. But unless, like Smitty, you’re playing with other people’s money, essentially making your percentage by “selling” these systems to tourists, you’re going to be a long-run loser. ♠
For more information on the history of blackjack and stories about professional gamblers, see The Big Book of Blackjack
by Arnold Snyder.
Other good books of stories about professional gamblers include Arnold Snyder's novel, Risk of Ruin, about a professional blackjack hole-carding team, and Repeat Until Rich, Josh Axelrad's terrific account of playing on one of the most successful blackjack card counting teams of all time.
For more information at this web site on the history of blackjack and blackjack systems, see the Professional Gambling Library.
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