FROM ET FAN:
Cheating at Blackjack in Puerto Rico
By Harry J. McArdle
(From Blackjack Forum, Vol. VI #2, June 1986)
© 1986, 2006 Blackjack Forum
[Editor’s note: From the founding of Blackjack Forum in 1980 through 1986, when this article was submitted by Harry McArdle, numerous players had written about encountering high counts shoe after shoe while playing blackjack in Puerto Rico. The counts did not go down by the time the cut card was reached despite the fact that the cut card was placed only a half deck from the end of the shoe.
Although it's been a long time since players have reported any signs of cheating at casinos in Puerto Rico, I am including this article in the library for historical interest and for its discussion of methods of cheating in blackjack shoe games. –A.S.]
In Puerto Rico in the early 70s, casinos like the El San Juan had all of their dealers deal from a shoe with two hands. They pulled cards from the shoe with the right hand. Their left hand held the front of the shoe. Their left thumb fed cards to their right fingers. Their left forearm covered the top of the shoe.
It occurred to me that this was conducive to second dealing as the left thumb could easily pull up the top card, allowing the right fingers to pull out the second from the top. Of course, most of the dealers were not second dealing. As with dealers out west who used the mechanic's grip to no purpose, they only looked like they were second dealing…
In the 60s, I learned that the dealer schools of Las Vegas taught dealers to high low stack. [Editor's note: I have not been able to verify this claim. —A.S.] The dealer trainees were told it was a form of shuffling. “Mixing ‘em up as you’re picking ‘em up” was the motto.
At the Four Queens in ’67, I made $700 by a combination of luck and the fact that I sat at first base and varied my bet with whether the last card played in the previous hand was high or low. In short, if the dealer was high-low stacking, I would bet low if the last card played was high and high if the last card played was low.
My luck at the Four Queens prompted me to seek out high-low stackers in Puerto Rico.
So, naturally I jumped at the chance to play first base against the finest, most thorough high-low stacker I’d ever seen. This guy was dealing at a $5 table, which was the most active since it faced the entrance to the casino and usually got the most business.
Usually, a high-low stacker will only intermittently high-low stack the deck. This guy was able to thoroughly high-low stack the deck. In retrospect, I guess he must have been false shuffling too, since the cards were coming out exactly high-low as he had picked them up, except when the cards came to me! I’ll explain.
I watched cards come out high, low, high, low until the dealer dealt the last card which, say, was high. I was sitting at first base and naturally would bet low as the next card would more likely be low.
When the last card would be low, I’d bet high. But each of these times that I bet high I got the wrong card. I got a low card. Finally, it became obvious to me that I was not getting the next card when I raised my bet.
“I don’t mind you high-low stacking,” I said. “In fact, that’s why I sat here. But when you start second dealing, I think that’s going too far.”
“No puedo entender,” the dealer responded. “No comprendo su englise.”
“I don’t like cheating,” I said in a loud voice. The other players at the table nervously glanced around like they were looking for fire exits. The pit boss came over. “Clearly, sir, there is nothing wrong, but if you thought there was, then why didn’t you leave?”
I remained silent. When the pit boss left along with the other players, the dealer got his rocks off. Apparently, the word cheating turned him inside out. When we were alone together, he delivered a speech in really clear English. His tone was that of a man angered at me for belittling his skill.
“I don’t care where you go, here, Vegas, anywhere,” he said, “you won’t find a dealer who makes more money than I do, and the reason is that I’m the best. Nobody’s better than me. Nobody wins more than me. This is my game. You think you can come to my table and beat me at my game, you’re crazy. I’m the best. I’m a champ.”
A couple of weeks later, I approached a government inspector whom I knew to be honest (this one was honest!), and pointed out the dealer and asserted that he was high-low stacking and second dealing. The government inspector did not know what this meant. I tried to explain. The inspector promised to watch the dealer.
After that I did most of playing at the poorer casinos that could not afford such high-priced dealers.
But even at poorer places like the Borinquen, problems developed. One evening I continuously got positive counts every time the dealer reached the blank card that indicated reshuffling. Sure, the high cards could be behind the cut card. But every time? I began to suspect that all the cards were not there.
After a couple of hours I voiced my suspicions and asked for a count of the cards. In that warm, polite tone that is so common in Puerto Rico, the pit boss informed me that if I waited until 4 a.m., when the casino closed, he would give me the cards. The other players seemed satisfied. Even I had to admit that this was fair. So I waited three or more hours and kept getting positive counts. By closing time they all seemed to have forgotten their promise to give me the cards. So I reminded them.
The pit boss snapped his fingers.
“Four decks please,” he ordered of an underling.
“No,” I said. “I don’t want four decks, I want the four decks we’ve been playing with all evening. You said if I waited until closing time I could have them.”
“Oh no. That’s impossible. They have to return to the government inspector so he can check them.”
“I’ve been keeping track of them all evening and I don’t think they’re all there. I want to see the government inspector,” I answered.
I repeated my request for a count of the cards. He suggested that if I didn’t like things I play somewhere else. He would not permit a count of the cards and told me to leave and not return.
1979. Once again the lure of Puerto Rico’s warm women, sunshine and, of course, blackjack drew me back to that island in the sun.
What of the luxurious El San Juan? Well, it was eight years older and not as luxurious.
What about the blackjack? Well, the fast two-handed dealers of the early seventies were gone. In their place were the ordinary, nice, simple and not so simple Puerto Rican dealers of the type I remembered from the 60s.
The dealing was obviously honest but the counts were constantly very positive. By this time, I’d become a skillful cutter capable of bringing the high cards to the front more often than not. But all attempts failed. I still got positive counts at the cut card, just as at the Borinquen in 1982.
At the end of one shoe, I asked the dealer if he’d keep flashing the cards past the blank card. He started to but was stopped by the pit boss. I asked the pit boss to count the cards to see if they were all there. He told me he’d give them to me at the end of the evening. Déjà vu.
At 4 a.m. he reneged. By that time, however, I’d learned something. None of the dealers got to check the cards. They merely shuffled them. How the cards were presented to the dealers, I don’t know, but I got the impression that the dealers could not verify for me that all the cards were present.
I made a scene. A number of dealers converged on the area, more to see the outcome than to side with the casino. None of them asserted that they knew me to be wrong.
The next day at the Sheraton was a repeat but in the end they gave me the cards. However, I foolishly allowed them to return the cards to the boxes they came in before giving them to me. Without thinking, I failed to make sure that the boxes were empty before the cards were placed in them. So the fact that all the cards were ultimately there proves little.
I hope things get better in Puerto Rico, blackjackwise, since I really love that place. ♠
For more information on dealer cheating at blackjack and poker, and how professional gamblers deal with cheating, see the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library.
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