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Repeat Until Rich, by Josh Axelrad, Review by Arnold Snyder
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Review of Repeat Until Rich, by Josh Axelrad

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  Review of Repeat Until Rich: A Professional Card Counter's Chronicle of the Blackjack Wars, by Josh Axelrad
By Arnold Snyder

Josh Axelrad’s Repeat Until Rich: A Professional Card Counter’s Chronicle of the Blackjack War is an engrossing read by a former player on a notorious high-stakes team whose five-year blackjack career ended more or less when he found himself barred from just about every casino in the country. The stories have the ring of truth, especially for anyone who’s ever played at high stakes. His descriptions of the trials and travails of the traveling card counter’s life are often hilarious (if you’re a fan of black humor) and his cast of characters—from his teammates to the casino personnel to the cops he had to deal with—makes for one of the all-time great real-life adventure stories in print.

This is a beautifully written memoir, an easy read because there’s lots of dialogue, but you’ll find yourself reading it slowly to savor the scenes he creates. It covers Josh’s entire career as a professional blackjack player, from his initial introduction and training to his days of high stakes shuffle tracking and his ultimate “downfall” as a compulsive gambler. I admire his writing skills. Here he is describing a trip to Harrah’s in East Chicago:

“—and a ghetto like I’ve never seen, and I mean I’ve seen some. You have to drive over this quarry. The earth’s been hacked apart. The bridge goes right over the pit. It looks like some kind of an autopsy down there. You can feel the pain of the cliffs, you share in the agony, but that’s how you get to Indiana. And then, along the lake, it’s industrial wasteland, towers belching smoke, massive cylindrical units holding God knows what noxious shit, and in the middle of this—the casinos!”

Sure to bring fond memories to anyone who’s ever played at Harrah’s in Indiana.

Most of the blackjack play described in the book took place about eight to ten years ago, at a time when blackjack teams—big and small—were running rampant through the country. I knew some of Josh’s teammates and even sat down to a meal or two with them, including Josh, when they were in Vegas. For a number of years back then, various members of his team were regularly attending Max Rubin’s Blackjack Ball, and one of the team’s founders has even been nominated for the Blackjack Hall of Fame on the basis of the team’s success. None of this is in the book, but I’m telling you this so that when you read the book, you have my word that this book is written by a real player who was once the scourge of the casinos. And Josh Axelrad is his real name. Believe me, the casinos know who he is.

One moral of Josh’s story, if there is one, may be that even if you know how to win at gambling, you can’t do it if you’re a compulsive gambler. Josh made a lot of money for himself and for his blackjack team, and he even learned to beat online no-limit hold’em very handily when his casino career burned out. But then he blew it all in online games that he couldn’t beat and knew he couldn’t beat. He just wanted the action, the rush. He was bored with the tedium of playing the way you had to play to win. He also “flunked out” of Gamblers Anonymous, as he couldn’t buy into their group insistence that gambling professionally was a myth, as he knew from five years’ experience that it was not. He was also turned off by the group’s reliance on a “higher power” to see them through difficulties. To his credit, however, this book is not written to moralize or proselytize. It’s simply Josh’s personal story, told with disarming honesty, at times sarcastic, at times cynical, but always truthful.

The other moral of Josh’s story, however, if there is a second one, is that risk-taking really does pay off for the persistent soul who just keeps plugging away. The professional gambling risk ultimately turned out to be too dangerous for a person of his temperament. Still, he didn’t resign himself to a dead-end job, mumbling “yessirs” to the type of brain-dead corporate bozos he despised. He took the emotional risk of baring his soul in this book, an achievement beyond all of his gambling escapades. No one has ever told the story of the professional card counter quite like this. For all its craziness, meaningless greed, and wasted energy, it’s strangely exhilarating. If he continues to gamble with his words, instead of with his wallet, Josh Axelrad will continue to beat the odds. ♠

Get Repeat Until Rich now.

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