Someone once asked me why women don’t gamble as much as men do, and I gave
the common-sensical reply that we don’t have as much money. That was a true but
incomplete answer. In fact, women’s total instinct for gambling is satisfied by marriage.
Gloria Steinam: journalist, feminist and social and political activist.
When I think back to my life some years ago I can safely say that, like Gloria I had
little or no interest in gambling – on my marriage partner or otherwise! Her answer is
even further from complete than she imagined. What she failed to acknowledge is that
gambling is very much a man’s world and the women who make an attempt to exist in
it have to be imbued with special qualities in order to survive. It can be aggressive and
inhospitable or treat women with shameful condescension or over-sexualisation. As a
woman you have to learn to beat the system by playing up to these stereotypes. I have
never been a gambler and this assertion still applies today. I am an advantage player and
I am a woman – but guess what – that’s just another very desirable advantage!
In my dim and distant past I had no idea that one day I would be able to call myself an
advantage player (I didn’t even know what one was!) or that I’d fly thousands of
miles multiple times to play Blackjack with a team of people (all men) I knew only fleetingly. I
have been told that in many ways I’m the perfect candidate for such an operation being as
I’m a young, not unattractive (not my words!), female. Supposedly I’m too busy curling
my hair or polishing my nails to have time to learn to play with an advantage or to use
my brain for anything too taxing, if indeed it is capable of such feats! No dealer, pit
boss or member of a casino security team is likely to think I’m up to no good – primarily
because of my gender – but also as a result of my nationality – I don’t fit the American
national stereotype typically viewed as threatening the industry’s profit margins! Why
then was I terrified of being caught? Why was I absolutely sure that every single member
of the casino team had their eyes trained on me as soon as I walked onto the casino floor?
Why did I suddenly realise after discovering a pain in my chest that I must have been
holding my breath for at least a couple of minutes whilst surveying the huge pits? Lack
of experience I’d guess! Despite the fact that I’d played with an advantage in numerous
smaller European casinos many many times prior to the extended trips – nothing could prepare me for
working with a whole team of people that I had never seen before but had to keep track
of all night in casinos five or ten times the size of the ones I was familiar with! If this
scenario sounds challenging times this by ten and you are in the right ballpark!
So I’d guess you are wondering right about now how on earth an Arts graduate who had
never stepped into a casino, played anything other than snap with cards, or logged in
to an online casino in her life ended up being a competent advantage player who spent
hours every night honing her skills? Thought so! Well – I met a man who was to change
my life (for the better) in ways too diverse to catalogue here. On our first date (to the
cinema – not to see the film 21 – which incidentally is nothing like the real world of
advantage play!) my eyes were met by the sight of him standing shuffling a pack of cards
nervously whilst awaiting my arrival. I admit I did think it was strange and I wondered momentarily what the hell I’d let myself in for but I did not pursue this line of thought –
primarily because he bought me a family size bag of Revels and dodging the coffee ones
kept me busy for at least half of the film! We have been together ever since that date but
I think it was about the third time we saw each other that he revealed exactly what he’d
been doing that night. He was teaching himself to memorise the order of cards in a deck
by assigning each card with a key word. This was something I found interesting because
I’d used similar techniques myself to help remember formulae and spellings and the
like. However, it wasn’t until another couple of weeks in that he tentatively mentioned
card counting and this was soon to be followed by a catalogue of other advantage play
I’d guess that you can see where this was heading and without too much further ado I
was thrust into the midst of the world of basic strategy which I thought was terrifying!
I clung to the little chart that he had thoughtfully made up for me as I scanned its rows
and columns desperate to make a good impression. Little did I know that it would soon
become second nature to me and that the real terrors of bet spreads, deck estimations, true
count calculations and then shuffle tracking lay just around the corner!
The recent rise in popularity of advantage play as a subject for popular media (films,
documentaries and books) paints a somewhat over-glamourised picture of the life of
real advantage players. I can honestly say that my partner and myself and our shared
enjoyment of learning such advanced techniques make us an exception rather than a rule.
Many advantage players sacrifice the luxuries of permanent homes and relationships in
order to travel continually so that they can perform their Arts. It can be a lonely life and
one which almost makes those living it feel schizophrenic in a way – always altering and
finding new personalities in order to allow you to do your job in an ever-changing taffeta
of conditions. On trips think 5 or 6 in a room with one bed. Think playing overnight into
the new hours of the next morning as ‘normal’ people are deep in slumber in their own
homes. Think walking around on heavy legs for hours as you look for opportunities for
the big player (more on that later) to make money that will make the trip worthwhile. It
is a career that is by turns exhausting and rewarding but by all accounts it is not for the
This is predicated by the fact that it is by no means a pass time for those lacking in
patience either. I have encountered many people along the way who have had their
interest piqued by the thought of the excitement of the chase and the kindred feeling of
playing together to beat the casino system. Of those who expressed an interest to learn
the Art alongside myself and my partner none managed to stick around for the long haul.
The glitter of fascination soon dulls as the reality of the work involved in being able to
pull off such feats covers it. Yes – it may well be an excellent party trick to predict when
an Ace or Face is about to peak from the pack but it is a mere few who are willing to sit
for hours flashing cards for a partner to train their eye to register a hint of something to
accomplish this objective. Even the keeping of an accurate running count whilst playing
perfect basic strategy is a Herculean task for many and they simply aren’t willing to
put in the hours of practice necessary every single night in order to build the skill level
required to be totally accurate. For most people the rewards just cannot be cashed in
quickly enough to satisfy their needs. They want the big career making win – they aren’t
interested in grinding out the smaller advantages and spending hours scouting out games
that give the player that necessary edge.
This is a brief glimpse into the forays of a woman in a man’s world. If you’d like to read
more about my experiences then keep an eye on this website for further articles on the
subject appearing in the near future.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.