‘I Am a Card Counter’ is a gripping second autobiography, with a smattering of card-counting knowledge thrown in for good measure.
If you’ve bothered to read any instructional manuals for casino gambling, there’s an even chance (minus house edge) that you’ve read something by Frank Scoblete.
The American author and gambler has racked up some of the most respected books about gambling in casinos over the past few decades, and there’s no sign that there’s any end to them.
“King Scobe”‘s latest is ‘I Am A Card Counter’ (Triumph Books), an inside tale of how the casinos’ worst nightmare and his wife, “the Beautiful A.P.” took down the House – or tried to.
If you’ve read Ben Mezrich’s superb ‘Bringing Down The House’, or seen its lukewarm big-screen adaptation, ’21’, about the infamous MIT blackjack card-counters, you’ll already have the general idea.
In ‘I Am a Card Counter’ we follow the Scobe’s journey from theatre manager in the 1980s, where he fell into craps and blackjack after researching a production of ‘The Only Game in Town’, to the first tentative gambling in Atlantic City and the writer’s epiphany discovering that, yes, you could – with a little strategy – break the blackjack games.
In between touring with his theatre company, Scoblete read classic blackjack manuals like Edward O. Thorp’s ‘Beat the Dealer’ and Peter Griffin’s ‘The Theory of Blackjack’ before buying himself a card shoe and teaching himself card counting.
What makes the story so exciting, though, is the ‘rock bottom to riches’ tale that runs throughout. After losing his teaching job after 16 years, Scoblete takes to Atlantic City with his partner in crime, AP, takes down $5,000 in one night, and parades up the AC Boardwalk musing about which casino they’ll buy first. Of course, as with all gambling tales, that $5,000 win turns within the space of two pages into a $10,000 loss.
While ‘I Am A Card Counter’ won’t teach you much you don’t know already (check out Scoblete’s more in-depth strategy tome, ‘Beat Blackjack Now!: The Easiest Way to Get The Edge’ for more maths analysis), although the appendix tables for hitting and standing are useful, it’s great for those readers (guilty, Your Honour) who love stories of old Vegas, guns in backs, and mysterious pit bosses putting the pressure on.
The book is made by its many anecdotes, one of the best arguably being a night Scoblete spent at Las Vegas’s ancient Circus Circus casino. Anyone who’s visited this antiquated “family” casino will recognise the anecdote about wired kids running amok as their mums and dads bet Junior’s college funds on Black or Red.
After a huge winning card-counting streak one night surrounded by “overtired adults and wide-eyed children”, Scoblete notices a huge security man following him to the cage. The security man then follows our hero out of the casino and into the neighbouring Slots A Fun casino, then out of that casino and all the way down the Vegas Strip. Only by turning around and confronting the man with a quizzical, “What are you going to do? Huh? What are you going to do?” does the threatening casino worker turn on his heels and head back to Circus Circus.
However, the book’s best tale is the night Scoblete receives a revolver in the back at Binion’s Horseshoe after being rumbled card-counting. A flurry of cards are sent flying into Scoblete’s face as a security guard moves forward and thrusts a gun in his back.
‘I Am A Card Counter’ serves as a competent ‘middle segment’ to Scoblete’s trilogy of autobiographies that started with the newish ‘Confessions of a Wayward Catholic’ and should – hopefully – end with an account of how gambling writers are the future of the industry (ahem). We await part 3 of the Scoblete story with lip-smacking anticipation.
An elongated (and somewhat tacked-on) tale of his Craps team being busted at the Bellagio aside, Scoblete’s book is enjoyable, well-paced, and – at 200 pages – doesn’t out-stay its welcome, unlike other ‘gambling tales’ books.