by John Stathis
[Editor’s Note: This was a comment we liked so much that we turned it into a blog post. You can find more more information on John Stathis at his YouTube channel.]
While I was working at the Sahara Reno in August 1978, a cheer was heared among the pit when it was announced that blackjack legend Ken Uston was beat up by security at the Mapes Money Tree. Didn’t know who Uston was until the pit bosses claimed he was a cheat and deserved the thumping. Others said he was a card counter and this was a message to card counters all over the world. This perked my interest in card counting and the challenge it provides.
On an another occasion at Harolds Club, a pit boss gave me a tap on the shoulder while dealing craps and instructed me to deal 21 to a high roller who was winning big. The whale turned out to be blackjack legend Ken Uston who was playing $500 chips and torching the table. The superstitious pit felt that a craps dealer can put an end to Uston’s winning streak. I happened to be on a winning run for the house and beat him until he finally surrendered after losing much of his winnings back. Maybe the other dealers weren’t protecting the game such as exposing hole cards and delivering tells to Uston when checking for blackjacks. In Uston’s book “Million Dollar Blackjack” he refers to “Barbara, the Harolds Club front-loader” (front loader – a careless dealer who exposes the hole card in the process of dealing) and maybe I was sent to replace Barbara who was dumping house money.
I dealt to the Amazing Kreskin and was wondering if Kreskin could read my mind while peeking under a ten card or ace, looking for the dreaded dealer blackjack. Kreskin said he does not read minds and plays blackjack to unwind after a show. He also said that Harrah’s barred him from playing blackjack and was welcome at Harolds Club playing this small amount.
The Amazing Kreskin is a true blackjack aficionado and from my own empirical analysis, one of the best 21 players in the world. He uses playing cards for a living as a mentalist and probably is as close to Ray from the movie “Rainman” in his ability to remember cards as anyone in the world.
While dealing craps in Las Vegas in 1980, a casino called The Treasury (now Oyo) on Tropicana Avenue displayed Uston’s name on its marquee. He was giving lessons on card counting at this casino! Did he sell his soul to the enemy or want to see his name in lights? Is card counting bunk and a scam was my first impression during the sight of this marquee.
Recalling Kreskin’s skill at winning at blackjack has stuck to this day. Kreskin did not use weak dealers to gain an advantage and probably used his knowledge of excess aces and tens to win. Bet with your head instead of over it and don’t worry about “cheaters justice” (from the movie Casino) because the corporations running casinos now are smart enough to avoid the old tactics.