Sunday, March 13, 2005

Sunday Book Review: Games You Can't Lose

So, I know what you've been wondering.

Erik, you say, if you've never laid a dollar down in Vegas, where do you get your information about all of these casino games?

Well, this book is a lot of the answer.

When I was a teenager, my interest in magic led me to an interest in swindles, which led me to this little book, which is full of proposition bets, cheats, and cons.

Wanna know how to take of your suit vest without taking off your jacket? Think you know who the first President of America was? Wanna know how to make an egg balance on end?

All that stuff is in here, along with entertaining stories of famous hustlers and some of the greatest hustles of all time.

The second half of the book is called Games You Can't Win, and features every commercial hustle from the casinos to the carnival to the tracks to the street corner.

Three card monte, "systems" at the track, card counting, it's all in here. There's a remarkable amount of information for such a thin volume. And it's peppered with stories--cute stories, my favorites being "The Man In The Bathrobe," and "The Three Little Milk Bottles."

The Harry Anderson who wrote this is the same Harry Anderson who does the magic shows and who played the judge on Night Court. If you're wondering what his qualifications are to write this--well, the lore goes something like this.

Harry actually started out in San Francisco as a street hustler. After a couple of bad experiences (first he got arrested by the police for playing a game of chance, then he got his jaw busted by a guy who realized he was not playing a game of chance) he found himself back on the street, on now he was teaching how to avoid getting conned by the monte. He was teaching people, with his jaw wired shut at all.

He ended up a Vegas magician, until after some "experiences" that left him barred from playing cards in the state of Nevada.

Is any of this true? Who knows. Even the fact that so much of history may just be a swindle proves there's no better guy to write this book. Admittedly, it's pretty light stuff--this book is to the real world of cons what those pamphlets they sell at Disneyland are to magic--but it's still entertaining reading. It's also a wee bit dated--it was first published about 15 years ago (That also dates me).

So basically, I know so much about casino games because when I was a kid I studied up on scams and found the Casinos were one of the first things they talked about.

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