Frank Floor Talk: Book Review — Radical Blackjack

July 26, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
July 26, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

Arnold Snyder
334 pp., 2021, Huntington Press, $39.95

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“Radical Blackjack” was the last book written by Arnold Snyder two years ago. I think it was his best. He was a legend among his peers and an original member of the first class of players inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. He died last month on the morning of June 6th at the age of 75 after a long illness. Most label author Ed Thorp as the “Pope” of table game strategy for writing the classic “Beat the Dealer” in 1962. But with equal respect, his friends referred to Snyder as “The Bishop” of the game.

I seldom review books on table games for CDC, but I personally love studying and collecting them. Some of my favorites are Stanford Wong’s “Professional Blackjack,” Peter Griffin’s “The Theory of Blackjack,” “Knock-Out Blackjack” by Vancura & Fuchs, and Ken Uston’s “Million Dollar Blackjack.”

If you’re serious about playing blackjack, a few of Snyder’s earlier works are also treasures: “Blackbelt in Blackjack,” “Big Book of Blackjack,” “Blackjack Wisdom” and “The Blackjack Shuffle Tracker’s Cookbook.”

While each of them will improve your play, none of them are as entertaining as, or filled with better philosophy than, “Radical Blackjack.”

In almost every chapter (there are eight in all), Snyder is generous in his praise of fellow authors and makes specific recommendations on which books and web interviews to learn more about the topics he is discussing.

You will probably be amused and surprised by his frank admissions in this book that range from his attraction to “crazy” people, his mind-expanding experiments with LSD, and his surprising statement that many casino security/surveillance pros often share insider information with him.

Bottom line, this is a great book and everyone in gaming should read it. More on why later.

But first some comments gathered from others about Snyder and his passing:

Photo from GGB Magazine

“The gambling industry lost a Blackjack pioneer with the passing of author, mathematician, and advantage player, ‘The Bishop’ Arnold Snyder. Since the early ‘60s, the discovery of counting cards to beat the game of Blackjack has been both a curse and a blessing to the casino industry. But it has been more of a blessing. Card counting made the game of Blackjack the most popular table game in the casino, and the ‘The Bishop’ was a major influencer that put it there. Arnold’s books such as ‘Blackbelt in Blackjack,’ the ‘Blackjack Formula,’ and ‘The Shuffle Tracker’s Cookbook’ were groundbreaking manuscripts that provided the uninformed public with mostly hope, but also information allowing them the possibility of gaining a small advantage over a casino game. Personally, I will miss The Bishop dearly.” Casino operator, author and table game consultant Bill Zender

“He was the first blackjack authority to publish the importance of deck penetration (depth of the deal) in card counting, in his 1980 book ‘The Blackjack Formula.’ He was also the first blackjack researcher to publish (in Blackjack Forum, 1981–1983) that radical simplification of blackjack card counting systems did not hurt earnings. Since 1981, Arnold Snyder has been the editor of ‘Blackjack Forum,’ a quarterly trade journal for professional gamblers. In 2004 Snyder moved the publication of Blackjack Forum from print to online due to time constraints imposed by playing more frequently and the frustration with dealing with the business side of the publication industry.” — Wikipedia

“Arnold Snyder was an innovator in blackjack, and every serious player in the ‘80s looked forward to his ‘Blackjack Forum’ every quarter. What I really appreciate was that he was a really good writer. His last book, ‘Radical Blackjack’ is a very entertaining book, and would be appreciated even by recreational gamblers.” –Blackjack Hall of Fame member Richard Munchkin

I published many of Arnold’s books, and he was a great friend. He is one of the most influential blackjack experts of all time. Not only was he a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee, without question he was one of the greatest all-around writers. The guy understands the game inside and out, and he could convey his thoughts to others in a wonderfully entertaining way. – Huntington Press publisher Anthony Curtis

“Most sharp surveillance professionals have read every book they can get their hands on from the great advantage players like Arnold Snyder. When the internet player forums came out (like Snyder’s Blackjack Forum), the smart operators would try and infiltrate them. Most were unsuccessful in gaining membership, some did.” Security and Surveillance professional Willy Allison

Allison emphasizes the important but often overlooked practice in our industry of keeping informed. That’s why he founded the World Game Protection Conference held each February in Las Vegas. It allows operators to gather, learn and share information on countering the latest threats to the industry.

When you read “Radical Blackjack” you’ll get an appreciation for the time and effort Snyder and his wife Radar spent perfecting their craft. They both dedicated hours and hours practicing, running computer simulations, doing the math and discussing strategies with colleagues. I know of only a handful of table game operators who have devoted that kind of time and effort to learning how to understand their games and improve their protection.

Many of my fellow casino professionals tend to ignore and dismiss advantage players like Snyder. They believe he, and his counterparts on the video poker scene like Bob Dancer and Dan Paymar, are just undesirables or scammers who should be banned or maybe even locked up. On the contrary, enlightened operators see the value from these sharp pioneers and writers who understand their games far better than most of us.

Retired casino executive Mike Crenshaw said, “Books on card counting are the best things that ever happened, since they encourage more play, and few can do it well enough like Snyder to really hurt us.”  Bill Zender adds, “Casino executives might disagree with me, but they can thank individuals like Arnold Snyder for making Blackjack, and other table games for that matter, the popular gambling experience that those tables are today.”

The other embarrassing truth is that authors like Snyder troubleshoot our games before we can, and they offer insights that we’ve overlooked. Of course, they come at the issues from opposite perspectives than we operators, but their advice and counsel is still golden and should be cherished rather than cursed. “Radical Blackjack” discusses some items that the majority of table game operators think are foolish, like why insuring every blackjack can be a sound strategy, and why players can make a profit off loss rebates.

There are several quotes that come to mind when I recommend a book like “Radical Blackjack.”  Perhaps the most relevant is “know thine enemy,” or “don’t be down on something until you’re up on it.” However, my favorite is from actor George C. Scott in the classic movie “Patton” when he defeated the famous German tank commander on the battlefield, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book.”

Indeed, that’s just one more reason why you should read Snyder’s books. My personal copy of “Radical Blackjack” has always been treasured and even more so upon his passage.

RIP Arnold.

You can get copies of most of Snyder’s works, as well as other important blackjack titles, from Huntington Press.