Frank Floor Talk: Book Review — The Ultimate Report

October 25, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports
October 25, 2023 8:00 AM
  • Buddy Frank, CDC Gaming Reports

James Grosjean
205 pp., 2023, Huntington Press, $34.95

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I have a fondness for carnival games ever since my mentor, Terry Oliver, adopted a version of Acey-Duecy for casinos and called it “Red Dog”. The game had some limited success in Nevada but didn’t last too long. Since that time, there have been hundreds of other “carny” games released. Most came and went, but about a dozen have become staples of today’s pits, like “Three Card Poker,” “Let It Ride,” and “Ultimate Texas Hold Em”.

The reason developers continue to release these games is simple: operators are looking to hold more from their card games. Depending on the number of decks used, Red Dog held from 2.8% to 3.2%. While that would be an extremely loose slot machine, it still holds two or three times more than a basic casino Blackjack game. Perhaps that’s where the name “Carnival” game originated, since the midway never was known to feature “loose” games. (Didn’t you ever end up paying $2 or more to win a 40¢ goldfish?)

For that reason, I never gave much thought that advantage players would bother with these games. I just assumed they’d concentrate on Blackjack and Baccarat. But then, not all players are as smart, or as hard working, as James Grosjean.

Along with the late Arnold Snyder and a few others, Grosjean is known for doing the demanding work of analyzing games in depth and running extensive computer simulations to test his theories. He’s used those skills to issue “The Ultimate Report” on how best to play “carny games”.

His first book, “Beyond Counting”, was not aimed at casual players, but at hard-core advantage players looking to refine their skills. While it targeted BJ, it also dipped into some of the carnival games and even video poker. If you’re a pit manager or surveillance pro, that original title and the sequel “Exhibit CAA” should be on your reading list.

But what about this new book? In the world of advantage players, praise is flowing in. Publisher Anthony Curtis of Huntington Press (who is also an avid advantage player) raves about this book. But for me (a casual table games player), it was a tough read until Page 176.

At the suggestion of Curtis, Grojean rewrites the entire book at that point using the philosophy of MISS or Make It Simpler, Stupid. Unless you are in one of the categories mentioned above (Surveillance, Table Game Management, Serious Advantage Player), this is where you should start. I loved this section.

However, you will miss Grosjean’s amusing comments about his fellow pros and selected dealers and pit managers. On Three Card Poker he says, “Sweaty casinos put rude signs on the table like ‘English only while hand is in progress’, and they have paranoid delusions about players winning by looking at the other cards on the table. Counting cards (which sweaty casinos and failed-advantage-players-cum-casino-shills call ‘collusion’) will not produce a player advantage in Three Card Poker, even with a generous 1/4/5 Ante Bonuses.”

Here’s another great line about the value of doing research and running computer models: “These simulators do a great job estimating the edge of real-world casino games, so you can ignore the idiots online who say the sims are wrong, or that they don’t take into account the ‘bad players’ or ‘clumping’ or whatever. People online are mostly trying to sell snake oil, trying to sound clever with some contrarian ‘wisdom’ they’ve discovered, or trying to find a scapegoat for their gambling losses.”

If you are a casual player looking to improve your odds on the carnival games, buy this book and just skip the first 14 chapters. If you’re a serious and avid player, read every word. Even if you are a table game manager, you may find the details a bit overwhelming, but the concepts are golden. Most importantly, this book points out a desperate need for better dealer training and more quality supervision of all your games.

Retail on the book is $34.95. Amazon lists it for that price, however I found it online at Barnes and Noble for $28. My strong recommendation is to buy it at retail and directly from Huntington Press since they make niche titles like this possible for our community.