Antony Curtis is a famous professional blackjack player, publisher and author. In this interview, the expert shared the information about the start of his gambling path, achievements and publishing business.
How did you get started?
I started pretty early, I was in high school in Michigan. I was a game player. I understood a whole lot of probability and game theory before I started reading about probability and game theory. If you’re playing games like monopoly and so forth, you’re figuring out ways to beat the grown-ups, when you’re a kid. We had a friend of the family who came and played monopoly with us. We used to play speed monopoly, 7 or 8 games in a day. And one day I was in tenth grade he came to the house and said: “I think you’ll get this” and he handed me a book on blackjack. That was it. From tenth grade on that’s what I was doing and studying. I went to UCLA but the whole time I didn’t know how to go to class, I was just studying and getting ready to go to Vegas.
What teams were you a part of?
When I came out this was 1979. As soon as I turned 21 I just got pummeled, I didn’t know what I was doing. I could do it in a vacuum, I was really good. I could count down a deck really fast, I knew everything. But I didn’t understand what it was like being on the street and actually do it. I had some problems, I went home with my tail between my legs to Michigan for about 4 months. I talked about boot camp, I held my own boot camp. I would get up every morning at 4:00 a.m., go down into my parents' basement and just attack everything I could. I would read for a certain amount of time, I would count down decks, go through flashcards. I got myself together. I came back and I went to the famous conference in Lake Tahoe in 1981. Everyone was there. I went to that conference for five days and never said a word to anybody, sat by myself in a corner and just soaked it all in. When I got back to Vegas, I started doing better. I started to understand what variance was, maybe my first results weren’t indicative of what was going to go forward.
And then I began to meet people. Back then there was no Internet but basically, it was what I call the information conduit. You would get friendly with somebody and then you would form these alliances and meet more other people. I was playing with some guys just on the site, just fooling around, not really understanding team play. But then I got a call from Stanford Wong. He said ‘I got your message, I got your number and I’m forming a blackjack tournament team. And you are highly recommended, would you like to play on my team?’ I was like ‘Yeah!’, there was no thinking about it. So, that was it – I played with Wong on his tournament team. We thought we were blazing a trail, but there are a lot of other really good players. We were new, but kind of brought a little bit to the forefront there.
My best buddy at the time playing on the team was a guy named Blair Rodman. Blair’s won a gold bracelet in the World Series of Poker, he wrote a book Kill Phil – a beginner’s way to play tournaments and hang with pros. Blair and I ran into another group. A guy named Alan Brown was very famous for almost being killed in the backroom of Horseshoe when he got back roomed and just they beat the crap out of them, nearly killed them – him and another guy. Alan had a really good, strong team that we met through playing tournaments. Blair and I were playing with Alan Brown for quite a while.
How did your dad feel about your new job?
My dad was a university professor. It was sort of hard to explain to my dad who was into education, learning disabilities, hearing disorders and things like that, so he was really into stats and in the math of it. I explained to him how this all worked. He said that, well, if I’m good at it, maybe there’s something else, like publishing. It was always in my mind and when Peter Griffin said ‘you want to publish my book?’ I was like, OK, cause we can publish the greatest blackjack book ever to start, OK. So we started with that. Then I’ve done a newsletter for 30-some years called Las Vegas Advisor – that was a truly good idea. When our Alain Brown’s team broke up, a lot of people went on to successful things: I did the publishing, Blair went on to become a poker player, Russ Hamilton won the WSOP Main Event and became notorious, a couple of guys went to real estate and Alain Brown is probably in the top three for volume sports bettors in the world today.
What types of games did your team look for?
There was a lot of money that we made in tournaments and it affected our life. Especially me. I just happened to win more. Not necessarily because I was better but it just kind of happened to roll in my way and I got pretty famous for winning blackjack tournaments and other tournaments. After a while, the casinos would start to say “You again?” Once I twice in a row won the keno championship at Caesar’s Palace. So, I started receiving calls from the owners like ‘We think we don’t want you to play anymore’. We did a lot of counting, but we also did a lot of advantage play. We never did anything that would cross the line – that was our rule.
What is the Las Vegas Advisor?
Today a new independent like of sportsbooks is coming out that’s called circus sports and they opened in the Golden Gate. There are some big names there, like Bill Crackenburger. All these guys are going up to the window, they’re making $10,000 laydowns and so forth. They came up to me and said ‘you know when I started, I used to get the Las Vegas Advisor so that I could read about where the values were, where the coupons were’, these are the scuffling days. They all had to start somewhere. That’s how they built their bankrolls. The LVA has been a really strong thing. It’s been cool because it’s translated and it’s going over boundaries: the really top-level guys read it and the mom and pops from Iowa and Nebraska read it too. It’s useful and fun to do.
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