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Best of Donald Catlin

Gaming Guru

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Thank you, Barney Vinson

2 August 2002

Every gaming writer has been confronted with the following problem at one time or another.  A friend, a friend of a friend, a secretary at work, a relative, a friend of a relative, or a neighbor is about to embark on a Las Vegas vacation.  "You know about this gambling stuff," they will say, "can you give me some tips on Las Vegas, especially on how to win?"  Gulp!  "Well," you begin, "are you familiar with Blackjack?"  "Sure," they reply, "that's where you try and get as close to 21 as you can without going over it."  "Not exactly, let's try something else.  Do you know what a Flush is?"  "You mean like the bathroom?"  "No, remember we're talking about Las Vegas here.  What about a Full House?"  "I'll bet that's a packed showroom, right?"  "Well, you got me there.  Have you ever heard the term Street Bet?"  "No, but it sounds like a wager with a local bookie."   "Hmm, I don't suppose the letters RFB mean anything to you do they?"  "Oh sure, that's when you get your mail delivered out in the country."  "No, that's RFD.  What about Crap?  No, wait, I really don't think I want to hear the answer to that."

So it goes.  You have been put in the impossible position of trying to explain how to successfully negotiate Las Vegas to someone who hasn't the foggiest notion of what Las Vegas and gambling is all about.   It's as if you're trying to explain cheese to someone who has never heard of milk.  Frustrating!  Until now.  Thanks to Barney Vinson all you have to do is hand this prospective tourist a copy of Barney's new book Ask Barney!, An Insider's Guide to Las Vegas, Bonus Books Inc., Chicago, Illinois.  Barney has written a book that lists just about every question a novice would ask about Las Vegas and gives clear, and often funny, answers to all of them.  He has worked in the gaming industry in Las Vegas for over 30 years, so he knows the ropes.  He deals with shopping, eating, tourist sites, getting around town, room rates, Nevada trivia, and, of course, gambling.

As far as gambling is concerned, most of Barney's advice is right on the money.  I disagree with one of his suggestions, though.  He says taking even money on a Blackjack when the dealer shows an Ace "isn't a bad idea."   On the other hand, it is probably the advice that will make the novice player the happiest in the short run, so maybe he's right after all.  Let's face it, this isn't a book for pros.  He covers slot machines (including Video Poker), Blackjack, Craps, Roulette, Baccarat, Keno, Sport Betting, and briefly mentions some of the really bad games.  The advice he gives, however, is much more than just game strategy.  He gives players the inside scoop on the way the games are run and how one should behave at a gambling game.  This, more than anything else, is information that a novice needs in order to feel comfortable and in control while playing.  It is all serious advice but delivered with a tongue-in-cheek manner that makes the learning fun.  I should add that although I don't consider myself a novice, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and I learned a few things myself.  I also had quite a few laughs. (Did you know that the oldest living thing in the state of Nevada is either the 4000-year-old bristlecone pine tree or a cocktail waitress named Big Bertha at the El Cortez?)

I believe that the feature that makes this book so valuable to the novice is the question/answer format.  Whatever advice is being offered, it is directly related to a specific, clearly stated question.  Let me give you an example.  In writing about Craps one would, naturally, give advice on making odds bets of the proper amount.  Maybe these subtleties sink in to the reader's brain and, then again, maybe they don't.  In Barney's book one of the questions is this: "Sometimes the dealer asks me to place another dollar on my odds.  Is that a bet for him?"  This might sound silly to an experienced player but it is a notion that might indeed occur to a novice.  Barney's answer focuses attention on the fact that it is not a bet for the dealer and that the dealer is actually helping the player.  This leads to an explanation of the correct odds and finally a method for remembering how to place odds bets in the proper amount.  The novice player will remember this lesson because of the focus on the dealer's behavior.  Good stuff; concise and to the point.

So, the next time that friend or neighbor asks me for advice on their upcoming trip to Las Vegas I have the perfect answer for them:  Ask Barney!

Donald Catlin

Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers
Donald Catlin
Don Catlin is a retired professor of mathematics and statistics from the University of Massachusetts. His original research area was in Stochastic Estimation applied to submarine navigation problems but has spent the last several years doing gaming analysis for gaming developers and writing about gaming. He is the author of The Lottery Book, The Truth Behind the Numbers published by Bonus books.

Books by Donald Catlin:

Lottery Book: The Truth Behind the Numbers