How to Catch a Card-Counter The movie "21" shows how count carding can tranlate into big bucks during blackjack games. Beverly Griffin, a card-counting expert in Las Vegas, tells how she catches people in the act.
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How to Catch a Card-Counter

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How to Catch a Card-Counter

How to Catch a Card-Counter

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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As we just heard from Mark, the movie "21" is a fictionalized account of a true story. A group of MIT students really did win a lot of money counting cards at blackjack in Las Vegas. Card counting - it's not actually illegal, but casino's don't like it at all, and they are aggressive in trying to stop it. They often turn to people like Beverly Griffin. She is co-owner of Griffin Investigations. That's the firm that helped identified the real MIT blackjack team. Beverly Griffin joins us now. Beverly, welcome to Day to Day.

Ms. BEVERLY GRIFFIN (Co-owner, Griffin Investigations): Thank you.

CHADWICK: Hey, give us an explanation of card counting, will you? How does it actually work?

Ms. GRIFFIN: Well, there are sort of two different forms of card counting. The first form of card counting, which is not frowned on quite as much, is when one person goes in, sits on the table and plays 21 and counts themselves, and they bet accordingly with the plus or minus of the deck. They have no help from anyone else.

CHADWICK: Now, that dealer is working with eights decks of cards at a time, and you are just trying to keep track of how many 10 point cards have come by and this will help you with your bets.

Ms. GRIFFIN: Well, as you would well imagine, people who go to MIT have wonderful math minds and these people - for them it was as easy as it would be for you and I to make change for a dollar.

CHADWICK: Especially because as you say, there is a second method of counting. You are not there by yourself, there is someone there with you, helping you to keep to count of these cards and maybe signaling you secretly?

Ms. GRIFFIN: Well that's where I have the problem with the card counting, and so do a lot of the casinos in that the people have groups. The groups are bankrolled with up to millions of dollars, and their system is to send someone in to count the cards, bet the minimum amount, and when the deck is plus, which means that is in favor of the player, they will then signal someone to come who starts immediately betting large sums of money, because they have information that is not available to the other people. They know that the deck is plus, and the way that the person comes on the table and begins betting also changes the outcome of the game for the other people on the table.

CHADWICK: How often do you catch people?

Ms. GRIFFIN: Well, we look for other things besides card counters. We look for people who were cheaters on slot machines, cheaters on roulette, cheaters on dice, cheaters at 21, card switching, card mucking, card daubing, you know there are many different kinds of things that you can do. So card counters are merely a part of what we do.

CHADWICK: But how often would you actually catch a card-counting team doing what this MIT kids did?

Ms. GRIFFIN: Hmm, daily sometimes.


Ms. GRIFFIN: There are people who are always turning up, sure. Especially thing like the books and the movie, which make it seem glamourous, but actually it is hard work. You can't learn to count cards on a weekend. You can't go and take a little three-day class and become proficient in card-counting enough to make millions of dollars. Remember the millions of dollars depended on a bankroll.

CHADWICK: They must know that you are there looking for them.

Ms. GRIFFIN: Oh, yes.

CHADWICK: So what do they do to try to hide from you?

Ms. GRIFFIN: They wear disguises, wonderful disguises, great make-up, wigs, hair pieces. Ladies are especially good, as you know, at changing their look. But men have gone to the extreme of men with full heads of hair have shaved their head bald just to change their look. The people that I hire, the gentleman that I hire, or ladies, they are good at two things. Most of them know how to count cards and can tell if someone is counting cards, and of course, they are very good with faces. What we learn to do is note people's faces and be able to determine no matter how many names they use or disguises they use that they're the same person.

CHADSWICK: Have you talked to them since the book came out and since this movie came out? I wonder if you have any kind of relationship with them.

Ms. GRIFFIN: I have. I talked to one of the leaders not too long ago. They are very nice people, and most of them understand. They do what they do for a living, and I do what I do for a living and there is no animosity on my behalf, it's just a matter of that I am paid by the casinos to give them information, and they earn a living in those casinos.

CHADWICK: Yeah! But what the heck? I'm hearing you say, I actually could make money playing cards?

Ms. GRIFFIN: You could, there are plenty of people who are making two, 300 dollars a day going from casino to casino.

CHADWICK: I could make money from cards, but I'd have to be smart enough to graduate from MIT, with a degree in math. I'm afraid that is not a part of the equation.

Ms. GRIFFIN: Well, not all of the, not all of the card counters graduate from MIT. Fortunately, you know - wouldn't you hate to think that you spent all that money sending your son or daughter to MIT, and they turned out to be a card counter?

CHADWICK: Beverly Griffin of Griffin Investigations, the people who caught the kids who tried to bring down the house in Vegas. Beverly, thank you.

Ms. GRIFFIN: Thank you, Alex.

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