James Grosjean: Beyond Counting

How the gambler-turned-author took on the casinos and won, both at and away from the tables

The name James Grosjean might not be that familiar to amateur gamblers, but in professional ranks he is very well known.

Grosjean has a background in all-round advantage play, but through his writing he has also shined light onto many of the secret strategies that the very best gamblers in the world use.

Blackjack Beginnings

Grosjean was born in New Jersey and from an early age was fascinated with games of chance. Early on it was Mahjong that got him interested, not only in games themselves but also in the maths behind them.

Grosjean’s father was involved with computers when they weren’t as accessible as they are today. This led Grosjean into using a computer to calculate the optimal strategies for Mahjong.

Sure enough he quickly beat all of his friends and soon no one would play against him. As he grew older, his attention quickly turned to blackjack. His father used to work with legendary Blackjack player Ken Uston and he had a big impact on a young Grosjean.

Given his mathematical prowess, Grosjean went on to receive a scholarship to Harvard. However, while studying his interest in blackjack continued to grow and he started regularly travelling to Las Vegas to play.

At this stage he was still using basic blackjack strategies. One night, however, a careless dealer revealed her hole card to him while he was playing. That gave Grosjean an idea.

Knowing what hole card the dealer had made a huge impact on the odds of the hand. The edge was now significantly in favour of the player.

From here Grosjean went on to seek out edges in all sorts of casino games. He looked for them in games that are traditionally avoided by advantage gamblers such as roulette.

Grosjean also extensively examined the mathematics behind all the games and edges. He incorporated many of these advanced strategies into his own play and he become well known as one of the top blackjack players in the world.

Beyond Counting

In 2000, Grosjean went on to publish a book titled “Beyond Counting: Exploiting Casino Games from Blackjack to Video Poker”. 

The book outlines a range of different casino games and legal ways in which a player can gain an edge or, at the very least, break even.

Some of the strategies the book touches on include:

Hole Carding

One of the biggest edges an advantage player looks for is sloppy dealers. These are dealers who let the player inadvertently see the hole card. Grosjean ran extensive analysis on what to do when you uncover different hole cards.

Shuffle Tracking

For a deck of cards to be shuffled to a point that they are truly random takes 30 shuffles. As a result, a player can track clumps of cards throughout the shuffle and therefore gain an edge.

Roulette Wheel Clocking
 
While most consider a roulette wheel to be perfectly balanced, the reality is that many likely contain some type of mechanical bias. If you track the numbers there is the mathematical potential of detecting a bias and capitalising on it.

Bankrupting Griffin

In the Easter of 2000, Grosjean and his friend Michael Russo were gambling at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Before long the pair were approached by security guards. They were forcefully removed from the tables and taken to a back room.

They were accused of cheating and detained for more than five hours. From there the pair were sent to the Clark County Detention Center and James was held for five days, with little evidence. Only a few months later, a similar incident occurred at Imperial Palace.

This had been happening to advantage players and card counters for years in Las Vegas and Grosjean had enough. So he decided to sue, and eventually sued everyone.

After gathering evidence over a number of years, Grosjean and Russo first sued the casinos. During the case the casinos pointed out the techniques used in Grosjean’s book as evidence that they had been cheating.

It didn’t take long for the courts to rule in favour of Grosjean and Russo and the pair were awarded $50,000 for damages.

However, the bigger case was against the famous security firm Griffin Investigations. Griffin maintained a database of advantage players and known cheaters from across the world. They worked directly for the casinos and were the ones that had identified Grosjean and Russo.

Given the nature of the incident, Griffin were found to be directly responsible. In the second incident Grosjean hadn’t even sat down at a table before being detained. Grosjean and Russo were awarded $400,000, and Griffin Investigations were forced to file for bankruptcy.

In 2006, Grosjean was inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame. Not only was he a top player, but he opened people’s eyes to new and interesting ways to gain an edge over casinos.

His book ‘Beyond Counting’ is now out of print, with copies often selling online for in excess of $1000.