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Genii THE CONJURORS’ MAGAZINE

OCTOBER 2005

$5

We Caught Him! ● Wilson on Forte The Dead Paint Well ● Karr Pierre Mayer’s Automaton ● Kaufman Convention in Spain ● Spinner McBride Victor Wooten’s Music and Magic ● Racherbaumer Al Cohen Remembers Michael Close Reviews Books A Free DVD from L&L Publishing

STEVE FORTE

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN


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hen Steve Forte agreed to be interviewed by Genii, Richard Kaufman and I made the trip to his home. In the comfort of his office, surrounded by one of the most impressive gambling collections I have ever seen, Steve spoke about his life, his interest in sleight of hand, and his career. Just before we began, Richard asked Steve to demonstrate a gambling move, so Steve grabbed a deck and shuffled it thoroughly before revealing four Aces. In all the years I’ve known Richard Kaufman, I’ve

W

Photographs by Elizabeth Kaufman “The Game of Diana,” an original oil cloth layout from the steamboat Delta Queen, used 125 years ago

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spans a story-filled 30-year time period that includes working his way up the gaming industry ladder to become one of Nevada’s youngest casino managers (at the age of 28); a successful career as a high stakes professional player; and president of his own consulting company, International Gaming Specialists, with a client list second to none. How did Steve Forte come to be one of the world’s foremost authorities on cheating and advantage play? Why did he release the Gambling Protection Series videotapes, and what is his history as a professional player?

BACKGROUND Steve’s first exposure to gambling began shortly after he learned how to read and write. Anyone who grew up on the East Coast knows that gambling is wide spread and an everyday part of life. Gin Rummy was routinely played at his family gatherings; Poker games were held at his home; and bookmakers openly walked up and down the streets carrying cigar boxes filled with betting slips for the numbers racket, the ponies, and sports. Steve’s first exposure to card technique comes from both magic and gambling at about the same time. He was around 12 years old when he clearly recalls watching an amazing card trick where the magician moved the Aces around trying to fool the spectator, only to find out that the Aces had changed to Kings! Steve later learned that the effect was “Aces to Kings” from Harry Lorayne’s Close-Up Card Magic. “I remember specifically having those Aces change to Kings in front of my eyes and it jolted me.” Around the same time, Steve’s father took him to an underground joint in his hometown where he met a mechanic. He didn’t know he was a mechanic at that time, but he instinctively knew that there was something different about the sleight of hand this man demonstrated for him. “The guy wasn’t trying to entertain me, he was trying to impress me with his skills. He would shuffle a few times and the top card was always the Ace of Spades; he would hand me the deck, and then show me that he had copped the Ace, and so on.” Another possible influence may have been his father, but Steve shies away from any details. “My father is and always has been a gambler with a colorful past, which includes running away from home as a kid and living (and working) with the gypsies; the carnivals; working in stills; and driving for some of Boston’s biggest dice games.”

Courtesy the Forte Family

never seen him react this way to something as simple as a stock control. But in Steve’s hands, a move can easily look like the real thing, and with this particular technique, you simply can’t tell when he’s “carrying a slug” or is legitimately shuffling cards. Such is the effect Steve Forte’s technique has on even the most jaded cardmen. When I first met Steve in the mid-nineties, we spent an afternoon in the Peppermill Restaurant in Las Vegas. Over the space of a few hours, Steve bombarded me with one technique after another. In fact, he showed me too much to remember (despite my desperately trying to “link and peg” every move in my mind). Yet the most valuable thing I discovered was not a sleight or card trick, but the realization that I had so much more to learn about the world of gambling and gambling sleight of hand. My ferocious interest in this topic simply did not compare to the vast amount of knowledge and experience possessed by Steve Forte. Gambling sleight of hand was just the beginning. Steve is a huge magic fan and he’s always quick to acknowledge the wonderful friendships he has developed with magicians over the years. Yet he is often baffled by the interest he attracts from the magic world. Despite his humility, the truth is that Steve’s name has developed a life all its own in the magic community. After seeing (or in many cases just hearing of) the Steve Forte Gambling Protection Video Series, many magicians are quick to assume that Steve is, or was, the “real deal.” I have spoken to many card enthusiasts who envision this mythical figure of a unstoppable hustler who can beat anyone at any game. It’s easy for cardmen to deify Steve Forte. His incredible ability with cards and dice is second only to his vast knowledge of gambling in all its forms. His amazing career

Steve Forte with a one-of-a-kind Roulette Wheel from San Francisco's Barbary Coast era, with remnants of brass and mother of pearl inlay on the lower ball track

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Pocket Secretary Holdout, 1930s


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Reno, Nevada, 1910: The night they closed down gambling in the city. It was not legalized again until 1931

results—always ending on high counts. It became obvious that As Steve’s gambling interest grew he found himself in the club was removing high cards from the decks before the game possession of Scarne’s Complete Guide to Gambling and Ed began. The shoe was probably missing up to 15 high cards, a Thorpe’s Beat the Dealer. The first magic book he owned massive advantage for the house. Johnny wisely kept his head was, naturally, Close-Up Card Magic. down and did his job.” Before leaving Boston, Steve worked in one of the East As with many kids, the magic bug hit him for a short Coast’s largest American Legions setting up function halls. time. There were a couple of shops in Boston. He rememFrom there he worked as a bartender and eventually manbers visiting Jack and Jill’s Magic Shop, Hank Lee’s Magic aged all of their bars and function business. This was highly Factory, and there may have been others. But it was Ray unusual for anyone who was not a veteran, especially a Goulet’s Magic Art Studio in Watertown Massachusetts, young man, but Steve was well liked and trusted. next to Steve’s hometown of Newton, that had the deepest “You may be the manager, but the veterans run the show. In a impact on him. spot like that, everyone knows everyone; they know your father, “I met Ray either in high school or shortly after. He was they know your grandfather, they know your entire family.” singly the biggest influence on me. First, he was a first-class The American Legion would occasionally run Las gentlemen and one of the finest people I have ever met. Second, Vegas Nights, where Steve got his first chance to deal he was an exquisite magician with a successful career as a proPoker and Blackjack. fessional stage performer with his lovely wife Ann. And third, ”The Poker games were small limit ‘snatch games’ (aggressivehe was an expert in close-up magic, all forms of sleight of ly raking the games) and the blackjack was all on the square.” hand, and in particular, gambling sleight Charity Las Vegas events were perof hand. He knew that I loved magic, but mitted under Massachusetts law as I was never cut out to be a performer. I long as the establishment limited mean, as a kid I had some sponge balls them to one per month and most of and gaffed coins just like everyone else. I the money went to charity. specifically remember doing ‘Wild Card’ “In the city, however, they were running and ‘Color Monte.’ Ray was neat games almost every night, and they were because, while I couldn’t go to other not always on the up and up. My younger brother Johnny worked in one club. He magic shops and talk to anyone about gambling moves, I could talk to Ray had become proficient at counting cards A “Thief” that secretly holds a card about the Bottom Deal, The Pushso he would commonly count down the to the edge of the table Through, and so on. four deck shoes. He kept getting weird October 2005

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The Square Deal, a turn of the century mechanical dealing machine for four players

“I remember one time walking into his shop when he and a guy were talking about a cold deck move called a ‘Cigar Switch.’ Instead of brushing me aside or getting me out of the way, I was privy to it. For whatever reason, my interest leaned toward the gambling world and Ray knew it. “Ray is also the guy who brought me to see Frank Thompson just before he passed away. I got to spend a few days with Frank up in Philadelphia. The problem was that I was just too young to appreciate his uncanny talent. He did a ton of stuff with a gambling twist. I remember specifically coming from the session with ‘this is the kind of sleight of hand I want to do.’ I remember one trick in particular. It was this memorized card effect. As Thompson false cut the deck he would ask, ‘Suppose I was to ask you to name any card in the deck, what would you say?’ No matter what card you named, he had numerous ways of getting to it. And he was always ready to repeat it, which he did, over and over again.” At around the same time Steve heard about Eddie Fechter. He called a friend, they packed their suitcases, and drove to Buffalo to meet the legendary bar magician at the Forks Hotel. Unfortunately

Above and left: Skeleton Dealing Box, or Second Dealing Box, 1950, made by George Graham; Below: Rare Spanish Monte dealing boxes

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the Forks Hotel was just the name of Fechter’s bar and restaurant—there was no actual hotel there! When Steve and his friend walked in with their luggage, Fechter laughed so hard he literally fell out of his chair. “Eddie Fechter couldn’t have been nicer to us. We found a real hotel and returned that night to find the place hopping, and his magic was wonderful! But what happened next blew us away. After one of his bartenders called in sick, Eddie, knowing that we both tended bar back in Boston, shouted, ‘What the hell are you waiting for? Get back here and give me a hand!’ And we did.” Eddie got such a big kick out these two guys driving all the way from Boston to meet him, he spent the whole next day with them, talking about magic, gambling, and especially dice moves. In Steve’s neighborhood people played street Craps mostly on pool tables—games where the banker would take “vig” from the shooter on every third pass. (“Vig” is short for “vigorish,” which is simply a small percentage of the player’s bet that he’s charged because the casino advantage is either not strong enough or it’s breakeven.) Only occasionally was he exposed to dice being thrown from a cup. Fechter showed Steve his work with the dice cup, which was later detailed in Jerry Mentzer’s 1974 book, Dice Holdout Methods for Magicians. Several of the moves Steve learned from Fechter were later featured on volume four of Steve’s videos. Steve’s interest in gambling finally took him to Las Vegas on a gambling junket. He was only 18! Along with his best friend, Freddie Boudreau, and his grandmother, he was off to Sin City. “We looked like we were 13 back then so every time we sat down to play Blackjack, we were carded. We must have been thrown out of six or seven spots. In one club a security guard spots us before we even got to the table. He told us to stand a safe distance from the game, so I gave my grandmother the money and she played for me. I’m counting the cards and telling her how much to bet and how to play the hands. The security guard kept saying ‘Son, you’re going to have to stand back from the tables.’ My grandmother is betting two hundred a hand and asking me ‘What do I do?’ and I’m shouting ‘Hit it, Nana! Hit it!’ After that trip, I knew that Vegas was in the cards for me.” After high school, and a stint at the American Legion, Steve went to college on a basketball schol-


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Knee-Spread Kepplinger Style Card Holdout

arship, barely making it through the first couple of semesters. After finishing the season he told his coach he was quitting and moving to Vegas. The coach told Steve he was crazy. “Everybody wants to go to Las Vegas!” he said. Up until this point, Steve had been exposed to gambling as a way of life, but his gambling experiences were limited in respect to hardcore cheating. All of that was about to change.

LAS VEGAS Steve Forte was 20 when he moved to Las Vegas and enrolled in dealer’s school. At the stroke of midnight on his 21st birthday, Steve started dealing Craps for the graveyard shift at the Royal Inn Casino on Convention Center Drive. The experience was not at all what he expected. The hiring process began with a casino manager who told him “I want you to know two things: (a) I don’t like Italians, and (b) I don’t like people from the East Coast.” The Royal Inn was owned by a prominent Las Vegas family. Steve became very close with the youngest son of that family: JGJ. So close, in fact, it was just a matter of time before JGJ was exposed to Steve’s hobby, gambling sleight of hand. JGJ flipped out and asked Steve if he would demonstrate a few moves for the Casino manager. He agreed, but he had reservations—the initial meeting with the CM was still fresh in his mind. Here’s this 21 year old kid, in a Scarne like setting, demonstrating these cheating techniques to a Las Vegas Casino manger. “The CM kept saying, Do that again; let me look at that move from this angle. Everything was just fine until the CM said ‘Okay, I’ve seen enough, you’re very good, but let me warn you, if you ever try a stunt like that in this town, they’ll put a straight jacket on you so fast you won’t know what hit you, and you can forget about ever working again’.” The smaller casinos in the late ’70s were notorious sweat houses. Change the dealer, change the cards, it was all normal operating procedure. One day while dealing Craps, his

friend JGJ comes by and asks him if he would like to deal some 21. Steve jumped at the chance. As he walked over to the 21 game he saw one high roller with mountains of “checks” (chips) and MM watching the game. MM worked for the family, not the club. He was an old veteran who once worked for Bugsy Siegel, and he was brought in as a special “observer” as a favor to the family. Apparently, numerous dealers had already been put on the game in an attempt to change the player’s luck, but the player continued to win. Until Steve started dealing. Steve tapped the dealer out, shuffled, had the player cut, and began to pitch cards. He hit 16 with a five, 13 with an eight—it seemed like he couldn’t lose. He “ran over” the player with one miracle hand after another and busted the

Above right: Short-Sleeve Card Clip; Above: The Short-Sleeve Card Clip as worn on the arm. Normally the short sleeve would be pulled down over the card. Right: A Beanshooter, another type of card holdout

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two together—and got five. He was furious, and told Steve that he was to never touch a deck of cards in his joint again. It was time for Steve to move on. After the Royal Inn, Steve moved downtown to deal at the El Cortez where they dealt a 25 cent Craps game. “When you’re just breaking in, the best way to learn how to deal Craps is to ‘push quarters.’ This prepares you for dealing $25 checks on the strip.” It was the most fun he ever had working in the gambling business. He didn’t make much money, and there were times when he remembers counting change with his roommate to buy and split Bill Shiner for picking off the dealer’s hole card in Blackjack one Egg McMuffin, but making money was right player in short order. Steve told me that he was so “hot” it around the corner. was embarrassing. After the high roller walked, MM asked After breaking in downtown, every dealer hopes to land him how long he had been dealing 21, to which Steve a job dealing on the strip. Unfortunately, many dealers replied “I just started, just now, I never went to dealing never get the opportunity. They don’t have any “juice” (a school for 21, I went for Craps.” The old-timer slyly comcontact within the casino business), and in the best clubs it mented, “No kidding … you hold the deck like a mother can be virtually impossible to get a job walking in off the holds its baby.” street. Steve was fortunate. He had both strong juice and Despite never being formally trained to deal casino exceptional skill for a break-in dealer. Although most dealBlackjack, Steve knew exactly what to do. As his friends ers are required to deal Craps at least a year, Steve felt like like to say, “He was a natural.” Unfortunately, the incident he was ready after seven or eight months. Through some prompted a lot of people to start asking questions. “Who is contacts back East, he was given the name of a man to see. this guy? Why was he taken off the Crap game to deal 21?” The contact proved to be a well-known casino host, who The end result was inevitable. Rumor spread that Steve was once indicted for shooting mercury into horses’ hooves to Forte was a mechanic. fix races. The host instructed Steve to see a Mr. HC at the mobEventually the Casino Manager, who had been out of run Aladdin Hotel & Casino (one of the better dealing jobs in town at the time, heard about the incident. He put two and town at that time). Getting hired would consist of an interview

BILL MALONE

ON STEVE FORTE GENII: When did you first meet Steve Forte? MALONE: It was in the early or mid-80s, I think, but it’s a

meeting I’ll never forget. It was in Chicago during one of our Saturday round table sessions at Carmen’s. It started off like any other Saturday, but I had no idea what was going to happen. Steve Forte has always been a big fan of magic and he wanted to meet Ed Marlo. He and a friend of his, Ron Ferris, who’s a Vegas magician and gambler, asked if they could visit, and they just hopped on a plane and came in. GENII: What happened at that first meeting? MALONE: At first it was pretty casual conversation. Everybody was getting to know each other. But then someone—I think it was Ron—threw a deck of cards to Steve. When he first took the cards out of the case and started to shuffle, I thought, “Man, this guy must be pretty good.” I had no idea! He was unbelievable! To this day, I’ve never seen anyone handle a deck of cards with as much grace, skill, and expertise. The thing I remember most is that my friend, Bill Dennis, who was never shy about reacting to things, started screaming things like, “Oh, my God!” Steve was doing a few blackjack 56

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mucks and Bill was next to me, saying, “He’s gonna switch it? No way! He couldn’t have done it! Oh, my God, he did it! Do it again!” One time Bill even lost himself and grabbed Steve’s hand during the switch to see the work; that’s how excited he was. I’m glad he did it, because I was about to do it myself! Apparently, during this period of his life Steve was into playing Blackjack, and after doing all the switches, he brought up shuffle tracking. Ed was very interested in this, so Steve had everyone at the table hand him a deck of cards so he could demonstrate how blocks of cards were tracked during a shuffle sequence. For hours, we sat there while Steve held court, discussing and demonstrating pretty much anything we asked. When he left that day, I remember driving home with my friend Bill and both of us were just shaking our heads. What an inspiration! GENII: Did Marlo ever talk about Steve? What were his thoughts? MALONE: I remember that during the entire meeting, Eddie’s eyes were glued to Steve’s hands like a hawk. About a week later I asked Eddie what he thought of Forte. I asked him, “Wasn’t he fantastic?” Ed said, “Of course he’s fantastic. He’s the real


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big marker action. This is where the player borrows money from with Mr. HC and an audition on a live game. The interview the joint as a courtesy. A guy walks up to the table and says ‘Give consisted of one question: me $5000.’ The first thing the boxman does is put the appropri“Kid, how do you feel about unions?” Steve told Mr. HC, ate “lammer” (plastic button) out on the layout that indicates he “Sir, I don’t even know what a union is, I just want to deal is about to take $5000 from the bankroll and give it to the playCraps,” to which Mr. HC responded, “Right answer, kid.” er. After the player signs the marker, and a copy is dropped in the Steve quickly found himself on the busiest Crap game box, the lammer is picked up. Simple enough. in the house for the dreaded audition (a break-in dealer’s “After the show, players would swarm the game, many of biggest fear). Even with juice, a certain level of skill is them asking for markers at the same time. You might see six to mandatory. In Craps, the most important attribute a eight lammers out there (on the layout) as the floorman prebreak-in dealer can have is good hands. The bosses reapares the markers. When only one marker gets signed, but two son, even if a dealer struggles with the calculation of payoffs, if he can handle the checks, he can be instructed by the boxman to pay the correct Below: Early Card Counting amount and keep the game moving. Computer, 1970s, housed in a Steve was hired after just a few rolls. woman’s purse; Steve told me many great stories about the Right: Exposed Toe Switches importance of juice. One of my favorites was for a Perfect Strategy when his grandmother came to town and (Card Counting) Computer inquired about the possibility of seeing Sinatra at Caesars Palace. So Steve called his juice, and the guy starts screaming “Look, I can help you get good jobs, I can feed you everyday, and I can get you all the girls you want, but tickets to see Sinatra, are you crazy?” It was one of the best shows he ever saw. Other than the usual cheap shots pulled on “break-in” dealers during their first few months in town, the first significant cheating he witnessed happened at the Aladdin … on Steve’s game. “So, I started dealing at the Aladdin. There was

thing.” I was very close to Eddie during this time, and I could tell that this meeting with Steve had inspired him like no other ever had. Eddie practiced mucks and switches for months after that. You know, he loved to see great sleight of hand and it was very apparent to everyone who was there that he was extremely impressed with Steve. GENII: You and Steve are now good friends—when did you meet him after that day in Chicago? MALONE: After that day in Chicago, a friend gave me a very nice gift of Steve’s Gambling Protection videotapes. Each tape in the series completely blew me away. From the simplest things like Overhand Shuffles and jogs to controlling a legitimate pair of dice for any number called ... I just couldn’t believe it. His sleight of hand was smoother than any magician I’d ever seen. I watched those tapes so many times I literally wore them out. After that, we filmed NBC’s Hidden Secrets of Magic in 1996. Just imagine this being your big break on national television and Steve Forte, “The Expert’s Expert,” is on the same show. What a thrill! I was going to meet Steve Forte again. This show brought Steve to the attention of magicians everywhere and after that everybody was asking, “Who was that guy? Where is he from? What great center deals!” Anyway, Steve and I met on the set and I told him I remembered his visit to Chicago. He asked if I wanted to have lunch after the taping, and I naturally said I’d love to. We sat in that coffee shop for over six hours. He told me fascinating stories

about gambling and demonstrated many gambling techniques with cards I’d never seen anywhere. Every once in a while I felt guilty and entertained him with a trick or two. He even laughed a few times. Well, okay, more than a few. One thing I vividly remember is Steve Ribbon Spreading a shuffled deck face up on the table. He asked me to name any card somewhere near the center. He then asked me to square up the pack and hand it to him. As soon as he touched the deck he immediately dealt my card onto the table from the center without any hesitation whatsoever! It was like I was hit with a hammer! It’s a funny thing, but when you first sit down with Steve and he begins talking about gambling, he uses a lot of gambling terms and slang words. Don’t ever tell Steve this, but half the time I had no clue what he was talking about ... and I still don’t. The things I did understand, though, were invaluable. He gave me his number and invited me to his home to see his collection the next time I came to town. When I got home, I checked my calendar, and there weren’t any shows booked for me in Las Vegas. So, I asked my wife, Barbara, if she’d like to take a vacation. She didn’t know I had ulterior motives, but that was the beginning of what I consider a never-ending friendship with Steve. GENII: What impresses you most about Steve Forte (as a person or a card man)? MALONE: Steve is without a doubt one of the most generous and nicest human beings I’ve ever met. He has absolutely no ego whatsoever, and he’s also one of the most intelligent people I’ve October 2005

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lammers are picked up, someone is ‘ripping and tearing’ (stealing) and they are not being subtle about it. I was okay with it. My juice made it clear to me before I ever started working: ‘I’m going to put you to work, and all I expect in return is for you to put your head down and mind your own business.’ He also told me that should anyone ever give me a hard time, just dummy up and if things really got bad, go straight to him. In those days, if a boss were to f**k with you, a lot of times you had to look him dead in the eye and say ‘Listen asshole, you go to your juice and I’ll go to mine and we’ll see who’s working tomorrow.’ So people would leave you alone because they didn’t know who put you to work.” The Aladdin would eventually close down due to hidden ownership problems with organized crime. It is estimated that tens of millions were stolen in marker scams, and tens of millions more that were never collected. Steve explained that it was all one giant machination: there was never any intention of paying.

Steve was out of work, but he was okay. After making over $200 a day in “zukes” (tips) for many years at the Aladdin and with more than a few $1000 scores (all in addition to his pay) he had built up a decent bankroll for a young man. It was more money than he had ever seen in his life. During his first few years in Las Vegas, Steve was either working or practicing gambling sleight of hand, but once he was out of work he began devoting more time to his other gambling interests: counting cards and playing Poker. Steve experienced some limited success when he started playing but only for “short money.” “I was counting cards, playing a little Seven-Card Stud, and holding my own. I never thought about gambling professionally at that time but thanks to a very special friend, I always knew that I could if I wanted to.” The friend Steve refers to is a gentlemen known only as Big JB, a world class card player. To this day, after meeting many of the best gamblers and players in the world, Steve

Right: Rare Klondyke layout with Card Presses and Dice Drops beneath; Below: Homemade glasstop “Dicer”

ever had the pleasure knowing. The things he does that magicians would find interesting only make up a small—a very small— percentage of what he knows about gambling. He gets a kick from the way magicians admire and respect his ability with the cards, but he’ll always downplay his expertise by explaining he was fortunate enough to meet and learn from some of the greatest mechanics of his time. These people would be like the Vernon’s and Marlo’s in our world. Mr. Jim Keller, a most well-known and respected person in the gaming industry, once told me that people in the gambling world look up to Steve the same way magicians do. They place him at the highest level in their field. I’ve sat with Steve many times during the last few years, and every time he shows me new things—totally different techniques unlike anything I’ve seen before. Erdnase once wrote about the difference between the critical observer being able to suspect let alone detect an action, and Steve is actual proof it can be done! Everything he does is absolutely flawless. However, the only thing that impresses more than his knowledge and skill is his character and honor. People don’t get any better than Steve! 58

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GENII: Do you have any anecdotes you would like to

share? MALONE: About a month ago, I was on the telephone talking to Steve about one of my favorite subjects, Blackjack mucks— switching one or both cards in a Blackjack hand. He told me I wouldn’t believe how many ways there were to do mucks. I asked, “Could there be as many as 50, or would that be too many?” He said, “I’m sure there are 50!” Just to put him on the spot, I mentioned that I would be in Vegas in a few days, and I’d like to see him do 50 mucks. To my surprise, he said okay, and not only that, but each one would be totally different in technique and not just a variant of one before it. When I met with Steve, he handed me a list of 50 mucks. He then went through the list with me and did all of them. They were flawless! What really got me, though, was that after we were through, I said that I couldn’t believe there were that many ways to muck cards. He said, “Bill, you gave me the number. I just listed 50 on a piece of paper and stopped there. I could have kept going!”•


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Above: Dependable Dice Mat, 1948; Right: “36 Game,” made by Exhibit Supply in 1938, made to look like a radio

claims that Big JB is still the best all around card player he ever met. He had won “rooms full of money” playing Gin and Poker before he came to Las Vegas, where he enjoyed similar success playing Blackjack. Meeting Big JB was like a card magician meeting Dai Vernon. Coincidently, Steve and Big JB were both practitioners of the same count strategy called “Revere’s APC,” a very sophisticated four-level count, where the 2s, 3s and 6s are counted as (+2); the 4s as (+3); the 5s as (+4); the sevens as (+1); the eights were neutral; the 9s as (-2); the 10s as (-3); and the Aces as (-4) for betting only. They hit it off immediately; in fact Big JB is Steve’s closest friend and godfather to his youngest son. It was no surprise that Steve turned to Big JB when he decided to start playing professionally. Steve started playing $1-$3 spread-limit Poker at a famous mob joint, the Stardust (referred to as “The Tangiers” in the movie Casino). Big JB had shown Steve a way to play with a small edge thanks to one of their house rules so he was soon grinding out over seventy bucks a day playing against older, more experienced players. Steve quickly moved up in stakes playing $10-$20, $15$30, and higher. It was in these games that Steve was first exposed to cheating on a grand scale. He saw everything you could imagine: holding out, slug scams, stacking, and paper scams (marked cards). Steve watched crews moving every day for years without the slightest intervention. This was because the crews were working for the mob. They were given the green light to do whatever they wanted so long as the right people got their fair share of the profits. “So here I am, a kid sitting down with all these gangsters and cheaters, and you would think that I didn’t stand a chance, but they would show respect for some of the local players—if they were hip to the cheating that was taking place! For instance, if you got in the way, they would office you, secretly telling you: ‘I got two Aces in the hole, get out of my way!’ They were blatant about it. “I’ll never forget the first time I saw a guy hold out. I’m in the seven-seat and he’s in the eight-seat. I catch a glimpse of the card going out and I just can’t believe my eyes. He brings the card in to win a huge pot against this guy with biceps the size of my head. He shows the flush, spreading his cards with both hands, but he still has one card palmed. The losing player mucked his hand, and as the dealer started to push the pot, the cheater ‘cleaned up’ and pitched all eight cards into the muck

(discards). I had just witnessed my first card cheater in Las Vegas, and he was sitting right next to me. “I wait about 10 minutes, I get out of the game, and pull JB out of his game. I say ‘You’re not going to believe it—this guy in the eighth seat just swung with a card and moved to make a big flush.’ He looks over and he says ‘Oh yeah, that’s JH, he’s a holdout man; he’s waiting to get into the big game. He’s just killing time’.” Steve specifically remembers his feelings: it was scary, awkward, and exhilarating all at the same time. He received quite an education playing poker in those days. “One day I’m in a hand with a Greek player known as BTG, a local who used to beat the game on a regular basis. He bets out on the river (the last card in Seven Card Stud). A tourist calls him and it’s up to me. I’m debating what I should do. Many players refer to this situation as a ‘protected pot,’ meaning that it is unlikely that this person is bluffing because he knows that he can get called by the tourist, by me, or by both of us. To make a long story short, I throw my hand away. It turns out he was bluffing and the tourist ends up winning with a piece of garbage. Later, a guy pulls me off the game to ask me ‘Steve, did you see BTG holding that one chip like this when he bet out Continued on page 62

Hyronemus Dice Tub with Mutual Pool Dice made of elephant ivory

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card was a Ten or an Ace. This meant that a trained eye on the hand?’ I said, ‘Maybe, but it didn’t make any sense to could identify the most valuable cards in the deck before me.’ He informed me that BTG was trying to signal that he only they were turned face up. had one pair. So I said, ‘Why would he try to tell me that?’ My A book by Stanford Wong (not his real friend says, ‘He got caught bluffing, so this name) called Winning Without Counting is his way of saying that he would rather discussed the idea of body language being see you win the money and keep it in the used to read a dealer’s hole card after he game versus some tourist, who could leave had peeked it. Steve was fascinated with at any time and never come back again. this idea. In fact, he later wrote a book on Steve, it’s a local courtesy—they call it the subject (Read the Dealer, 1986). ‘playing cousins’.” “We experimented with many off-beat ways Today the mob has been moved out, of winning. Some were effective, others were and sponsored cheating in the Poker not. Let’s just say that we did a little bit of rooms has been wiped out. everything. There were some amazing techAs for Blackjack, Steve and Big JB niques for beating slot machines, roulette had developed a novel card wheels, and Baccarat, but most of the counting strategy that effectivebetter stuff targeted Blackjack.” ly hid the most common tells of By all accounts, Steve’s career as a card counters. They were makprofessional player was nothing ing money and beginning to short of spectacular. This was serirun into all kinds of players and ous money. I asked him for a ballcheaters looking to beat and park figure. cheat the casinos from the “out“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. side.” It was a fascinating point What I can say is that it was not uncomwhere Steve’s life as a successful mon for us to go out and win or lose professional gambler was begin$100,000 over the course of an evening.” ning to take shape. He was ridIt’s also interesting to point out ing high and, due to his natural that Steve tends to downplay everyinnovative ability, he began to Top: Dice from the Roman era, thing from his playing career. For examexperiment with all kinds of novel c.100 to 300 A.D.; ple, when he states that he “experimentways to play with an advantage. Above: The white beveled dice are ed” with many off-beat ways of winning, One of the early non-counting apactually more of a novelty than like everything else he says, you learn to proaches Steve was exposed to was the actual gaffed dice with a bevel. read between the lines. Although Steve idea of “playing hole card.” For examThe obvious bevel is combined may have been reticent about tipping too ple, a “first baser” is a dealer who unwith a heavy load and the dice are known as “Sure Shot Dice” ... they many details, perhaps I can help put the intentionally exposes his hole card were used in an episode of Mission scope of his skill into perspective. Arnold during the peeking action to one or Impossible to guarantee the Snyder, considered to be one the world’s more players in early position, most desired roll; foremost Blackjack authorities, said of often first base. When a dealer looks Below: Dice Ladder c.1900 Steve: “Steve Forte is a visionary. An down at his hole card, the perspective artist. He looks at the game of Blackjack can be deceiving, so the dealer is like a sculptor looks at a piece of rock. He completely unaware of this loophole. sees possibilities where others see nothing. Steve formed a team and compiled a He knows more methods for legally depletlist of almost 300 dealers who were ing a dealer’s chip rack than any other exposing their hole cards. With addiplayer I have ever met. He also knows tional money from outside investors, more illegal methods for depleting a dealSteve’s team played off million dollar er’s chip rack.” “banks” trying to exploit these leaks Today, when an off-beat method of for many years. But “playing hole winning violates no law, it’s called “adcard” was just the beginning. vantage play” (a phrase that pre-dates Steve developed a number of card Erdnase). Although synonymous with cutting techniques to exploit dealers cheating for decades, the definition has who unintentionally exposed the botchanged. Advantage play is not cheattom card as they presented the deck ing, and the term is now accepted in the for the cut. He also developed an casino industry. Steve explains: ingenious twist on a system known as “The law allows you, as a player, to take “playing warps.” When dealers were advantage of all available information to required to check their hole card, the the best of your ability. Nevada defines peek could be too aggressive and cheating as anything that alters the selection leave a readable pattern (bend) in of criteria that determines A: the result, or both cards. Dealers only checked B: the amount and frequency of payment in their hole cards when the face-up 62

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A portion of Steve’s dice collection

the game. Essentially if you change the natural odds of the game in any way you’re out of line. “Here’s an example that I used to present in my lectures. Let’s say you shuffle the cards legitimately and, as you present the deck to cut, I happen to see there’s an Ace at the bottom. Where do you cut the cards based on this newfound information? “Ask most tourists this question and they would still cut randomly, not realizing that the Ace makes any difference. Ask the card counter and they’ll say ‘I would cut deep, to make sure that the Ace comes into play.’ And ask me and I say I would go home, sit in front of a mirror, and learn to riffle off seven cards as I’m cutting. I may even look the dealer dead in the eye and make an appropriate comment for cover. If he responds it’s too late. I’ve already riffled the cards off and I now know exactly

where the Ace is. I can bet the limit and steer the Ace with a monster advantage. Have I cheated? Although I have changed the natural odds of the game, the law allows me to utilize this information to the best of my ability, and I have. The move is not possible if the information is not there in the first place.” Advantage Play is one thing, cheating is an entirely different matter. When Steve started to gamble professionally, he began to run into all kinds of players, hustlers, and desperadoes all looking to get a piece of the casino’s bankroll. Steve shared many stories of the hustlers he has met. “There was Mr. SA, a legendary controlled shot artist. He won $1,000,000 his first year in town with an incredible controlled dice shot that he could ‘throw with air,’ which is to say he could throw the shot slightly off the table and still maintain

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“Wiz called me once and asked if I would help him with a TV its lateral control. I accompanied him on many ‘plays’ and show for Japanese television. They wanted to shoot him winning watched him do his thing. It was pretty amazing for me to be a proposition bet. So his idea was a race. On a football field, he exposed to that. would start on the 50 yard line; I would start on the one yard “Then there was ‘Houdini,’ the nickname for a colorful husline. I can run, but he has to hop on one leg! So we get in front tler who was one of the best ‘bend players’ I’ve ever known (he of this pretty Japanese TV celebrity derived his nickname from an and make a $10,000 dollar bet in ingenious method he used to pastfront of the cameras. post the bookmakers). He played “Ready—set—go, and we’re off. for almost 30 years and was never I’m running as hard as I can, but I’m ‘pulled up.’ so out of shape that later when I see “And there was a hustler nickthe video tape, it looks like I’m walknamed ‘The Eyes,’ one of the best ing! The truth is that I never ran so paper players on the planet. His hard in my life. As it turns out, the specialty was reading ‘shade,’ but Wiz beats me by about a foot. So we he could put the work on so light double the bet in a rematch, only this that no one could ever see the time the Wiz has to start sitting on marks, even when they knew where the 50 yard line. I get beat again and they were. It once took the FBI and have to pay off. I roll over, I can a room full of special equipment to hardly breathe, and he’s shouting to even confirm a foreign substance the camera crew ‘Come quick,” he’s was on the card! going to throw up!’ It was all staged, “And then there was ‘Razzle of course, I would never have taken Mike,’ an interesting character to the money and vice versa.” say the least. RM was a carney Although Steve’s wife, Cheryl, who was an expert at operating a is often heard saying that he has razzle, arguably the most diabolisome strange friends, Steve is cal carnival game ever conceived quick to defend this unusual to cheat the unwary. The game is cast of characters stating that typically played with eight marbles they are “pretty normal in [his] thrown on a board with a grid of world.” Steve hopes to include a holes to catch the marbles. Under short biography on the many each marble is a number from 1 to scufflers and characters he has 6. As the marbles are picked up, met from the gambling world in each number is counted and a future book. totaled. A point schedule card off to the side indicates how many points GAMBLING are awarded for each total. It CONSULTANT might cost $1 or $2 a toss and it takes 100 points to win. To cheat at Many magicians know of Steve’s Top: “Triplicate Deck,” the game the operator miscounts work as a gaming consultant. Andrew Dougherty, 1878; the marbles to help get the ‘mark’ Prior to owning his own compaMiddle: The first Bee Deck, New York close to 100 points, which is known ny, International Gaming SpeciaConsolidated Card Company, c.1895; as getting him ‘on the fence.’ From lists, he was a partner in another Bottom: Transparent Deck here the game is conducted fairly, consulting firm, International (Transparent Playing Card Co., NY, 1870) but the structure is such that the Gaming Consultants (IGC) with mark cannot win. legendary casino veteran and “Anyway, he had hustled the razzle his whole life and, as a expert, Jimmy Payne. How Steve got into the consulting favor to his father, I gave him a job dealing 21 when I was a business is an amazing story. casino manager. And as you might expect, he had trouble “Jimmy Payne was an old-timer from Tennessee and another counting to 21. The carnies have a way of signaling trouble, one of those special people who I loved like a father. He had something bad, police, whatever, and that is to make a noise like operated casinos all over the world. One day he asked me ‘How they’re ready to spit (a sharp gargle at the back of the throat). do you feel about getting into the consulting business?’ At first I So I would be walking into the pit and Mike would hit to soft said no because I didn’t think that the clubs would pay any 18, which is, of course a standing hand for the dealer. But I money, but Jimmy was a very special friend, so I heard him out. sense that he is confused as be begins to take another hit so I He says ‘I’ll pick you up on Friday, I want you to meet someone.’ make the noise, and he stops instantly. It was a riot. The poor “He picks me up and we drive for about 15 minutes before I guy couldn’t count to 21 cause he had screwed so many people ask him where are we off to. He tells me, ‘We’re going to meet with the razzle! Baron Hilton!’ ‘Any relation to Baron Hilton?’ I asked. ‘One and “Then there was the ‘Wiz,’ also know as the man with the the same,’ he replied. I still thought he was joking. $100,000 breasts. He bet another gambler $100,000 that he “We get to the Hilton and Jimmy cuts into a guy in the pit. would get breast implants and wear them for a least one year. We jump in an elevator and go up to the corporate offices. Some 64

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A portion of Steve’s playing card collection

people meet us and it felt like we were walking down secret hallways for a long time. Eventually we walk into a room with about eight people, including Mr. Baron Hilton! “There I am wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, shaking hands with Mr. Hilton. Jimmy tells the group that we are thinking of getting into the consulting business and that we wanted to give them a taste of the material. Jimmy starts directing me ‘Steve, do that circle stack, show them one Ace steer, do this, do that.’ I do a short demonstration and, apparently, it floors his top people. Although gambling sleight of hand would later prove to play a minor role in my work as a consultant, Mr. Hilton was a Gin player and he got a big kick out of my demonstration. “For some reason, Mr. Hilton makes the decision to hire us on the spot, and asked me ‘Son, what would you charge to do these demonstrations for my people?’ I fired back ‘Fifty thousand.’ It was a joke; I was kidding but I said it with a straight face. I thought he would just laugh for a second and Jimmy would jump in and take over, but he didn’t! Without hesitation, he looked to his people and said, ‘Pay him—set it up.’ A fifty-ball for my first lecture! That’s how I got into the consulting business.” Steve Forte went on to meet other industry icons such as Jack Binion, Jackie Gaughan, and Steve Wynn, to name a few. Steve would eventually meet poker player and entrepreneur, Paul Donnelly. Paul asked Steve if he would be interested in doing a series of video tapes to expose gambling moves. Steve and Donnelly formed BTA Joint Ventures (BTA stands for “Blow Them Away”). Despite the remarkable impact his tapes had on the magic world, Steve is far from pleased with the final product. “As for all of that material on the videos, I never thought that I did very well. I may have watched the videos in their entirety once or twice since we produced them. To me, they’re so boring that I can’t watch them. I can’t listen to the voice over. I can’t stand the lack of production value. The truth is that I’ve been trying to take them off the market for years, but for some reason they continue to sell. You would think that everyone would have a bootleg copy by now. Anyway, it was my first time in front of a camera and I tended to rush everything. The stuff I was making a living with I was very secretive about, but the tapes were all about the traditional stuff people could find in Scarne, Garcia, etc. Frankly, any sleight of hand person who

did a little bit of research would eventually stumble on the techniques depicted in the videos.” Despite Steve’s humility, the Gambling Protection Series tapes are treasured by serious cardmen probably because many of us had never seen these sleights performed … and to see them executed so well is even more amazing. To this day they remain the gold standard by which all other cheating technique tapes are judged. One of the curiosities surrounding the tapes is the reason why Steve doesn’t show his face more on camera (he actually appears twice, briefly). “It was just me, I just didn’t want to. I was uncomfortable with it, but Paul keeps telling me ‘This is like washing our feet with our socks on, I’m trying to make you famous!’ And I keep telling him ‘I don’t want to be famous’!” Hiding his face did nothing to discourage the mystique surrounding him and the Steve Forte legend continued to grow. While Steve might not have been happy with his performance on the Gambling Protection Series, the tapes have had a huge impact in the world of sleight of hand. I have yet to meet a serious cardman who wasn’t blown away by them.

A Transformation Deck made by Murphy & Co., 1883

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A very early American deck made by Thomas Crehore, 1820s

SHUFFLING MACHINE After Steve’s career in the industry, his days as a player, and a successful consulting business, Steve turned his talents to inventing. While doing some research for a client on automatic shuffling machines, he studied a number of different products. Some were being used in live play while others were still in the development stage. He soon realized that there was an obvious (in his mind), optimal solution to shuffling cards mechanically and electronically that no company had yet pursued. So he and a partner formed a development company called Sharps LLC. The company would later become Casinovations and the shuffling machine was called the Random Ejection Shuffler. As the product was ready to go to market, there were licensing issues due to Steve’s infamous playing career. He and his partner decided to sell their equity and options. After his experiences with the shuffler, and a grueling final year as a consultant (with over 250,000 miles in the air), Steve decided to retire and spend some time with his family. “After months of traveling and consulting, I ended up working in Australia. On the way home I stopped in Los Angeles for one day. I was scheduled to be a speaker at a Poker conference with my friend Ron Conley. All I remember was that I was so tired, it took everything I had to get through that presentation (probably the worst lecture of my career). I was in a daze and, thanks to Ron, got through it. When I got home to Las Vegas, I knew this part of my life was over. I drafted a letter to my clients, canceled all upcoming dates, and threw in the towel. I did rest about a week and made one trip to Cincinnati for the United States Playing Card Company where I conducted a small informal lecture on the history and science of marked cards in casino scams. After that, I was finished. No more consulting for me.”

RETIREMENT Quietly retired for many years, his passion remains the gambling business. For fun (and profit) he has dabbled in all kinds of ventures. “The day I retired I was propositioned to get involved with this or that, so I did, but only with special friends and under certain circumstances, such as those things where I could stay close to home and remain hands off. For example, I was actively involved with banking games in California. In California you don’t play against the house, you play against the other players while the bank moves from player to player. So let’s say the bank moves to you, but you only have a couple of hundred dollars, yet the players want to bet thousands against you. In a sit66

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A Kinney Tobacco Transformation deck (1889)

uation like that, our ‘bankers’ (they work for us) will put up, say $10,000 behind you to insure that all action is covered. You win or lose the first $200 bet against you, we fade the rest. In these games the banker wins all ties, which results in a natural one percent edge. The more we bank, the more we get to cobank, the more money we make. And many clubs once paid us to put bankers on their games. “In one spot we put up a million dollars to bank Pai Gow up in the San Francisco area (Pai Gow is played with dominoes). Every night we’re up against the Asian gangsters and our swings were severe, sometimes getting stuck $300,000 over the course of a few days. I suppose that most people would deem the action to be big time gambling, but we never looked at it that way. “I was also involved with other ventures from ‘scalping baseball’ to spreading games in semi-legal jurisdictions in Men’s clubs, and so on. I have passed on numerous opportunities to get back into the consulting business, but I still enjoy helping many of my casino friends around the world as long as I don’t have to jump on an airplane. Yet, every once in a while, I find myself in a spot where I can’t say no. As is the case with a recent visit to Macao where I was brought in as an expert in a 5M hand-mucking scam in big-table Baccarat, and I actually testified in a Chinese Court! “Another venture I got involved with was the acquisition of the largest obsolete casino chip collection in the world. Along with friend Bill Akeman, we bought this monster chip collection consisting of approximately 800,000 chips. Collecting casino chips is a serious hobby for many and we decided to take a shot at it. We made a little money but it proved to be a terrible grind, so we sold it a few years back for a very small profit.” For the many magicians who have visited Steve at his home, it’s well known that he owns one of the finest gambling collections in the country. I asked him how he started and what he enjoys collecting today. “I guess I started collecting marked decks, gaffed dice, and related cheating paraphernalia. I have always loved gambling books, both old and new, and was a frequent visitor to the Gambler’s Book Club in Las Vegas when I first came to town. I was always buying books. “John Luckman, founder of the Gambler’s Book Club, gave me a number of obsolete dice from the early Nevada casinos just before he passed, and the bug just continued to grow. I started to collect obsolete casino dice; then it was antique playing cards, and then it was the antique gambling layouts and tables. I suppose that the most unique aspect of my collection is diversity. Most collectors are specialists. It’s either playing


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cards, chips, books, etc., but I like a little bit of everything. My interests are all over the place. For example, I recently picked up my first ivory poker chip set (over 300 pieces), a very rare gaffed carnival or fair grounds game called a ‘Bee Hive’ and a pair of crystallized gaffed dice with exposed metallic loads from the Red Rooster, one of Nevada’s earliest known rum joints in the 1930s. They may be the earliest known gaffed dice connected with a Nevada casino/club.” Since our interview, Steve has focused his attention on a major new project. At the behest of one of his dearest friends, Jim Keller, Steve has finally committed his expertise to print. He spent two years writing the definitive work on casino cheating and advantage play, Casino Game Protection—A Comprehensive Guide, which appeared earlier this year. At around 660 pages with almost 500 color photographs, the book will be a treasure for generations to come. The information within surpasses every other available source. We’re talking about a very special book in the world of gambling.

FORTE AND MAGIC “When I first came to town I went to the Gambler’s Book Club, I saw a business card for ‘The Las Vegas Card Expert.’ I called this guy and it turned out to be Allan Ackerman. I took a lesson from Allan that I enjoyed very much and I probably would have taken many more if I was interested in magic. Allan is an

Punch Board (aka “Sneak Board”) that looks like an innocent cigar box when closed

enormous talent and a wonderful person. He introduced me to Steve Freeman and Roger Klause. Together, they are three of the most knowledgeable all-around magicians I have ever met. I have had many wonderful sessions with all of them. “Through Steve, I got to meet Ricky Jay and Persi Diaconis, which was a real treat for me. Ricky is one of the few people I’ve ever been intimidated by, but after I got to know him better, I recognized him as a talent unlike anyone I have ever met. It was also great to meet the legendary Persi Diaconis. “The most knowledgeable person I have ever met regarding the

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early history of gambling and the casino industry (especially the early European casinos) was a magician: Russell Barnhart. “As for many of magic’s icons, I never did get to spend any quality time with Dai Vernon. I remember dealing Craps one day at the Aladdin. I look up and there’s the Professor and Slydini. I did get to tell him that I was a big fan. Many years later, during a magic conference in Las Vegas, a few magicians tried to get us together at my home. I never looked forward to meeting anyone so much. Roger Klause, Larry Jennings, and others were at my home as we waited, waited, and waited. He never showed up. They went to his hotel and knocked on his hotel door, no answer. Apparently, he had been up all night doing card moves and slept right through the day. This was a huge disappointment for me. “I never got to meet Charlie Miller, but we did get to speak once. One day I answer the phone and the voice says, ‘This is Charlie Miller, Charlie Miller, Charlie Miller.’ I say, ‘Hi Charlie, I’m a big fan of your work.’ He goes right into, ‘I understand that you’re a mechanic.’ I say, ‘I’m not sure where you heard that; I’m not a mechanic.’ He says, ‘What are you doing now?’ and I tell him that I do quite a bit of traveling as a consultant for casinos on security related issues. He said, ‘Listen, it has been nice talking with you, but I got to go. Have a nice day.’ I thought he was joking but that was it, my 30 second phone conversation with Charlie Miller. Never met or spoke with him again. “I did get the chance to meet Herb Zarrow, one of magic’s icons and a wonderful man, in person. “I did get to meet Ed Marlo in Chicago one time. He was a very nice man, both gracious with his time and talent. He fooled the shit out of me.” I asked Steve if he had any favorite experiences or performers. “I would immediately point to a visit to The Magic Castle where my wife and I went to see my friend Gazzo perform. I have never laughed so hard in my life, as did the rest of the audience. I think Gazzo was temporarily barred after that performance for his dry, adult humor. “I don’t remember how I met Bill Malone, but he has become a dear friend and is another one of those remarkably talented performers. I remember Billy doing magic for my oldest boy, Christopher, who was laughing so hard he was crying, literally! My son is screaming ‘Dad, he’s killing me!’ and Billy’s shouting, ‘Not with that attitude! I’ll slap you right outta that chair!’ I’ve never seen my son laugh so hard in his life! Every time he calls the house and leaves a message, we have to save them so we can let our friends hear them, they’re that funny! “Another hilarious performer is Mac King. I finally got to see his show last year and had a blast; he was terrific! “Perhaps the nicest human being I ever met was Mike Skinner—what a gentleman. Of all the magicians that have done card magic for me, I don’t remember anyone who has fooled me as much as Mike Skinner. He clearly used an unusual blend of technique and subtlety, and he moved so slow. Even when he did tricks that I was familiar with, when he got to the end of the trick I was completely fooled. The first time we met at a local lounge, he did about 15 card tricks and every one was the best card trick I’d ever seen. Through Mike, I met Larry Jennings, another extraordinary talent who shared many things with me. In the last 10-15 years I’ve met so many magicians it’s hard to keep track. 68

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“When I think of raw technical skill, Steve Freemen, Gary Plants, Bill Kalush, Richard Turner, John Carney, and Daryl come to mind. And some of the young guys out there today are truly astonishing. “Reminds me of a funny story about meeting Daryl. As a young casino manager, I’m walking through the pit one day and see Daryl playing Blackjack, and he is obviously counting cards. He doesn’t know me, or that I’m a big fan of his, so I decide to have some fun. I introduce myself as the casino manager and ask him if he knows that it’s against the law to count cards. He looked stunned. “For sheer, off-beat, unending creative genius, Chuck Smith and Lennart Green are incredible. “And then there are some people who I have met through magic who have become some of my dearest friends and confidants, such as ‘Stormin’ Norman’ Beck. “In short, my experiences in the magic world have always been wonderful. This is especially true in regards to my boys. When you see the astonishment in their eyes after Ricky Jay teaches them how to throw cards, or David Blaine teaches them how to levitate, or Penn Jillette invites you and your boys to his show as his invited guests, and then mentions you during the performance, from a father’s perspective, it doesn’t get much better.”

PSEUDO GAMBLING ROUTINES There was a time when Steve actively sought out books on card technique, but for reasons that had nothing to do with card magic. He enjoyed culling through the material looking for gambling techniques. But he reached a point where this proved to be frustrating and uneventful, and the books ended up in storage for almost a decade (about 400 books, and hundreds of magazines and videos). When he started to seriously expand his collecting interests, he traded the entire card magic book collection for 60 decks of playing cards! Today, Steve enjoys watching good card magic, not reading about it. He loves to be fooled and has no interest in how effects are accomplished. Yet from a creative standpoint, in much the same way as people like to work on crossword puzzles, one of Steve’s favorite pastimes is working out pseudo gambling routines, some of which have fooled some of the best cardmen in the world. The stories about these routines are legendary. There’s a great story about Lee Asher meeting Steve. Steve showed Lee a way to Cull high cards and stack them while performing an in-the-hands Riffle Shuffle. Lee was blown away. A week or so later, while talking to Sal Piacente on the phone, Lee revealed that he had been working on the technique day and night. He tells Sal, “I’m up to two cards but the third one is a bitch.” Sal hung up and quickly called Steve. The whole thing had actually been a beautifully constructed pseudo-gambling effect—a trick! Sal didn’t have the heart to tell him it was just a trick, but Steve did, who felt bad that Lee was practicing so hard. Speaking of Sal Piacente, whose work with mnemonics and playing cards is as good as it gets, he tells a story about discussing mnemonics with Steve one day. Steve tells Sal, “I’ve got something better. I can take a shuffled deck and turn over two cards per second for 70-80 percent of the deck and then rattle off every card that’s left!” Sal didn’t


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believe that it could be done, at least not with mnemonics! Steve happened to be leaving for Korea, so he said, “I’ll be locked up in a hotel room for about two weeks— I’ll practice it and show you when I get back.” He did, and to this day, Sal will tell you that it is one of the most amazing demonstrations he has ever witnessed. The system is called “TRS” for Total Recall Scanning, a system Steve developed for playing single deck Blackjack. This is not just hype, the system enables you to do something you will never see a magician or memory expert duplicate with traditional mnemonic techniques, at least not with someone else’s deck after it has been legitimately shuffled. Then there was the Hidden Secrets of Magic, where Steve was asked to be a performer. For some reason, Steve was under the impression that he would be doing a few gambling moves for Robert Urich, the show’s host. When he arrived, he was put in front of a small audience. He’s the first to admit that he was scared to death. Steve claims that he was pitiful, and it was only thanks to the editing process that they salvaged his piece. He ended his routine with a Center Deal demonstration, one that had magicians buzzing for a long time. After cleanly putting four Kings into the middle of a packet, he pitched the cards around the table dealing himself the Kings. Some of the best sleight of hand artists in the world assumed that he has simply Shifted the deck and then dealt the Kings off the bottom. Other magicians bombarded him with requests for his Center Deal technique. Even when the method was known, many magicians still had trouble believing it. The piece was later voted as one of the greatest tricks in magic and appeared in a British based magic show The World’s Greatest Magic Tricks.

CLOSING There is one area of Steve’s career that wasn’t discussed in any detail, and for good reason: he wouldn’t let me. As a matter a fact, when I asked if we should talk about some of his more infamous experiences, he politely said, “Paul, if you’re looking to dig up old skeletons, pursue a career in archaeology.” He was serious, but he’s the first guy to openly tell you that he has crossed the line … and paid the price. According to Steve, those days are gone for good. I can tell you that Steve Forte is a guy who has seen it all and, in most cases, done it all. In the opening sentence of his new book, Casino Game Protection—A Comprehensive Guide,

the preface begins with a bold and revealing statement: “The following work is the culmination of 30 years of research into the arena of casino cheating, advantage play, electronic assistance, and you name it. If a concept was designed, worked out, played, or dreamed of, and had anything to do with beating the casino—legal or otherwise—I’ve probably been there. Or close to it.” Steve has a number of projects in the works that will delve further into that world; you will definitely want to watch for them. Talk to anyone who has met Steve Forte and you will hear about his kindness, his generosity, and his humility. Despite his remarkable expertise, unrivalled dexterity, and a gambling collection to die for, it is Steve’s personal qualities that impress people most and it is an honor to call him a friend. • October 2005

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Profile for Genii Magazine, The Conjurors' Magazine

Genii Magazine - October 2005 Steve Forte  

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN CATCH ME IF YOU CAN THE CONJURORS’ MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2005

Genii Magazine - October 2005 Steve Forte  

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN CATCH ME IF YOU CAN THE CONJURORS’ MAGAZINE OCTOBER 2005

Profile for genii
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