Card Counting Legend Tommy Hyland – Exclusive Interview

– [Colin] This is always a special treat, if you guys don’t know who Tommy Hyland is. He would never call himself this, but he’s a legend. He’s a huge hero to us, inspiration.

He’s become a friend. So, give Tommy a round of applause (audience applauses) – Basically I didn’t have any particular affinity for math, no background in math, I just went to a small college in Ohio, Wittenberg, and I was taking Political Science and a lot of the guys I hung around with liked to gamble. We were playing some poker, and some backgammon. This was a small blue-collar town in Ohio. And there wasn’t much to do, so one time we happened to go in a bookstore and there was a Blackjack book which I later found out was really an incredible book for it’s time. Playing Blackjack as a Business by Lawrence Revere and we bought the book and for a simpleton like me this was the perfect book.

It had these nice beautiful color charts, it illustrated how to play basic strategy, and explained card counting pretty well. And so my roommate and I started practicing. And the one thing the book didn’t tell us, is they didn’t tell us how to actually do the running count at the table. They told you that the two through six was plus one, and seven, eight, and nine was nothing, and ten through ace was minus one.

So we understood that, but we didn’t actually physically know how to do the count. And we saw how fast, to us, these dealers dealt. And we figured, well you must have to be some kind of memory expert to keep this count. So what we used to do is we’d sit next to each other on the five dollar table. And I would count the high cards and he would count the low cards or vice versa. And then whisper after every round to each other what we had and then we would subtract.

And we knew how to do the true count and all but nobody, and this went on for like, believe it or not, this went on for like two months. We must’ve played 20 or 30 times like this. And we were winning, you know. The rules were very favorable back then in Atlantic City.

And we only had 1000 dollars each, and eventually we ran into some other card counter He told us, well look all you do is wait ’til the person on first base gets a second card then you cancel out. You know, all this time playing we were concentrating on not making any playing errors and all that so we never, so anyway it took us about six months to build up the 1000 up to 4000 each. And then we met these other two guys that were card counters, young guys, that were just starting out.

We used to find a casino that you know we didn’t want to play regular Blackjack at and we used to use it for a training casino. And I’d just stand behind him and you know they have to do three or four shoes you know bet reasonably correctly and not make any playing errors. And every time they’d make an error, I’d hit em, why did you do that, and stuff like that. Yeah I wasn’t always the guy in charge. I was usually like a co-manager, or I bet I’ve been on bankrolls with probably well over a hundred different people. Over the years, probably closer to two hundred.

When I was kinda young and a little reckless, people would be coming out the, they heard about the success we were having around this golf course and the word spread like wildfire and basically people would come up to me and say, hey I got a cousin, he’s really good at math, can he play, and I’d say oh I’ll meet him. I would take him on the team eventually and as you can imagine that led to a lot of problems. I had a lot of good players, some of my best players were close friends, and some of my other best players I just met, somebody introduced me to em.

Starting in October or November, I try and play a lot until next April. When I say a lot, I’m not talking about at Joe’s level, he plays way more hours than I do. But like this year I should end up with about 350 hours or something. So seven hours a week or something like that. People ask me that all the time they say “Aren’t you banned everywhere?”

And I say well, these days it’s impossible to not be able to play, if you wanna play Blackjack. I mean there’s so many casinos I mean hundreds and hundreds of casinos You know some people might think that the old days of Blackjack were better when the games were better, they had four decks, they dealt down the half a deck or they had better rules. But there’s a lot to be said for these days. What is there over 30 states for sure probably 35 states with Blackjack, and a lot of them are not that smart and there’s no way you could get kicked out of every casino where you could make money. I haven’t been to some states in 10 or 12 years where I know there’s good games. Luckily I’m not six foot ten or something like that.

My face is not that memorable, I grow a beard, and I comb my hair different, wear a hat. Until I start betting really big, they don’t really notice me right away. My philosophy almost since the beginning, and I had arguments with other team members or something is always get the money first. Don’t worry so much about if the casino likes you, if you’re gonna lose your comps, getting the EV, and getting the money is way more important than worrying about getting kicked out.

That happened on our team a lot. People were so scared, they might’ve had a nasty back off or something like that and they were so scared that they were afraid to put the money out. And you gotta put that money out there when the count’s good.

I mean you can mess around, your small edges you can fool around at True one and True Two. But when that count gets good, you gotta send that money out there. And when a count gets bad, you gotta get off the table, or bet the minimum.

Luckily, these days, I’ve had some nasty incidents in the past, but, I’d say in the last eight or ten years almost every back off has been pleasant. Or they might tell you, “We’re gonna arrest you for “tresspassing the next time.” And I don’t really let that stop me if they tell me that, I don’t go in the next day or something, but I’ll go in six months or a year later. And then what invariably happens, almost every time, is they say the same thing, “The very next time we’re “gonna arrest you for trespassing.” And most of the time it’s a bluff. Once in awhile they’ll follow through, but it’s very rare.

They don’t wanna have the hassle, and it’s not clear that they’re allowed to arrest you for trespassing. It’s basically a gray area and they’re not sure what they’re allowed to do, and we’re not sure, now in New Jersey they absolutely can’t do it, in Missouri they can’t do it. And other places, maybe they can maybe they can’t. Certainly card counters aren’t in the wrong at all. I think it’s one of the most ethical, and honorable things you can do, is play Blackjack against the casinos.

I’m sure everybody knows somebody or has heard of somebody that’s had their life ruined by a casino. Where somebody’s lost their family, or their house or whatever. And these casinos are ruthless.

I mean just read, there’s a good book, Whale Hunt in the Desert, by a casino host, or it’s about a casino host, absolutely how ruthless these people are about trying to get every last cent from these high rollers and stuff. Now I think that’s, the money is certainly better off in your pocket, than in these casinos. They’re not really nice people. They have a lot of influence with these politicians and these courts. And for them to be able to, for just doing math in your head while you’re playing a game, by the rules that they offer.

For them to be able to arrest, or threaten to arrest you or force you in a back room, and all this, is really wrong. It’s not a close call as to who’s in the right, the card counters or the casinos, I don’t think. Well there’s a lot of good things about card counting, to be thankful for. I mean the fact that your time is your own. The one thing we all are gonna run out of is time. Some of us may run out of money, all that but time is the most precious thing you have and to have the time your own, to be able to go out and play when you want to, to not have to be at a certain place at a certain time, is worth a lot.

I’ve had 40 years of that, where if I feel like playing Blackjack I play Blackjack. If I feel like I wanna play golf, I can go play golf. You know whatever. So that’s probably the best thing. And then another great thing is all the people you meet.

I’ve met some incredibly smart guys. One of my early teams I had, there was five of us. One guy’s probably gone on to be the highest winning gambler in the history of the world. And he was one of my first teammates, in fact he started out similar to me, he had basically no money and he was just about to take a job, at a Burger King, on the graveyard shift, because he was down below a thousand dollars he happened to be playing, and he met some other guy who was a card counter, and the guy saw he played really well, and he invited him back to their place to join the team. And now he’s a billionaire from gambling.

Some of the people you meet, it’s been phenomenal. Be aggressive. The other thing we didn’t talk about much is you really have to bet in proportion to your bank roll. You have to size your bet to how much advantage you have, on a particular thing. That’s really important.

You can’t go betting black chips when you have five or ten thousand dollars. You have to put the hours in, keep your expenses down, and build your bankroll up. And then you bet in proportion to that bankroll. And be aggressive, don’t be worried about getting kicked out of one casino, there’s a thousand other casinos to play at. I don’t know why more people don’t do this.

I think it’s a really good way to make a living. There’s not that many people that play Blackjack for their main source of income. When I first started doing it, I didn’t know that I was gonna do it for 40 years. I figured oh I’m gonna do this for awhile, and then I was thinking of teaching school, or you know various things, doing something with golf. If I had to say when would be the best time to play Blackjack, I might say it was now. You know, that’s only my opinion.

Other people say it was definitely better in the old days. But I think this is a real good time to make money at Blackjack. In the beginning, I was a young kid, once we learned this stuff and the money just kept coming in, we thought that this is the easiest thing in the world. And I did a lot of careless stuff. I was real sloppy with the accounting, I remember one time we had a house down off of Atlantic City Brigantine, I remember walking into the house with a briefcase, full of money, I forgot to secure the latches on the briefcase, and it was windy and the briefcase just popped open and there was money blowing all around the neighborhood. (audience laughs)