message to dr hi lo
  • hi doc-
    you mentioned yesterday that you had a personal encounter with the great ken uston-sure would love to hear the story!
    prog
  • Sure, but it is as I said a bit embarassing. Here goes:

    I don't remember exactly when this happened, but it was in the middle-to-late 70's or the very early 80's. Here is what happened. Sorry, but it will be a bit long, but the details are important to understand the "embarassing" part. :)

    I was working on a operating system project with a company in California, and we were having a meeting in Laramie, Wyoming, to discuss the project. After the meeting we left and one of the guys I was with told me we had a stop-over in Las Vegas on the way back to L.A. where this company was. I asked "how long" and was told with a smirk "About 12 hours."

    Turns out the national sales manager had discovered blackjack and slot machines and found a book and had gotten "hooked" overnight. OK. That sets the stage. We were in Vegas for about 12 hours, I had never been in a casino in my entire life, had never seen one, knew nothing about blackjack or anything. Just a country boy that knew the inside of computers right and left...

    One brief bit of fun before I continue. We were all at Circus-Circus and the sales mgr called me over to a slot and said "Bob, look at this, it is incredible... I put in 3 coins and I hit a jackpot _every_ time..." I looked at him inserting three dollar tokens, pulling the lever, and he got two dollar tokens back. I looked at him a minute, and said "what in hell are you talking about?" He again explained "I hit a jackpot every time, how can they offer such loose slots?" I pointed out "Gary, you are putting in 3, you are getting back 2. Compute the limit of that function..." He looked at me for a minute, uttered an expletive and got up and walked away. :)

    Now, to the Uston part of this. First it is important to understand that I didn't know him, didn't know anything about casino life, card counting or anything else. One of the guys I was working closely with and I were eating lunch in a restaurant inside Circus Circus, sort of overlooking the casino floor. The whole place was completely stuffed with some sort of convention being held there. As we were eating, this guy walked in and looked around and couldn't find a table, so we invited him over. Neatly dressed, beard, liked to talk about blackjack. As we were eating, he introduced himself as (I thought) "Kenny Houston". I didn't show any recognition and he had that sort of "I can't believe this guy doesn't know me" look, and I was trying to remember if I had met him somewhere else and had forgotten.

    The conversation had just gotten started when he said something about "He was taking a break to get away from the heat for a while." Knowing nothing about casinos or pit "heat" I assumed he was talking about the rather incredible 115 degree heat outside in the middle of the Summer. I replied "yep, hotter'n hell out there, better to stay inside." Another puzzled look. After eating and talking a bit about blackjack and computers and some Monte-Carlo simulations about blackjack strategy done by someone else he knew of, as he left he offered me (actually the pair of us) a book on blackjack. I don't remember the name, but I believe it was written by him although I didn't make that connection at the time. He even signed the front and was on his way.

    I never saw him playing at the tables, but then I didn't go in there very much myself. In fact, I never recall seeing him for the remainder of our visit there.

    I didn't give it any more thought until my partner and I were sitting in the airport lobby getting ready to fly on to L.A. when I started to read the front of the book. The sales manager that was with us said "where did you get that book?" We told him some guy named "something houston" had given it to us inside Circus Circus. He looked at it, turned pale, and said "you actually met this guy?" He is famous for playing blackjack and making _lots_ of money doing so. He's also famous for having his life threatened many times during his gambling escapades.

    You can guess who "Something Houston" turned out to be. I gave the sales manager the book (he asked for it and he was paying for the trip, so since I had no plans to return to the casino (none in Mississippi where I lived until 1985 or so) it seemed like the thing to do.) Some research a few weeks later led me to who this really was.

    As I said, a bit embarassing. I'd give _anything_ to re-live that again, knowing what I know today. It would have been a solid hour of non-stop questions for him. :) As it was, it was an interesting conversation about lots of things including blackjack, computers, even a little about computer chess, a long-term hobby of mine, but no mention of his past escapades however, just polite conversation.

    The sales manager did say "I hope you stay out of the casino (this was when he saw the book)... you might well be thought of as a member of his team, and that might turn ugly." I had no idea what this was all about but since I had never been to vegas prior to that, and had no real expectation of returning, I forgot about it. It really came to light about 3-4 years ago when my wife got interested in the casino life (slots mainly) and I did a little research that led me to blackjack as the only reliable winning edge for a player. The more I read, the more I realized why Uston gave me a couple of those "strange" looks after mentioning "heat" which I thought was really about heat and not "pit heat"...

    I often wondered if he mentioned the "green country boy from Mississippi that knew computers but didn't know diddley about casino life and card counting and the like...

    I doubt it of course. But I guess I did make an "impression" of sorts.
  • I did forget one other item. This was back in the days when Circus Circus used the "track" around the ceiling to run circus acts all over the casino so that wherever you were, you could see the acts as they came by. Things like scantily-clad females hanging from a strap by their teeth, etc...

    The interesting "moment" happened when one of these female performers came around the track, suspended by one foot, spinning like crazy. Uston said "5 bucks says her boobs pop out before she gets all the way around." My friend made the horrible mistake of saying "you are on". Uston was correct. :)

    It was a good "show". I was back in there this summer and it seens that overhead track is still there but no longer used. I speculated that someone must have fallen and hurt someone down below, but I don't know. If anyone does, that would be an interesting follow-up.

    I later told my partner "never bet with a gambler, he rarely is." (rarely is a gambler, most likely he knows exactly what he is doing.) I'd guess Uston had seen this particular "northern exposure act" previously. :)
  • Excellant story Dr HiLo :lol:

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