A Divisive Figure
Unlike many of the people that I have featured in previous, “People in Gambling,” articles, Eliot Jacobson Ph.D., is not a historical figure in the world of gambling. In fact, there are many people out there who have never even heard of him.
For those who have, Jacobson is something of a polarizing and divisive figure. Your opinion of him might come down to nothing more than what side of the table you happen to be on. The fact of the matter is that many casinos have saved a ton of money because of him, but that money is also the amount of money that many AP’s out there lost because of him.
It is tough to say that Jacobson had a disdain towards advantage players, after all, he admits that he himself was an advantage player. I believe that he has publicly stated that he wasn’t too great at it. His success or lack thereof aside, it remains uncontroversial that he certainly participated in advantage plays at one point.
While he expressed an interest in gambling for several years, Jacobson actually spent the better part of his professional life in academia. He spent more than a quarter of a century as a college professor of mathematics and computer sciences. He would then go on to put those academic skills to use, first analyzing beatable plays on the player side of the table, but eventually analyzing many of those same plays in order to protect casinos from losses.
Jacobson was not a mere mathematician, however. He went to great lengths to analyze what could be done not just from a mathematical standpoint, but also from a game protection standpoint, to protect various table games. In fact, one might argue that his primary objective was to teach casinos how to enhance their game protection, it’s just that he had to show the math to prove the need to actually do so.
Jacobson was also an academically curious individual. He would often analyze certain types of plays knowing well ahead of time that they were not, or were very unlikely to be, profitable. For example, he analyzed the game of Baccarat for countability from the standpoint of an individual who could count a computer-perfect Baccarat game. For those of you out there who read his work on that, or read about it on the Odds site, you already know that counting a computer perfect game of Baccarat mentally is very close to impossible.
Of course, Jacobson saw advantages where many individuals would just see a house edge. On that very same game of Baccarat, Jacobson would analyze concepts as hole-carding and edge-sorting, to determine what sorts of advantage a player might have in the event that the probability of certain results changed based on the first card that was coming out.
Not all forms of game protection involve what is actually taking place on the felt, and that is something that Jacobson has always understood. For that reason, he would go on to analyze what the effects might be if a casino were to extend loss rebates to high-rollers, and what sorts of advantages those same high-rollers might have, and more importantly, profit-expectations, just by playing the games straight up.
Perhaps Jacobson’s crowning achievement was being called as a witness when Phil Ivey’s case for edge-sorting Baccarat finally made it to trial. While Ivey did not prevail in his case, Jacobson clearly demonstrated that what Ivey did, to anyone who has any knowledge of gambling, was not technically cheating. All Phil Ivey did was utilize the very terms that the house extended to him in order to beat them. In the long-run playing that way, Ivey effectively couldn’t lose.
Of course, not every advantage player is doing what Phil Ivey did and winning millions of dollars from a single casino, but these other advantage players are almost certainly beating casinos out of cumulative millions of dollars annually. Many of these individuals are not recreational players wanting to enjoy an advantage and who look for A.P. plays as a form of pastime, many of these players do it as a living. Therefore, many of them were very unhappy with Jacobson because of the help he was giving casinos in exposing to them tactics of which they may have previously been unaware.
Perhaps even more than anything else, advantage players had their ire raised by Jacobson because he was previously an advantage player himself. It’s never a popular decision in the A.P. community when someone, “In the know,” helps out what they term the, “Dark Side,” so there may have been a sense of betrayal that other advantage players felt when Jacobson would expose little known, or otherwise not commonly known, plays. Many players made their feelings known both here, and on Jacobson’s site, APHeat.net.
Jacobson collected his information and published his studies on APHeat.net, a site of which he was previously the owner and has since sold. He shared the opinion of our own Wizard that gambling information should be made public in the interests of academic honesty. While many advantage players were upset over what Jacobson shared, certainly other prospective advantage players would follow the site and attempt to use the information disseminated to their own advantage. The comments sections on individual articles would often become quite interesting.
In addition to running his site, Jacobson also previously did work as a gambling mathematician analyzing games for casinos. He was also the former owner of Certified Fair Gambling, which was a company he created to test online casino software to ensure that it was performing in a fair manner that corresponded to true odds and posted house edges. For a casino to be able to attach Certified Fair Gambling Approval to their site was attractive to many would-be players who recognized the name.
Jacobson also was once the victim of the, “Dark Side,” having suffered unlawful detainment at the hands of a casino in one instance. The lawsuit that he would go on to file against that casino was eventually settled out of court and Jacobson was awarded a not insubstantial sum of money for what happened to him.
Regardless of a person’s opinion of him or his work with casinos, there can be nothing but tacit agreement that Jacobson is a brilliant man and mathematician. This is evident because anything that he touched, as far as gambling is concerned, resulted in some degree of success. In addition to A.P Heat, Jacobson was often an invited speaker at various casino events. Additionally, he conducted game protection seminars that were often attended by high-ranking casino employees. He could also be contracted by casinos to go work one-on-one with various employees and teach them the tactics needed to protect their games.
Jacobson also frequently found himself baffled by the sheer ineptitude of the game protection measures at certain casinos, and while too professional to call them out specifically (with exception to promotions in the distant past) he did point out that the fact that some casinos did not engage in fundamental protection measures was quite a surprise.
Card counters at Blackjack, who do that almost exclusively, probably appreciated having Jacobson around a little bit to turn attention to angles that other advantage players were using. One common thread throughout the entire time that Jacobson operated A.P. Heat was his continued insistence (with mathematical proof) that Blackjack card counters didn’t actually hurt the casino that much. Jacobson would break down almost everything he analyzed into the potential profit per hour, based on computer-perfect play, and would present that in support of his writings.
What he often concluded was that pure card counters were a drop in the bucket in terms of the amounts of money that casinos were losing to advantage players. Jacobson remained consistent in his view as he always seemed to denounce 6:5 Blackjack as a travesty. The fact of the matter is that the casinos would be profitable at Blackjack regardless of their stance towards card counters.
In fact, Jacobson would frequently point out that the surveillance measures and game protection measures being used to thwart card counters would often be better directed elsewhere. While everyone is looking at the Blackjack table, for example, somebody could be just a few feet away hole-carding Mississippi Stud for a huge expected profit. They could be over in the high-limit room edge-sorting Baccarat and otherwise being completely ignored by staff.
Very close to retirement, Jacobson published a book called, “Advanced Advantage Play,” which was mostly a collection of all of his studies that had previously been published on APHeat.net. For a time, he took all of those studies down, but then later put them back up prior to selling his site. Jacobson had authored another work a few years prior to that called: The Blackjack Zone: Lessons at Winning in Blackjack and Life.
If there is one thing that can be said about Eliot Jacobson Ph.D., it is that he was always successful at the game of life. He went where his interests took him, did want he wanted to do, studied what he wanted to study and did not care about his detractors whatsoever. He would often respond to them, of course, but he was not about to let them prevent him from doing what he wanted to do at any given time.
Eventually, Jacobson would decide that what he wanted to do is hang it up. He would go on to sell his site to 888Casino, which APHeat.net now redirects to (blog) but all of the articles are accessible by clicking the APHeat! Link on the 888 site. In Jacobson’s own words:
I am sure that under 888casino, the posts on APHeat will reach a far broader audience. Getting this information out to players and gaming professionals has always been my goal. As a lifelong educator, I have always felt that knowledge serves the greatest good in the public domain. As one of my professors used to say, you can't copyright a theorem. Truth belongs to everyone.
Your opinion of Jacobson might depend on what side of the table you find yourself on. Are you a Table Games Manager trying to protect all of your games using best practices to avoid being hit hard by a team, or are you an advantage player who already analyzed a play that Jacobson would go on to analyze himself and then publish? Regardless of your opinion of the effects of his actions, there can be no dispute that Jacobson honored his commitment not just to academic honesty, but to keeping all of this information in the public domain. It is still there today!
Everyone knows the saying, “Side bets are sucker bets,” and Table Games Managers are well aware of that saying and the high base house edges that go along with such bets. Once upon a time, not only would a Table Games manager not think twice about the countability of a side bet, he would have just assumed someone crazy enough to put big bucks on the side bets could not have been an advantage player at all. Jacobson would go on to change the game with blog entries such as this one.
As you can see, computer-perfect card counting, straight-up, is a joke compared with even the best Blackjack side bet counting opportunities. As mentioned before, Jacobson would also detail his opinion that focusing on BJ card counters is a complete waste of time.
Again, what few card counters there are out there should be thrilled with him for taking some of the heat off of them!
Jacobson is retired now and he doesn’t seem to be showing any great interest in returning to the world of analyzing casino games. In fact, it seems like he is rather enjoying other pursuits. It’s hard to say if anyone will be talking about him fifty, or even ten, years from now, but there can be no doubt he made a substantial impact on the casino industry during his time in it.