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Andy Bloch interview - Part 1: Beating Foxwoods Casino

In the early 1990s, the largest casino worldwide, the Foxwood Casino, was experimenting with a game called "Hickok 6-card poker", a game modeled after Let it Ride Poker.

Q: What's the difference between "Hickok 6-card poker" and Let it Ride poker?

A: In both Let It Ride and Hickok, the players were dealt 3 cards each to start. In Hickok, there would be 3 community cards by the end, whereas in Let It Ride there are only 2 community cards. The rules in Hickok allowed the players to double, play, or surrender (getting half his bet back, but giving up any chance to win) after getting their first 3 cards. Then 2 of the 3 community cards were dealt, and the players had the option to buy the 3rd community card for 1/2 the original bet, or they could give up or get
paid based on their 5-card hand. (The money for the 3rd card was not returned.) Then the dealer dealt the 3rd and final community card and paid off or collected the remaining hands, according to this table:

1 Pair of tens or better
2 Two pair
3 Three of a kind
4 Straight
5 Flush
6 Full house
20 Four of a kind
50 Straight-flush
200 Royal Flush
300 Five aces

Foxwoods played the game with a 52-card deck plus a single joker which counted as a fifth Ace (which couldn't be used to make a flush). The game was also dealt face-up, so you could see all the other players' cards to help make your decisions.

According to a story published in Gaming Today "two inventive students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) figured out a way to beat the game [Hickok 6-card poker] and took Foxwoods for over $1 million in a six-month period".

Q: Apparently you were the mastermind who developed the strategy to beat this game. Is this true, and if yes, how did you do it, and why did you decide to devise a strategy for this game in particular?

A: Yes, in 1993 I wrote a couple of computer programs to figure out whether the player had an edge and to develop an advanced strategy that took into account other players' cards. When I first saw the game, it looked interesting and I had some free time since I'd recently been fired from my job.

Q: Were you one of the students that "took Foxwoods for over $1 million in a six-month period"? Are you still welcome to play in the Foxwood casino?

A: We didn't win anywhere near $1 million. The casino figured that they made $1 million less than they would have if all the seats were filled with bad players betting as much as we were. But most other players weren't betting the $50 table maximum, plus there were some other non-MIT players who we could tell had figured out how to beat the game.

Continue with Part 2 of this interview: The MIT Blackjack Team

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