From chemistry to blackjack: a lifetime of playing it right
After four decades of analyzing, teaching and writing about blackjack, Henry Tamburin has a plan for retirement. He'll volunteer more often at his church and at a food bank in Daphne, Ala., site of his primary home. And he'll have more time to play the game at which he's an acknowledged expert.
It's a fitting goal for a prolific writer who has inspired thousands upon thousands of gamblers to play smarter.
Tamburin's work “just completely keeps the player in mind,” says Anthony Curtis, owner-publisher of Las Vegas Advisor and former professional blackjack player who met Tamburin in the 1970s. “Henry has done things for everybody, for the masses.”
Tamburin, who recently turned 73, has written more than a dozen gambling advice books and more than 1,000 articles in a variety of magazines and websites in addition to editing Blackjack Insider, a subscription website that spotlights writers across the country. His “Ultimate Blackjack Strategy Guide” is available free at 888casino.com/blog. He teaches beginner and advanced courses in blackjack and video poker. He's a regular at the annual Blackjack Ball, an invitation-only gathering of the world's most elite players.
In July's Insider, Tamburin announced that he plans to retire at the end of the year.
He tells Player's Advantage that he knew little about blackjack before he was at the University of Maryland studying for a doctorate in organic chemistry. His instructor in a probability and statistics course assigned students to analyze a game of their choosing, examining its statistics and determining the best strategies. While classmates picked games such as chess and bingo, Tamburin focused on blackjack, even though he had never played it. He realized the game could be beaten by following a mathematically derived basic strategy and by card-counting, which tells players when to raise their bets.
He completed his doctorate and got a full-time gig as a chemist with a manufacturing plant in New Jersey, but blackjack was important as well. He says he made money as a player, because the rules during the early days of casino gambling in Atlantic City gave a slight edge to the basic–strategy player, and card-counting increased the advantage.
Soon, he says, the Toms River, N.J., newspaper asked him to write a casino advice column. Then he and his wife, Linda, also a blackjack fan, organized a casino gambling club. Members gathered monthly at a restaurant for dinner, a presentation by Tamburin or other gaming expert, and a couple of hours of practice at casino games for play money. He also leased offices in Toms River and taught card-counting at night.
He and Linda devised their own team approach to casino blackjack. He says they would join a table separately, giving no clue they knew each other. Henry would flat-bet while keeping track of the count, and Linda would be laughing, talking and seemingly not paying attention to the cards. When the count was right, Henry would signal her to increase her bet.
“Back then, women could get away with a lot more than men (in varying their bets),” he says. “We did that for a long time.”
Tamburin's blackjack writings address advanced advantage play such as team play and hole-carding, but he is especially strong in explaining basic strategy and card counting.
“Henry has written extensively about how to play better,” Curtis says. “If you're doing it for fun and you can save money, that's a win.”
Tamburin says that as casinos spread throughout the country, gambling has become an accepted form of entertainment.
“When I used to go in the '70s, I wouldn't tell my coworkers or close friends. They would have been like, ‘You're gambling? Oh, my God!'
“Casino gambling has gone mainstream. Now it's just like (going to) the movies.”
Despite the wealth of information from Tamburin and other experts, some people insist on playing by their gut.
“It's human nature,” Tamburin says. “All we can do is teach and preach and tell them ‘this is the best way to play your hand.' Sometimes players want to do whatever they want to do. It makes the casinos happy, that's for sure.”
Mark Gruetze is the Tribune-Review's gambling columnist and has written for Tamburin's Blackjack Insider. Reach him at PlayersAdv@outlook.com