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Mad Professor Speaks!

Life is Craps According to Pittsburgh Johnnie

The State of Mississippi had just approved gaming, the year I met Pittsburg Johnnie. 

I had been in Nashville on some music business when I decided to check out the premiere gaming barge to open in Tunica County, Mississippi.   It was called "Splash", and was the first and only casino in northern Mississippi at the time.  In fact, the Lady Luck Casino was under construction, and no other casino permits had yet been issued for the county. 

Tunica was a sleepy "bottom-land" that up until then had boasted a John Deere tractor dealership as it's largest employer, followed by the local hardware and seed store.  I'm pretty sure that the third biggest business was the two-pump gas station that boasted both a Coke AND a Pepsi vending machine.  The gas station was owned, operated and generally lorded-over by a guy named Clive and his three-legged dog…get ready for it…named "Bo".

As I was standing in the $10 entry-fee line to board this brand-new single-storey, vibrant aquamarine and turquoise-painted barge, the fellow behind me struck up a conversation about his being a professional craps player.  Since that was my game of choice, I listened intently.  He had a "splash" of his own.  His hair was jet-black with a huge wave of silver-white right at the front.  It looked like an angry ocean-wave that shows only it's white crest against the darkness of night. He dressed like he had watched too many Francis Ford Coppala movies, and didn't try to convince me that he was capable of what he had alleged; rather he stated a few obvious arguments against the likelihood of professional players, and then said that he could disprove that premise.  I too had heard that the possibility of being a "professional craps player" was a myth.  But having met Lyle Stuart the previous year at the Golden Nugget and following him on several of his casino money-making exploits, I knew by this time that there was at least ONE pro-player out there.   That knowledge combined with what I had personally experienced in my own craps play made my ears remain open, but I tuned my bullshit detector to full monitor and surveillance mode.  I automatically felt in my jacket pocket to be sure my can of bullshit spray was armed and ready to annihilate, if I caught the first whiff of crap-scent from this guy.

After about twenty minutes of conversation, I was sure that he wasn't an escapee from the local mental hospital.  At least I was pretty sure, because his shoes had real shoe-laces in them; he didn't have a brown stain from the corner of his mouth leading to his chin where tobacco juice had etched a permanent stain; he didn't LOOK like he was married to his cousin, although he may have been interested in her; and it didn't look like he had a nickel-plated revolver stuck into the waistband of his pants.  Hell, we were the only two people in line that actually had collars on our shirts.  Everyone else probably thought that WE were escapees.  Anyway we had a great talk about craps, life and the opportunities that seem to come to those who create them.

A while later I ran into Pittsburgh Johnnie at the tables.  He was two spots right of the stick-man.  Over a period of forty-five minutes his session bankroll fluctuated a bit until it was his turn to shoot.  His style was definitely "all his own" as he had mentioned receiving "heat" from every casino crew where he played.  Now I saw what he was talking about.   He'd set the dice very quickly.  He would then pick them up and make two or three very rapid full-throw motions, but the dice didn't leave his hand.  Finally on the third or fourth "phantom" throw, the dice would actually be tossed and hit the top of the rail at the opposite end of the table.  They would seem to hang there and teeter on the rubber rail for half-a-second, then fall backwards onto the table and just flop down dead, without a bounce, roll or whimper.   His turn lasted for about 10 or 12 rolls.   Oh, that was 10 or 12 rolls that counted.  He actually threw the dice off the table at least five or six other times.  This guy was driving the dealers, the box-man and the rest of the players absolutely nuts.  Most of the players kept "turning their bets off"; he'd roll another number, then throw the dice off the table again just as the players were turning their bets" back on".   Quite a circus!

When the dice rotated around the table again, he did absolutely the same thing.  He threw 10 or 12 good rolls that seemed to hesitate after hitting the rail and then doing a death plunge to the green felt; 5 or 6 "no-rolls" off the table that freaked everybody out; and those annoying "false-punch-to-see-if-you-flinch" kind of throws.  I knew that I would never forget that guy.

Fast forward to December, 1996.  I'm in Biloxi playing for the entire month as I had brought my entire extended family to the Gulf Coast for Christmas and New Year's.  I was visiting the Imperial Palace construction site, which was nearing completion.  I stopped into the Boomtown Casino to meet a couple of friends for lunch.   I then checked out the action in the craps pit.  One table was nearly empty.  One fellow with a full head of white hair kept looking at me and I nodded a "strangers hello".  He studied me a moment longer before looking away.  I shot the dice and had a very good run of numbers.  When the dice came around to him and he picked up the dice to throw them, I rocked back on my heels and silently said  "…of course I know YOU!"  After his 10-to-12 roll hand, I stepped over to him and re-introduced myself.  He said, "I knew it was you from the way you shoot the dice."  I said exactly the same thing back to him but with slightly more emphasis and irony.  After we both shot two more times, he said that he'd been playing for almost 16 hours and asked if I'd join him for coffee.

We subsequently chatted for an hour and he said that he had the dice taken away from him on many occasions over the years because of his style, but he maintained that was the only way he could make money at this crazy game.

I subsequently learned that he had a wife in Pittsburgh, one girlfriend in Philadelphia, and another one in Memphis.  Keep in mind that this was before Viagra was on the market, and Johnnie was in his mid-60's, so I had to admire him for more than just his stamina at the craps tables!

Johnnie had learned craps in the Army, and was one of the first in line when Resorts opened in Atlantic City. He had been playing pretty much full-time since 1976.  I figured that with his 20 years of experience, there should be some valuable informational wheat that I could sift-out amongst the worthless chaff of his fatigue-induced ramblings.

We met up the following day and played two extended sessions at Isle of Capri and Casino Magic.  The secret to his shooting was that out of the 10 to 12 rolls that he usually threw, there was a consistency to his numbers in the range of 80-90%.  That is, with his crazy shooting, some numbers were showing up at least twice and sometimes three or four times during his turn.

Pittsburgh Johnnie said "A common mistake is trying to get it all back at once after you take a loss.  Now you can have a Hall of Fame rebound but that is always highly unlikely.  Never leave the table if you are down any money, no matter how long it takes.  If you have to have your meals brought to you right at the tables, do it.  If you have to wear those Adult Diapers that Lassie's mom, June Allison advertises on TV, then do it.  Never leave if you're down.  Hey, if ya gotta go, ya gotta go, it doesn't mean you have to leave the table."  The look of disbelief must have been on my face because he proceeded to tell me that he usually stayed at the tables for 8 to 20 hours at a time.  I looked down at my cup of coffee and forced my eyes not to steal a stray look at his trousers to see if he was a Depends wearer.  To this day I don't know if he wears them as well as he promotes them, but I have my suspicions and I DO NOT let him sit in either my Porsche or Rolls-Royce.

"Okay" I said, "I don't want to talk about diapers or what's in them, I want to know how this Money Management thing works."  He replied "It's simple. Look at the table minimum and maximum bets.  You need a good grubstake to make this work."

You'll need the following bankroll for these tables:

$1,012 on a $1 table with at least a $500 limit.

$2,024 on a $2 table with at least a $1000 limit.

$4,048 on a $3 table with at least a $1500 limit.

$5,060 on a $5 table with at least a $2500 limit.


"You also want to have capital-reserves of at least ten times any of those amounts so you can play comfortably and not lose your nerve at the critical moment.  Now, once you have that, you are ready to bet." he stated matter-of-factly.

Bet 1 unit on Don't Pass.
If that loses bet 3 units.

If that loses bet 7 units.

If that loses bet 15 units.

If that loses bet 31 units.

If that loses bet 63 units.

If that loses bet 127 units.

If that loses bet 255 units.

If that loses bet 510 units.

Anytime you win, start over with 1 unit.

 "Isn't that just a "Grand Martingale" progression or something.  What kind of Money Management is that?" I asked.  "It's the best kind of management, 'cause you are the boss at all times!  I said it wasn't for everybody, but it sure is for me, and it works!  The odds of someone rolling nine straight points in a row is 500-to-1.  I'll take those odds.  Listen, others may consult the entrails of dead chickens to divine some kind trend.  Hey, that may work if you're a craps-playing witch-doctor down in Haiti, but here I'll take good 'ole 500-to-1 odds anytime, besides my own shooting has bailed me out of some pretty sticky messes over the years.  That progression gives you one unit of profit for EACH LOSS, not for each hand.  I actually look forward to losing the first two or three bets in a row, because I know that when it hits on say, the fourth bet, them I'm going to rack four units of profit.  That's how it differs from just doubling your bet 'til it hits." Johnnie offered.  He honestly admitted that every couple of weeks he'd run into a hot shooter who would roll nine straight Pass Line winners, and Johnnie was willing to put up with that, and then would slowly dig himself out again, while making profit from his own rolls.

I kept in touch with him for several years, and then I lost contact.   It wasn't until a couple of months ago that I ran into him again.  This time it was at Casino Niagara in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada.  He had been playing there for 17 straight days at that point.  He said that he had endured three heart attacks in those years, and he looked like he was about to endure one more any minute now.  I said that his daily regimen of smoking three packs of unfiltered Camel cigarettes might have something to do with it.  He disagreed.  He said that he had an additional girlfriend in New Orleans and had played many, many extra hours to pay for a new double-wide trailer for her and her three grown children.  All those countless hours of standing at the craps table led to some blood circulation problems in his legs.  Instead of recuperating at home, he immediately set out for the Southlands' "riper" pastures.  The long drive forced blood to pool in his legs and he suffered the first of several heart-attacks at the wheel of his shiny big-assed Cadillac right on Interstate 65.

The dice were then passed to him and with that unmistakable determination he picked the dice up, whipped his hand down the table like a swat at an invisible fly, but of course the dice never left his hand…same old Pittsburgh Johnnie.

Good Luck & Good Skill at the Tables…and in Life.

By: The Mad Professor

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