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Les Golden

Engineering Physicist- Astro Physicist- Entertainer – Gaming Authority and Political Activist

The following article provided by classmate, Les Golden, was written by Diane Nichols, a Chicago-based free-lance writer and first appeared in Triblocal. Triblocal publishes a weekly print edition featuring stories written by friends, neighbors and colleagues around town. Paragraph breaks have been included here to fit the format of our website.

Les studied Engineering Physics at Cornell then went west to U.C. Berkeley. This article tells us of some of his other interests.
The Editor

"Cut the Taxes" is Now "Cut the Cards"

To Oak Park taxpayers, he's known as "Cut the Taxes," the erstwhile candidate and tax reform advocate, appealing taxes and sponsoring forums.

To Oak Park Republicans, he's the de facto though unelected GOP Oak Park committeeman, organizing meetings, fundraisers, and functions.

To Oak Park environmentalists, he's the long-term resident behind the movement to save the Marion Street Mall and trees in Field Park and elsewhere in Oak Park.

But to the rest of the world he's the authoritative and entertaining card counting and gaming columnist for gambling magazines.

Les Golden, card counter and columnist, is known to readers of magazine, Gambling Online magazine, Bluff Europe magazine, and iGaming Business magazine in Australia and New Zealand, Canada, the UK, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macao, Monaco, and other gambling meccas around the world. His columns are published in in-flight magazines placed in first class flights leaving Heathrow Airport in London. Overall, these various magazines have readerships, by mailed subscriptions, at casinos, and in bookstores and magazine stands, of throngs of international gamblers and tourists. Counting cards at blackjack has been known for several decades, made famous by the Dustin Hoffman role in "Rainman" and the 2008 movie "21."

Golden learned how to count cards in the 1970's while a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. He and his twin brother Bruce had entertained their friends in penny-ante poker games in the basement of the Golden family home as teenagers and became aware of the books by card maven Oswald Jacoby. As adults, when Bruce was preparing to take a trip to Bermuda, he read Jacoby's book on blackjack.

Les, while at Berkeley, founded the jazz program there and when the big band for which he played trumpet, sang, and emceed went to the Reno Jazz Festival, he went to famous Moe's bookstore in Berkeley to get the Jacoby book that Bruce recommended to prepare to hit the Reno tables. There he found "Beat the Dealer," the seminal book by MIT mathematics professor Edward Thorp, a Chicago native. "Thorp's system was obviously much more powerful than what Oswald Jacoby presented," recalls Golden. "He developed it with the aid of another Chicagoan, Julian Braun, an IIT grad who was working at IBM and had access to their computers.

I read 'BTD,' mastered the system, partially during breaks in our concerts in the Bear's Lair, and made out well in Reno." Golden notes that although Thorp resides in California, "Braun passed a few years ago and is buried in the Jewish Waldheim cemetery in Forest Park. When I pay respects to my grandparents and aunts and uncles there, I stop by Braun's grave and treat it like a card counter's shrine."

During that first trip to Reno, Les gained somewhat of a mystique with the members of the band. "Several of the guys were walking through Harold's Club and we stopped to observe one table," Golden remembers. "The deck got very hot and I told Glenn Markoe, a French horn player in the band, the brother of comic Merrill Markoe, and now a curator at the Cincinnati Fine Arts Museum, to lay down $10. The deck got even hotter, and I nearly yelled in his ear. He looked at me quizzically, but laid down the $10 and got a blackjack!"

For the rest of his years in Berkeley, Golden made monthly trips to Reno or Lake Tahoe. He also played weekends with his dance band. "I think I'm the only graduate student in the history of the world who came out of grad school with greater net worth than when I went in," Golden says. One year, Bruce, who had now read the Thorp book, came out to Berkeley and the twins spent an entire month gambling throughout Nevada.

When he moved to North Hollywood to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for his post-doctoral appointment in astrophysics, Golden made those monthly trips to Las Vegas. As an astronomer, Golden has traveled around the world twice lecturing on cruise ships. He has played blackjack extensively in shore excursions, from Monaco to Macau.

Fast forward to the 2000's. His teaching and research duties at UIC and the graduate school of business at Roosevelt University winding down, Golden queried various gaming magazine publishers and was approached by Lyceum Publishing in London. As the writer of the monthly "Count on Les" column, his popularity was almost immediate. He writes in a lucid manner, but his trademark is his humor. His editor at Bluff Europe, Philip Conneller, wrote: "Les Golden makes numbers hilarious. He's simply the funniest gaming strategy writer there is." He now writes for four gambling magazines. Dave Bland, the editor of Flush Magazine and a frequent television gaming pundit, added, "Les Golden is a comedy genius. I could write more but it really is as simple as that. An expert in his field, he makes getting educated not only painless but actually funny." James McKeown, editor of iGaming Business, states, "Les Golden has an ever-increasing influence and burgeoning popularity. His is a significant name in the industry, and is the 'go to' man for counting, strategy and anecdotal literary dexterity. I cannot acclaim his star highly enough." Jon Young, Editor of WPT (World Poker Tour) Magazine and former editor of Magazine wrote, "I learned more about blackjack strategy during my tenure through Les' articles than I did through many failed trips to Vegas. Always concise, easy-to-read, and intelligent, Les' pieces were the highlight of the month. His talents also stretched to travel writing. He provided gambling guides for the magazine to cities as far-flung as Hong Kong and Chicago which were informed, amusing, and relevant, and good enough to put a hundred Bill Brysons to shame."

Concerning his humor, Les is unabashed about his iconoclastic and outrageous approach. "My editors let me write things that would get me tarred, feathered, branded, ostracized, and pasteurized in America. I insult rubes from Des Moines, mafia bosses, Congressmen, pit bosses with the I.Q.'s slightly above that of frozen bananas, I.R.S. agents, and hookers in Vegas lobbies. I'm allowed to meander off into subjects that serendipitously appear, such as loading of dice, alien visitations, the Three Stooges, and my Oak Park High English teacher, who taught me how to write, Nina Grace Smith."

His editors love his writing. Mr. Conneller describes him as "rakish" and "bond-esque." Mr. McKeown's favorite quote is Les' description of a game he developed to illustrate how casinos set the rules of games to determine the payoffs. The game "Dumbo Craps" is described by Les as "for those of you with unclean minds, a compound noun, not a complete sentence."

Golden receives several dozen email letters from his readers every month. "Some of the funniest stuff I include in my columns are these bizarre letters. My favorite is the guy from Lodz who thought 'card pointing' was like 'tuck pointing' and wanted me to sponsor him and bring him to America. Golden has compiled many of his columns into a book, "Confessions of a Card Counter: How You Can Make a Living Playing Blackjack." "The casinos would have you believe that using your brain is an illegal activity," says Golden. Golden admits that his card counting has led him to being barred from numerous casinos around the world. The "confessions" book is "my death row admissions of my guilt as someone who uses their brains," he says. To "Cut the Taxes" we can add a new nickname for Les, Les "Cut the Cards" Golden.

# # # Diane Nichols is a Chicago-based free-lance writer.