Interview with Dr. Mike Ahlgren

15th ICGRT & the MIT Card Counting Panel

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The Interview

Heather: Dr. Ahlgren, thank you very much for being on the show. I really appreciate it.

Dr. Ahlgren: My pleasure.

Heather: Now, you are a professor at Penn State. You have a PHD in Gaming and Hospitality. You have worked at the American Gaming Association and you were the Manager of Operations at Harrah’s Research Center.

Dr. Ahlgren: Correct.

Heather: Now, you recently have presented at the 15th International Conference for Gaming and Risk Taking. This conference has been hosted worldwide, and it was the first time since 2000, that it was hosted here in Las Vegas. The goal of this conference was to bring together experts and scholars, so that way they could analyze the data in the gaming industry. This includes scholars from many different schools, including MIT, Harvard, Yale, Oxford, and of course, Penn State.

      Now, when thinking back on the week-long conference, what do you remember most about it?

Dr. Ahlgren: I guess, really just, the scope, the wide scope, it was amazing. It was an enormous collection of really experts, academics in both problem gambling and operations and just about everything you can imagine. There was someone there claiming that he solved baccarat, for example. Unfortunately, I found myself in a position, that there were so many interesting presentations, that I had to choose between, you know, four that I was interested in, because there were, you know, all doubled up on each other.

      So, I think what’s memorable about it, it was, in a way, a going away party to Professor Eatington, who passed away this last year. And so, there was sort of an emotional aspect. His wife and his children attended the final dinner, and spoke on, you know, untold stories about him. Much to his credit, because he is really responsible for building this particular conference up. The keynote speaker, from lunch on the last day was the director of the Brookings Institution. From, flew in from Washington DC to talk about China and Asian Gaming and where he believes that’s going. So the quality of the presenters, the emotional side and really to see, although I haven’t been a part of it that long, but just to hear the tale of how this conference has evolved, it was striking. It was very impressive.

      And Bo Bernhard, who heads up the International Gaming Institute here at UNLV, is really much to his credit. That Professor Eatington handed it over to him, really almost as an, you know, in his dying days. And Bo took it, and I think really made the most of it. I think everyone was impressed by what it sort of evolved into.

Heather: So, I was reading in our local Las Vegas Sun newspaper/website, during the conference, there was one in particular group panel that I thought might be interesting to talk about.

Dr. Ahlgren: Sure.

Heather: And this was the MIT panel.

Dr. Ahlgren: Yes, I saw it.

Heather: What did you think about it?

Dr. Ahlgren: It was very fun. Because the two gentleman that were there speaking, and excuse me, I don’t remember their names off the top of my head. One of them is a professional poker player here in town now a days and the other gentleman… I wish I knew what those names were. Can we dig that up?

Heather: Yes, I will look it up.

[Their names are Andrew Bloch and Henry Houh]

Dr. Ahlgren: They were clearly very intelligent guys. What they did was they spent a little bit of time debunking the movie and the book. And explaining what was true and what wasn’t true and there were large parts that weren’t true.

      Then the other part of it is, they talked about, it was really fascinating, they talked about the number of people that were on the MIT Blackjack team that went on to have very successful careers in hedge funds, IT companies, there are a number of them that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and they didn’t make that from Blackjack. According to the speakers, they actually, much of what they learned playing blackjack, they give a lot of credit to that. To their eventual success. The main example they gave is that most people whether they’re managing their stock portfolio, or managing the cards in front of them, do a bad job at really getting the chips in when the risk turns in their favor. And that idea, whether you have a feeling that the, you have reason to believe that the market is going in a particular direction, or a stock is, or a company is, or the game of blackjack. The key is, unless you push your chips in, at that moment, you can’t benefit from it. Those kind of ideas, while maybe simple, actually sort of transcend blackjack and can form in all sorts of different, you know, pursuits, so to speak.

Heather: That’s interesting, but I can see how that would be the case. Definitely.