Avery Cardoza chats about his new novel, Lost in Las Vegas

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Avery Cardoza is a leading authority on gambling and the founder of Cardoza Publishing,the largest gaming publisher in the world. He’s recently published his first work of fiction, Lost in Las Vegas, and talked about it and other topics on the Ante Up PokerCast.

You have such a rich history and we want to talk about that, but let’s start with Lost in Las Vegas. What prompted you to turn to fiction? I didn’t plan this book, this book just sort of happened. It sort of came out of a dark period in my life when a lot of things went wrong and one day I started writing and the book started forming. I had no plans to write the book.

You started writing this 10 years ago; what took so long to complete it? Writing fiction is a very difficult thing to do. This book, for some reason, was the most miserable experience of my life. I worked very hard on it. I worked 40-hour stretches; I’d work every day; it was just a terrible experience. So I can’t tell you why it was so difficult. It wasn’t something I planned; it just sort of came out of me.

The book follows the exploits of John and Ludo, two friends who remain optimistic about their trip to Vegas even after it starts less than ideal. Tell us a little more about it. Basically these two guys come to Las Vegas to have a nice little trip. … and everything goes wrong. They meet a woman, who one of them falls head over heels in love with instantly, and somehow she drags them through a whole other world. I’m sure that’s not happened to anyone, meeting some woman and then going crazy afterward. (laughs)

These guys are soon out of their element. One of them ends up in a poker game and they’re playing for a big dollar, and John thinks it’s a dollar, and then he finds out it’s a big dollar. (laughs) He loses all their money and they happen to be playing with a bunch of killers who just use this game to blow off steam. So these guys take all their money, their IDs, their credit cards, everything. … These are just things that could happen almost to anybody except that these guys are geniuses at it. (laughs) And it goes downhill from there.

Were the book’s crazy characters based on people from real life or just an amalgamation of characters you’ve met? In general there are certain things that were inspired by people. And I might have met a crazy woman in my day; I’ll leave it at that. (laughs) But most of the characters in the book are just figments of my imagination. They just came to me.

The book has been described as Pulp Fiction meets Pulp Vegas. The dialogue between John and Ludo had us thinking of John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. Was that the style you wanted to achieve? I wasn’t really influenced by any other book or movie. I used to be a big reader and at the time I was writing this book for 10 years I didn’t read any book, I didn’t want to be influenced by any book. I barely even saw a movie. … It’s just the way it came out of me. … I always wanted to write a novel, but I didn’t want to write a comedy. The irony is this thing people are calling it the funniest book they’ve ever read. (laughs)

Why is Mike Tyson in a lot of “Vegas trips gone awry” stories? I saw the Hangover and I thought they did a great job, very funny. But I wrote that (Tyson) scene eight years before they came out with the Hangover. … It’s just a coincidence. Mike Tyson is a Vegas figure and I used to live down the street from him actually. I don’t know him, but he just seemed to come into a scene. He’s part of Vegas and I thought that would be kind of fun. And that’s how he came about.

You wrote your first book, Winning Casino Blackjack for the Non-Counter, in 1981 when you were 24 and had been banned from every casino in Las Vegas. Can blackjack still be beaten these days with six-deck shoes and 6-5 payouts on naturals? Sure, you can still beat blackjack, and there are several ways to beat blackjack. Card-counting is at the heart of many of them. There are some very advanced and difficult techniques called shuffle tracking and there are a few other things that might be less than legal. But the game can be beaten; it’s a little more difficult now.

With so many poker books on the shelves these days, are there still poker titles that haven’t been written? Poker’s a deep game, and there’s a lot of good stuff coming out still. I think there’s a good poker book that can be written basically on the proper play from a psychological perspective and a math perspective. Ultimately the game comes down to math.

Let’s just talk about no-limit hold’em. And we could apply this to other games. When you make a bet, you want your opponent to call you, because you want more money in the pot, or you want to get rid of him. Let’s say you’re trying to get rid of the opponent and take the pot for free. When you make that bet, what’s the chances that this guy is gonna call you?

Now you sit there, you’ve played with him a little bit, you try to study him, you’re tying to read other people and you’re trying to block them from reading you. … So if you could really boil down the math and say all right, in this particular situation, against this type of player I have a situation where my opponent will fold seven out of 10 times. And it’s not an exact science because you never know, you’re taking educated guesses, but if you take enough educated guesses and study enough, you could start developing a situation where your whole game is really about betting. … When you play a good NLHE poker player, the cards are not the most important factor in a situation; it’s the dynamics revolving around is he gonna call me or not.