Thursday, March 09, 2017

Raining Money

I recently watched Rain Man (1988).  A memorable performance by Dustin Hoffman---the film either succeeds or fails based on whether his character plays.  He deserved his Best Actor Oscar (though the protagonist of the film is Tom Cruise as Hoffman's brother--he's the one with the arc).  I wonder how much came from Hoffman, how much from director Barry Levinson, how much from the screenplay?

But one sequence still confuses me.  The boys are driving across the country and they stop in Vegas.  Cruise realizes Hoffman, with his mathematical brain, can count cards.  So he hocks his watch and they go to the blackjack table, where he makes enough to cover his debts (which have been driving the plot).

Except that just having a guy sitting at the table next to you, generally letting you know what cards are left, isn't a very efficient way to count cards.  Sure, you might get lucky in the short run, but the film treats it as if it's a sure thing.

Then we see casino security taking notice, and saying amongst themselves that Cruise isn't counting cards because no one can keep track of a six-deck show.

1)  Actually, it's not that hard to keep track of a six-deck shoe, since most systems will just have a running count divided by the number of decks left to get a true count--you don't have to know every card.

2)  Cruise's betting patterns along (upping the bet when the odds are good) would probably be enough to give away he's counting.  (If he's not upping the bet when the odds are good, then he has no particular advantage.)

3)  Cruise and Hoffman talk at the table out loud about what sort of cards are left, so that pretty much gives away the game.

Later, Cruise meets with the casino manager who tells him he has to leave. (This is necessary for the plot--if he's not barred, why not stick around and make millions?) Cruise acts offended, and says how dare they accuse him of illegal activity.  Except card counting is not illegal (though using a device to help you count might be).  The casino could bar him from playing, yes, but they couldn't have him arrested.

PS  Hoffman's character has certain rituals he needs to perform to get by.  One is watching Judge Wapner (RIP) at a certain time every day.  Fine, except that show was syndicated.  As they travel across the country, wouldn't it play at different times, if at all?


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