Biography of the Wizard Of Odds Himself: Michael Shackleford

Michael Shackleford might be one of the most interesting blackjack players in
this section, because he’s so much more than just a blackjack player. He’s
probably best-known for his website, WizardOfOdds.com, where he explains the
math behind every casino game you can think of (not just blackjack). He’s also
the author of Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino Games, which is a
marvelous example of economical writing that gets straight to the point.

Shackleford’s site includes basic strategy generators where you can input the
variations in place where you’re playing and get a 100% accurate basic strategy
chart for that particular game. He also explains an easy card counting system
that’s perfect for beginners and folks who just aren’t that good at math. In
recent years, he’s launched new websites with more specific audiences in mind:

  • WizardOfVegas.com – A travel guide and forum focused on Las Vegas.
  • WizardOfMacau.com – A travel guide and forum focused on Macau.

In the 4th quarter of 2014, Shackleford sold his network of websites to the
LatestCasinoBonuses.com network. He remains on the staff there as the primary
editor and content writer for the sites he launched. LCB manages the business
aspects of the site, including how the advertising is displayed.

The rest of this page goes into more detail about Michael Shackleford’s
credentials as a blackjack player and gambling expert. It also features
information about his various websites and his book.

More about Michael Shackleford

According to the about page on his main site, Michael Shackleford, A.S.A., is
a professional actuary. His career path is unusual among gambling information
site operators – he’s spent a good bit of it analyzing the math behind casino
games for various casino game developers.

He’s also an adjunct professor of casino math at the University of Nevada in
Las Vegas. He used to write for Casino Player magazine. We mentioned earlier
that he’s also the author of Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino
Games, which was published by Huntington Press – a leader in the gambling book
industry. He’s also appeared multiple times on television shows as an expert on
various aspects of gambling strategy.

Shackleford was born in 1965 in Pasadena, California. He majored in computer
science at the University of California at Santa Barbara, but he switched to a
double major in math and economics as a sophomore. He got his BA in 1988. He
then started working toward passing the actuary exams.

What’s an actuary? An actuary is a mathematician who specializes in risk as
it relates to finances. They analyze the risk of various events happening, and
businesses use these analyses to create policies and procedures which minimize
the costs of those risks. Most actuaries work in the insurance industry.

One of the more interesting aspects of Shackleford’s career path is this
background with the Social Security Administration. He worked there starting in
1992, and, according to his site, the most fun part of his job was tabulating
the popularity of various baby names. The lists of most popular baby names are
regularly published in newspaper, magazines, and websites. His work in that area
has probably been read by millions of people at this point.

He started investigating the math behind casino games in 1995. It didn’t take
long before he launched a website with analyses of the probabilities for five or
six casino games, and with little promotion, his website started attracting
traffic. The Web has always had a large ratio of promotional content compared to
useful informational content, and Shackleford’s site is a great example of how
providing unique information can eventually lead to a more profitable model than
a site which focuses harder on monetization. He didn’t start trying to make a
profit from his site until 2000, but between the income from his website and his
consulting in the gaming industry – which was a result of the popularity of his
site – he was able to retire from the Social Security Administration in April of
2000. In his own words:

“I made it my goal to become the most known and trusted name in gambling
advice for the whole gamut of casino games”.

He took this goal so seriously that he moved from Baltimore to Las Vegas.
After all, if you wanted to be in the middle of the gambling industry, where
else would you live?

In 2003, Shackleford partnered with Michael Bluejay, who served as his
website administrator for several years. Bluejay’s an interesting guy himself,
and he operates a terrific informational gambling site of his own at
VegasClick.com.

Shackleford lists the following as examples of hobbies he’s interested in
besides gambling:

  • Chess
  • Computer games
  • Juggling
  • Unicycling
  • License plate collecting

In terms of what games he looks to get an edge over the house, he focuses on
video poker, sports betting, and casino game tournaments.

Shackleford has a wife and three kids.

WizardOfOdds.com

WizardOfOdds.com is one of the most useful gambling information sites on the
Internet. Most of the content there, especially that related to odds and
strategies, is written by Shackleford himself. The main menu of the site looks
like this:

  • Game Odds and Strategies
  • Game Calculators
  • Gambling Info
  • Play for Fun
  • Gambling Online
  • Ask the Wizard

Each of these menu items features a dropdown menu with multiple additional
pages you can access. For example, if you hover your cursor over “Game Odds and
Strategies”, you can then navigate to an alphabetical list of casino games, or
you can access lists of games that are organized into various categories like
“Asian games” or “Number games”. The list of casino games is probably the
most extensive on the Web – we counted at least 200 different games there.

These pages of game odds and strategies are well-organized, but the
descriptions of the rules are a little bit stiffly written. Most of them are
organized in the following way:

  • An Introduction

    Which describes the game overall in a couple of sentences.

  • Rules

    A numbered list of rules for that game.

  • Strategy

    Where possible,
    he explains how to play the game in order to get the best odds. Of course, in
    some games – like roulette – your playing decisions don’t matter. Shackleford
    explains when that’s the case, too. A lot of times the best strategy for a game
    might involve nothing more than finding the best version of that game. On
    blackjack related pages, you’ll find specific basic strategy charts for the game
    under discussion.

  • House Edge

    This is the
    section that explains how much of an edge, expressed as a percentage, that the
    casino has over the player.

  • Outside Links

    Not all of
    his game odds and strategy pages have these, but they usually lead to more
    detailed examinations of games, or the specific page for that game on the
    developer’s site, etc.

The Game Calculators sections are a little bit different. These pages
generate strategies and odds for casino games where rules variants are a big
part of determining how to play or how much of an edge the casino might have.
For example, on the keno page, you can input the number of picks that you’re
making, the payouts if you win, and you get the house edge.

On the blackjack page, you have a big variety of variations available,
including how many decks are being used, whether or not the dealer hits or
stands on a soft 17, whether or not a player is allowed to double after
splitting, whether or not a player is allowed to resplit after splitting, etc.
Once all the factors are taken into account, the calculator gives you the
specific house edge that you’re facing.

The Gambling Info section might be our favorite section of the site. It
includes book reviews, a glossary, opinions about money management and the house
edge, a directory of other high-quality websites, frequently asked questions,
etiquette advice, and how to get the most out of loss rebate promotions.

The book reviews section is a little disappointing, as it consists of a
single page with a list of books. The reviews only consist of a sentence or two
on each book, and we would have enjoyed reading more detailed reviews. Still, an
expert’s opinion about whether or not a book on gambling is worth your time is
great even if it’s short – it’s definitely better than a lengthy review from
someone who doesn’t know anything about the subject.

The glossary section is refreshingly different from a lot of online gambling
glossaries. He features lengthier definitions of more unusual terms, but he
defines fewer terms than most sites. We’re not sure what the criteria for a
term’s inclusion on this list is, but we’d guess that it has something to do
with what Shackleford finds interesting.

The frequently asked questions section is extensive and well-organized. It’s
well worth your time if you’re interested in any of these subjects.

The site also offers a number of unique versions of casino games you can play
just for fun. That means you don’t have to make a deposit anywhere or download
any software. Some of these games are more entertaining than others, but since
Shackleford is a math expert, you can bet that the odds on these games duplicate
the odds you’d find in a traditional brick and mortar casino.

The Online Gambling section might be the least interesting section of the
site. It features a large number of online casino reviews which are clearly not
written by Shackleford himself. These were probably produced by the team from
LCB who bought the site. You can see that Michael Shackleford had a hand in
determining the mathematical information included on these pages, but the
reviews themselves skew to the promotional side.

The blacklist section is worthwhile reading, though.

The Ask the Wizard section might be the most interesting section of the site.
This is where Michael Shackleford answers his reader’s questions. Some of these
are on obscure points related to gambling math, but occasionally Shackleford
will get questions you might not expect.

Here’s an example:

“Is my boyfriend cheating on me?”

His answers to these questions are often entertaining and sometimes
enlightening.

Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for All Casino Games

We recommend that anyone interested in making good decisions about gambling
buy and read a copy of Shackleford’s book, Gambling 102: The Best Strategies for
All Casino Games. It’s a marvelous example of economical writing that gets right
to the point.

That being said, we were hoping for a thicker volume with more details
regarding each game. If that’s what you’re looking for, you might enjoy Andrew
Brisman’s Mensa Guide to Casino Gambling, which garnered a positive review on
Shackleford’s site.

In fact, we think both volumes are an indispensible part of a serious
gambler’s library, even though Brisman’s book is now a little out-of-date.

WizardOfVegas.com

Not content to just own and write the best source of information about
gambling game math on the Internet, Shackleford also launched a couple of sites
that were designed as more of a travel guide. One of these is WizardOfVegas.com.

Like WizardOfOdds.com, this site is organized into broad sections:

  • Articles
  • Hotels
  • Forums
  • Games
  • Surveys
  • Guides
  • Shows
  • Trails
  • Blogs

The Articles section features a lot of interesting blog post type material,
but it seems like 80% of it is written by people other than Shackleford. It’s
still an entertaining section and better written than most other sites’ similar
sections.

The Hotels section is cool. It features a map where you can click on a hotel
and/or casino by location and visit that property’s official website. It also
features a table listing casinos by name, owner, region, and number of games in
the following categories:

  • Poker
  • Table games
  • Slots
  • Sportsbook
  • Bingo

The reviews are written by various contributors who are identified by name
and/or initials.

It even includes a section for defunct hotels.

The Forums are probably the 2nd most interesting pages on the site. Not only
does Shackleford participate in the discussions here, but the other contributors
seem to be smarter than the average forum participant on the Web. If you want to
discuss Las Vegas with smart people, this is the place to do it.

The Games section consists of casino games you can play for free in your
browser.

The Surveys section is easily the most interesting aspect of this site, and
we wish it were the first item in the menu. The surveys are overviews of the
rules and odds for various games at various casinos.

Here’s an example:

The baccarat survey presents a table with a list of casinos offering the
game, how many tables they have, and what the minimum and maximum bets are at
those casinos. So, if you’re looking for a casino where you can play baccarat
for $10 a hand, you can sort the casinos in order of minimum bet and get a
selection. On the other hand, if you’re a high roller looking for a casino that
will take your action on baccarat, you can click on the max bet column and put
the casinos in descending order of which casinos offer the highest betting
limits. (You can find several casinos that have no problem letting you play
baccarat for $20,000 a hand by the way.)

The Guides section features explanations of how to play your favorite casino
games. Some of this information is merely re-packaged from the original
WizardOfOdds.com’s site, but the design of this section is a lot easier on the
eyes. (We’re not fans of the look and feel of WizardOfOdds.com’s latest
iteration – it’s clunky to navigate, in our opinion.)

The Shows section features reviews of various Las Vegas shows, all of which
seem to have been written by Michael Shackleford himself. Again, a useful and
unique section.

The Trails section is an unusual option on a travel guide site for Vegas, but
Shackleford explains that he wanted to include a section about exercise trails
in the area because he’s interested in more than just gambling – he’s also
interested in exercise. If you’re interested in exercise, too, then this section
might be your favorite on the entire website.

The Blogs are written by various contributors to the site, many of whom also
contribute to the forums. We’re glad that the site has so much user-generated
content. It’s a refreshing difference from the same old, same old that we see on
many gambling websites.

WizardOfMacau.com

We really enjoy this site because it doesn’t have the flashy modern design of
the other two sites in Shackleford’s network. That’s probably because the LCB
guys haven’t gotten hold of it yet.

Like WizardOfVegas.com, it’s meant to be a travel guide. It’s organized into
the following sections:

  • Games
  • Casinos
  • Maps
  • Pictures

The Games section is more interesting than you might expect, because they do
play some different games in Macau than in Vegas. Also, their mix of games is
dramatically different – 80% of the gambling in Macau casinos takes place at the
baccarat tables, and Pai Gow is also a hugely popular game there.

The Casinos section includes listings for the various casinos there. Since
the site hasn’t been updated since 2012, some of this information is hopelessly
outdated. Macau is opening new casinos right and left.

The Maps section is detailed and cool, but it hasn’t been updated since 2009.

The Pictures section is cool, too, because it represents a visual experience
of what Shackleford actually saw and did there when he visited.

Michael Shackleford’s Other Websites

Shackleford also operates a Spanish-language gambling website at
lasapuestas.mx and a site focused on math problems at mathproblems.info. They’re
both interesting enough sites, but in some ways, the Spanish-language site is
just “more of the same” but in Spanish.

The Wizard’s Ace Five Count

Shackleford tried to create a card counting system that was strong enough to
overcome the house edge while still being easy to learn and implement in a
casino. That strategy he offers is the ace five-count, which we believe was
first popularized by Ken Uston.

Here’s how it works:

You start by deciding what the most you’re willing to bet is and what your
minimum bet is. These have to be determined in a power of 2, so your
maximum bet might be 8, 16, or 32.

At the beginning of each shoe, you start with a count of 0. Every time a 5 is
dealt, you add +1 to the count. Every time you see an ace, you subtract 1 from
the count.

  • You double your last bet if the count is 2 or more.
  • You bet the minimum if the count is 1 or less.
  • Other than that, you just use basic strategy.

You wind up with a large betting spread, but you also get an edge over the
casino while using what is a simple method of keeping up with your relative edge
over the casino.

We’ve used this system in casinos before with great success. But it is an
obvious counting methodology, and the casinos did back us off a bit by starting
to shuffle on every single hand. But while it was working, it was working great.

Conclusion

When it comes to blackjack players who are also well-versed in other gambling
games, Michael Shackleford is one of the premier experts on the Web. You can
find all the information you might need to become an expert blackjack player on
his main site, WizardOfOdds.com.

But more interestingly, Shackleford is one of those rare gambling writers and
webmasters who puts his unique personality front and center in his work. We were
afraid that when LatestCasinoBonuses.com acquired his site that they would
weaken his brand. To some extent, we did see a little bit of that – the reviews on
the site are more promotional than the reviews we usually prefer to read.

But Shackleford has such a strong personality and such a clear voice that his
involvement in those sites has prevented them from turning into just another
example of a site that cares about nothing else but making money.

We salute him for that.