Documentary follows blackjack pros
GREENWICH — At college, Chris Buddy became friends with a young man who had a rather unusual skill set.
His friend, “KC,” a math major at Tulane who later earned a degree in financial engineering from Berkeley, was very good at “counting cards” at the blackjack table, making quick mental calculations to improve his odds at winning big hands while gambling.
Buddy, a Greenwich High School graduate who has made two other documentaries and works as a video producer, was intrigued by the life lived by KC and others like him. He likes “pulling back the curtain” on interesting subcultures, Buddy says, and here was a great story — if he and his friend could avoid getting thrown out of casinos by sharp-eyed security staff who are on the lookout for gamblers like KC.
Buddy spent two years traveling around the U.S. with his college friend, examining the small tribe of professional blackjack players who use strong math skills to their advantage, and the tools used to thwart them. The documentary-maker used small “button cameras” to get the inside action that KC and other card counters use to beat the house, walking away with hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time — or losing big.
The result is a new documentary, “Inside the Edge: A Professional Blackjack Adventure,” which will be released May 21 on streaming sites such as iTunes and Amazon Prime.
“It was a thrill ride,” said Buddy, recalling some tense and hostile moments when KC was ejected for card-counting by casino security who figured out what he was up to. The practice of card-counting is not illegal, but casinos don’t like losing money to savvy players, so they ban blackjack players who are able to even the odds and refuse to open their doors to them.
That means KC and other blackjack players go to extreme lengths to disguise themselves, and the documentary explores the types of surveillance systems and facial recognition software that are used to find card-counters.
“It’s an extraordinary group of brilliant people who can get away with this. To win, and to make a lot of money at it, it takes real dedication,” said Buddy, who is based in Chicago.
The advantage gained from counting is around 1 percent to 2 percent, so it takes perseverance and patience to make the small advantage pay off.
The documentarian also interviewed a number of professional gamblers and casino professionals to present an overview of the most dedicated kind of risk-takers. “It’s a character study, and my goal is to profile the people who have what it takes to win,” Buddy said.
As KC says in the film, “A lot of people think it’s an easy way to make money. But it takes nerves of steel and faith in logic, and complete emotional control. It’s not easy.”
Casinos don’t want filmmakers on their properties any more than card counters, either. So Buddy had to employ his own brand of surreptitious craftsmanship to tell the story. After it was completed, the documentary was run past a team of lawyers, he said, and he has nothing to fear.
Buddy, the son of a news producer and a teacher, spent two years editing down the 900 hours of video footage. “A documentary takes so much out of you. And editing a long-format documentary is a very thorny task. No cinch,” he said.
It was a bit of a gamble for Buddy, but it paid off.