This Teacher Is at Head of the Class
By Mike Blahnik

A few decades ago I Greece, a mathematically inclined young man named Vas Spanos was an avid player of the Greek card game called “31.” When he was in college, he met some guys from France who had a system for winning at a similar game called “21” – known worldwide as

From that point on Vas Spanos has been in love with blackjack. He made it his mission to learn everything there was to know about the game. He pretty much has.

“For me, blackjack is a total war. Incomplete knowledge has no place in this game,” say the exuberant Spanos, who has made a name for himself over the past 15 years by teaching professional-level blackjack strategies to students in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. More than 2,000 students have graduated from Spanos’ class, and a very high majority of those are now consistent winners at the blackjack tables.

The Class I recently sat in on a class and watched as Spanos drilled his students on card-counting through a four-deck shoe, using the simple high-low count. As he laid out the “Grand Casino St. Marten cards on the green blackjack table personalized with his name, Spanos verbalized every thought in the counting process. By the time he finished the shoe, he had poured so much energy into the drill that he was nearly breathless.

That's the enthusiasm he puts into teaching blackjack, and he spends as much time as it takes to make sure each student is ready to play winning blackjack before he or she “graduates” – which can take as long as six months of weekly classes. About 80 percent of the students are men, but “women are (generally) the best students, “Spanos

Lest any students start to think the effort to become a wining player isn't worth it, Spanos intersperses short lectures into the practice sessions. “You have to make a choice if you want to be a sucker or a winner. You have no business playing this game unless you have the skill, capital, discipline and time to win, “he told this group, stressing that blackjack is a long-run game.

Spanos warns that even for the best players, it won’t always be rosy. “You have to be able to withstand big swings,” he says. “You have to have nerves of steel because you're going to go through hell from time to time.”

Success Story If you read Twin Cities newspapers, you undoubtedly have seen the ads for Spanos’ class, with the reprinted letter from a recent student now earning thousands of dollars a month playing blackjack. Spanos also has been featured on televisions news reports, which is where an occasional player named Doug spotted him in 1993.

After spending six months in Spanos’ class, Doug graduated to the world of serious blackjack. Not only does he win about 80 percent of the time now, Doug says, but his winning sessions (up to $1,800 or more) are much larger than his losing ones ($400 to $500). “You lose a lot slower than you win,” Doug says of educated players, “because you can play defensively. Then you nail them hard when the cards are good.”

Doug, who classifies Spanos as “one of the best in the world” among blackjack experts, says and important factor in his consistent winning is the aforementioned idea of “deck stability” – and advanced theory that Spanos has developed and is exclusively

Doug cautions that it takes much work to become a good player, “You have to do your homework, and know every chart for every situation, “says Doug, who still practices a little bit every day to stay sharp. He never deviates from the charts he learned in Spanos’ class. They're there for a reason,” he says.

After graduating from Spanos’ class, may students join his club, which meets once a week and gibes player the chance to practice in a competitive situation. Members also receive a monthly newsletter detailing the conditions at casinos and best places to play throughout Nevada, Minnesota and Mississippi.

Wait, There's More Spanos’ latest innovation is a two-level counting system designed to “absolutely crush” the over/under 13 side bet, which at one time was rather popular in Nevada and recently was implemented at several tables at Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake, Minn. He is offering the strategy, and a four-hour class explaining it, for $300. For information on the over/under 13 strategy or Spanos’ card-counting classes, call him at 612/374-5044.

Spanos Speaks Spanos on the future of blackjack in the Midwest: “The casinos will have to offer single and double-deck blackjack to survive. People will get injured losing, and the casinos will have to offer good games to get them back. As people get more exposed to the game, they'll learn what good games are.” The best places to play in the Midwest: “Turtle Lake has the best four-deck game is the world. Their management is civilized.” Spanos also compliments the management – though not necessarily the blackjack rules – at Grand

Betting advice: “Even if the count is high, don't increase your bet if you're losing the hands.”

Advice to novices: “Read a good book.” (He mentions Edward Thorp’s Beat the Dealer.) “Pay attention to the cards, and play for the fun of it.”

His favorite games: I prefer double deck. The penetration is better than single deck, and the stability stays there longer.

The success of his students: “Of course, they're winners. I couldn't have a successful business teaching if I only taught them how to lose less.” Why he teaches instead of playing full-time: “I like having the freedom to travel, working for myself. It keeps me in top shape and helps my play. You can’t play every day. I like to play when I want to not because I have to. I like teaching: it’s a form of creation.”