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THE REAL DEAL; How I trained to be a croupier in just ONE hour.

Byline: WARREN MANGER

Croupier was the smash hit movie that shot British actor Clive Owen to fame in America - and sparked a flood of interest in the profession. WARREN MANGER drops into Birmingham's newest casino to learn the tricks of the trade

THERE is something stylish - even sexy - about casinos and card games. You only have to watch the iconic poker clash in Lock Stock And Two Smoking Barrels to realise that.

Now I'm no stranger to card games. I have even ventured into the odd casino before. But I'm certainly no hustler.

When I play blackjack with the family at Christmas, I always seem to end up losing my pile of matches to my gran.

So the offer of a one-hour training session as a croupier at the new Broadway Casino at Five Ways, Birmingham, before its grand opening this week was too good to refuse.

I started on the blackjack tables where manager Adrian Moore taught me to shuffle and deal the cards.

Adrian is the first to admit that his skills are a little rusty yet he is still so fast that I struggled to follow his movements with my eyes, let alone my hands.

As a croupier I was only allowed to use my thumb and forefinger when dealing. Adrian told me how his manager put an elastic band round his other fingers when he was learning to deal to stop him using them. Thankfully he let me grip a betting chip with these fingers instead. Although I did almost master the technique, my imaginary customers could have boiled an egg in the time it took me to shuffle all six decks and deal.

After limited success with the cards, I moved on to handling the chips at one of the roulette tables, feeling cautiously optimistic.

This optimism quickly disappeared as I learned that handling the chips is an art in itself.

First I learned how to ``chip up''. This method allows dealers to pick up sets of 20 scattered chips quickly without counting them and divide them into four stacks of five.

After spilling the chips several times, Ifinally managed to make four little stacks in front of me - two stacks of five chips and two of six. Obviously I needed a bit more practice.

Adrian then taught me to ``push out'' stacks to customers. Several collapsed before I finally managed to push out fivewobbly chip stacks across the table with one hand.

I felt suitably smug - until Adrian told me that good croupiers can push out 10 at a time.

So, after an hour on the tables, I was still someway short of a professional standard. But that's hardly surprising considering new croupiers receive at least six weeks' intensive training before they are ready to work the gaming tables.

Recruits undergo 40 hours training per week and are also given ``homework'' to learn.

Many casinos prefer to train their croupiers at night to prepare their staff for their typical working hours. This often means that training sessions run from 10pm to 6am. During the first sessions the trainees will practise shuffling, dealing and handling the chips repeatedly to master these basic skills.

But Adrian assures me that speed is not essential when croupiers start work.

``The conditions are quite different when the croupiers start working on the tables compared with what they are used to in training,'' he says.

``We actually prefer that they start slowly and make sure they get everything rightThen they can gradually build up their speed.''

Perhaps there is hope for me yet. Even the relatively simple task of spinning the roulette ball requires training to ensure it travels a minimum of three times round the wheel.

But the most time-consuming job is learning the mathematics of being a dealer.

Dealers have to calculate complex odds on the roulette table quickly to give customers their winnings.

It may sound daunting but you don't have to be a maths genius to become a croupier.

Trainees are given tables of odds to learn in their own time. They are also taught a variety of ``picture bets'', where they learn to recognise how much certain bets are worth just by looking at them.

``We actually give the trainees diagrams of what certain bets are worth,'' says AdrianIn films like Lock Stock..., casinos and card games invariably attract cheats and professional gamblers.

But casino manager Ian Hamilton says they don't have to worry about training croupiers to watch for cheats.

``You see a lot of cheats and card counters in Hollywood films because it looks glamorousand exciting. But it isn't a big problem for us,'' says Ian``We do have inspectors watching the games to check everything is correct. They make sure no-one is cheating the casino and ensure that what the dealer is doing is right as well.''

Each table is also covered by cameras to help to resolve any arguments that occur between croupiers and customers. He adds: ``In years gone by, when there was a dispute between a dealer and a customer, it was very hard to prove who was right or wrong.

``Now we can show customers the film footage to prove what actually happened. ``But there aren't a lot of arguments. ``It's almost like a club atmosphere. We get little old ladies whokeepcomingback because they feel secure and they know they are being looked after.''

Next time I visit a casino I'll be with those old ladies on the other side of the table.

In the meantime, I hope to impress my friends - and my gran - with my newfound card skills. Fancy a game of snap``For example, a winning bet on one number and four splits in any combination has odds of 103-1. Our dealers would learn to know those odds of 103-1 just from looking at the bet.''

Once the recruits finish the training period most are ready to work on the tables. But Adrian admits that a number do drop out during the course.

``Some people drop out because of the hours,'' he said.

``The job means working a lot of night shifts, in particular at weekends. Some people just don't want to do thatCASINO FACTSThe new Broadway Casino employs a total of 52 dealers and inspectors l The venue will boast eight roulette tables, six card tables and slot machines l The casino will offer blackjack, three card poker and casino stud poker and card game competitions l It will house the first country's first touch-screen roulette machines linked to the live tables on the gaming floor l Members can also enjoy a restaurant, bar and cocktail bar with resident pianist

CAPTION(S):

CHIPS WITH EVERYTHING: Warren Manger tries out his croupier skills with the help of Adrian Moore, below; ON A ROLL: Sharon Stone plays for high stakes at the tables in the film Casino
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 10, 2005
Words:1141
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