Experience vs. Knowledge

Humor vs. Drama

Wisdom vs. Intelligence

Blog & Photography by
Gregory Kullberg

March 9, 2006

DISCLAIMER: The following is a story from my recent vacation, in particular during the time I spent in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I've written down everything I could recall from the two days over which it happened. While it was an interesting experience and I never felt I was in any immediate danger, may it serve as a warning to anyone who ever comes across such a situation, as apparently these types of things are common in various parts of the world.

It started one afternoon walking down the street outside Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, shortly after I had arrived. I dropped off my stuff at the hostel and decided to wander the streets to take some photos. After going a few blocks towards Chinatown, an old man who I thought wanted money stopped me to ask about my hat. After a few seconds I realized he was just making conversation, asking me where I was from, what I was doing, etc. About 70 years old, he was pretty harmless and was just a happy go lucky guy with a sister who ran a flower shop around the corner. He shook my hand and introduced himself as Papa Jun, and then introduced me to Maria who was a similar age, perhaps slightly younger. I began talking with Maria, who was very pleasant and enthusiastic. She talked about her sister's daughter, who was about to move to San Francisco to become a care taker / nurse of some sort, and how the mother was very nervous about her daughter moving. We all talked for a while, joking and hanging out in front of the McDonald's where I originally met Papa Jun. After 10 or 15 minutes, they invited me to lunch the next day to meet the sister and 25 year old daughter that was going to be moving to the States. In exchange for calming the sister, they'd make me lunch and also introduce me to the daughter, who maybe I could keep in touch with once she moves to San Francisco. I thought about it, said my goodbyes and went on my way, and figured I'd wait the night and decide whether or not to show the following day. They seemed cool, harmless, and at the very least it would be nice to hang with a few locals over lunch.

The next day I woke up early and walked around to take some more photos. I had breakfast at my hostel, and then decided I was going to give it a shot and meet Papa Jun and Maria at 11:30. I made it there a couple minutes late, but they had big smiles when they saw me. We grab a taxi to Maria's sister's place, and on the way there I talk sports with Papa Jun, and Maria asks me more about computers. She also mentions her niece, and says how she told her she was going to surprise her with someone, and that she had gone out looking for a dress or something that morning. I figured if she wasn't going to be there when we arrived for lunch, perhaps she'd show up shortly after. At this point I was pretty much just going with the flow and having a decent time chatting with Maria and Papa Jun.

We arrive after 20 minutes or so and they gladly pay for the ride. It's a small place in a neighborhood of similar houses with gates and tiny front yards. They lead me in and sit me down, bring me a soda, and introduce me to Ato (who I assume is also part of the family) and a significantly overweight girl who has been doing the cooking. (I don't ask, but I hope inside she isn't the one who is moving to the States.) The place itself is nice but simple. All the walls are tiled white with the occasional decorated tile, and has a living room, a large kitchen with a table, and a room or two connecting. I hang out for a while in the living room with Papa Jun talking boxing for a couple minutes before we're called in for lunch.

We leave the living room and Ato joins us for lunch. They serve shrimp, chicken, rice, and fish - all pretty standard Malaysian foods from what I had seen so far. I dig in, and Maria tells me her recipe and peels my shrimp for me. I take one of the fish, a six inch fried whole fish, and while asking how to eat it jokingly pretend to bite off the head of the fish. Maria laughs, and eats pretty much every part of each dish, including most of the fish and shrimp heads. I pass, but she tells me I'm missing out on the best part. The rest of the conversation is led by Ato, who tells me he has been a blackjack dealer for the past 11 years working at some of the local casinos. It seemed quite the coincidence that I was fresh off a trip to Vegas and had just read Bringing Down the House on the flight over, so I was very interested in what he had to say. We talked about the book (which he hadn't heard of), and I told him some of the ways the book talked about winning from the casinos. He mentioned he had his own way of making big money, and if I promised not to tell anyone, he'd tell me about his system after lunch. I figured at the very least it would be a decent way to kill some time waiting for the daughter to show.

Papa Jun and Ato had finished their food quickly, and went into the living room to watch tv while I finished my meal with Maria. I joined them afterwards and Ato continued talking about blackjack and dealing. He asked me if I wanted to find out about his system, and I agreed, following him into a small air-conditioned room directly off the living room. It looked as if it was his old bedroom that he'd converted to a hangout. Inside it had two leather chairs in the corner, and a small 2 x 3 foot table in the back with some chairs. The table had a pink cloth tacked to it, definitely set up for playing some cards. I also noticed a pile of chips off to the side, sitting on a filing cabinet.

I sat down on the opposite side of the table facing the door. Ato sat down and brought out a clipboard of paper and a pen. He began to carefully diagram and explain what goes on in the high limit rooms in most casinos where he was used to dealing. He said there were no cameras since a lot of the high rollers were often types that didn't want a record of themselves gambling with large amounts of cash. He drew a picture of the room, table, dealer, banker, and player. He also spent a lot of time laying out the cards and explaining the game itself. There were some rules that were different from the Vegas rules that I was used to, such as an Ace-10 being a 21 and not a Blackjack, and all face card / Aces being Blackjack and paying two to one. With the amount of detail Ato was going into, I began to think that he wanted me as his partner in crime, most likely at some point over the weekend before my trip was over. Sure enough, he said how if I were to come into the casino while he was dealing, we could use his system for 20 to 30 minutes and walk away when I had reached the one-dealer limit of $300,000.00 and would split the profits 50/50. I didn't know what to say. I had just come off my trip to Vegas and read a book about winning big money from the casinos, so I was definitely interested. Whether or not I was going to have the balls to do it was a different story.

Now the difference between Blackjack and Poker Blackjack is that you play against the banker and not the dealer. Cards are dealt face down and you have a chance to raise your initial bet after having received your first two cards, in which the banker can see, raise, or fold. If you get a blackjack with your first two cards you immediately turn your cards over and win if the banker does not have the same. If you choose to hit after the first set of bets, you may take as many cards as you wish as long as you don't go over 21 and bust. The banker on the other hand plays by normal Vegas rules in that any hand less than 17 has to hit. From what I knew already, it wasn't hard to pick up.

Soon Maria knocked and opened the door to check on us. Ato invited her in and had her to sit next to me. We went through a few examples and Ato began to show me his system. For the sake of keeping my word and teasing your imagination, all I will say is that it was a pretty decent system that if played correctly in the high limit room setup that Ato had explained, it seemed as if it could easily make anyone with the nerves some big money. Initially since I was going to be around for the next four days, I thought that perhaps he wanted to pull it off the following day or that weekend. Still unsure of whether or not I was going to do it, the story from book still fresh on my mind, and the idea of being able to pay for my entire trip with plenty to spare, I listened on.

He then told me a story about a gambler he had dealt to recently who promised him 3% of his $180,000 Malaysian Ringgit winnings ($5700 Ringgits, which is roughly $1400 USD), but had short changed him when converting from Malaysian Ringgits to the US dollar, and only given him $300 USD. The gambler said they were worth more than the Ringgits anyway, even if the current exchange rate said otherwise.

Still writing on his clipboard and now on the third or fourth sheet, he wrote the name of the gambler, which I can't recall but will say Mr. Anderson.

"Now Mr. Anderson is a gay. Do you know what a gay is?" I said Yes while he wrote "Mr. Anderson -> GAY" on the clipboard. (Ato was a big fan of diagramming documenting everything he told me.)

"Now I'd like to use this opportunity to have a practice round with you using my system along with my $300 to get the rest of my money back and win more of Mr. Anderson's money. I am expecting him over here shortly, and don't worry, because you'll be using my money. At the very least it will be a test to see if you are ready for the real thing."

I have to be honest here and say at that point my hands were getting pretty cold and I was a bit nervous. I went from meeting a friendly old couple on the street who wanted me to encourage a sister that her daughter would be fine in America to a small room in a neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur about to use some sort of system just taught to me by a stranger to cheat another stranger out of thousands of dollars in a game of blackjack. I tried to play it cool, but at that point I felt anything could happen.

I started to get pretty suspicious. Ato takes out three $100 bills and tells me that it's what I'm going to be gambling with. He has me fold the money and put it into my pocket. He says how he's expecting Mr. Anderson over soon, and that we could use it as a practice round to see if I would be ready to do the same in a real casino environment. Within seconds there was a knock on the door, it opens, and it's the girl who had been cooking earlier.

"Ato, you have a guest." In walks who I presume is Mr. Anderson - a business-like Asian man in his 50's wearing a suit and carrying a black leather briefcase. Ato immediately recognizes him and introduces us. Sure enough, it's Mr. Anderson. I shake his hand, he sits down and he says "Hello. You can call me Mr. Anderson."

"This is Mr. Greg. He is here on vacation and would like to do some gambling. He has been led here by his tour guide." He points to Maria sitting next to me, and Maria acknowledges Mr. Anderson.

Right then and there was the first moment I had the idea of jumping up, breaking out of there, and running for it. I didn't know what to do. For all I knew it was some sort of setup to get whatever cash I had, or get me into some situation I did not want to be in. There were a lot of ideas going through my head at that point, while trying to maintain my cool and see how things played out. Who knew, perhaps it was legit and Ato really was looking to win some cash back from this Mr. Anderson guy. Things were still pretty calm, and I didn't feel like I was in any immediate danger, so I went with it to see how things played out, trying to keep it cool while constantly gauging whether or not I should break for it. I was now about to go head to head with some supposedly gay Asian businessman gambling away $300 of Ato's money (who I was supposed to pretend I didn't know) and use Ato's system to hopefully take whatever money this Mr. Anderson guy had with him.

Things got underway pretty quickly.

"Mr. Greg, how much money would you like to gamble this afternoon?" I take out the $300 and put it down on the table. Ato counts it out and gives me six chips worth $50 each. Mr. Anderson takes out a pile of US $50's, folded and bound with an elastic. Ato counts it and gives out the equivalent in chips to get going, which was roughly $1000. Things still felt pretty harmless at this point, but I was definitely doing all I could to keep it cool. I lay down my $50 anti and Mr. Anderson does the same. With my first two cards I get a 20, and using Ato's system, I know that I'm going to win the hand. I raise the bet and Mr. Anderson matches, and raises me again. I am forced to put in the rest of my chips, but it doesn't matter since I know I'm going to win. Sure enough, Mr. Anderson has a 19 and I take the first round.

Hand after hand I continue winning, raising my bets and at one point raising too high causing Mr. Anderson to fold. Mr. Anderson draws a Blackjack at one point, but aside from that it's the only hand he wins. Amazingly I keep getting dealt 19's, 20's, and 21's, getting cards extremely lucky to what I was already holding yet outside of the system that we had gone over earlier. I began to get a feeling that not only were we cheating using Ato's system, but he was knowingly dealing out specific cards each time. Looking at what we were getting I'm pretty convinced this was the case, even though I had shuffled the deck and he had only done some slight shuffling afterwards.

I was winning hand after hand, causing Mr. Anderson to buy more and more chips. He had thrown down a few thousand dollars worth of chips at that point, and that was when I felt my heart drop the hardest. Having lost another hand to me, Mr. Anderson reaches inside his briefcase and pulls out the largest brick of cash I have ever seen in person. When I mean brick I don't mean a hundred bills about an inch thick. It was easily 5-6 inches high with a $100 bill on the top and bottom, again bound by a couple elastics. He said it was $50,000.00, which would be about right if the brick he pulled out were all $100's. Not interrupting the flow of the game and still playing it cool as if I see these types of things every day, I watch in amazement practically drooling at the massive pile of cash Ato was taking charge of in the bank. Ato counted out the proper chips, changing my pile into the roughly six or seven thousand I had won at that point into higher value chips, and changing Mr. Anderson's pile into similar denominations.

Sure enough I kept winning hand after hand. On one particular hand I am dealt a 5 and a 6. Knowing what the next card is and also knowing what Mr. Anderson's hand is, I'm about to get a 21. Ato uses his pre-planned code phrase for finishing and asks "So Mr. Greg, would you like anything to drink?" I agree, but say that it's my last hand. I agree to take a card, land a 10, giving me a 21. Cards being face down, Mr. Anderson has no idea what I have, but I raise the bet a few thousand dollars. Having a 19 I know he is going to lose, but he raises my bet and goes all in - the rest of his $50,000.00. Of course going all in I am unable to match his bet, and here's where things started getting tricky.

If the idea of a scam hadn't completely set in yet, but I was really suspicious. With such a big hand at stake, Mr. Anderson began asking whether or not I could back my hand if I lost. Ato asked if I had a credit card, which I eventually obliged to showing, but that didn't have any holding power with Mr. Anderson. He said that I would need to show some sort of asset proof, whether it be bank account information or some sort of financial backing for the hand. Once it got to this point I began to do whatever I could to call all bets off, while trying to poke holes in their arguments while keeping anger levels to an absolute minimum. I said with what I had on me there was no way I could back the money needed to play the hand. Strangely Ato suggested having a meeting with me outside the room - strange in that I was supposed to not know Ato but now he wanted to talk to me in private. Even stranger, Mr. Anderson suggested me bringing my cards with me while I talk with Ato outside.

"You're trusting me to bring my hand outside this room, completely out of your view?" I say. "You have no idea whether or not I or Ato have an extra deck outside the room that I could easily use to switch my hand with a better one, and you're suggesting I bring my cards with me?"

Slightly thrown off Mr. Anderson says "Yes, that's fine."

At this point I'm doing whatever I can to slowly and calmly foil whatever plan they have and call things off. They weren't confrontational but it seemed like they were saying whatever they could to get me to leave the room to discuss some way I could back up the money that was being bet on the hand.

"Then leave your cards here."

"I know what cards I have but I'm not going to leave my hand here, nor am I going to leave the room. There's no way I can back up that kind of cash right now. First of all I find it hard to believe you'd trust me leaving the room with my cards, and I find it hard to understand why you need me to front that kind of money when I know I am going to either win or draw."

"Mr. Anderson has money power. He can demand whatever he wants if he is going to put his money on the line. So if you can't show that you can back up the hand then he is going to have to take all the money that's been wagered and leave."

"Including my $300 that I've put down?"


I couldn't make sense of this at all. Having to call everything off if I couldn't show that I could back the huge hand that was being played, Mr. Anderson had the right to walk off with all the money that had been put down.

"Bullshit." I say. "I have a 21. Either you have a 21 and we draw, meaning you get all the money back you've put down on this hand, or I win and it's over. There should be no reason based on the hand I have that you need to see some sort of backing from me, and you're saying that even if I call it off I won't even get my money back?"

"That's right, Mr. Anderson needs to see some sort of backing by you or else he will walk away with the money that's been wagered."

"Fine. Take it. I'm done."

After some more persuasion back and forth between myself, Mr. Anderson, and a huge amount of pushing from Maria sitting next to me, they couldn't get me to budge. I knew it was some sort of setup, and despite me having a 21, Mr. Anderson having a 19, them not letting me turn over my cards, and all they were trying to persuade me to do, all I knew was that I wanted to call it off as soon as possible. Giving some sort of outlet, I tell them that I at least need some time to go back into town to get whatever resources I can if I'm going to be able to provide whatever funds they were looking for.

"Are you sure you want Mr. Anderson to walk away with your $300, Mr. Greg?"

"Yes, take it. I don't care."

Frustrated, Mr. Anderson grabs all of the cash from the bank and puts it back into his briefcase. He quietly gets up and walks out, and shuts the door. I have no idea where he's going, whether there's a car for him outside or what, but a few minutes later when I leave the room he's gone.

Right away I start discussing what happened with Ato. "At least give me your number so that I can call you when I'm ready, and that way I can get whatever money I have so that I'm not surprised like this next time. Look at it from my perspective. You invite me in, teach me a card system, and all of a sudden you're asking me to back $57,000.00? And then Mr. Anderson gets to walk away with your $300 because I couldn't back that kind of money? It doesn't make much sense."

"I understand Mr. Greg. It's just that Mr. Anderson has money power, and when you put his kind of money down, he can demand things like that."

"Then there's nothing I can do. There was no way I was going to back that sort of money, and there was no way I could. I've got hardly anything on me. I need to at least go back into town, see what I can get, and then give you a call when I'm ready."

Maria still sitting next to me and pretending to side with my story, we get up and head out to the living room. Ato writes his number, hands it to me, and says his friend has come by to give us a ride back. How convenient, I think. I get into the car with Maria and Papa Jun, and conversation heads back to normal on the way back, but is definitely more quiet than on the way there. They ask what I'm going to do today, and I say I'm probably going to walk around and take some photos. It takes about 15 or 20 minutes to get back into the city, and pretty soon I realize I need to take a leak. Traffic is pretty heavy, and I let them know I've gotta go. After another few minutes of standstill traffic, I tell them I'm getting out, thanking them for the ride and all they've done. I see the Marriott nearby I'd checked into (and not told them about), make my way out of the car, glad I was finally out. I turn around, wave a smiling goodbye, and never turn back. I made it, and that's all I could think. It was hot, sunny, and I needed to take a leak. Making my way back to the Marriott, I throw on my suit and head for a swim, and spend the rest of the day soaking up the sun not knowing what the hell just happend to me, and laughing at how ridiculous a story it would be. And so it was.

P.S. If you're ever in the area and are interested in an experience similar to mine, just give Ato a call at =)

Photos from day 1 in Kuala Lumpur
Photos from day 2 in Kuala Lumpur


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