The Gonz Show Extended: David Irvine
What are you doing these days? You own an engineering consultant firm, right?
Yeah, I’m doing two things now. I own an engineering consultant firm called SBR Technologies Inc—I own that with my sister, actually. And I’m cofounder of the Blackjack Institute.
Did I hear correctly that your company has some DOD contracts?
Yes. (Doesn’t elaborate.)
Sounds very hush-hush. But tell me this: Did you kill that Russian spy?
(Laughs.) Wow. That would be quite the scoop. No, it wasn’t me. We do stuff that’s classified, but not that. That’s double secret probation stuff.
Being on the MIT blackjack team, that had to be a huge rush. Did you have to settle yourself down before playing? When I get all amped up, I listen to Michael Bolton. Something about his golden mullet is just…soothing.
Every trip was exciting. You get ready to rock and roll every time you go into the casino. You’d get excited—kinda controlled excitement rather than go-crazy excitement, though. It was wanting to be technically perfect.
Remind me, how did you guys get hooked up with Ben Mezrich?
The funny thing is, Mezrich talked to one guy mainly. I was not one of the characters in the book. My partner, Mike Aponte was, but it was mostly this other person’s viewpoint and he was feeding that to Mezrich.
Was the book good for you? Because, on the one hand, it made you guys the envy of every gambler in the world—and now you have this new venture going. But, on the other hand, I’m guessing you guys didn’t get any loot from the book sales. Or did you?
No, not at all. When it first happened, it was like, aw, man the secret is out. But with the Blackjack Institute, since everyone already knows what we did and who we were, there’s an opportunity now to teach the people what we did and how we made our millions.
So that’s a no—Mezrich didn’t give you guys any money?
You’re an MIT guy. Couldn’t you just devise a formula to make that bastard Mezrich pay up?
(Laughs). Hey, more power to him. Honestly, we wouldn’t have done it. He was much more forward thinking than we were.
It’s been a while since I read the book, but I seem to remember the biggest problem being how you guys would transport the cash. Didn’t team members have to strap money to themselves and serve as cash mules?
Transporting money—put it in perspective. It was pre 9/11. We could never do this today. We would wad up bricks of $10,000 and put them in our pockets, tape it to our body, strap it to our legs. Whatever. It looked enormous. The rule was to keep it on your body and never put it in a suitcase. The story Mike tells is when he was carrying 40K, he ran out of spots to hide it. He had to carry the last of it under his hat.
You know some people actually smuggle baloney to Mexico and sell it at three-times the price. Seriously, they're baloney mules. I’m just sayin’—could have been worse.
(Laughs.) I’ve never heard that. I suppose I could always start a baloney exporting business. I haven’t had baloney in a long time.
After a while, when you guys couldn’t work anywhere because the casinos knew about the team, were you down? It had to be a tough adjustment.
It was, but it was a long time coming. It was a general, gradual thing. At the end of the road, it just wasn’t an easy lifestyle. It was a job for us. We were working all night, long shifts, and it was stressful and mentally exhausting. By that time, too, we had mostly gotten on with our lives. We weren’t college kids anymore, either. Most of us had a good six year run.
You ever think about going back with a fake mustache and a hat? I could lend you a hat.
Yes. I think about it. We still, if we sit and play low stakes, we can still play and not draw too much attention to ourselves. The more you bet, the more attention you draw. Casino security is looking for thieves and purse snatchers and a million other things. To look at the face of every single player is probably pretty far down on their list. We’re able to play if we play low stakes. But once you start playing higher stakes and you adjust how you bet, that’s when they start paying attention to you.
Whose idea was the Blackjack Institute? I know it’s not illegal to do what you guys did, but it seems kinda ballsy to throw it in the face of the casinos.
There’s a lot of value that we have, and one of the things that’s important to point out is that this is a profession where the better you are, the more problems arise with the casinos. There’s nothing illegal about it. It’s perfectly legal. So we might as well get people to do what we can’t do anymore. We’re very passionate about making sure that these people know what they’re doing. We stay in touch with them after the seminars and we let them ask questions.
Have you gotten any negative feedback or threats from casinos or their surrogates?
I imagine they’re saying that internally. But we’re not going to stop. Casinos were built on people not knowing how to play blackjack. And, unfortunately, some people will always be bad at it and they’ll lose money. All we’re doing is offering people an opportunity to increase their odds to do well. It’s never fun to lose money.
The Web site says that your system is easy to learn. How easy? Cause, you know, not everyone went to MIT. I mean, I went to La Salle in North Philly. La Salle is a lot like MIT, by the way. Only different.
(Laughs.) My brother is an English major. My sister is an English major. I’m the aberration in my family. And my brother picked it up right away. The math is easy. The hardest thing you have to do is division, and we have formulas that make it easier for people to do it, and to do it quickly. You can learn everything you need to know in a day. Becoming proficient takes practice, sure, but it doesn’t take that much time. It’s just practice, that’s all it is.
So you guys will go to someone’s house for $5,000 and teach them. What time are you coming over?
(Laughs. No response.)
By the way, I’m a little short on the 5Gs, but I’m good for it. You guys do installment plans, right?
OK, one more question: Seriously, just between you and me, you killed the Russian, didn’t you?
(Laughs.) I can’t answer that one. Then I’d have to tell you where I get my polonium.