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Stephen Au-Yeung – Creator of Casino Hold’em®

Stephen Au-Yeung started out his career in gambling as a successful advantage player and poker player, making his living at the card tables and winning several titles along the way. In recent years he’s moved into the field of game development and designed and released Casino Hold ‘Em, one of the most widely available proprietary games online, which is now offered by most of the major software providers. Stephen had kindly agreed to answer some questions for us on his experiences playing and developing games.

Your website states that you started out playing Blackjack and Backgammon. How did you originally come to be interested in gambling? Was there a friend or relative who taught you? Was it a book you came across? What game did you learn to play first and how did you develop into a winning player?

My family, like so many Chinese, came to Europe from Hong Kong and began working in the catering industry. The irregular and unsocial hours helped to direct my leisure time towards the local Casinos which at the time stayed open till 4 a.m. during the week. There is a significant gambling element in the Chinese community and it seemed natural for me to spend more and more time in a gaming environment and less and less time in the take-away kitchen.

I have always been good with figures and I became able from the beginning of my flirtation with gambling to work out the odds quickly and to form a judgement as to the appropriate action needed to be taken to obtain a favourable result.

My grounding in gambling was in the Asian games of Pai-Gow, War and Májiàng among others.

At the time there were three or four House games in UK gaming salons (Roulette, Blackjack, Punto Banco and Craps). Although all House games are random. Blackjack is the only game where the House edge can be 'edged' out by what is called Advantage Blackjack. I was able to finance my gambling generally by my knowledge of the odds and using that knowledge to my playing advantage.

I learnt the best plays in the competitive games by observing the tactics of the successful gamblers; tactics I could analyse and apply. I also learnt from the regular losers; tactics I was able to analyse and avoid.

How do the skills required to play winning Backgammon translate or compare to those required to gain an edge playing Blackjack? Are there many opportunities to make money playing Backgammon today?

These are two different games with different dynamics. The games proceed on random events, otherwise there is nothing in common between them. Blackjack is a House game with pre-determined rules of play. Winning Blackjack may involve card counting and tracking which if played on a regular basis especially with large stakes would result in the Player being banned by the Casino.

Backgammon is a player -v- player game where the contestants are free to select the what, the where and the when according to their understanding of the game. Backgammon is out of favour these days; there is nothing in it for the Casino and there are bigger pickings for the gambler with the various big-entry poker tournaments.

Today Advantage Blackjack is more easily spotted by the defending Casino which has sought to protect its House edge in a number of ways over the years.

Playing in the UK, you no doubt came up against the UK casinos very strict ID requirements. How quickly did you experience heat and how did it affect your ability to play a winning game at Blackjack? What measures did you take to avoid detection?

Being Chinese I was likely to have an image as a big stake player; Chinese are regarded as big gamblers rather than Advantage Blackjack players. I was able to make a reasonable living at the blackjack table supplemented by winning against weaker Backgammon players until I was barred by most Casinos from playing Blackjack.

Your site also describes you as a very proficient poker player having won the British No Limit Texas Hold ‘Em Championship at one point. When did you learn to play poker? Do you find the skills required to be successful at the various poker games differ substantially from those required to win at games like Blackjack and Backgammon?

Over the years I concentrated on Texas Hold'em and Omaha both cash and competition as backgammon fell out of favour.

Winning the British championship in 1992 justified the time I had spent in analysis.

Poker in its various forms, i.e. 3-card brag, draw, stud, Texas Hold'em, Omaha, is essentially a game of representation and misrepresentation. The regular winner is the player able to disguise from the other contestants the true strength of his hand. The unique element in poker, any version, is that on any deal any hand can beat a better hand either by outdraw or playing a bluff. Once he has established a consistent image through his play the regular, winning player can cultivate his image to his advantage. To reach this level of ability should be the target for every professional poker player though fortunately not every player is so well informed. I learnt how to play poker, both from books and by observing the tactics of the successful players and selecting their more successful manoeuvres from which I developed my own (winning) style. I first played brag, draw and stud about thirty years ago. I realise that every time I take a seat in a game I am expecting to learn a new set of lessons. You can't assume that the 22 year-old in seat three will play Ace-nine off suit the same way as the veteran in the same seat in last week's sit-and-go. The key factors in winning poker are playing to one's image, a good knowledge of maths and therefore of the winning odds, recognition of one's opponents' own assessments of their cards and above all, patience. The wolf makes more kills by stalking his prey, isolating it and picking it off than attacking the whole flock in one go.

In the world of online gaming you are probably best known as the creator of Casino Hold’em®, a game that takes its roots in Texas Hold ‘Em and is now one of most popular casino poker variants online and is offered at almost all the major software platforms. Tell us a little about how you came to move into the field of developing casino games? Where did the idea for Casino Hold’em® come from? What was involved in the process of developing the game?

A number of factors pointed the way I should proceed in devising Casino Hold'em as a House game and exploiting the game for live dealer play.

Opportunities for testing my gambling skills were becoming more and more limited to Cash or Competition Poker.

The rumour-mongers were suggesting that my friend and fellow poker player, Derek Webb, had sold his House game of Three Card Poker for a substantial sum.

About this time I was trying to teach my girl-friend how to play Texas Hold'em. In order to keep the lessons interesting I devised the game which eventually became Casino Hold'em®.

It took me five or six months to convert the idea into a fully workable game – Hold'em against the House. The game of Casino Hold'em® was officially launched in the year 2000.

It took me a further ten years from the launch year of 2000 for Casino Hold'em®, to become viable.

From the little I know, Casino Hold’em® was originally offered in Egypt, South Africa and Russia at the turn of the century. Can you tell us about what was required to move the game from the development stages to the point of getting it out onto casino floors? How big a deal was it getting the game placed in these countries? What sort of time frame was involved in getting Casino Hold’em® from your kitchen table (development) to the felt in the casinos?

You get nowhere in the commercial world without hard work. I have had to combine and reconcile the financial benefits of my game for the Casino with the benefits of fun and the possible financial reward for the player. In particular the House edge must be fair for both parties with the true odds demonstrated and reported by an independent and reliable mathematician.

It has been a very hard job getting Casino Hold’em® from my kitchen table (development) to the felt in the casinos in Egypt, South Africa and Russia.

Since that point Casino Hold’em® has advanced and is now offered in casinos all over the world, including the US and UK. What were the challenges in getting the game licensed for the US and UK? How successful do you feel the game’s been in these markets?

No inventor or games author is happy however wide his products are accepted. As for Challenges the biggest obstacle to getting a game off the ground is the innate caution on the part of the Casino. They rely on the gambler instinct in their customers while keeping the gamble to the house to the absolute minimum.

I feel the game has been very successful in all markets.

You’ve had substantial success at gaining exposure for Casino Hold’em® in the offline market, but your progress in the online market has been even more marked with most of the market’s major operators including Playtech, Net Entertainment, RealTime Gaming, Dragonfish and CTMX - developing your game for deployment. When it came to getting your game onto these platforms how did the online market differ from getting the game into offline casinos? Was the online market more receptive or did it present its own challenges?

We are looking at two different animals but with the same challenge namely combating the resistance of one's immediate clientèle.

How do you feel your experiences as a professional winning player have influenced your development of casino games?

It has been a necessary part of the whole marketing experience.

Alongside Casino Hold’em® you’ve developed a host of other casino games. Can you tell us a little about the games you’ve developed and the ones you’ve got coming up?

Once you have a new game concept that you feel is ready to go, how do you go about marketing the game? Is there a built in audience that’s checking in with you on a regular basis? Do you then start approaching a list of previous or likely clients? Or is it mainly done through conferences and shows? Do you find the game usually goes to the first client to take an interest or is there a bidding process between interested buyers?

Since 2000 I have added some hundred or so side or principal games to my games catalogue.

Many of the games authored by me are now played as live table-games:

  • Casino Hold’em® Progressive (Caribbean Hold’em™).

  • Block Pro® Blackjack-Progressive.

  • Lucky-Draw Baccarat®.

  • Casino Omaha™

  • Blackjack Block®.

  • Roulette Link-Bets®.

New Table Games coming up:

  1. Roulette-18®.

  2. Second-Hand Blackjack™.

  3. Casino Hold’em® War™.

  4. Jackpot-Streets® (Roulette Side-bet).

  5. Trip Cards® Draw-Poker

  6. Raise’em® 3-card Draw-Poker.

  7. Top-Draw Blackjack®.

  8. Bacca® (Baccarat game).

  9. Odds-Win® Blackjack (Blackjack Side-bet).

  10. Ten20™ (Blackjack Side-bet).

  11. Red-Black Win™ (Baccarat Side-bet).

Click on link below and go to my website for games I’ve developed and the ones I’ve got coming up.

You are also known to be the man who gave poker giant Dave Ulliott his nickname ‘Devil Fish’. You even sold him the website ‘DevilFishPoker.com’. What made you associate Ulliott with this poisonous fish? Have you given nicknames to any other well-known poker players?

Over the years I had given nick-names to many of the Midlands-based and Nationally known Players. 'Devilfish' has proved to be the most enduring.

Below is what John Silk, Poker Journalist and one of my friends, wrote on the naming of the Devilfish after I briefed him on the events surrounding the giving of the name.

The Naming of Devilfish

It was a dark and stormy night. A crumpled raincoat knocked on the door. “I was told there was a poker game,” said the raincoat. “There will be a game,” said the doorman. “Start about two thirty. You're three hours too early.”

“The name is Ulliott,” said the raincoat. “Dave Ulliott. Is there any decent restaurant nearby still open? I need to eat and I would like to get somewhere dry.”

The poker game on that dank, early Sunday, November morning began promptly. At the outset Stephen Au-Yeung passed a note to the raincoat as an aggressive auction resulted with Ulliott 'all in' and both Au-Yeung and the big blind extending their exposure by ninety-five pounds. There was no further action.

There were two consequences as the dealer dealt out Ace, King, 9, 7, and 6 all diamonds.

Despite Ulliott flopping the flush with 5-4 and neither of the other two with a diamond in their hole cards, the pot was split three ways, the five community cards proving to be the winning hand. On the very next deal Ulliott raised pre-flop and was called by three players; he bet the flop and was called by two players; he bet the turn and was called all in by one opponent. Before the last card of the hand was dealt Stephen Au-Yeung shouted “Give it to the Devilfish.”

Dave Ulliott did indeed win the pot with runner, runner. As he collected the chips the note Stephen had earlier passed to Ulliott was blown to the middle of the table, writing side up.

The note read: 'I name thee Devilfish'.

Alongside designing games and playing, you’re also a wizard with casino chips, and have videos of you performing over 100 different tricks on your YouTube channel. Obviously some of these tricks were developed while sitting at the casino and poker tables, but you’ve also developed several original tricks that clearly took a lot of work off table. Could you tell us about some of the tricks you’re more proud of and a little about the skills required to perform them?

While waiting for a player/opponent to raise, bet, call or fold I would play with my chips. Unlike the majority of players I am a non-smoker. I observed early on in my gambling career that most players fidget immediately after making a bet or raising especially when on a bluff or semi-bluff. They attempted to disguise the value of their hand by playing with their chips or lighting a cigarette or pipe and thereby using their digital dexterity or devotion to the goddess Nicotine to conceal a 'tell'.

This started my hobby of inventing new tricks with chips. By concentrating on different chip tricks I could conceal all possible tells whether a bluff or monster.

Perhaps the most unlikely or difficult chip-trick I can perform is riffling three stacks of 7 chips each stack into a single stack of 21. I know of no-one else managing to perform this particular trick.

Try it next time you want to avoid a possible tell.

You might get lucky!