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Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 5:39 pm 
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Family members say Michael Larson was a fanatic when it came to "get rich" schemes. He tried everything to gain the riches he believed he deserved.

This year marks the 25th year since the Lebanon man, wearing a thrift-store shirt purchased for 65 cents, stepped onto a Hollywood soundstage and entered television history. In 1984, Larson figured a way to beat the system and won more than $100,000 on a single episode of the TV game show, "Press Your Luck."

Executives protested and producers fretted, but Larson ultimately outwitted the system to win, at the time, the most anyone had won on a TV game show. But for Larson, it was also sadly the pinnacle of a unique life and the start of a long journey downward. TV producers made a documentary about Larson in 2003.

"Michael was a character," said brother James Larson, a Lebanon resident. "He was obsessed with trying get-rich-quick schemes."

His winning "scheme" was to tape episodes of "Press Your Luck" and rewatch them in slow motion until he determined a pattern that would guarantee success. Whereas most contestants won a few thousand, he memorized the pattern and became unstoppable. But life after the limelight was not so kind. Larson began a downward spiral of bad investments and poor choices.

He died of throat cancer in 1999, while under investigation from the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission.


How the ice cream truck driver took a network for a ride


Michael Larson became a game show legend 25 years ago, outsmarting a computerized game show and winning a record amount of money.

Larson, who was born in Lebanon, had worked for a time in research and development at NCR, before he was downsized and began working for Chrysler. After breaking his leg in an accident, his brother, James Larson, said that Michael began driving an ice cream truck.

"[Michael] was very intelligent," James said, adding Lawson figured out the most profitable routes and times for his ice cream truck business that he operated in Dayton. "He wanted to run a fleet, but couldn't find reliable help."

In 1983, James said his brother became fixated on a particular game show, "Press Your Luck," which aired daily on CBS. In the documentary "Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal," Larson's then-common-law wife, Theresa Dinwitty, said Larson had a bank of television screens and VCRs he would scan to figure out how to win on the game.

The basic premise of the show, which aired from 1983 to 1987, was that players would try to land a flashing light on a box containing a certain amount of money or prizes. Both the lights and prizes flashed in what was supposedly random order, although Larson would prove this not to be the case. Players tried to avoid landing on "Whammies," cartoon monster that signaled a loss of money.

Through meticulously taping and rewatching the show frame-by-frame, Larson was able to determine certain squares that never showed a "whammy" and a pattern to guarantee successfully landing on those boxes.

James said his brother was confident in his ability to land a spot on the show. In an interview with TV Guide in 1994, the show's contestant supervisor said he was suspicious of Larson, but other producers decided to approve him.

On the day he appeared, Larson was in last place after the first round. In the second round, he went on an unprecedented run, taking 40 spins without hitting a "whammy," consistently hitting spins that held cash prizes plus granted him additional spins, meaning he could play virtually forever.

"He forgot his exit strategy," James said. "He only remembered the pattern to get more spins. Anytime you watch him and he wins a trip, that's pure luck."

By the end of his run, Larson had won $110,237 in cash and prizes, including two tropical vacations and a boat.

As the show wound down, host Peter Tomarken jokingly thanked him for stopping his play before he owned CBS. Larson was cagey about why he had risked losing all his money by continuing to spin, noting he didn't want another contestant to go on a similar run as he had.

"He held his hands directly over the buzzer, very different from most contestants," James said. "And he didn't chant or yell. He was too busy concentrating."

Executives said they tried to find a way to disqualify Larson, but ultimately conceded he had done nothing wrong, and had only paid better attention than most contestants.

"He got the check in August," James said. "It came in just a regular stamped envelope. After taxes, I think it was around $99,000."

"You can like him or not like him, but you can't help but admire what he did," Tomarken noted in the 2003 documentary.

Unfortunately, Larson's big win did not catapult him to further success or a life of comfort. Still chasing the big easy buck, James said that Larson lost considerable amounts of his winnings in various schemes.

Once, when trying to win a radio contest where players had to match up the serial number of a dollar bill read over the air, Larson withdrew tens of thousands of dollars in one dollar bills, only for the money to be stolen from his house.

"I got calls from the FBI about him after he moved to Florida," James said. "I told them I didn't want to know where he was."

Larson died in 1999 of throat cancer and is buried in Lebanon.

"Mike was very bright, but he had a different set of values," James said.

"He was guilty of nothing more than being extremely enterprising," Tomarken said. "I believed he earned every nickel."


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Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 7:25 pm 
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Interesting story. I never watched day time TV during the 80's, so I missed this one.


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Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 7:44 pm 
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I remember this happening, and at first (after about a week)it was "brushed aside" as luck, but as time went on, it got to be a much bigger story. It is somewhat of a "legend" today.


This was one of the best game shows ever in my opinion.

I also remember "Jokers Wild". That was yet another I really liked.



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Unread postPosted: Fri Feb 27, 2009 7:50 pm 
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Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 1:33 am 
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Heres a clip of the old Joker's Wild....................... some of us should remember this one!




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Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 8:24 am 
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The Original Post at "That Other Joint"

Welcome to three years ago...


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Unread postPosted: Sat Feb 28, 2009 1:02 pm 
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Cyril The Thrill wrote:
The Original Post at "That Other Joint"

Welcome to three years ago...


I remember that post very well, Thanks to you and the links I was able to view Larson's run which I had never seen before then. What gets me is the number of idiots that believe he cheated. The man was just smart in figuring out the patterns and used that and concentration to his advantage. It was no-more cheating than if I'd studied to be on Jeopardy.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:51 pm 
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Yeah and no more cheating than those MIT students that won millions every weekend by counting cards using their genius IQs, then wrote a book about it, which was made into a movie. I think it was breaking Vegas or something 21. I think Kate Bosworth was in the movie.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Jul 26, 2009 6:52 pm 
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Major wrote:
Family members say Michael Larson was a fanatic when it came to "get rich" schemes. He tried everything to gain the riches he believed he deserved.

This year marks the 25th year since the Lebanon man, wearing a thrift-store shirt purchased for 65 cents, stepped onto a Hollywood soundstage and entered television history. In 1984, Larson figured a way to beat the system and won more than $100,000 on a single episode of the TV game show, "Press Your Luck."

Executives protested and producers fretted, but Larson ultimately outwitted the system to win, at the time, the most anyone had won on a TV game show. But for Larson, it was also sadly the pinnacle of a unique life and the start of a long journey downward. TV producers made a documentary about Larson in 2003.

"Michael was a character," said brother James Larson, a Lebanon resident. "He was obsessed with trying get-rich-quick schemes."

His winning "scheme" was to tape episodes of "Press Your Luck" and rewatch them in slow motion until he determined a pattern that would guarantee success. Whereas most contestants won a few thousand, he memorized the pattern and became unstoppable. But life after the limelight was not so kind. Larson began a downward spiral of bad investments and poor choices.

He died of throat cancer in 1999, while under investigation from the FBI and the Securities and Exchange Commission.


How the ice cream truck driver took a network for a ride


Michael Larson became a game show legend 25 years ago, outsmarting a computerized game show and winning a record amount of money.

Larson, who was born in Lebanon, had worked for a time in research and development at NCR, before he was downsized and began working for Chrysler. After breaking his leg in an accident, his brother, James Larson, said that Michael began driving an ice cream truck.

"[Michael] was very intelligent," James said, adding Lawson figured out the most profitable routes and times for his ice cream truck business that he operated in Dayton. "He wanted to run a fleet, but couldn't find reliable help."

In 1983, James said his brother became fixated on a particular game show, "Press Your Luck," which aired daily on CBS. In the documentary "Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal," Larson's then-common-law wife, Theresa Dinwitty, said Larson had a bank of television screens and VCRs he would scan to figure out how to win on the game.

The basic premise of the show, which aired from 1983 to 1987, was that players would try to land a flashing light on a box containing a certain amount of money or prizes. Both the lights and prizes flashed in what was supposedly random order, although Larson would prove this not to be the case. Players tried to avoid landing on "Whammies," cartoon monster that signaled a loss of money.

Through meticulously taping and rewatching the show frame-by-frame, Larson was able to determine certain squares that never showed a "whammy" and a pattern to guarantee successfully landing on those boxes.

James said his brother was confident in his ability to land a spot on the show. In an interview with TV Guide in 1994, the show's contestant supervisor said he was suspicious of Larson, but other producers decided to approve him.

On the day he appeared, Larson was in last place after the first round. In the second round, he went on an unprecedented run, taking 40 spins without hitting a "whammy," consistently hitting spins that held cash prizes plus granted him additional spins, meaning he could play virtually forever.

"He forgot his exit strategy," James said. "He only remembered the pattern to get more spins. Anytime you watch him and he wins a trip, that's pure luck."

By the end of his run, Larson had won $110,237 in cash and prizes, including two tropical vacations and a boat.

As the show wound down, host Peter Tomarken jokingly thanked him for stopping his play before he owned CBS. Larson was cagey about why he had risked losing all his money by continuing to spin, noting he didn't want another contestant to go on a similar run as he had.

"He held his hands directly over the buzzer, very different from most contestants," James said. "And he didn't chant or yell. He was too busy concentrating."

Executives said they tried to find a way to disqualify Larson, but ultimately conceded he had done nothing wrong, and had only paid better attention than most contestants.

"He got the check in August," James said. "It came in just a regular stamped envelope. After taxes, I think it was around $99,000."

"You can like him or not like him, but you can't help but admire what he did," Tomarken noted in the 2003 documentary.

Unfortunately, Larson's big win did not catapult him to further success or a life of comfort. Still chasing the big easy buck, James said that Larson lost considerable amounts of his winnings in various schemes.

Once, when trying to win a radio contest where players had to match up the serial number of a dollar bill read over the air, Larson withdrew tens of thousands of dollars in one dollar bills, only for the money to be stolen from his house.

"I got calls from the FBI about him after he moved to Florida," James said. "I told them I didn't want to know where he was."

Larson died in 1999 of throat cancer and is buried in Lebanon.

"Mike was very bright, but he had a different set of values," James said.

"He was guilty of nothing more than being extremely enterprising," Tomarken said. "I believed he earned every nickel."


Where did you get this article from? Newspaper, magazine, or online? And which paper, magazine or site?


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 3:19 am 
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Anthony wrote:
Yeah and no more cheating than those MIT students that won millions every weekend by counting cards using their genius IQs, then wrote a book about it, which was made into a movie. I think it was breaking Vegas or something 21. I think Kate Bosworth was in the movie.



Well, as someone that is in the "gambling business", there was more to it than that actually.
(counting cards is fairly simple really, you don't keep track of each card, but rather groups of cards)
Being proficient at it for long sessions, is another matter.
You don't just "sit down and learn to count cards and win millions", its just not like that. (I am sure the movie glorified that though)There is still a large element of short term luck, as in any gambling.


What people don't understand, is casinos are basically private clubs. What this means, is most casinos (as far as I know) reserve the right to escort you out,and off of their property for any reason they choose.
If they can discern that you are in fact counting cards, then they can tell you to "take your business elsewhere".
There isn't much the average person can do.

But for the most part, they won't do this, unless they are 100% of your abilities to win long term.
Its not in their best interests to turn business away.

The main problem with the MIT group, is they weren't too smart about it. This is actually a problem for many counters, they simply get too greedy and overstay their "welcome", if you will, hoping to make a huge score.
They didn't camoflauge their play too well, and they even boasted online in various newsgroups about their "success", before eventually getting caught.

There are quite a few pro counters, that manage to stay away from heat, camoflauge their play well, travel from casino to casino,(not spending much time in each one btw) and make a respectable "easy" living. I would say probably a couple of hundred do this, with thousands who supplement their income playing and counting part time.

If one is interested, there are some great books on blackjack, but the more respected work in the last 15 -20 years is by Stanford Wong. Ken Uston is still popular, but much of his material is outdated.


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Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 3:46 am 
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Major wrote:
Cyril The Thrill wrote:
The Original Post at "That Other Joint"

Welcome to three years ago...


I remember that post very well, Thanks to you and the links I was able to view Larson's run which I had never seen before then. What gets me is the number of idiots that believe he cheated. The man was just smart in figuring out the patterns and used that and concentration to his advantage. It was no-more cheating than if I'd studied to be on Jeopardy.


I agree. It's like saying that you cheated because you studied for the test or something.

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Unread postPosted: Mon Jul 27, 2009 9:03 am 
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TZ DZ Fan wrote:
Anthony wrote:
Yeah and no more cheating than those MIT students that won millions every weekend by counting cards using their genius IQs, then wrote a book about it, which was made into a movie. I think it was breaking Vegas or something 21. I think Kate Bosworth was in the movie.



Well, as someone that is in the "gambling business", there was more to it than that actually.
(counting cards is fairly simple really, you don't keep track of each card, but rather groups of cards)
Being proficient at it for long sessions, is another matter.
You don't just "sit down and learn to count cards and win millions", its just not like that. (I am sure the movie glorified that though)There is still a large element of short term luck, as in any gambling.


What people don't understand, is casinos are basically private clubs. What this means, is most casinos (as far as I know) reserve the right to escort you out,and off of their property for any reason they choose.
If they can discern that you are in fact counting cards, then they can tell you to "take your business elsewhere".
There isn't much the average person can do.

But for the most part, they won't do this, unless they are 100% of your abilities to win long term.
Its not in their best interests to turn business away.

The main problem with the MIT group, is they weren't too smart about it. This is actually a problem for many counters, they simply get too greedy and overstay their "welcome", if you will, hoping to make a huge score.
They didn't camoflauge their play too well, and they even boasted online in various newsgroups about their "success", before eventually getting caught.

There are quite a few pro counters, that manage to stay away from heat, camoflauge their play well, travel from casino to casino,(not spending much time in each one btw) and make a respectable "easy" living. I would say probably a couple of hundred do this, with thousands who supplement their income playing and counting part time.

If one is interested, there are some great books on blackjack, but the more respected work in the last 15 -20 years is by Stanford Wong. Ken Uston is still popular, but much of his material is outdated.


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I know what you mean. I guess I meant to say these MIT students made it look easy, because they were so good at it. And they kick people out because they're winning too much, but they weren't cheating, they just found a way to beat the system. You're right about them getting too greedy though. I wish I had this kind of talent. Although lately, I've done okay at blackjack with the video dealers they have now, I went to this casino in PA. My dad seems to be winning some lately too, but not huge amounts, mind you, but enough to afford nice dinners and pay some bills. I hope to get better and be able to get that lucky.


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Unread postPosted: Sun Mar 25, 2012 8:59 pm 
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Anybody here ever see Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal? It was all about the two parter with Michael Larsen on Press Your Luck. I believe Peter Tomarken died in a plane crash shortly after this originally aired. They even interview Ed and Janie, Larsen's two opponents from the show. Ed was the returning champion at the time and even had a few lucky spins of his own to which Tomarken was starting to wonder if the same thing was going to happen with him. But alas, I believe at one point he either ran out of spins or hit a whammy. Good documentary.


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Unread postPosted: Thu Jan 31, 2013 12:45 am 
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Guess I'm the only one here who saw it. Next year will be the 30th anniversary.


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