Once again I set out in the middle of the night to drive to
After driving to Vegas in just over three-and-a-half hours, averaging ninety-five m.p.h., I checked in to my mid-Strip hotel (six nights comped) and unpacked. I always leave a cash deposit for phone calls and room service rather than a credit card. I had heard of card counters being rousted out of their hotel room in the middle of the night and their Visa cards charged for what was supposed to be a comped stay. This way, all they could possibly squeeze out of me was the $50 cash deposit.
I played my first session at my hotel’s double-deck game. I got lousy 60% pen from all three dealers and lost $225 for an inauspicious start. After a night’s sleep, I played the same table, this time winning $365 in just over an hour. Now I'm up $140—so far, so good.
I ran into Fezzik and Midnight Cowboy
at the Gambler’s Book Shop. The Cowboy bought me a beginner’s book on sports
betting, which is his and Fezzik’s area of expertise. These guys have trouble
getting their bets down, as a few sports books won’t even take their action.
That’s how good they are. I learned that card counters aren’t the only ones
who get barred from play. They were scheduled to leave
Because of those recent tragedies,
I almost had to cancel this trip. The gal who was supposed to cover for me at
work had a brother who worked in the
Still, I was glad I was able to go. I think it’s important for Americans to maintain their lives as before and not give the terrorists the satisfaction of knowing they made us change our ways.
Rarely did any ploppies sit down to clutter up my game. I would have almost welcomed the company at that point, but playing alone is still the best scenario for a counter. You get more speed, which means more hands per hour to let your small 1% to 2% advantage manifest itself more quickly. However I prefer to have one, and only one, other player at my table to eat negative cards for me while I go to the bathroom or answer a fake cell phone call. As you know, if you have to use your phone, you must step away from the table. Some places won’t let you back into the game until the shuffle, which is usually fine with me. Once the decks are negative enough to justify a wong-out, they rarely revert back to a plus count before the shuffle.
After a nap, a shower and dinner, I tried the single-decker heads-up at Silverton but the dealer would deal only four rounds to me, then shuffle. I switched to playing two hands to see what would happen, but he dealt only three rounds. Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to budge on the penetration. After forty-five minutes of banging my head against this brick wall, I had lost $50, but my two suited blackjacks had won me a couple of free car wash coupons. The car wash is open twenty-four hours so I used one of the coupons and drove my newly washed car back up the Strip.
At there was very little traffic for a Friday night. Something else was different too. Suddenly I realized all the hotel lights were turned off, except for the Jumbotron screens, which were showing American flags and patriotic messages. Then I remembered. This was the “Day of Remembrance” for the victims of the September 11th attacks. Still it was eerie to see the Strip without lights.
During another session at my hotel, I was in for $225 but rallied to get my losses back plus a small $210 win. Now up $460 for the trip, I checked out the six-deck shoes at one of the Strip hotels to see if I could track the cutoffs. This was the same place The Grifter had taken me for this purpose several months ago. I walked around observing the shuffle procedure for a while and discovered that maybe only one out of three dealers did the proper house procedure. I finally got my courage up and sat at a $5 table, counting through two shoes before I caught a minus nine count at the shuffle. I visually followed the 1.5 deck cutoff during the shuffle procedure. The minus nine cutoffs got married to another 1.5 decks worth of discards whose average count was plus three, resulting in a three deck block with a minus six running count. Since the rich three decks were on the top, I cut a thin half-deck from the back, and then counted through it as it was dealt. Once that first half-deck was depleted, I added the plus six to my running count and, dividing now by three decks to get my true count, I essentially played a “three deck shoe with 100% penetration.”
I was totally elated when the tens and aces started spilling out of the shoe right on cue. However, I bet big into the shoe for far too long and wound up getting “stiffed” way too often. I lost $260 at this session, but learned something valuable. Cut off tracking is a powerful tool, but it has to be very precise and done exactly right or you can really get killed.
Next morning, after a ninety-minute
break-even session at
Fezzik queried us about where he could
rent a safe deposit box indefinitely with twenty-four hour access. Bad Cutter,
who lives in Vegas, told him some likely prospects. Fezzik added that he’d considered
getting several bowling lockers around town, since he would have easy access
to his funds any hour of the day or night, with no security worries. After all,
who would break into a bowling locker? Northwest told of his encounters with
Stumpy, the head surveillance guy for the Stations casinos. Parker had good
current info on the
From here, Packrat and I started hitting
and running. We started at Palace Station, where I was in for a few hundred
before switching tables to win it all back plus $150. Packrat won $130. He uses
the same small red spread that I do. Then we went to the
Next morning I woke up late and after getting myself together, I headed for Terrible’s. They recently discontinued the late surrender option on their double-deckers, but the 75% pen I got more than made up for it. For a card counter, deep penetration is always more important than good rules, although we’d like to have both, if possible. I played for an hour with two others, winning $285 and a breakfast comp. I wasn’t expecting much from the coffee shop, but they surprised me. The steak was good, the fruit was fresh, the eggs were cooked just right, plus their own brand of steak sauce was excellent. This is one coffee shop I’d visit again.
I was now up $1,300 for the trip.
I spent the day with Packrat at the sandy beach at
We also swam in the
On the way out I checked out the new double-deckers
Dinner at Trilussa, the Italian restaurant at
Casino Royale, was delicious. This restaurant space has since been converted
into an Outback Steakhouse, but whichever name it goes by, there’s always a
great window view of the Mirage fountains and volcano. I had the scampi appetizer
and a steak and salmon main course while reading the What’s On magazine, searching in vain for my kind of lounge
act. I had been trying to see Sam Butera for months, but he wasn’t playing at
present. Sam is the last active member of the old Louis Prima outfit. I was
also interested in seeing the new Frank & Friends—Our Way,
which is a Rat Pack tribute at the Tropicana lounge. I found out it would be
dark for two weeks but that it would be playing again during my next trip.
I hooked up with Packrat again and we walked
Then we walked through Mirage. There were several $25 double-deck tables. After a brief conference, we decided to play, even though our red bankrolls couldn’t really support a true 1 to 6 or 1 to 8 green spread unless we got hot right off the bat. As a result, both of us bet scared. I think my highest bet was only $75 in a choppy, back and forth game. Packrat won another $200 and quit early, happy with his small win. I lost $200, my first losing session in the last ten. Realizing my mistake, I vowed to play within my bankroll limits from then on. I guess I was out of the habit of betting green, and was reluctant to risk my hard-won $1.8k at these higher stakes. As a result, I had shortchanged myself by betting scared money, which is a sure way to lose.
The next morning I started with another losing
session (-$350) at my hotel’s two-deck game. I had a bagel and lox breakfast
at Treasure Island, and then joined Packrat at the
I had a brief visit from Jack H, a former teammate. We played a double-deck table together at my hotel with Jack anchoring the table at third base. He won $170 and I lost $200 for my third loss in a row. Now I was a bit worried. Was my positive run over? Is it all downhill from here? I briefly considered, and then rejected the notion to drive home a day early, preserving the $1,100 win. That “run out the clock” mentality is always distasteful to me. Though I had at first resolved to play conservatively from here on out to sit on my winnings, I changed my mind and decided to play it out, take my chances, and let the chips fall where they may. After all, the more hours I play, the more money I should make.
Checking out the tables at Terrible’s, I saw that they were all full. That was indicative of the same thing I noticed during the entire trip. The locals’ casinos were packed though not as much as usual. Only the major Strip resorts were ghost towns. I still couldn’t get my mind around how lucky I was to have these uncrowded conditions, despite being only able to play a red spread. Had I started with $8 to $10k bankroll, I would have been playing a $25 unit with a true green spread and would have won $5k easily.
At I drove back to
Later, Packrat and I caught the Bellagio pit as they were changing from swing to grave personnel. The swing manager told us to carry our request to play $10 minimum at a $25 double-deck table to the incoming grave boss. The grave boss said, “Okay,” then added, “You’re not counting cards, are you?” which took me aback. I finally said something about being hardly able to “count” my hand up to twenty-one, but I was impressed. They’re a sharp lot of oscars at Bellagio.
So at Packrat and I had a $10 Bellagio pitch game
to ourselves. We seesawed back and forth but this game seemed much tougher than
My last morning in
I could kick myself for getting sleepy and turning
in on my last night in
According to the Blackjack Risk Manager 2000 software, the chance of this result or better was only 10.8%. My result was 1.235 standard deviations to the right (the good side). The odds of hitting this trip goal were only 22%, while my adjusted expected value was to make $18.50 per hour for an average trip win of $444 in twenty-four hours of play. So I had over-bet my bankroll and had gotten very lucky. With only a $2k bankroll, and following the generally accepted wisdom of having 100 top bets in a blackjack bankroll, my max bet should have been only $20, not $60.
But aside from over-betting my puny bankroll,
I was making too many other mistakes. Playing $25 tables before I was financially
and emotionally able to do so was not the smartest move. Although it was only
an idle, momentary thought, to even briefly consider cutting the trip short
a day early was not indicative of the way a real advantage player should think.
Another mistake was allowing my top bet to climb to $80 in that last