Volume 2 Turning Up The Heat

2 - The Powers of Persuasion - Oct. 2003

Finally the time arrived to pack the car and hit the road for another card-counting expedition to Las Vegas. This was the one trip I especially look forward to every year. The Green Chip party, with many of my fellow advantage players in attendance, was scheduled for this coming Saturday night at a secret location, somewhere on the outskirts of town. In past years this annual party had been a closely kept secret, and that was still the case, but this year was different. The plan was to invite some reporters from local Vegas newspapers to cover the event. There was to be a round-table discussion of casino intimidation tactics, featuring some of the Green Chippers who had been victims of casino abuse. They would narrate the viewing of subpoenaed casino surveillance videos, which would show, in graphic detail, the mistreatment, harassment, and back-rooming of our fellow counters by an increasingly arrogant element of casino security personnel. The reporters had been invited in the hopes of publicizing this disturbing practice. We wanted to show the casino industry that we card counters were fighting back with civil lawsuits, and that we would no longer have our civil rights trampled by overzealous security goons and rampant pit and surveillance paranoia.


Please excuse the rant. It’s just that it’s about time that we fought back with all the legal means we could muster, even in the Nevada courts, which are notoriously biased towards the casino interests. Even the Nevada judges would be able to see that we had broken no laws by simply using our brains to legitimately gain a mathematical edge in blackjack, and that the casinos rampant over-reaction was thoroughly unjustified.


Okay, we can all now stop singing We Shall Overcome J. I made good time on the drive up from Los Angeles, getting to my first hotel in less than four hours, despite those damnable 55 mile-per-hour construction zones. There were two or three of them, but each one went on and on for 26 and 34 monotonous miles. I found myself doing eighty through most of them, and many other cars were keeping pace. Thankfully there were no speeding tickets this time.

After settling in, I found a swing-shift dealer at the $10 double-deck table at Casino Royale, who was dealing 75% to 80% to the three of us. This was my first session, and I just couldn’t win a hand, despite the wonderful pen. The dealer kept making unbelievable draws to beat almost every pat total I sat on. I played for an hour, losing $400. It’s just unbelievable ― when the other two players left, I had a heads-up DD game with 75% pen and no heat, plus the ability to spread at will, and instead I opted for a late night Denny’s breakfast. That’s right, I left the table. Having only bet a small red spread to unwind and get back into casino rhythm after several months layoff, I was already down $400 and quite frustrated, so I decided to give the game a rest, lick my wounds, and get back at them tomorrow. Hopefully that great pen would still be there.


At one point a fourth player joined at first base. Something very familiar about him. Suddenly I realized it was my old Green Chip buddy Plover, whom I hadn’t seen in over a year. He looked different. I finally realized he had cut his long hair. That might have been why I didn’t recognize him at first. He bought in for $500 in green, played twenty minutes, betting up and down with the count, lost it all, and left. Later, I searched the area for him, but he was gone. I called his cell phone and left a message for him to call me back, but it was past 4:00 a.m. and he might have retired for the night. Oh well.


I was starting with a bankroll of $10,000 and planned to use a max bet of $150 or two hands of $100, although I did push my big bets higher than that several times. After spending twenty-six trips over four years to build the bankroll up to the $10k level, I decided upon a conservative approach in the hopes of simply winning my EV of over $40 per hour, while trying to minimize the variance. My standard deviation was $536 per 100 hands and my risk-of-ruin was 5.88% according to the bet scheme I had laid out on my BJRM 2000 software.


My $400 deficit lasted only until the following morning. I played my first session of the new day at Terrible’s. After being in the hole for $175 of my initial $200 buy-in, I staged a late rally and was able to win it back plus a net profit of $575. In one marvelous high-count deck, I won every hand as the dealer seemed to bust on his total of twelve several times. Well, why not? The running count was over + 10 most of the way through the indifferent 60% that was dealt out. In shallow-pen situations like this, you have to ramp your bets up faster, as the shuffle comes so quickly you don’t have time to parlay your bets normally in a rising count. Chipping up, I went from $40 to $80 and then $150.


With a dour floorman watching un-amused for the latter half of this max betting display, I figured I’d better beat it. A hit-and-run strategy seemed called for, in order to keep them friendly, and so that I’d be welcome to play there again. No sense pushing it this early in the trip. Under his watchful eyes, I colored out after that monster deck was over, rather than re-setting back to a $15 or $25 starting bet for the new shuffle. Now in the black for the first time this trip, and feeling much better, I broke for lunch.


After a Denny’s club sandwich and chocolate shake, courtesy of Casino Royale, I played their double-decker again. I got a half-hour in before a group of three decided to plop down at my table, ruining my game. Ahead by $125, I cashed out, and then braved a frustrating traffic snarl on Interstate 15, heading north to the Fiesta Rancho to meet my buddy Packrat.


With Packrat at third base, we had a $5 double-deck table to ourselves, during which I discovered a new technique. I managed to talk the gal dealer into dealing deeper. She had been giving us only 60% pen. I came up with this new rap just off the top of my head. I told her I was worried about her. When she asked why, I told her I was afraid that she’d develop arthritis from having to shuffle so much, like I had seen happen to so many other dealers. “Why don’t you just put that cut card in a little deeper, and then you won’t have to shuffle so often?”


To my astonishment, she complied. She started dealing out 70% of the two-deck pack. I couldn’t believe it actually worked! Packrat was grinning, and I was barely able to stifle my glee. So, for at least fifteen minutes, until two other players sat down, we had a good pen, low-stakes, double-deck game, and we were able to spread to our heart’s content with no pit scrutiny. When the table filled, we moved to that good $10 single-deck game with double-after-splits allowed. Now getting only Rule of Six, I was up $150 at my high point, but managed only to break even.    


From there, we moved next door to Texas Station, where I used the same “arthritis” rap, this time on a thirty-something male dealer, who also started dealing deeper. Now I was truly amazed. Not only did this new rap work, it worked twice in a row! I won another $100 in less than an hour, while Packrat won a like amount.


After breaking for a shower, and late-afternoon nap, we hooked up again later that evening. We started at Casino Royale, where Packrat won a few hundred and I won $275. After a comped Outback dinner (rack of lamb for me and prime rib for Packrat), we played the double-decker at Terrible’s. Despite the swing-shift dealers going only 60%, I managed to win another $200 here.


We walked through Ellis Island, but the tables were full. We headed north, deciding to check out the Silver Nugget, a small North Las Vegas casino. Wong’s Current BlackJack News was reporting 65% pen on the two-deck game, and it turned out to be an accurate report. We observed the cut without playing, as the table was full. Back in the car, we decided we were so far north, we might as well continue up to the Cannery on Craig Road.


There was only one empty table at the Cannery ― an idle $25 minimum double-decker. All other tables were full. We convinced a pit gal to let us play $10 minimum “to get the table started.” We got a respectable 65% cut and played for an hour. Packrat lost $100 and I won $125. I was now up $990 for the trip.


Then we headed downtown. We knew where the playable casinos were, but instead opted to first explore some of the lesser-regarded downtown games. Who knows? We might get lucky and chance upon a decently cut game that no one knew about. First we tried the Fremont. The cut looked iffy, but we sat and played for a half-hour anyway, using a small spread and trying to get the dealer to increase the pen. I used my new rap, but the dealer wouldn’t budge on the 60% penetration. Next we tried Fitzgerald’s, where I saw the infamous “Harrah’s cut” for the first time. After the cut, the dealer burned a small stack of cards off the top, then reinserted the cut card about one-third of the way from the bottom. We estimated the effective pen to be between 50% and 55%. We played one or two shuffles and left, vowing not to return to this burn joint. I don’t know why they feel it necessary to use this arcane and suspicious method, but we sure didn’t approve.


We finally found a decent double-deck game at, of all places, the Horseshoe, which as you may know is famous for their single-deckers. Usually their one-deck games have strict Rule of Six. But the grave shift double-deck pen was a consistent 70%, making this a better game than the singles, despite the no-double-after-splitting rule. Using a $10 to $150 spread, I won another $125 in less than an hour, to put me above $1,000 in net winnings for the trip so far. With both of us yawning and bushed at five in the morning, we finally called it a night.


I was planning to put in some hours at the Casino Royale double-decker today but it was just my bad luck to find Asian Joey as the main day-shift dealer. Joey always cuts 55%, despite all my entreaties to the contrary, so this game is unplayable until the shift changes later in the evening. Anyway, I managed to win $75 in a short session this morning, before finding that my new “deal deeper” rap was wasted on him.


I took a coffee break with my gal-pal dealer next door at the new McDonald’s food court. She told me that there are two main surveillance people on duty during day shift: a dumb male and a sharp female who had formerly worked at Bellagio. The dumb male was on vacation this week, and the sharp female was working day shift, so be careful, she warned. Later I played the double-decker at Terrible’s, but the pen was a lousy 60%, despite my new “arthritis” rap, so I quit after a half-hour to enjoy a comped fried shrimp lunch with a root beer float. Once again, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food. The Terrible’s coffee shop remains a little-known treasure and gets Barfy’s seal of approval J.


After a shower and brief afternoon nap, I played the CR double-deck table again. The usual $10 minimum had been raised to $15, for the “holiday weekend.” I asked Frances, a black pit gal I flirt with, exactly what holiday it was. “Columbus Day,” she replied.


“Is that really even a holiday?” I asked. We laughed together as she explained the obvious ― that a casino will use any excuse to try to increase its drop and hold percentages. Whatever the market will bear. Actually, I welcomed the new $15 minimum sign. At a low-roller joint like Casino Royale, where bargain-hunting gamblers look for low minimums, the higher minimum would keep this table less crowded. I thought that a higher percentage of counters would now sit at this table, as we’re the only ones who are adequately bankrolled and understand bet schemes and risk of ruin. I lost $200 in an hour-long session, and then got my car and hit the freeway, headed towards one of the outlying casinos.


Friday night is traditionally the start of the Green Chip weekend, and our GC coordinator adhoc had arranged a bowling party. I’m not much of a bowler, but you don’t really have to be, as it’s more a social affair than a serious competition. I saw some old buddies there like Bootlegger, Northwest, and Lounge Lizard, and also met some of the newer guys, whose handles I was familiar with, like El Lobo, Boiko, The Doinkus, BJ Addict, and Painttheace. We drank beer, exchanged information and made new friends, while trying not to look too much like the enthusiastic inept bowlers we were.


Afterwards, Painttheace and I sat at a $25 minimum double-decker ― the only uncrowded table. We played for less than an hour, getting 65% penetration. I only spread $25-$100. I know it’s not a big enough spread to beat this game long-term, but I got lucky. Down to my last greenie, I staged a comeback. I made four $100 bets during this little run, and two of them resulted in blackjacks. Those snappers were the key to my $340 net win. Meanwhile Paint had lost his $300 buy-in and departed earlier in the session.


After a comped midnight coffee shop dinner of clam chowder, orange roughy, and chocolate shake, I hooked up with my old Green Chip buddy Saint. He had just gotten into town, too late for the bowling, so I picked him up and we headed downtown. We wound up at a double-deck table at the ’Shoe. He was amazed at the 70% to 75% pen, which was why I had brought him here. Bantering and joking, we were just having fun, kibitzing with the dealers and pit guys, while we spread with the count. They didn’t suspect a thing. Down to my last $10 of my initial $200 buy-in, I again staged a rally to win back my money and quit even. It turned out that Saint won a few hundred after this ninety-minute session was over. He cracks me up at the tables. Whenever he loses a hand, and the count goes up, he announces to the dealer that, “Now you’re making me angry,” and chunks out a big bet, shaking his head as if disgusted with the proceedings thus far. His “steaming” act went over well. He had the dealer and me trying to predict at which point he’d get “mad” again, and push out a max bet, to our amusement. I guess the dealer wasn’t keeping the count along with us, because I was able to predict, with uncanny accuracy, just when my angry tablemate was going to bet a big stack. “Uh oh, Tommy. Now you’ve made my friend mad again,” I’d say, and sure enough, Saint would go into his angry steaming act and get a big bet out at a high count again. Even though I didn’t make any money, it sure was a fun session. I broke even while Saint won $600 or $700. Now up $1340 for the trip so far, we called it a night. We were both looking forward ― the annual Las Vegas Green Chip party was tomorrow night!


I’m glad I’ve already got nearly thirteen hours of play in over these last forty-eight hours, because the weekend was now getting pretty crowded ― plus there were a lot of Green Chip counters in town. I played another forty-five minute session at Casino Royale this morning. There were two other players already seated, but they left shortly, so I had the table to myself for most of the time. Pen was an outstanding 70%, and I won another $100.


I got a cell call to meet One More Shoe at MGM, where he was staying with his family. He’s a guy I’ve wanted to meet for a while. Even though he’s a member of Green Chip, he’s opted not to attend the party for his own reasons, which were totally understandable to me. When you attend a Green Chip party, you run a small but real risk of being identified by a casino spy who has somehow gained entry, or you may be unexpectedly greeted by your real name in a casino by an over-enthusiastic GCer who previously met you at the party. At any rate, One More Shoe didn’t feel it was worth the risk to attend, as he plays at a considerably higher level than me. I guess he didn’t want to jeopardize his comp status in Las Vegas, just to meet a bunch of notorious card counters at a party.


We found a $10 shoe game with four players already seated at the table. In our first shoe, the running count started climbing. Low cards kept spilling out, driving the running count higher and higher. It reached +30 at one point, and stayed between +23 and +27 throughout. I lost my first three or four bets, finally stacking my remaining $90 in what turned out to be the last hand of the shoe, and got 8, 2 vs. a 4. My act was good. I took my time debating ― meanwhile One More Shoe played along and offered to put up the double-down amount for me. Of course I had no intention of letting him ― I was just trying to make it look like an agonizing decision. Finally, with the table getting impatient, I pulled out another Benji and left the hit card face down. The dealer busted ― to the elation of the table. When she turned over my card, it was the beautiful, but unnecessary, ace of spades. I guess it’s always feast or famine at this game. Too bad you can’t bank the good hit cards and save them for a later situation when you really need them.


Anyway, I came away with a $75 win after playing three shoes, and Shoe won a bunch more than me. We had lunch in the food court, and I retired to my hotel room for a shower and nap. I was now at plus $1,500 net winnings. This would turn out to be my highest point of the trip, although of course, I didn’t know it then.


With some time to kill before the Green Chip party, I played a short late afternoon session at Casino Royale, losing $130. I was waiting for Saint to meet me at the table, as we had arranged. He needed a ride to the party.


We wanted to get there early for once, but everyone else must have had the same thought because every nearby parking spot was taken. The house was already full of many familiar faces when we arrived. Stanford Wong was there. So was Anthony Curtis. Mathprof, DD’, Harry B, and attorney Bob Nersessian took their seats at the head table facing the audience, as party organizer adhoc had requested. Stanford and Curt followed suit. A TV monitor, hooked to a VCR, was set up alongside so that the rest of us on the patio could view the videos, as we sat in folding chairs facing the head table. There were three reporters from local Las Vegas papers in the audience. They had been talking to, and interviewing some of us before the round-table discussion began.


I had seen the Harry B video before, but what struck me this time was a detail I had at first overlooked. While three big security guards were escorting a handcuffed Harry to the back room, they were all walking at a brisk pace. Suddenly, the lead guard stopped, turned to face Harry and said, “Stop resisting.” Harry had been dutifully keeping pace with the procession, so this comment seemed not only uncalled for, but it was as if the guards were trying to set a scenario for a defense of their actions in a possible future lawsuit. It seemed so staged and unreal, but more than that, it was kind of chilling. If that sort of reality-denial was routine procedure, who knows what other type of arbitrary chicanery was possible?


Another thing that struck me was a scene while Harry was walking back out after having been released from the back room. He turned towards one of the guards, who quickly covered his nametag with his hand. It seemed like a uselessly paranoid reaction on the part of the guilt-stricken security guard. I’m sure that if need be, Harry’s attorney could obtain the guard’s identity without too much trouble. It just seemed to demonstrate the fact that the security guards had gone too far, and were on shaky legal ground, and they knew it. The sad fact is, I doubt that will stop them from doing this sort of thing again to another innocent card counter. I truly hope those future victims will take the same hard-nosed legal course that Harry is now pursuing.


On the other hand, DD’s video was shorter and more intense. It showed him trying to leave the casino. He made it to the door and was about to exit when a security guard grabbed him around the waist and started pulling him back into the casino. DD’ grabbed the door handle, held on tight, and started yelling for someone to call the cops. It took three security goons to finally dislodge our intrepid advantage player from that door and drag him to the back room. In a conversation with attorney Bob Nersessian I had later, he told me that in that situation, he would react the same way DD’ did. He wouldn’t go to the back room meekly and quietly like Harry B had. Bob told me he would create a big loud scene if he were the intended victim. When I asked if this wouldn’t show a future judge and jury that perhaps he would be perceived as being unruly, and that the guards took appropriate action in subduing him, he told me that it didn’t matter ― he could prove later that he was totally justified in resisting this uncalled-for harassment. The idea was to make these types of confrontations so abhorrent to the casino, that they would be more circumspect in future dealings with advantage players. Bob addressed the audience, giving an impassioned speech about how we must be willing to defend our civil rights, despite any short-term inconveniences. He got real emotional as we realized he was quite passionate on the subject. Apparently he takes these types of “advantage player versus the casino” cases out of deeply held personal convictions. He told us he doesn’t really make much money from these cases ― not enough to justify his time. He can make much more dealing with auto safety issues, which is his specialty. All I can say is, thank God we advantage players have Bob Nersessian to defend us.


People were getting quite hungry by this time, so we cut the question-and-answer session short. On the other hand, I wanted the discourse to continue. You can eat anytime. I then had several conversations with Bob N, with Harry B and with Anthony Curtis, as most of the audience drifted towards the dinner buffet. I asked Harry if he had any history at the offending casino. Had he played there and gotten heat prior to this back-rooming incident? He told me he had been there a few times before, and played short sessions each time, with no scrutiny or any signs that they didn’t want his action. Before being led to the back room, Harry had been backed off by a floor woman waving her arms saying “No more blackjack,” after only five or six hands. That’s not nearly enough time to tell if someone is counting. Strange indeed.


We had a wonderful time socializing with old friends like Al Rogers, Spike, Plover, Bootlegger, adhoc, Northwest, and so many others. We also got to know some of the newer guys like Odaat, Painttheace, Boiko and Maverick. We feasted on chicken, potatoes, salad, and apple cobbler a-la-mode for dessert. The evening was just too short, and I wanted it to last longer but all good things must end. It was a fabulous affair, thanks to the organizers: adhoc, Al Rogers, and Chris Kelly.


Then Saint, Packrat, and I caravanned over to the Cannery for some double-deck action. At first, the three of us took over a $10 table. I know this isn’t smart to sit with other counters, but we just wanted to have some fun and camaraderie at a less-than-serious session. Only Saint at third base was doing any good. Packrat soon moved to another table. Losing from the outset, I was in the hole and unable to mount any kind of recovery. During this two-and-a-half hour session, we had four different dealers, three of whom we managed to get increased penetration from. By now, both Saint and Packrat had incorporated and embellished my new “deal deeper” rap, so we were able to split the pen-requesting duties amongst us. That way, no one player stood out as being too annoyingly knowledgeable. To the pit it must have seemed like lately the ploppies were getting smarter, or at least less tolerant of shallow penetration. With each of us in turn asking for a deeper cut, it began to seem like a reasonable request that any blackjack player might make ― not the stigma-laden bleat of a dissatisfied card counter. That’s right ― we actually made requests for deeper pen seem like a normal thing. It was quite a revelation. Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner?


Anyway, I wound up losing $400 here, putting my trip total back under $1,000 again. Saint won $1,300. Packrat was still plugging away at another table when Saint and I left. He was not only counting down the blackjack game, but also taking advantage of the Lucky Ladies side bet. We watched him collect a ten-to-one payoff on this $10 side bet. I knew the count was high by the amount of his main blackjack bet. Later I would learn more about the optimal strategy for this potentially lucrative side bet. Packrat would clue me in to the strategy he learned, mostly from posts by Panama Rick and Eliot Jacobson, on the Green Chip message boards.


In this side bet, you’re betting that you’ll get a twenty on the next hand, on your first two cards. Any 20 pays 4-1. A suited 20 (like jack of diamonds and ten of diamonds) pays 10-1. A matched 20 (like two 10s of hearts) pays 25-1. Two queens of hearts will pay 200-1. And if the dealer gets a blackjack when you have those two heart queens, it pays 1000-1. There’s also a short-pay version that pays only 4-1, 9-1, 19-1, 125-1 and 1000-1. Packrat, who uses a red spread and the KO Preferred count, keeps a side count of the queens of hearts. If neither of them has been dealt, he bets $10 at a true count of +5 in a double-deck game. If one or both of the heart queens are out, he has to wait until a true count of +9 to make a $10 bet. Some casinos limit the LL side bet to $25, and others have a maximum payout of $10,000 or $25,000, hence Packrat gets full value for his $10 bet. Apparently, he has an edge of 1.28% at +5, and 3.29% at +9 on those bets. At +7, with both heart queens still in the deck, the player advantage gets up to 10%. Packrat also gets an edge of 12.49% at +11, even with one or both queens out. However, this last number is not supported by any sim data ― it’s just something he told me. He gets to those rare situations about once or twice per hour. The bet has high variance, much like video poker.


The next morning, on my way to my usual early double-deck session at Casino Royale, I was waylaid by Susan, my stacked dealer gal-pal, who was early to work and insisted I go have coffee with her.


I should have stayed with her. When I finally got to the table, I had a heads-up situation with the dealer giving 70% pen. During this frustrating half-hour, not one of my high count bets won, and my double down results were laughable, especially if you’re a sadist and take pleasure from the misfortune of others. Thankfully, I lost only $300 and went in for breakfast.


After moving to Main Street Station for the remainder of my trip, I met Packrat downtown. We spent the afternoon playing blackjack, mostly at the Golden Nugget and Horseshoe. We sat at a ’Shoe single-decker and got hammered, losing almost every hand. Moving to a double-deck table with a 70% cut, we had only played for one shuffle or so when we encountered our first mildly high count. We had been betting $10, $15 and $20, and now raised our bets to $40 and $50 respectively. The floorman walked in back of the dealer and whispered in her ear. She looked stricken, then reached into the mostly new pack, drew out the cut card and proceeded to re-shuffle.


I questioned her, “What’s going on, Livia?” Looking confused and kind of scared, she mumbled an unintelligible reply. We looked at each other, played a few more hands with minimum bets, and left. It’s not healthy to keep playing when they pref-shuffle you.


I had lost $50 at the Horseshoe and $100 at the Nugget. Now I’ve had five consecutive losing sessions, starting yesterday afternoon. In the last twenty-four hours I’ve plummeted from a trip high of $1,500 to now only $535. Whew! At least I was still in the black and had hopefully gotten the losing swing out of the way.


That evening we drove to a lounge on Flamingo Road for the last Green Chip event of the weekend. Over a buffet layout of chicken wings and beer, we again enjoyed the song styling and strumming of Bootlegger and his guitar. We compared our BJ experiences and told stories, mostly with Painttheace, BJ Addict and Odaat. I was glad to see David Matthews there. David no longer administers BJ21.com, and now works for Anthony Curtis at Huntington Press. He’s an old friend and it was a nice surprise to find him in attendance.


Later, I stopped over at Stu’s house. I had been in town four days already and hadn’t gotten a chance to see my best bud until now. Stu’s a union electrician and is now working ten hours a day, seven days a week. So this was one of the few chances I’d have to see him. I had to dash pretty quickly though. I was supposed to meet Susan back at Casino Royale, but her shift ended early, and by the time I got there, she had gone home. So I played the double-deck game again. Not a particularly interesting session, except for the fact that I finally won $100 to end my losing streak.


After another comped Outback dinner of rib-eye steak, Caesar salad, baked potato and that wonderful cinnamon apple-roasted cashew-vanilla ice cream-caramel sauce-whipped cream dessert (it’s called Cinnamon Apple Oblivion), I headed back downtown. The Horseshoe had been dealing its double-deckers to 65%, 70%, and in some cases, 75%. The current two-deckers turned out to be a better game than the single-deckers they’re famous for. Playing for over an hour, I won $125, but it should have been $275. In a +4 true count, I got a 7, 3 vs. a 9. I doubled my $75 bet and got an 8 for 18. The dealer flipped her 10 in the hole to beat me, and that turned out to be the key hand of the session. Where are those 10s and aces when you need them, and you know the deck is loaded with them? I nodded a quick hello to BJ Addict, whom I saw at the cashier, and then called it a night.


I saw Plover and Dogman in the Las Vegas Club blackjack pit this morning. I sat at a different table and won $85 and a breakfast comp, using a small spread in my first session of the day. After the meal, I played the single-deck game again, this time winning another $150. I was at a table with two other players ― both of whom were counting. It was really funny ― every time the count went up, these two jaspers would outdo each other trying to voice excuses why they were raising their bets. They were kind of obvious, but the pit seemed to have no clue. I just kept quiet and played under the radar. The LV Club is fast becoming a low-stakes card-counter haven. It’s a decent single-deck game, but nothing too spectacular. Beside myself, I spied four other counters at various tables during my two sessions.


Afterwards, I saw one of them outside on the Promenade, so we stopped to talk. Having noticed my betting patterns, he knew I was a member of the card-counting fraternity. As it turns out, he knows Fezzik and does some sports betting with my old buddy. We talked about mutual acquaintances and the Lucky Ladies side bet. My new friend has run sims on the proposition, and claims that the actual true count to make your first bet is +4.5, not +5, as Packrat had told me. Okay, close enough. He also side-counts the queens of hearts, and tells me that he’s been exploiting this side bet in the casinos in his home state. We talked and walked towards the Horseshoe, then parted, entering separately and finding different tables. I won $50 in a short single-deck session before my table filled. Now back up to $1,045 in trip winnings, my heart was a bit lighter and my step livelier.


After a comfy late afternoon nap and shower, I had dinner at Stu’s house. We watched the Rams shut out the Falcons on the Monday Night game, to Lynette’s distress. Stu’s wife is a Tennessee gal and roots for the southern teams, especially the Titans and Buccaneers.


I started the evening’s play with two small losses. At Texas Station, I found a decently cut double-deck table that remained uncrowded for a half-hour. When the table filled, I left, losing $200. At Fiesta Rancho, it was a real battle to try to wait out the ploppies, who were way too persistent in trying to retain their seats at the single-deck table. It was one of those situations where I was the fourth player and we were getting only two rounds, but two of the other three players were short-stacked. I was waiting for them to tap out and leave. Unfortunately, one reached in his pocket for more money. The other one did finally leave, to my relief, but was soon back from the ATM and buying in again. Unable to keep the number of hands to three or fewer, I finally gave up on this otherwise fine game, having lost another $125. I should have left earlier, not because of the resulting loss but because you shouldn’t play single-deck with any more than one other player.


Heading back to the Horseshoe, on a whim I entered the Golden Nugget instead. I found an empty $10 double-deck table, but not for long. It must be my charming personality that makes the low-stakes ploppies flock to my tables. Before I can even get my chips and place a bet, they’re on my table like flies on dog-doo.


I played for two hours, see-sawing back and forth. In for $300 and losing, I kept a steady, unemotional pace. I wonged out twice in negative counts ― one bathroom break, and one fake cell phone call. Finally, all the bad players dropped out, leaving just me and my remaining tablemate ― a young, well-dressed black fellow with a cute girlfriend. We became allies and started winning back our lost buy-ins. He wasn’t counting, just plunging in and out with big bets. His wins and losses were all over the place; meanwhile I kept a slow, steady win rate. Finally, we each colored out with a $300 win. There was a lot of jocularity and high-fiving between us as we walked together to the cage.


As it turned out, I spent the whole night fighting to get back to even, which I finally succeeded in doing. I got back all but $25 of it, and was kind of pleased with myself, despite “wasting” a whole night without making any money. It was getting to be a tiresome treadmill. Now, still up over $1K in trip winnings, I fell into bed and was instantly asleep.


After being here two days already, I finally found an uncrowded, playable double-deck table in the Main Street Station casino this morning. Prior to this, every time I walked through this casino, I was unable to find favorable conditions. Either all tables were crowded, or the management was closing tables ruthlessly, rather than letting them remain idle for too long. Despite the 60% pen, I wanted to get some play in, if only to keep the mail offers coming. I was up $150 at my high point, but couldn’t stay ahead of them, finally coloring out only $25 to the good. For various reasons, I was only able to get up to a top bet of $100 during this ninety-minute session.


Taking a break, I spent the rest of the morning checking out the new Premium Outlets mall. It turned out this place was a scant three-minute drive from downtown. I bought a few Hawaiian print sports shirts for $5 each, plus some socks and sweat shorts. Lunch consisted of a few slices of pizza in the food court, washed down by my favorite beverage in the whole wide world ― an Orange Julius.


Then I made my usual pilgrimage to the Gambler’s Book Shop. Watching the fifth game of the American League Champion Series, Howard Schwartz related to me his disgust with the Red Sox style of play. He was complaining that none of the Sox batters had speed, hit to right field, moved the runners along, stole bases, knew how to bunt or any other fundamentals. They just got up there and swung for the fences. The Yankees finally won the game 4-2. I’d personally like to see the Red Sox play the Cubs in the World Series, so that at least one of those star-crossed teams could finally win the big one but, I guess the Yanks and Marlins have other ideas.


While there, I bought Blackjack Attack and Beat the Dealer, to send to my buddy The Grifter, who needed textbooks for his card-counting seminars in Federal Prison Camp Miami. He was teaching the ways of advantage play to a select group of fellow inmates. The Grifter is completing a fourteen-month stretch and is due to be released this coming spring.


Later that afternoon, on the way back up to my room, I managed to get in another short session at MSS. After only one cycle of minimum to maximum betting, the table filled and I left, up $100. After a nap and shower, I played another short session at the Las Vegas Club, winning another quick $100 and leaving when a fourth player sat down at my single-deck table. There ought to be a law against having four players at a blackjack table J.


Then I headed for the Horseshoe again, where I played a frustrating half-hour session at the $10 single-deck table. None of my double downs worked, especially the last one. In a mildly plus count, I bet my remaining $45 and had to reach for my pocket to cover the double-down. I had 8, 2 vs. a 4. I pulled a 6. Hoping the dealer would bust, I saw him flip a 5 in the hole and, predictably, hit to 19. I know you’ve all seen far worse, but I really wanted to win that hand. But it was not to be. I’ve finally just had it with this table and left, refusing to chase my money any farther. Let them keep the $245. I’ll get it back later in another casino.


I decided to break for dinner. The Golden Nugget was kind enough to comp me to the best coffee shop downtown ― the Carson Street Café. I ordered all my old favorites. Shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, New York steak and shrimp entrée, raspberry iced tea, with cherry cheesecake and coffee for dessert. I spent two hours lingering over this fine meal while reading the entire current issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine. It seems that this satisfying meal of total comfort food is fast becoming a last-night-in-town tradition with me. I did the same thing the final night of my last trip as well ― that time at the Outback. In a way, it seemed like I was rewarding myself for a good trip that was about to end. After all, I was still ahead $1,000, which represents seven top bets, after over thirty hours of blackjack.


Then I played my last session of the trip. I found an empty double-deck table on the west pit of the Golden Nugget, where the cut card notches are deeper than the long east side pit that’s parallel to the bar. Of course the table filled quickly once I bought in ― I must be a charm magnet or something. I switched tables and went almost all-in; losing a horrid series of max bets that put me in a hole that took another two-and-a-half hours to finally dig out of. After hours of slowly grinding my way back, I was down only $50. I moved over to the $25 double-deck table with one other player who had been at my table earlier. I played only two shuffles. On the second go-round, the count went stratospheric. The key hand was my A, 2 vs. a 6. I doubled my $150 bet, and didn’t look at my hit card. To my utter relief, the dealer busted. That put me ahead $150 with one round left before the cut card would appear. I bet the $150 and lost the hand and quit at the shuffle, finally having gotten even after a marathon three-hour session. I was getting tired and increasingly unable to concentrate.


So now, after 34.5 total hours over six days, I called it a night and a trip. While driving home the next day, I thought about the week that has just passed. I had won exactly $1,000, which was a win rate of $29 per hour, shy of my Expected Value of $40 per 100 hands. I had started with that $400 loss the first night, won it back and more the following morning, and never looked back. After that, I was never in the red again. My winnings grew steadily up to a high of $1,500 mid-week. Then, around Sunday, I hit a twenty-four hour period of consecutive losses, which reduced the trip winnings down to $535. From there, I built it back up to $1,245. On the last night, I lost back $245 in that frustrating Horseshoe session. Later I tried hard to win more at the Nugget, but succeeded only in recovering my initial losses and quitting even.


So a thousand dollar win is a small, but nice win. It represents another 10% added to my bankroll. I’m happy to get it and glad to have wound up with a win of any size. Next time, I’ll have an $11,000 bankroll to play with. My immediate goal is to increase it to $15K, at which point I’ll be able to utilize one hundred max bets of $150, with no additional risk of ruin. Onward and upward!

Starting Bankroll


Ending Bankroll


Net Win/Loss


home | order book