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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, October 2002, #34





Night had fallen and a storm front was rolling into LA from the ocean. It was time for another drive through the desert to Las Vegas for a six--day blackjack vacation. I'd have to leave quickly to stay ahead of the gathering rainstorm. I made good time on the highway but knew that this night I'd never break my personal best time of 3.5 hours for the LA to LV run. . The reason was Oonce again, there were three or four 55 mph construction zones along the way. They seem to get longer and longer with each trip. One near Barstow was 28 miles of continuous, agonizing slowness. It seems my car just won't go 55 mph on that highway for long. I'd look at my speedometer and see see I was again approaching 80 mph though I had no intention of speeding-up. up. The car just wants to get to Sin City as quickly as I do. Even though other cars were averaging 70 mph through the construction zones, I was being careful, but going just a bit faster.

In blackjack as well as driving, pushing the envelope seemed to be the theme of this trip. I was getting tired of spinning my wheels. This was my seventh blackjack foray to LV since last September [(2001)]. At that time I started with the $2K I had left after paying off some losing BJ team obligations. I Slowly slowly building built the bankroll up to its present level , I had betduring which I had bet conservatively as I had been dealing with a 16.5% lifetime risk of ruin. After five out of six winning trips, the bankroll stood at $6,600. I had used a $10 unit with a 1-6 and 1-8 spread, betting mostly red chips, with my ultimate goal still to raise the BR to $10K at which point I'd be able to safely add those juicy $25 Strip double deck tables to my play list. I felt that would result in bigger wins and better comps plus more free room mailers.

This trip I would try something different. I had two comped nights at each of three hotels so, after checking in this night, I knew I'd have to move twice more. The First first hotel was the Stratosphere. I'd pay for one night so I could go directly to my room when I arrived after midnight. They also handed me two comped tickets to the Billy Ray Cyrus concert, which I sold the next day. The ducats were worth $32 each - I sold them for $20 each. The $40 neatly paid for the one "un-comped" night.

My first play was a 60% pen Strat double- decker, which I played for 30 minutes , breaking , breaking even. I then headed to Treasure Island where I found a $10 minimum DD table in the main (H17) pit. To my dismay, I found out the CBJN reports were right. TI had replaced the old discard racks with new ones that had more shallow penetration. Once the cut card was inserted, the pen now measured only 60% instead of the usual 70-75%. In a roundabout way I asked a floorgal about this. Both she and the dealer were unaware of any change. I scored a coffee shop comp here but, after an hour's play, I found myself down $400. This was disappointing, not just because of the $400, but because the much vaunted TI double- deckers had now become just another sub-par blackjack game. It's sad because this place used to be my favorite DD venue in town.

Thankfully, that $400 deficit only lasted until the following morning. I won $300 of it back at a heads- up morning session at the same Strat $10 DD table I'd played last night. Pen was only 55%-60% here so I made a mental note to give this game a wide berth from now on, especially on day shift.

I then drove to the Gold Coast to play a "Your first blackjack pays 3-1 up to $25" coupon, as since I had some coupons left in my old LV Advisor POV booklets. It took forever to get the snapper, and I wound up losing $200. I also wanted to try that much heralded $0.75 hot dog, but they gave me a lunch comp so the wiener will have to wait until another day. I found More more 55% DD cuts here. Is this terrible pen an unstoppable trend in today's LV blackjack world?

Thankfully, no. my My next stop was at Terrible's, where I found a good 65%-70% pen DD game. With one other player, I stayed for an hour, winning and won $100. I was still $200 in the minus column for the trip, . down $200. It was a small win but what was heartening was finally finding a decent pen, low stakes DD game.

After dinner at my buddy Stu's house, he gave me his unused POV coupon booklet. Now re-armed and ready, I drove downtown to play a "Blackjacks pay 2-1 for an hour" coupon at the Golden Gate. I lost the first $200 buy-in and reached in my pocket for another $100. Then I started winning. I was flat betting quarters mostly, with jumps to $40, $50 and $60 in plus counts. It took 35 minutes to get the first blackjack, on a $40 bet. When the break-in dealer placed $60 alongside my bet, I objected, so the floorgal came over to correct the situation by telling the dealer to give me another $20. Good thing this pit person was ignorant of the fine print on the coupon which stipulates a 2-1 payoff only on the first $25 of your bet. (I should have been paid $72.50 instead of $80). As it turned out, I got only two snappers the whole hour but I didn't mind it a bit as since I colored out with a nice $525 win, tipping the dealer a greenie before departing. This win finally put me in the plus column for the trip to the tune of $300.

Feeling way better now, I crossed the Fremont St. promenade to join two other players at a $5 single deck table at the Las Vegas Club. We got three rounds to three, but I was not allowed to spread to two hands on the last round. You have to play two hands from the top of the shuffle, which would have given us only two rounds to four spots - a worse situation. My top bet only got up to $60 here. I found it's hard to go much beyond that in only three rounds if you come off the top with a $15 or $20 initial bet. I won another $190 here and strolled down to the Horseshoe where I sat at an empty $10 single deck table. Another hour resulted in another $210 win to put me at plus $700 for the trip total. Now yawning and sleepy, I called it a night.

The next morning I got a cell call from my old friend and mentor, The Grifter. He was in town playing a LVA coupon at the Barbary Coast and asked me to meet him. I still had a BC 3-1 coupon left so I drove over, and caught catching up with him on the casino floor. Without these coupons there would be no earthly reason two experienced blackjack players would be caught dead at a sweaty, paranoid place like the BC. I got my coupon play down, winning $125 and Grif won a hundred or so too. We used a 2-1 food coupon to get two steak and eggs breakfasts at the Victorian Room while we caught up on the latest news in the BJ world. Grifter has been building a trade/barter business, which his company was selling to small local businesses in California. That's why he hasn't been too active on the blackjack front lately.

Grif wanted to hit the Gold Coast next. I drove him over as I still had one 3-1 coupon left for this place, thanks to the new POV booklet Stu had given me. I won another $125 there, then we moved to the Orleans where I spent a frustrating hour playing another 3-1 coupon, losing $100. However I was still up $150 for the day and $850 for the trip.

Two steps forward and one step backwards should be my motto. After attending Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services at Stu's synagogue, I played another coupon later that night at Sunset Station at the Super Fun 21 table. I lost $175 here as the snapper took its sweet time before appearing. The lousy pen and game conditions took care of the rest of the reasons for the loss. Did my plea to the Almighty for positive variance (i.e., good luck) at the tables fall upon deaf ears? Only time will tell.

At this point I'd like to give a thank you to my editor Henry Tamburin for including a tip by "LV Pro" on page 30 of his recent article in the August (2002) issue of Casino Player magazine. The article was entitled: "Casino 101: Gambling Coupons in Las Vegas". My tip was about playing the 3-1 BJ coupons at the Super Fun 21 table, thus negating the huge one and only advantage the casino has over the player in this game.

I then ran into a buzz saw of a gal dealer at a Fiesta Henderson $5 DD table. After buying in for $200 and presenting the 3-1 coupon, she cleaned my clock in 5 minutes flat. I can't remember a time as bad as this where I didn't win a single hand in two shuffles. I know I shouldn't but I tend to get a bit anxious and frustrated when things like this happen. After all, I've got the (slight) advantage and am supposed to win. :-]. I switched Switching tables, I bought in again and had a more even handed game for awhile, but still wound up losing $250 here.

In these last two casinos I had lost exactly half of my net trip winnings. Now, after 12.5 hours of play, I was ahead only $425. According to Auston's Blackjack Risk Manager 2000 software, I should earn $25.50 per hour. This should have yielded a win total of $318.75 by this time so the $425 figure was still slightly ahead of expectation.

The next morning I moved from Stratosphere to Casino Royale. After settling in, I found a wonderful game. Alone at the $10 DD table with my favorite dealer going 75%, I was only able to lose steadily. After going in for $400 things turned around and I was able to win it all back for a break- even session. I was relieved, but hated to waste a golden opportunity like this. Here was Perfect perfect game conditions with great pen, no scrutiny, no other players and the ability to spread my bets freely, and all I could do was win my own money back. It just goes to show that if you don't get the favorable cards, even the best counters can still lose, despite optimal game conditions. This game can be exhilarating, but at other times it can be as maddening as anything ever devised.

Then I took a break from blackjack. I went to the Gambler's Book Club where I spent some time reading and bought a few books and magazines. Then. I also bought six cartons of cigarettes for $120, using 6 six "$7.50 off a carton" coupons. I spent another hour in the Barnes and Noble bookstore where Iwhere I bought bought Wired magazine so I could read the article about the MIT blackjack team. I liked the piece although it didn't have much specific content that would be useful to a solo advantage player.

Resuming the quest, I played at Terrible's for an hour. I used my last two $25 matchplays, winning one and losing one. This time I waited until I changed tables to play the second one, unlike last trip when I tried to play two at the same table. Of course the second one was disallowed then, but today I was able to get both plays down. The average pen was 65% on the double deckers and I won $100.

For several months I had been carrying an old TI coffee shop comp slip that was dated for May. I hated to let it go to waste so I had tried to change the date myself with an eraser and white-out, and had botched the job. It looked terrible. As Since I also had a current TI comp slip from the other night, I thought I'd try to pass the old one first. Then if they called me on it, I could pull out the current slip and make it look like an honest mistake.

I invited The Grifter to join me and explained the situation to him. If anyone can add refinements to a semi-ethical advantage play, it was Grif. He didn't disappoint. First I handed him both comp slips. When you line up for a table you have to show the slip to the hostess who then hands it back for you to carry to the table. Grifter showed her the current slip, then during the walk to the table, he switched the slips and handed the waitress the old one. After we were seated, Grif excused himself to go make a phone call. Out of the corner of my eye I watched the waitress walk, then stop and inspect the comp slip. She looked at it for a long time. I started getting worried. She walked over to the hostess and they both looked at it for a good long while. Now I was alone and really starting to fret. After all, my real name was on the slip. I hid behind the open menu while I watched the waitress and hostess. Then I remembered Grifter's instructions to me: "Just brazen it out. If they question it, just produce the current comp slip and laugh as if it was just a mix-up." He also reassured me that they'd probably just accept it regardless. It wouldn't even be too serious an infraction if we got caught. After all, I had earned that old comp with my past play and I didn't see why the comp should have such a short expiration date anyway.

I ordered a shrimp cocktail, French onion soup and a prime rib dip sandwich with fries while Grifter ordered the shrimp dumpling appetizer and the smoked salmon platter. Once again I had my favorite beverage: the Island Breeze fruit smoothie, which has orange, pineapple, banana and coconut blended together. The bill came to $50. As it turned out, all my worrying had been for nothing. They had just accepted the old comp slip as if there was no problem. No one said "boo" to us. We signed the slip, left a $10 tip and departed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Now I was able to save the good current comp slip for tomorrow.

From here, we headed toOur next stop was the Fiesta Rancho to play another 3-1 BJ coupon. I spent a frustrating two hours here, losing steadily until I was in for $525. Finally I managed to get a heads- up game at the $10 single deck table where I was able to win all but $200 of it back. Then we played the DD tables at Texas Station for 30 minutes. I won $140 and Grifter won $300. Next stop was the Wildfire. We played at separate tables for 2.5 hours, seesawing back and forth. I finally eked out a $110 win as and Grif won another $300. I finally got to sleep around dawn. Now he's up $700 for his trip and I'm still up, though only by $575. My high point had been plus $950. Oh well. As Scarlett O'Hara says, "Tomorrow is another day."

Stay tuned. The conclusion of LV Pro’s September trip report will appear in issue #35 of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter.

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