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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, May 2003, #40



March, 2003. After six months away from the lights of Las Vegas, I was more than ready to resume my card counting avocation. Usually Iíd visit the Neon City once every two months on average. This prolonged hiatus was due to a slipped disk in my back that affected the sciatic nerve in my left leg. This resulted in a 3.5 month sick leave from work and I just returned back the first week of this New Year, newly healed and all better, thank God. It had been an excruciatingly painful experience.

So after a decent two-month dedication back on the job, I booked a six-day trip to Sin City and was raring to go. After driving all night, Iíd arrive in the wee hours of Thursday morning. So here I was, driving along and singing a song in a happy mood. That is until I tried to inch past a California Highway Patrol (CHP) cruiser. The trooper promptly pulled me over and gave me a $100 speeding ticket.

It was probably my own fault. I guess I should have just kept pace with him, but figured I was busted anyway since he saw me doing 90 as I rapidly gained on him. I was about to pass him before I was able to identify the CHP vehicle and then I quickly slowed down. But it was too little too late. I assumed the prospect of feigning innocence for the next 40 or 50 miles would have been too transparent for him to let pass. Talk about ruining my happy mood. Next time, Iíll try staying behind him and just keep pace, no matter how long it takes or how monotonous and frustrating the drive becomes. Iíve gotten so many of these tickets in the last few years that I now include them in my trip expenses. The only thing that I now regret is that I may have made the wrong decision and perhaps he would have left me alone if I hadnít tried to pass him. I just hope that wasnít the case.

My first stop was Main St. Station (downtown) where I had the LV Advisor coupon rate for two nights at a flat rate of $35. On Friday I planned to move to Casino Royale where I had two comped nights, which Iíd use for Friday and Saturday. On Sunday Iíd move to Terribleís where I had three nights for $88. So for seven nights, my room costs total $123.

With my new $9500 bankroll, I decided to stay with a $10 unit bet with a $100 top bet or 2 hands at $75. I find it easier to calculate my next bet when I know Iím supposed to bet two times the true count in units. I didnít want to plunge into a strictly green spread in order to keep the lifetime Risk of Ruin to an acceptably low level of 4.04%. However, I did plan to mix in some play at Strip $25 DD tables maybe a quarter of the time. In those cases Iíd use a top bet of $150, or 2 x $100. Later Iíd find out that vowing to push out top bets of $100 or $150 is a lot easier said then done. Such was the case during my first session that night after unpacking.

I played a $5 MSS 2-decker for 45 minutes but my top bet only reached a high of $60. Ok, I usually start conservatively after decompressing from the drive, but there were one or two opportunities to put out top bets that I didnít take advantage. I won $500 in this session so I wasnít feeling too bad except that I knew it could have been a bigger win.

So with mixed feelings I pocketed my coffee shop comp and walked out into the cold Las Vegas night. The bankroll now finally stood at a true $10K. This had been my goal for the past year and a half when I started with a $2K bankroll. As I walked towards the Las Vegas Club, I thought about what new goal to set. The first notion to cross my mind was to try to double the $10K. Ok, this might take several more trips and it seemed a reasonable goal but what about a short-term objective for this trip? If I could win another $2500 this time around, Iíd have $12.5K Ė 100 top bets - and could safely increase my top bet to $125. That seemed do-able.

Much as I wanted to bask in my luxurious choices for awhile, there was still the business at hand. I wanted to play some single deck at the Las Vegas Club but all tables had at least three players. I tried the Golden Nugget, where I havenít played at all lately because of the bad rules (no double after splitting) and the indifferent 60% pen. Tonight I felt confident I could beat this game so I sat at a $10 double deck table with two other players. But I guess I picked the wrong night because all I was dealt was stiff after stiff after stiff. The dealer made a hand every time she was "suppose" to bust and I couldnít win two hands in a row if the fate of the world depended on it. As a result I lost $300. Well it sure was nice having a $10K bankroll while it lasted.

I headed over to the Horseshoe. I found an empty $5 single deck table at the Shoe and played two hands, getting four rounds. When another player joined, I switched to one spot to keep the pen constant. I lost another $300 to put me at minus $100 after 2.5 hours of play. I still didnít make a $100 wager in those three sessions.

I slept in late and made a few phone calls before my first session of the day. Playing for an hour at my hotelís $5 DD table, I finally put out at least an $80 bet and won. This was late in the session after I was already in for $300 so I climbed back up for a $125 win. Iíll have to work up to it gradually and screw up my courage to throw out a $100 bet sometime soon. I guess Iíve gotten too comfortable with red chip play.

I had three new coffee shop comps in my wallet including an expired comp slip from Treasure Island. I used the Main St. Station comp for lunch and had good ribs and a root beer float but I was disappointed that their refrigeration was out and I couldnít get their shrimp cocktail. It threw me because I spent a few minutes selecting exactly what I wanted to eat while staying under the $15 comp limit and I had it calculated perfectly. Too bad.

I visited the Gamblerís Book Club and said hello to Howard Schwartz. I bought the new edition of Ian Andersonís Burning the Tables in Las Vegas. In the used section in the back of the store I found a compendium of Ken Ustonís old blackjack newsletters from 1979-1981 and bought them for $7.50. I also purchased some Mob paperbacks: Mafia USA, Gangland and Kill the Dutchman. Iíve always loved those Mafia stories from the time I was a kid and first read The Green Felt Jungle. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon at my buddy Stuís. We watched a good flick, We Were Soldiers. The DVD looked spectacular on his new 55-inch high definition big screen TV.

That evening I drove to the Rampart casino in Summerlin. Wongís Current Blackjack News and Fine Tunerís monthly casino ratings reported the double deck pen at 70%. Maybe the CBJN reporter saw pen that deep, but I didnít. Dealers on all tables were shuffling after dealing out only 60% of the pack. Just goes to show how transitory good pen reports can be. Here one minute, gone the next. I played an hour and wound up winning $175. I left when all the "playable" DD tables got too crowded. I spread $5 -$80, but still had not pushed out a $100 bet on any one hand. Iíve simply got to stop being so timid and start firing those bigger bets.

After I ate my comped lunch at Golden Nuggetís Carson Street café (shrimp cocktail, eggs benedict and chocolate shake), I wandered through the Fremont St. Promenade wondering what kind of original gift to buy my girlfriend. Finally I came upon a kiosk that seemed to have what sheíd like. The craftsman specialized in creating any womanís name spelled out in 14-karat gold wire which hung on a gold rope chain. I had him add a small blue gemstone in a gold setting that hung from the name.

On the way back to check-out of the hotel, I stopped at the Plaza. I still had one expired $25 matchplay from last yearís LVA coupon booklet. I set it down on a BJ table with $25 cash and won the hand. That quick $50 profit more than covered the expense of the gift. I was lucky that the dealer didnít study the coupon before dealing.

I checked in to Casino Royale for the weekend. After settling in, I played an afternoon session at their $10 DD table with two other players. There were still all the same familiar faces in the CR pit. Spreading $10-$60, I won $230 in an hour. Why am I still cocking around with those small spreads? Iíve got most of $10K in my pocket. A $100 bet represents only 1% of my bankroll. This is halfway through my second full day in LV and I have yet to bet more than $80. Maybe Iím just reluctant to give up the relative freedom to spread and also the lack of heat that red chip spreading allows. When you start spreading green, it gets more serious.

After a luxurious mid afternoon nap and shower, I was alert and ready. I played another session at CR and was surprised that there were only two other players at the table. After all, this was the start of the weekend. Well, I wasnít surprised for long. Soon the table filled and I was one of five players. When this happens I usually leave, unless Iím still winning in which case I tell myself Iíll leave after losing two hands in a row. This took a good long while to happen. So I stayed, even though the conventional wisdom, which I truly believe in, says to find a game with better conditions. Time is money. I figured it would be tough to find another 70% pen low stakes pitch game in the area on a Friday night. Before I knew it, two hours had gone by and I had won $325 with a $10 - $80 spread. Towards the end I hit a few $60 and $80 double downs. I hate to think that after all the study, practice and, more than that, the belief in statistics and probabilities, that I still somewhat rely on gut instinct. Hey, when Iím winning I make allowances.

At Casino Royale, you spot counters all the time. Canít blame them Ė itís a good low stakes double deck game and theyíre drawn to it like boys to Britney. This afternoon I sat next to one for a time. In the evening session I had counters on both sides of me. Iím sure we all knew what the other was doing but good "counter etiquette" was maintained. No one made any reference to little things like cards that had been played, lots of little cards coming out, etc. These are spoken observations that clueless ploppies make all the time. Except for a smile and a wink upon departing and a spoken "good luck, guys" for cover, there was no breach of "card counter decorum".

I got a dinner comp to the new Outback steakhouse atop Casino Royale. I was happy to find that a $25 comp would cover most of the meal where I could get my two favorite entrees. I ordered the rack of lamb for $17.99. For another $8 you can add a small lobster tail to any entree. Salad, bread and baked potato come with the dinner. I had pink lemonade with free refills. So by not ordering an appetizer or expensive beverage, I had a great dinner, almost more food than I could finish and the bill with tax came to $29. I forked over a $10 bill to cover the overage and tip, and was pleased with my new comp play, as the meal was great and really hit the spot. Since I like eating late dinners while in Vegas and the Outback is open until 1 am, I plan to repeat this play at least once or twice every trip.

I was smoking an after dinner cigarette when my buddy Fezzik called on my cell phone. He advised me to go wong double deck tables at Mirage, Bellagio, Luxor and Mandalay Bay. I should just come in with $50 bets at a true count of +2. I walked across the street to Mirage and tried it until I figured the pit was on to me. They watched me with stony expressions. I felt kind of obvious but kept at it for an hour, getting down six bets. I only won one hand out of six for an overall $200 loss. There were only two $50 DD tables Ė the rest were $100 and $300. I know many counters frown upon this sort of thing, especially if itís their table youíre wonging into. Double deck wonging does get the money (my six hands notwithstanding) but itís considered tacky and smacks of ruthless desperation. Fortunately there were no counters that I could see at either table. So much for "card counter etiquette".

I then decided to check out the Tropicanaís sole, newly reinstated, double deck table. I found it open with only two other players and $10 minimum. The pen was all over the place Ė sometimes as shallow as 60% and other times up to 75%.

I bought in for $200 and was soon down to the last $50. In a mildly plus count I bet it all and won the hand with, of all things, a sixteen vs. an ace. In this session I ranged from $10 and $15 in negative counts to $15, $20 and $25 in neutrals. At +2 I bet $40; at +3 the bet was $60; at +4 I bet $80. When the count got to +5 I shoved out four greens. Thatís right; I finally did what I was supposed to be doing all along. I pushed out those four greenies without cover or compunction, with not even a red on top for disguise. I got a "checks play" called and ignored it, making small talk with the players and kidding the dealer when she frequently "broke my heart". Good thing I won most of those $100 bets or I might have had some confidence issues. Had I lost all or most of those top bets the first time I made them, I might have reverted to a more gun-shy approach in subsequent sessions, and would have squandered even more time than I had already. Thankfully that was not the case.

After almost two hours I was $575 to the good. A dour pit boss had been looking in my direction but I ignored him. At no time did he go near the phone. The win put me at the plus $1130 mark, well ahead of expectation. My EV was $26 per hour so after the 13 hours Iíd played, I should be ahead by only $338. I was making more than three times my expectation. Donít get me wrong, I was glad and feeling good but with the underlying fear that the other shoe could fall at any time and my results would tailspin into the toilet. If Iím really lucky, the law of averages will catch up to me not tomorrow or next year, but eons into the future after Iím long dead and gone. After all, no one really knows how long the "long run" is.

After a $120 loss in my morning session at the CR double decker, I pointed the car north on I-15 towards Nellis Air Force base. I was going to visit my friend and mentor The Grifter. Heís serving an 18-month sentence at Federal Prison Camp Nellis for a RICO racketeering and conspiracy rap, in connection with the sale of $270 million in unregistered securities. Because of Grifís cooperation with the Feds, his 30 year sentence was reduced to just 18 months, with a subsequent 4-6 month stint in a halfway house to follow. He might get the 18 months reduced to 12 by enrolling in a drug prevention program and transferring to another Federal prison camp in Miami. The charges stemmed from his cellular/wireless licensing exploits over the last decade.

"Itís a set-up", declared The Grifter. "This joint will never hold me."

He didnít really say that (I just couldnít resist making it up). All kidding aside, The Grifter is fitting in well, networking with many of the sharper, white-collar inmates. This is resulting in a burgeoning collaboration with, among others, Jay Cohen of World Sports Inc. (the big offshore online sports books), and Jerry Crouch, a renown old time Las Vegas sports bettor. Theyíre holding confabs on how to handicap and beat the sports books in the area of auto racing. They feel that motor racing can be quantified easily and is less prone to set-ups and point shaving type chicanery.

A Federal Prison Camp is as minimum security as it gets. They call it Club Fed. Itís the kind of place the Boeskys and Milkens get sent to. The inmates sleep in bunk beds in dormitories and work from 6:30 am to 1:30 p.m. either within the Camp or on the grounds of the Air Force base. After 1:30 p.m., they have free time for the rest of the day. There are lots of sports, classes, and activities. They even had a pool until the time Barbara Walters did a report from the camp and got the politicians upset by claiming the inmates were being coddled. Grif is mentoring other inmates for their GEDís and has become legendary as the resident card counter, especially after he showed them the printout of the "Interview with The Grifter" article I mailed him. Heís tutoring a few of the guards in Card Counting 101 as well. Heís getting a rep as the one guy in this joint you donít want to play cards with. I felt much better seeing how well Grifter was adapting to his new surroundings.

On the way back from FPC Nellis, I stopped in to check out the new Cannery casino on Craig Road. This is a nice casino with a unique industrial style décor. The blackjack conditions I found this afternoon were excellent. I was getting 65%-70% pen from all day shift dealers and the tables were not crowded. I started at a $5 DD table with two others who soon left, leaving me with a heads up game. The cards were kind to me as I pushed out some $100 bets, even doubling on one of them. The dealer busted and that hand turned out to be the key to a nice $375 win. Comps are easy here. I had a free club sandwich and milkshake in their coffee shop after only a 45-minute session.

For a low to medium stakes card counter, Saturday night in LV is always a problem. Tables are crowded anywhere you go, minimums are higher and the hands per hour action is way too slow to realize any decent win rate.

I tried Casino Royale. The one good DD table was full so I drove to Terribleís. I got a seat with two other players. I played only 20 minutes when a fourth player joined. That guy actually did me a favor since it gave me an excuse to leave this poor 60% pen game. Now where to play?

A stray thought that had been hovering subconsciously then rose to the surface. Maybe, just maybe, it was worth a try. I realized the Cannery might be just remote enough that I could find uncrowded conditions. It was new enough that it may not yet have a steady group of regulars who regarded it as their home casino and streamed in every Saturday night for "beers and blackjack". That afternoon I had noticed two BJ pits Ė the one I played in and the side pit which was closed. Surely theyíd have that second pit open by now. It was a long drive but I had plenty of time and knew that checking out all the closer casinos with playable pitch games would be even more a waste of time. Iíve done that before on too many other Saturday nights.

The first good omen when I arrived at the Cannery was that I found a parking spot close to the main casino entrance. There were no other cars cruising the lot looking for spots. The main pit was crowded but there was two $5 DD tables in the side pit each with only two players. I settled into a seat, bought in for $200 and never looked back. Soon one of the players left, and I had unusually great conditions; one other player, 70% pen and a clueless pit. My stacks of reds steadily became greener. I played for 2.5 hours as players joined and departed as soon as their small stacks of reds disappeared into the chip tray. By comparison, my green stacks were becoming a bit too conspicuous. I had made several $100 bets during this session with mostly good results and finally colored out with a $600 win and another coffee shop comp.

The win was sweet Ė pushing me close to $2K in trip winnings. But what was more gratifying was that I had found an excellent blackjack game in a remote location. The Cannery has now become my new Saturday night "go-to" casino.

I headed downtown feeling good and a bit hungry. It was past midnight and I hadnít had dinner yet. This would be the perfect opportunity to use the Horseshoe comp since I had a yen for a simple steak and eggs breakfast. The ĎShoe had recently reopened the original downstairs coffee shop. Thankfully it was no longer within the upstairs buffet where they had it for so many months. For all the troubles that have plagued this casino of late, at least their classic "Old Las Vegas" style coffee shop was back up and running. Too bad the steak was overcooked and the eggs were a bit runny. But even a disappointing meal like this couldnít ruin my mood. At least the coffee was good.

The Grifter had tipped me that the Western had a good single deck game and I briefly considered walking over but I have a weakness for the good old Horseshoe 1-deckers. On my after dinner stroll through the casino, I found an empty $10 table and sat down. Playing two hands, I was soon down $100, then $150. Other players joined. I switched tables, continuing to lose and buying in for more. Then in the space of two shuffles I got back most of my buy in and quit after 1.5 hours with only a $100 loss. Now at the halfway point of my trip, I was up $1765 after 19 hours of play.

Note: The conclusion of LV Proís trip will appear in the next issue of Blackjack Insider Newsletter.

LV Pro is a serious recreational player who started with basic strategy in 1996 and learned the Silver Fox count by the end of 1998. He has been counting since early 1999, starting with a $2K bankroll and slowly trying to build it to $10K. His trip reports to Las Vegas appear in the Blackjack Insider newsletter.

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