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My Cinderella Story: Some Highs and Lows

By Barfarkel

 

Barfarkel 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. Barfarkelís books, Youíve Got Heat Vol. 1 and Turning up the Heat: Vol. 2, contains the details of his playing trips to Las Vegas over a six year period. He also wrote the article "Graduating From Red to Green" that appeared in the 2003/2004 winter edition of Blackjack Forum. You can also listen to a taped radio interview of Barfarkel done on the American Radio Network by going to www.youvegotheat.com.

 

Editors Note: I once had the bright idea of writing a book containing a diary of my blackjack sessions. The problem was that most of the time I couldnít even remember which casino I played, let alone the intriguing hands that occurred that often determined the fate of my playing session. But Barfarkel, bless him, has the uncanny ability to remember all the details of his trips, and write it all down on paper in a way that readers find interesting and educational. It was fun to watch Barfarkel grow from a red chip to green chip player, and see some of the mistakes he made along the way (the same mistakes most beginning card counters make, including me). But he was determined to achieve his bankroll goal, and he did. If you want to read what itís like to be in the trenches month after month trying to beat the casinos at blackjack, look no further than Barfarkelís trip reports and books.

 

Who would have thought nine years ago that Iíd be where I am today? Certainly, not I.

Back in 1999, I was a clueless gambler who loved playing craps and blackjack in Vegas. But my bankroll kept dwindling, so I decided in the spring of 1999 to teach myself basic strategy and card counting. And brother has that changed my life for the better!

Fast forward to 2008. Now, Iím an advantage player who has quintupled his bankroll, as well as being a published author of two blackjack books (Youíve Got Heat Vol. 1 and Turning up the Heat Vol. 2). I still go to Sin City regularly, only now the casinos pay for my rooms, my meals, and the shows. Iíve made a lot of friends within the blackjack community, had excellent teammates on blackjack teams that Iíve played, and, yes, even enjoyed the sex of Sin City Ė both free and paid.

I couldnít have imagined way back when all the hours that I would put in at the blackjack tables. But I have. Was it worth it? You bet!

In retrospect, Iím lucky I started my card counting avocation then, rather than now, because being an advantage player has become tougher. I donít know if someone could do today what I had done: start with a $2,000 bankroll and using a $5 to $40 bet spread, slowly build it up to $10k. I suppose itís still possible to do that today, but you would have to be more careful. Shorter sessions would be a must. And there are a ton of obstacles: more pit scrutiny and facial recognition software, 6:5 games, bad rules, stingy penetration, continuous shuffling machines, "hand-held-multi-deck," SIN networks, advanced software programs, counter catchers in the pit and Eye, and many other casino innovations designed to thwart card counters, would be some of the things youíd have to be painfully aware of.

Also, Iíve found that as the pit critters have gotten "wiser" to our approach, theyíre much quicker than yesteryear in backing you off the games Ė even if they only have a small suspicion that youíre counting. It seems the casinos are not as concerned anymore about making a mistake and backing off a clueless gambler on a hot streak. Even though we both know that in the long run theyíre shooting themselves in the foot by alienating a regular customer, who almost certainly would eventually lose back all his short-term winnings and more, they donít seem to care about that. Thatís one example of how much more paranoid and intolerant the casinos have become.

SOME HIGHS AND LOWS

One of the initial highlights I can remember was when everything first came together for me. I was playing a $5 double-deck game at the Gold Coast in Vegas, sometime late in 1999, when I found I was able to keep the count accurately, without being affected by casino distractions. The running count went above plus 10 with little more than a deck remaining to be dealt. I estimated the true count to be over plus 8. I jumped my bets and got several twenties and blackjacks. I remember being thrilled that all of my card counting practice and training was finally paying off. This stuff really works! That was the first time that I was able to use the count to gain an edge on the casino. That particular session marked the start of my card-counting avocation.

Another highlight occurred at an off-Strip casino in 2005. I was going partners with The Grifter on the Lucky Ladies side bet. After forty-five minutes, a second opportunity appeared to make the side bet in a true count that had climbed to over plus 10 (In my Silver Fox counting system, the bet becomes favorable at a true count of plus 6.5). We spread to two spots of $100 each with the maximum $25 bet on each of our four Lucky Ladies spots. While looking at my first hand Ė a blackjack Ė I heard my partner yell "Ho!," and throw his first hand face-up on the felt. It was the two most beautiful queens of hearts Iíd ever seen. We had hit the 200-1 payoff for five grand!

After some stalling by the pit, they finally paid us $5,000, emptying all the black chips in the rack, and the last thousand in greenies. We had each won $2,500 on a single round. I remember vividly celebrating our big win with vanilla martinis in the Treasure Island high-limit room, where about thirty Hawaiian Tropics beauties were present to film a promo that showed them winning at a high stakes blackjack game. I was elated, not only because of that, but also because I was already up about $1,300 for the trip at that point. I would go on to win another $1,300 the next day at a Wynn double-decker. Eventually that put my trip total winnings at a cool $5,000 Ė my most lucrative trip ever. Iíll never forget how great it felt beating the casinos at their own game.

Unfortunately, when you count cards, you have to accept the bad sessions with the good ones. My most disheartening experience occurred two trips later. I had come to Vegas around Halloween in 2005 with a bankroll of $15,000. It turned out to be the "Trip from Hell." Even using all my blackjack card counting skills, I got creamed at the tables to the tune of $6,000 Ė fully 40% of my bankroll. In fact most of my losses occurred within a thirty-six hour period during which I just couldnít win two hands in a row if my life depended on it. It was the biggest trip loss I had ever suffered. Itís still amazing to me how long and steady it takes to build up a bankroll, and how quickly and ruthlessly you can lose it. With my remaining $9,000, I drove home totally depressed, and my stomach in knots after the hammering Iíd experienced. Oh well. If I was way ahead of my expected value up until that point, I realized that this huge loss represented the variance that served to even out my previous wins, which had been much more than what my EV called for. But Iíve learned to accept the bankroll swings. All card counters will experience them in the short run, even though in the long run we should make money.

However, Iíve found that good things happen to those of us who persist and hang in there even after taking a shellacking. During one memorable session at a downtown casino, The Grifter had a line on a flashing dealer. While I was sitting at second base and angling each of my two hands towards his seat at third base, heíd see the hole card (maybe 80% of the time) and signal the plays to me. We won almost every insurance bet we made over a four-hour session as well. The whole table was winning, and the pit didnít have a clue. Do you know what itís like to have almost perfect insurance information? What a feeling! It was all I could do to stifle myself from busting out laughing during this session. I found that once you experience this kind of omnipotence, itís tough to go back to a straight count game. We were totally elated when we colored out with a big chunk of their money, and celebrated with a fine comped meal at the Carson Street Café.

Another highlight in my blackjack career was having my trip reports published into a book. I remember the day that Chris at the BJ21.com offices in Las Vegas handed me a copy of the just released Youíve Got Heat Ė The Vegas Card Counting Adventures of LV Pro Ė it was the first time I had seen my book. Even thought I had never started out to write a book Ė I was only writing individual trip report/articles for the Blackjack Insider Ė the series of my card counting trips had mushroomed in popularity and here, finally, was the result in my hot little hands. I became proud of the fact that it was BJ21.comís best selling title for the first three months after its publication. Along the way I did autograph sessions at bookstores and radio interviews all the fun things that authors get to do. The print version of the book is sold out now, but itís still available as an e-book. Recently we posted an e-book sequel entitled Youíve Got Heat Ė Volume 2: Turning up the Heat. Feel free to check them out at www.Youvegotheat.com.

While Iím at it, Iíd like to congratulate Henry Tamburin and his partner Dan Pronovost for sticking with the Blackjack Insider newsletter, and achieving this 100th issue. This is quite an accomplishment. Many other publications and newsletters have folded, but BJI remains strong. Henry, who is my editor and publisher, has always been fair and generous in his dealings with me, and Iím very glad and proud for him on his accomplishments with the newsletter.

As far as my future plans, Iíd like to get to Vegas and Reno a few times this year and continue to grow my bankroll, and plan to continue to write my trip reports for Blackjack Insider. Iíll probably continue to utilize a green spread for the time being until my bankroll grows to the point where I can graduate to betting a black spread. However, given the unpredictable situation at my day job, I donít know yet when Iíll be able to take my next card counting trip. Hopefully itíll be very soon.

My Cinderella story just goes to show that an average person who takes the time to learn and play blackjack with a good count system, has an adequate bankroll, and sticks with the game during the lows and the highs, can end up in the long run a winner.

Good luck and good hunting.

Cheers,

Barfarkel

 

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