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by Mark Gruetze

Mark Gruetze writes the weekly "Player's Advantage" gambling column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania. He has been a skilled recreational casino player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-mail questions or comments to:

If only more blackjack sessions could be like the one at Sam’s Town Tunica on that gorgeous fall morning.

My wife and I were in the first "OJ&BJ" outing (for the uninitiated, that’s Orange Juice and Blackjack) of our late September-early October trip, and the cards were magical.

Only one other player was at the $10 double-deck table. Miraculously, I won every hand for at least three decks – no pushes, all wins.

My wife was winning frequently, but nothing compared with me. She doubled her buy-in, plus a bit more, while I walked away with 10 times mine.

This had all the earmarks of a special trip. It turned out to be memorable, but not because every session went that well. From that promising start, about the only way our blackjack fortunes would go was down.

My wife and I visit Tunica a couple of times each year. We’re red-chip bettors and play video poker to break up the blackjack sessions – quarters most of the time, dollars when things are going well.

On this seven-night trip, we had to move from Sam’s Town to Resorts to Fitzgerald’s to take advantage of free-room offers that kept our hotel bill for the trip at zero. Buffet and coffee-shop comps remain easy, even at our betting level, so gambling is the only real expense once we reach Tunica.

Standard Tunica rules include H17 and double after splitting. Unlike my home state of Pennsylvania, Tunica casinos do not offer late surrender. However, Tunica casinos allow splitting to a maximum of four hands, even at pitch games, and several allow resplitting Aces. My wife split Aces to four hands in a double-deck game at Fitzgerald’s, winning each when the dealer busted.

The trip covered a weekend, and we got the impression traffic was down from normal, at least at the normally busy Horseshoe and Gold Strike. We easily found seats on Friday afternoon at a $15 double-deck at each and received comps to each casino’s seafood buffet. We ate at the Shoe on Friday and at Gold Strike on Saturday. The wait at the two best buffets in Tunica was less than 15 minutes each.

However, weekend gamblers packed the tables at...

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