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TURNED BACK FROM RENO

by Loudon Ofton

Note: "Loudon Ofton" is a high stakes card counter who was involved with "The Church Blackjack Team". Loudon is a staff writer for Blackjack Apprenticeship, as well as a trainer for their Blackjack Bootcamps.

With the exception of perhaps Atlantic City, Reno Nevada is the sweatiest place in America to count cards. Thatís not to say you should avoid playing blackjack in Reno altogether; rather, that you should just bring an umbrella when you play. Why? Because your game will quickly become less about the cards and more about the ducking and dodging that you will do to maintain your playing longevity. That was my experience, and I hardly think I am alone.

The first time I went to Reno, the team that I played for didnít have much in the way of firsthand information about the games and the heat, so my trip was a bit exploratory in nature.  After a few short sessions that ended in backoffs, it started to become clear that the casinos were very diligently communicating with each another about card counters they 86íd. (This scenario is different in Vegas.) My arrival in different casinos in Reno was anticipated, and the pit critters were alerted via the fax with my photo that was taped to the computer monitor in the pit. The backoffs were kind, but forceful and consistent. Unlike Vegas, there was no sense that they were interested in evaluating my play. Bet swings (low to high, high to low) were treated with the utmost suspicion. Backoffs seemed more like a kneejerk reaction than anything else.

If I had it to do all over again, I would avoid giving any information of any kind. I would write off the possibility of any sweet, sweet comps and just stay at one of the many cheap motels dotting the landscape. I would resign myself to cashing out and leaving before having to fill out any dreaded CTRs (Cash Transaction Reports, required by law at buy-ins or cash outs of $10,000 or higher).

However, I quickly adopted methods to make Reno playable. First, I planned very short trips (two days or less), or trips that merely "passed through" town. Next, I would bring "highly varied looks" to try and throw them off the trail of any consistent "style" in my look or wardrobe. Another tactic I would use was to play a short session of spotter/BP with a team member, and then on a later shift, change clothes and swap roles. I also played the graveyard, graveyard, graveyard shift because playing late at night sometimes catches a casino off guard with a pit/surveillance team who are less qualified, experienced or justified in tossing out big-bet players.

I would try to play games that offered the possibility of less betting variance. There are a lot of double-deck and single-deck games in and around town, which makes this somewhat possibleóbut keep your eye out for oddball rules and betting restrictions that you will only find here. I divorced myself of the need to play all the high limit games and instead tackled some of the smaller joints using smaller bet spreads. Conversely, I unabashedly attacked the highest EV games (high limit/good rules single-deck games), knowing that even if I lasted only 15 minutes, I had the chance to do some quick strike damage. I played off the mail strip in Reno as much as possible.

Nevertheless, be warned; if you return too many times, those backoffs, fed by regular shots of anticipation coming at them from everyone elseís fax machines, can turn into hasty trespasses.

In that first trip, my best sessions were in the off-strip dives. In subsequent trips, I got more cunning in the way I played, and planned for quick escapes. I played the role of a drunken businessman, golf pro, and even a low-life hoodlum. Even so, in my last trip I had to cut my losses and spend a day recovering my soul by reading a book in a coffee shop.

Summary

If you want to play the good single-deck blackjack games in Reno, I would recommend you do the following...

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