PLAYING WITH BLACKJACK TEAMS
PART 3: MY TUNICA TEAM
Note: This series is excerpted from Frank Scoblete's book I Am a Card Counter: Inside the World of Advantage Play Blackjack. The book is available in the BJI Store.
I am a believer in Hamlet's response to Polonius. When Polonius asked him what he was reading. Hamlet said, "Words, words, words." You will never know how a person will react despite whatever "words, words, words" he utters. Actions certainly do speak louder than "words, words, words" and that is a good warning for those of you who are flirting with team play. Be careful because those "words, words, words" will often give themselves the lie.
One of my team-playing experiences took place over four days in Tunica, Mississippi, a couple of years before I was banned from all the casinos in that state. Michael Kaplan, who had done an article about me for Harpers Magazine, wanted to do an article about Joanna W. - who had appeared on the short-lived television show Ultimate Blackjack Tour. This article was for Glamour Magazine (January issue 2006). Joanna W. had been a player on a Russian blackjack team that had hit Vegas rather hard the previous year. She is said to have won $80,000. Not a bad take.
Kaplan wanted to know if she could join my Tunica team and display her blackjack talents to him in the casinos. One of her talents seemed to be costuming - creating different characters based on how she looked - in order to fool the pit. If her costuming were as bad as Uston's, our team could lose one of its players fairly fast. Most people who do costuming are a far cry from the professional people who do costuming for movies and theatre.
Although she was presented to us as a cunning card counter with true skills and great wins, she had a small problem; our team would have to finance her because she was short of money. I don't know why some card counting blackjack players (and some poker players too) can't hold onto their hard-won money but some of them either spend, spend, spend or go from their advantage-play games into other games that they just can't beat. I have seen some great poker players play craps as if they were just released from a lunatic asylum; making bad bets left and right and betting up their bankrolls like crazy. I've seen card counters do the exact same things. They should memorize two basic facts:
I will readily admit that advantage play is not fun - at least not for me. I find that it is work; it is a grind. I find the casino environment to just be a noisy place in which I have to work to make some dough. I've never fallen into the Ken Uston mythology. I know the score.
To me an exciting evening is not being in a casino but sitting by my fireplace, drink in hand, kissing my wife the Beautiful A.P. and asking her if we can get rid of our loud parrot. (No, no, I like our parrot; I just say this to get a rise out of her since the parrot thinks she is his mate and she will be the first actual reader of this book. Honey, I love our parrot.)
Still, why not let Joanna W. play on our team? Adding another good player, a player who had played with a great group of card counters, could only help us, even if we had to finance her. We all assumed she was a good player and indeed she was.
She would be joining four of us who were instructors in the Golden Touch dice control and blackjack classes (Dom the "Dominator," Jerry "Stickman," Bill "Street Dog," and me) and this would give us great publicity for our classes since we all assumed our Golden Touch team would also be highlighted in Kaplan's piece. It wasn't to be.
As Dominator wrote in an email to me, "After reading the article, I remember what really pissed me off - he never mentioned us in the article! It was all about her and never what happened to us in Tunica. We thought because she didn't win enough money and we won most of it he shied away from writing about that. If you remember we had to come up with all the money for the team, she didn't have any and the article talked about all the money she made and even the $80,000 night she had."
For that weekend we combined our money to give us a $30K bankroll and our betting spread was $15 to $100 (sometimes more) in positive counts.
One other problem we faced concerned the fact that our new team would only play for three days - not really enough time to get into anything resembling a long run. Our short run fluctuations could be crippling. Then again they could be amazingly good as well.
Kaplan followed Joanna W. around Tunica while the four of us spread out to other casinos. I played the Grand (now Harrah's, now closed) and the Horseshoe. Dom also played the Horseshoe and Grand. When I went to the Grand, he went to Horseshoe. Stickman played Fitzgerald's and Sheraton. Joanna W. played several of the casinos (I've forgotten which). None of us were limited to where we could play. If we eventually wound up in a casino where other teammates were playing we just made it a point to play at different tables.
Interestingly enough, Stickman, Dominator and I played the new Speed Count, while Joanna W. and Street Dog played the traditional Hi-Lo count. Since Speed Count plays differently than traditional counting systems, the three Speed Counters would have an easier time of slipping under the casino radar. Being banned is always a possibility with advantage players.
Now, while Joanna W. would be showing off her costuming as well as her play you might think she was the "star" of the show. Not so. Dominator also used costumes - for two reasons, he was afraid his face was getting too well known from our television appearances and he was a total, unmitigated, over-the-top ham.
Dominator's costumes were great too because he did not try to be too elaborate. We were in the South, right? So he dressed as a Southern boy, complete with the Confederate flag sewn on the sleeve of his red-plaid shirt. I must say African-Americans eyed him with less than love when he played the redneck but thankfully no one said anything. Dom has a fierce New York Italian temper (think Sonny in the "Godfather" movie) and I didn't want to get into a fight with disgruntled and angry African-Americans in the middle of the casino considering Dom and I are actually liberal when it comes to race relations. ("No, no, guys, you don't understand; he is just pretending to be Billy Bo Jack. We're from the North!")
Then again, it might be that everyone is used to everyone else in the South and what would tend to offend me is just sloughed off as the way things are. I was shocked at first when I saw the rebel flag prominently displayed on various pickup trucks. These were not little flags either but great big ones, often taking up the whole back window or back of the truck. One shuttle driver called the Civil War the war of freedom or something close to that. I think in his mind, the North and South were just having an intermission.
Dom also dressed as a low-life motorcyclist, wearing a leather cap and colors on a denim jacket. Even some of his friends didn't recognize him when he costumed. Simple changes can make you become completely different people as any fine actor knows - and Dom did just that, simple changes that made him someone else. How would Joanna W. change? When the weekend was over and the money was counted we'd find out.
There was one interesting difference in the way Joanna W.'s former team played and the way our team played. In their scheme of things, it was wrong to go into your pocket to get more money to play those positive counts. If you ran out of table-money, you called it a session. We were the opposite. If you needed more money and you had to reach into your pocket (or purse) we did so. Many normal gamblers do just that. Getting that money out in the high counts was and is the key to winning at card counting. Never give up an opportunity if you can help it. ("Get the money out there!")
When the weekend was over, we met in my suite at a non-casino hotel and figured out the pot: I had won $1,430; Dom won $1,175; Stickman won $890, Street Dog won $710 and Joanna W. won $400. Since our spreads were quite modest $15 to $100, this was a decent take. Making $4,605 over three days came to $921 per person or $307 per day. Not bad at all. Had the four of us been playing our normal stakes, which were much higher, the wins would have been much higher as well.
So how did Joanna W. do with her costuming? According to Michael Kaplan she was great. Joanna was a pretty young woman to begin with and she played a nurse, a prostitute, a drunk, a librarian type and a Southern Belle during her various gaming sessions. I've no doubt she did a great job, although I think Kaplan might have been somewhat dazzled by this young lady's looks and energy. Dynamic card counters, both male and female, have a certain appeal to the lay public who really have no idea of the grind it all is.
The fact that none of the Golden Touch members were mentioned in the article is just the way of things. Writers pick and choose what they want to highlight and so did Kaplan. From my experiences with him, he seemed a nice enough fellow. I have no idea what happened to Joanna W.
That team-play in Tunica came at a time when Tunica still had great single- and double-deck games. After that year the blackjack games deteriorated as they have deteriorated in Atlantic City and Las Vegas. It takes a little more effort and circumspection to choose and play today's games. Winning is quite game-dependent.
Card counters and shuffle trackers can still get the edge over the house but they must find the right games to play. Unlike the Declaration of Independence, all men might be equal but all blackjack games are not.
Free! Free! Free!
I am leaving the book-selling business. My wife and I are doing a lot of traveling, around America, around the world; catching up on the things we've missed because I've spent so much time in casinos for over a quarter century, often 130 days a year. I have books stocked in my warehouse. The following are available, for free, I'll even pick up the postage. (This is while supplies last.) Just send me an email to email@example.com with your address or contact me through Facebook.
The Virgin Kiss
Confessions of a Wayward Catholic
The Baccarat Battle Book
Beat the Craps Out of the Casinos: How to Play Craps and Win!
Forever Craps: the Five-Step Advantage-Play Method
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