Note: The following is an excerpted chapter from the eBook You've Got Heat - The Vegas Card Counting Adventures of LV Pro. The book chronicles the true story of a low roller named Barfarkel (peudonym), who set a goal of increasing his playing bankroll from $2,000 to $10,000 by becoming an advantage blackjack player. Over the course of four-years, Barfarkel made 26 trips to Las Vegas and on each trip he describes real people, real places, and real incidents with amazing attention to detail. You've Got Heat is a fascinating glimpse at the life of a card counter and it shows how it's possible for an average guy to take on the casinos at their game while enjoying free Las Vegas vacations. The book is available from our BJI store.
Once again the hour arrived to start my drive for a five-day blackjack trip to Las Vegas. I was meeting The Grifter and some temporary investor/players he'd lined up for a joint-bankroll team. Grif was already in town and I hooked up with him shortly after arriving and unpacking, only to learn that the others wouldn't be coming for a few days. So it was just the two of us to start the week, each of us putting up $6k for a combined $12k two-man team.
I like driving up after work on Saturday night because the roads are clear and the crowded weekend conditions are almost over. By the time I arrive at 2 a.m. the Saturday night crowds are waning, and good, uncrowded blackjack conditions can usually be found.
We agreed to keep the spread at one to six, and our unit size at $25. However, Grif cautioned me to ramp up faster in plus counts, and wong out or just sit out hands frequently in minus counts. If at a $5 or $10 table, we could bet reds in neutral or negative counts. That way our minimum bet could actually be a "low bet range," varying between $10 and $30. This would allow us to appear as though we were chipping up after winning a hand, like most gamblers do, even though the count was still negative. He reminded me that fooling the pit and the Eye was "the game within the game." We'd still wong out during really negative counts with the usual bathroom breaks and fake cell phone calls. Our bet scheme was to bet one unit at plus one, two units at plus two, three units at plus three, four units at plus four, and at plus five, bet either six units on one hand, or two hands of four units each. With top bets of $150 to $200, we had 60 to 80 max bets in our bankroll.
Speaking about those top bets, one of the things I discovered on this trip was how dramatically the outcome of just a few big hands can determine the overall results.
I played the $25 double-deck table at Bellagio while The Grifter took the tram to Monte Carlo, since he's been barred from the B and cannot play there, especially on swing. I lost $500 in an hour and trammed it over to Monte Carlo to pick him up. We walked through Bally's where there were no good uncrowded games this time of night. We then walked across the street to Flamingo where I stopped to play, while Grif told me to meet him in an hour at Imperial Palace where he'd be playing.
The Flamingo is one of those places where I've never had much luck. I think I must have lost my last five or six sessions there. The Grifter kept telling me I was due for a big win there, as the prior losses must eventually even out, even though we both know that your expectation going forward is always the same, regardless of what came before. Nothing is destined to even out. Each session has no memory of what has transpired in the past, and is just like the first session you've ever played, EV-wise. I knew Grif was just trying to inspire me.
Well, I didn't get the big win, but had a good session there nonetheless. I was alone at the table. The dealer was constantly turning up weak upcards and I was able to forge ahead by $500 at my high point. Having lost back $200 of the winnings, the key moment arrived. The running count was plus ten, with 1.25 decks left to deal, and my true count was plus eight. I shoved out a max bettwo hands of $100. The dealer turned up a seven. On my first hand I had six, four and quickly pushed out another $100 for the double down. I got my ten as expected. I picked up the second hand. A pat twenty. Now I was sitting pretty with two twenties and $300 on the layout. He revealed his hole card, which was an eight. I knew there were nothing but nines, tens and aces left, so he must bust his fifteen. I was already counting the money, so when he hit with the last six in creation for twenty-one, I let out a loud, "Noooo!" that could be heard all the way to Arizona. A $600 turnaround on one freaking lucky draw! It must have been the last low card left in the deck. It turned out that I won only $100 at this session, but for one lousy six, it could have been $700. Damn, what a heartbreaker!
The Flamingo pit has always been unusually frugal with comps, and they made me wait fifteen minutes for one, but even that hard-won Lindy's comp those tightasses finally gave me didn't make up for The Hand That Should Have Been.
My last session of the trip was at my former hotel. I was alone at the $10 double-deck table, going from one hand to two. Having bought in for $200, I was up $100 or so when The Big Hand arrived. I had a running count of plus twelve with three-quarters of a deck dealt and a true count of almost plus ten. I pushed out two $100 bets and the dealer turned up a two. My first hand was a pair of deuces, so I split them, pushing out the last $100 in chips. On the first hit, I got another two and resplit, pulling another Benjamin out of my pocket.
On the first two, I got ace, two and ten and had to stand with fifteen. On the second deuce, the same cards appeared in the exact same order, and I had another fifteen. On the third deuce, I got an eight and reached into my pocket for another $100 for the double down. I got a seven for seventeen. Picking up the second hand, a hard seventeen, I stood. Now I was worried. I had $500 on the layout against a dealer's two and all I had was a pair of seventeens and two stiffs. Where the hell were the tens?
I wish I could tell you the dealer had a ten in the hole and busted, but I can't. She did have the ten but drew a seven for nineteen and wiped me out. Once again I let out a sustained, "Noooo!" and staggered away from the table. A $1,000 turnaround on one freaking round! That was the most cash I'd ever bet on one round in this game in my life. I wasn't that sick about losing the hand though. Actually I was kinda proud of myself. I bet and played the hand the way I was supposed to and, after my initial reaction, had accepted the results philosophically. After all, I had only lost $400 on the session and came away with an all-time high bet and a good story to tell.
I met with the team to break the bank. I had hoped the others had won enough to offset my $1,100 losses, but no such luck. Jack H was down $1,400, The Grifter was down $200 and Kevin, our only winner, was up $1,000. So the bank was down $1,700 and I had to kick in $500 to cover the percentage of loss of my 30% of the bank. After I threw in the $500, they handed me back my $1,100. So my personal results were plus $50 for the first two-man team and minus $500 for the second team for a net result of minus $450 for the trip.
I was only eighteen units down after twenty-one sessions totaling twenty-five hours of play over five days. According to Auston's Blackjack Risk Manager 2000, this result or worse will happen 31% of the time. My standard deviation was less than half of one SD to the left.
What was amazing to me was how dramatically the outcome of those two max bet hands affected my results. Had I won the $300 high count bet at Flamingo, our two-man team would have shown a tidy $600 profit instead of breaking even. I would have kept $300 for a $350 net profit. And had I won that last hand with the $500 bet, our four-man team would have been down only $700 instead of $1,700-a big difference. I would have had to throw in only $210 to cover my 30% share of the loss, thus coming out $140 ahead instead of $450 behind. At first I found it hard to accept that those two hands determined the difference between winning and losing, but those are the breaks. I'm just glad it wasn't too bad of a loss.
After all, it's not like someone was twisting my arm, forcing me to play blackjack. It's what I really want to do and I have to accept the statistical swings that occur, as we all do. That seems to be true in blackjack as well as in life.
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