Blackjack Insider Newsletter, November 2002, #35
LAS VEGAS TRIP REPORT, SEPTEMBER 2002Ė PART 2
BY LV PRO
Note: For Part 1, see issue #34 of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter at http://www.bjinsider.com/newsletter_34_vegas.shtml.
With three full days left on my trip, I was up $575 after 20 hours of play. My first session of the day was at my hotelís $10 DD game. With my favorite dealer on the game again, I went through the first two shuffles without losing a single hand. He was dealing deep, at least 80%. This was the best pen I saw during the entire trip. Since the count didnít fluctuate too positive or negative, I really never got a chance to put my top bets out. I used my "cover parlay" ploy and just kept chipping up after each win. To not do so while on such a noticeable streak would have been suspicious. I think I got up to maybe $55 as my high bet this session. I couldnít help feeling a bit guilty and conspicuous, so I quit when my dealer finally went on break. After 45 minutes I colored out with a $350 win.
Thatís the only trouble with counting cards. Youíre always correlating your bet amounts to the count so when a big lucky streak happens to come along you donít keep "doubling up" as most ploppies would, unless a rising count happens to coincide with the streak. If the count stays fairly neutral throughout and youíre winning every hand, a counter is more likely to bet the same amount each time. This doesnít look quite right to the pit, nor does it feel right to most experienced gamblers. Over the long haul though, I know counters will win more than the progressionists who advocate only "up as you win" betting schemes and neglect the primary info of remaining deck(s) composition. Still I felt some regret at not having bet bigger during that incredible little run. Oh well. You canít have it both ways.
My next session was at Terribleís, where all the tables were initially crowded, but soon a seat opened up. I had to sit with three other players, which as most of you know are is not an optimal playing conditions. The dealer was killing me fast with unbelievable draws. At one point the true count had jumped to plus three. Using my last $25 matchplay, I got 6, 7 vs. an eight. I hit and drew a six for nineteen and breathed a sigh of relief. Low cards coming out on this round made the count go even higher. The dealer turns a four in the hole for twelve and hits herself with an ace. Now sheíll bust for sure, I thought. The next card was a two. She has 15 and the deck is chock full of 10ís. She hits with an ace for sixteen. The whole table was screaming "bust, bust, bust" as she coolly pulled the last four out of that miserable deck for twenty. My heart rate had been soaring into outer space, but when I saw that cursed four I let out a sharp expletive and pounded the table in frustration. I know it wasnít that big a bet but I just really wanted to win that one hand as it would have reversed the losing trend and put me solidly back on the road to recovery.
After losing my initial $200 buy in, I had to dig in for another $100 to cover a double down which, fortunately, I won. Soon I had $100 of my money back, then $200 and then I. Soon after, I was even. I quit with a hard earned $75 win and was grateful to get it. This whole slow painful bloodletting and recovery took over two hours. I consoled myself over a comped lunch of orange juice, potato salad and an excellent rare prime rib dip sandwich. Once again the Terribleís coffee shop was anything but. "terrible". This is the third or fourth time Iíve eaten here and every time Iím pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food.
Next I walked through Treasure Island (TI) where they had moved the four main ([H17)] double deck tables. They were now between the high limit room and the coffee shop. On the four tables opposite the casino cage where the DD games used to be now sat continuous shuffling machines. There were actually people playing these tables, a fact I find hard to accept. We advantage players simply must find a way to educate the BJ masses about what constitutes a fair game.
I tried to talk the day shift supervisor into letting me shill for TI by playing $10 minimum at an idle $25 DD table. He told me they were no longer allowed to do that except in rare cases and on grave shift only. He said the table was not set up for red chip play as there is only one column of reds in the chip rack. To refill the chip racks each time was not feasible.
Up until till now, Iíd always drive over to TI, gave give the valet the car, and walked walk through looking for low stakes DD tables. Now I found out that the good DD pit is designated Pit #5, so anytime Iím wondering if there are any $10 DD tables open, I can just call the hotel, ask to be connected to BJ Pit #5, and ask a floorman. if there are any $10 DD tables at present That should will be more time efficient than actually driving there each time.
Now I then headed downtown . as I still had a few "Blackjacks pay 2-1 for an hour" coupons. I checked in with the day shift supervisor. He told me the CSM table was open and Iíd get more hands per hour from the machine than any pitch game. I told him I prefer double deck and sat down at an empty DD table. This worried me a bit. Only advantage players think in terms of hands per hour and CSM vs. pitch games. He seemed a bit too knowledgeable for comfort.
Fortunately I had an fast experienced dealer who shuffled briskly and dealt fast. Flat betting quarters and raising to $50 in plus counts, I sped through the hour making lightning fast decisions at a- mile- a- minute. The supervisor looked on. At one point while the dealer shuffled, he said, "Youíre very good. Iíve been watching you for twenty minutes and you only made one mistake that I could see. You were betting $50 and the count was in the stratosphere when five high cards came out on one round and you didnít lower your bet." I looked at him, thought a moment, and just said "ok" and resumed the game. Actually the count was still positive after the high cards appeared so I guess he wasnít watching as closely as he thought. I realized that even though he was telling me heíd spotted me and knew I was counting, it was ok with him and I was not about to be booted out.
In fact I was in fact pleasantly surprised by the 65% pen I was getting. Usually you only get 55% on the DD tables in this joint. The super told me he would never put a slow inexperienced dealer on a table where a guy was playing a 2-1 coupon. He was super nice to me. He even handed me a coffee shop comp without my asking. During the last two minutes of my hour the dealer had reached the 65% mark and was about to shuffle when the super told her to keep dealing another round, then another, then another. When my time expired the dealer had maybe ten cards left.
Afterwards I had a nice conversation with the manhim. He told me he knows Iím counting and itís ok with him. His ability to spot counters is why they recently promoted him to day shift supervisor. He said, "the rest of these jokers in here couldnít tell a counter if he shouted the count out loud." He only takes action against counters who get greedy with the spread, or spread multiple blacks. He didnít specify, but I gathered a 1-6 green spread on the DD games would be acceptable here. Since he was being straight with me, I leveled with him. Yes, Iíve been counting cards for almost three years now and hoped to build my bankroll up to the $10K level. He told me I was welcome to play there anytime on his shift and handed me his card. When I told him I get paid for writing about my blackjack experiences, he asked me to put in a good word for the Golden Gate. I told him the people who read my trip reports are mostly advantage players and that he did not want a swarm of card counters infesting the place. He said that was a good point and withdrew the request. Still and all, it was a pleasant change to encounter a pit person who actually respects counters.
After a barbecued barbecue steak dinner at Stuís place and a well-deserved nap, I hooked up with The Grifter again. We played some $20 matchplays at the Barleys double decker where I won $25 and Grif won $100 despite the 50% pen. I donít know why CBJN keeps reporting that the pen has improved here. Every time Iíve ever gonebeen there, they place the cut card right in the middle and deal out only one deck out of two. Notwithstanding, Grif was moved to place a nickel bet outwager and proclaim that it was "partners 50-50" with the dealer. The place was dead and we were the only players other than a profanity-slinging grouch at third base that Grif was unable to dislodge. After the bet won, Winning the bet, Grif pulled back his half and asked the dealer if he wanted if they wanted to take it down. Two dealers and the pit manager in unison yelled "let it ride" and so he did and won, then again for $20, then and caught a natural, and then againwon the $50 bet. Now the crew had $100 at stake, and Grif did everything he could to get them to take it down -("no", they stated), or lock up a partial - (still "no"), or ""at least split it into two hands"" he pleaded, but they refused again.NO!" It turned out They they lost that last bet and so we bid them good night.
We then played our last 3-1 coupons at Sunset Station. We were at different tables in the one open pit. Grifter won $600 while I won $150 and a meal comp. After a late night snack of a shrimp cocktail, eggs benedict, chocolate shake and coffee, we drove to Fiesta Henderson. We each won a few hundred playing another 3-1 coupon. Now I realized that Iíd had eight winning sessions in a row, excluding that one $25 matchplay hand I lost earlier at the Plaza. I was now up $1,525 for the trip. Again During another a lovely Las Vegas dawn, I called it a night after a very good day.
After packing and checking out of Casino Royale (CR), I had some time to kill before checking in at the Flamingo.. I found myself at the $10 DD table at CR Casino Royale with The Grifter at third base and General Pershing at first. Actually GPís girlfriend was playing the hands with a fistful of CR coupons while the General counted and signaled her how much to bet. I recognized him since we had met at a Rat Pack lunch a few years ago. General Pershing is another of Wongís long time Green Chippers from the BJ21.com website fraternity. The General is a soft spoken fellow with a humorous outlook. They wound up winning $500 while Grif won $300. Me? I was "Lucky Pierre" in the center seat but failed to live up to my nickname as I only won $40 after being up as high as $200 mid-session. Still, it was my ninth consecutive winning session. I got us a Dennyís lunch comp where Grif did most of the talking. He told us about his experiences growing up in Las Vegas, getting interested in card counting during high school and taking lessons at the home of Lawrence Revere. He remained friendly with Revere until he decided to change from the Revere Point Count to Hi Opt 2. Then Revere stopped talking to him. The Grifter often says, "if I knew then what I know now, I never would have switched."
Later I checked into the Flamingo and acquired a few PPE funbooks. I shouldnít have bothered, however, . since PPE has eliminated the $10 matchplay coupons. At Flamingo itís now a $5 matchplay on your second bet, so you must play an initial hand before you can use that coupon. At LV Hilton itís $10 in promo chips that you get at the casino cage. So there would be no more $10 matchplay wonging for me except for the ones in the few remaining old funbooks Iíd brought from home. I got a free $10 bill from the cage using a slot promo coupon and used up my few remaining $10 coupons for a nice quick $30 profit without having to risk any of my own money. Ah well,. it was nice while it lasted.
That evening The Grifter and I headed for Summerlin. The Rampart casino had a promotion in which they pay 2-1 on all blackjacks ([up to a $20 bet) while the Monday Night Football game was in progress. According to Dunbarís Risk Analyzer spreadsheet and the Las Vegas Advisor, the playerís edge in this game is 1.9%, instead of the usual 0.40% disadvantage. I figured this promo would increase our usual win rate by $50 per hour. With a $20 average bet and approximately five snappers per hour, thatís an extra $10 per natural added to my usual $25 per hour win rate, thus tripling the hourly win.
We got there early because we feared an influx of advantage players that would occupy every available seat. Penetration was 65% on the double deckers at every table. Fortunately there were plenty of open seats. In fact most of the other players had no idea they were supposed to get a 2-1 payoff on naturals. We only saw one other counter all night.
I managed to sit and count through four hours of steady play. I used a $20-$80 betting was thespread I used with drops to $10 or $15 when the count tanked and lots of aces were out. My small stack of greens continued to grow slowly but steadily. I finally had to quit in the fourth quarter as I was getting weary and losing the count. At that time, a ploppy joined our table and started playing three spots which was a bit annoying. So I used that as an excuse to color out with my biggest single session win of the trip. After tipping the dealer $10, I had netted $700.
I got us a dinner comp, ordered a vodka martini made with Ketel One and drifted over to Grifterís table to watch the master in action. He had drawn a small crowd and was giving a seminar on what he calls "speed blackjack." Playing from one hand of $10 to three spots of $50 at a lightning pace, he was demonstrating his skill to the amusement of the onlookers and the dealer. If anyone tried to sit at his table, heíd caution them that theyíre now playing "speed blackjack" and would have to play fast. This discouraged a few would-be joiners to Grifís delight. He continued playing until the end of the MNF game which ran long and finally ended at 9:45 pm. Most of the large stack of chips he had was simply his many buy-ins that heíd mostly won back, but by the time he finished he had lost only $100 after being stuck $1,200. "Itís like winning" Grif proclaimed, happy to book only a small loss.
We ordered scallion-teriyaki beef rolls and a smoked salmon appetizer. Grifter had soup and a turkey sandwich while I ordered pan seared salmon and my trademark chocolate shake. However, even the coffee failed to revive us as we were both tired and yawning so we called it an early night. Now I was up $2,265 for the trip with one day to go.
I woke up this morning determined to cast aside the "last day jinx" that has plagued me over the last few trips. Historically, when Iíve done well for the first several days, the last day always negates all or part of the net winnings up to that point.
Today started in the usual way. I lost $265 in a game with absolutely wonderful conditions. I played was heads up at a Terribleís $5 DD table and the Asian gal dealer was giving 75% penetration. I hated like hell not to be able to get ahead or even win two hands in a row. It was just a miserable session so I quit, vowing to return later.
Taking a break from the game, I visited the new Pi Yee Press offices near Flamingo and Decatur to chat with my buddy David Matthews. David is the administrator of Stanford Wongís BJ21.com website. Heís a great guy, as friendly and informative as they come. We exchanged info on current blackjack game conditions. David works and is taking several courses at UNLV so he doesnít have much free time. Although I suspect heíll make time to take advantage of any good promo or opportunity that comes along in LV. Such are the perks when you work for the one and only Stanford Wong.
My comped lunch at Stratosphere was delicious. Scrambled eggs and the classic Vegas Rat Pack favorite, a smoked salmon platter, just like Sammy Davis Jr. used to love to order in the old Sands coffee shop. Itís a nice light meal that wonít make you full or sleepy. After all, thereís still a lots lot more blackjack to play.
I headed downtown to play another 2-1 coupon at the Golden Gate. There was one other player at the table. I mostly flat bet $25 and went to the bathroom once during a minus 13 running count. I got 3 or 4 snappers during the hour (, one was fully paid at 2 to 1 by mistake on a $50 bet). Though I was ahead $250 at my high point, I still managed to come away with a $100 win. Small as it was, it was an important win psychologically. Here on the last day of my trip I was still booking wins. It showed that "last day jinx" to be a total figment of my imagination. I even managed to finally win a $25 matchplay bet across the street at the Plaza.
Now I headed back to Terribleís to avenge my morning loss. I played at a $5 DD table with two others and doubled my buy in for a $200 win in less than an hour. Now I was regaining more confidence as I had felt nothing but trepidation from the moment I had awoke this morning. I was actually ahead $85 for the day and the trip total stood at plus $2,300.
Later that evening, after my customary nap and shower, I picked up The Grifter and we headed back downtown. He had just played a 3-1 coupon at Suncoast and won $500; then walked to the Regent and won another $800. Now we each still had one 2-1 Golden Gate coupon left to play. We found an empty $5 DD table and bought in. No money was bet but Grif and I had a contest going to see who could get the most naturals within the hour and who could win the most (or lose the least). He got four snappers to my one, but I had him beat on the net win, at least at first. After the hour was over I had won $450 to his $435. He just had to play a few more hands at 2 X $10, until he matched my total. So we each colored out with a $450 net win. I kidded him that he was so competitive he couldnít stand to let me win even one part of the contest. That session was the most fun Iíd had in a long while as we joked and kidded around while winning a nice chunk of money. We even had the pit guys and dealers involved in our little competition.
Across the street, we found separate tables at the LV Clubís single deckers. I lost $300 rather quickly, then switched tables and bought in for another $200 and managed to win it all back plus a net win of $100. Then we headed for the Horseshoe where Grifter is fairly well known. We walked in separately and each found our own table to play. After 30 minutes, Grif walked by my table and whispered, "itís not a playable game." I had been having so much fun and concentrating on the count that I totally overlooked the fact that we were getting only three rounds to two players on the single decker. I colored out with a $50 win. This turned out to be the last session of the trip.
After a comped late night breakfast at the LV Club, I drove Grifter back to his friendís house in Summerlin. I was Heading heading back to the Strip on the freeway when, there was a sudden torrential downpour. The rain was coming down so heavily it even made me slow the car down to 50 mph. Thatís it, I thought. I had played almost 38 hours of blackjack over the six days and come outwas ahead by $2,900, my best trip ever. This puts my total BJ bankroll at $9,500, within shouting distance of my $10K goal. I hope to reach the milestone mark on my next trip, but where I think I can now begin to safely play $25 DD tables with good rules and decent pen straight away.
The Grifter had a good trip too. When I said goodbye to him,that night, he was up $2,300 for his trip. He stayed another day and won another $300 in six hours at the LV Club where he reported fabulous pen on the single deckers at every table. It must have been a one day promo as it was the one year anniversary of last years Sept 11th attacks.
While Driving driving home the next day, I thought back to the week that had just passed Ė a blur of cards, counts, coupons, chips and cash. I had started with a push and a $400 loss at TI and was in the red for the first 4.5 hours of play until that $500 win at Golden Gate put me in the black by $300. From that point, the bankroll rose slowly and steadily, taking two steps forward for every one step backwards. I was never in the minus column again. It had turned out to be my biggest trip win since Iíd started playing solo last year. In fact $2,900 was my biggest trip win ever. Blackjack Risk Manager 2000 says this result, or better, happens only 17% of the time. My win rate was over $76 per hour; triple my $25.50 per hour expectation. But I saw no shows, visited no spas nor did anything outside of play blackjack, eat and sleep. Iím not sure if this narrowing narrow focus is a good or bad development but I do know one thing. Despite my "handle", I donít think Iíd like toI could be a full time pro blackjack player as I can see what a lonely, mercenary life it must be.
But that wonít keep me from continuing to visit Las Vegas. Now that Iím near the $10K milestone, I can either increase the unit size , and/or top bet, and which will increase variance, or simply increase the spread to $10-$100 and keep the variance under control. Iíll know more after running some sims on BJRM 2000. Also I wonít have to be as driven towards a particular goal so I can once again take a bit more time along the way to smell the roses.
Finally, Iím totally satisfied after a truly successful trip. I hope those of you whoíve been reading my "mini -saga" for the past year are glad for me. I truly appreciate your reading these overlong narratives. I hope they have been informative and educational. .
See you next time. Thanks again for reading.
The LV Pro
Note: LV Pro 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. After suffering some team losses in 2000 he started playing solo last year, starting with the $2K bankroll that he had left. He slowly built it up with red play over the past year to the present $9.5K level. He gets to LV at least 6 times a year and has some team experience.
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