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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, July 2003, #42

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, starting with a $2K bankroll and slowly trying to build it to $10K. His trip reports to Las Vegas appear regularly in the Blackjack Insider newsletter.


Once again my car sailed through the desert night towards Las Vegas for a six-day card counting vacation. On my last trip in March, I had won $1960 to bring my bankroll up to its highest total ever -+$11,460. This time I planned to keep the same $10 - $100 bet spread using this new found $2K padding to lower my Risk of Ruin to 1.28% and keep the win rate around $34 per hour.

I drove slower this trip but still got to my hotel in less than four hours despite the two long construction zones that went on and on for 15 and 25 monotonous miles. No speeding tickets this time. I was cautious because I had just completed traffic school from my last ticket in March.

My first play was at an empty, shoe table at Terribleís. Shoe games are not the ideal way to ease back in to the rhythm of counting after a few months layoff. They require more concentration and patience than pitch games, and I was still recovering from the long drive. I lost $60 and moved to a $10 double decker where I lost another $200. It was a stupid mistake on my part to stay after the DD table filled again. The other players were getting what Ďshould have beení my blackjacks and twenties.

I drove to the Palms and played their grave shift two-deck game. I know this is a counter trap, but I was playing under a different name and refused to back myself off in advance from one of the better pitch games in town. I didn't have to worry though because I lost two $300 buy-ins rather quickly while spreading $25-$100. I had pushed out several $100 bets in high counts, but most of them lost. I shrugged it off. You know what we always say, "Losing is the best cover." If this loss of $600 had occurred a year ago, I would have been despondent for hours. After a comped smoked salmon appetizer and steak & eggs breakfast, I called it a night and hit the sack, down $860 after just over an hour of play. Unlike the last trip, I had no trouble pushing out my $100 max bet when called for. In fact I was aching to bet even more in those juicy plus counts but managed to restrain myself and stick only to the prescribed spread.

I won back $150 in my first session of the day at Terribleís. Iím glad to report the penetration here has become playable again. I was getting a decent 65% cut from both dealers at my table.

I had lunch with LV Bear 584, a guy Iíve wanted to meet for awhile. Heís a savvy local player and a member of Wongís Green Chip, which means he pays $49 a year to gain access to the members-only areas of the website where the knowledgeable players communicate. Wong has over 1200 subscribers now and the quality of information is as good as ever, though one has to be circumspect in what one posts. Itís a well known fact that the casino minions monitor because itís the biggest blackjack website in the world.

We talked about ways to beat Super Fun 21, a bastardized blackjack game in which there are liberal rules, but naturals pay only even money. LVBear has worked out his own basic strategy, bet spread and departure chart for this game and he rarely loses. He shared his strategy with me and I was duly impressed. If I can master the info heís given me, I might be able to add those SF21 tables to my repertoire instead of ignoring them as I walk by. The only things that I donít like is that the variance is higher at this game and the ace is devalued, so normal card sense acquired over years of blackjack play means very little. Also you have to spread like a maniac. Uncrowded conditions are a must. That one extra round that a playable dealer gives is all important. If you donít get that minimum pen requirement, you have to pick up your chips and depart. A lot of conditions have to be just right in order to gain a slight advantage in Super Fun 21.

After lunch I hit the Palms again I found a $15 minimum double decker and played for only 45 minutes since Iíve heard from reliable sources that the surveillance and pit people are on the lookout for counters and itís best to keep your sessions short. I won back $400 and scored another coffee shop comp.

Later after a nap and dinner with my buddy Stu, I walked through several casinos but didnít play at all. All double deck tables were full at Fiesta Henderson. Same at Casino Royale and the Tropicana. I then walked through Treasure Island, perhaps for the last time. My once favorite double deck venue now has converted the four remaining double deck games in the main pit to CSM tables. There are only three real DD tables left in the place Ė and theyíre all in the high limit room with $100 minimums. I canít tell you how blue I felt knowing I might never play here again.

On a more hopeful note, perhaps Iím over-dramatizing the situation. CBJN reports that the

usual minimum sign on these high-limit tables is $50. It might still be possible to convince the pit to let

me play $25 minimum if the table is idle. Iíll file that idea away for the future. Maybe thereís

still a glimmer of hope for Treasure Island.

I sure had a tough time finding a playable pitch game on or near the Strip this night, so I finally

wound up back at the Palms, this time on swing shift. Each of my previous sessions had been on a different shift Ė first grave, then day and now swing. I was trying to be careful because Iíd like to be able to play here regularly. It seems to be the best cut DD game Iíve seen this trip. Thereís no sense in overplaying any one shift as that would increase the chances of being detected counting cards and getting the boot.

It was crowded here at 2 am on this Friday morning. I started at a $10 shoe table where the count went sky-high for the latter half of the first shoe. I had a money player to the left who was counting out wads of cash and betting 2 hands at $1K per. Good cover for me. When youíre not the biggest bettor at the table, you can "hide" in plain sight as all the pit and Eye attention will be focused on that player. The game dragged slowly as the dealer had to stop and count the cash on each spot on every hand. When the count is huge and I have to wait, I start getting anxious. I cooled my heels by double checking the true count conversion and estimating how many decks were in the discard rack slowly and carefully. I had been winning but now I started losing. I must have made 5 consecutive max bets, all of them losers. At the end of the shoe, I changed tables, finding a $25 DD table with two other players. Now down $350 or so, I won it back plus a nifty little $200 profit for this 90 minute session. Guess I changed tables at the right time.

After having been down $860 at the start of the day, I had won $750 to pull within $110 of being even. So I called it a night after a pretty good day.

I checked out of Terribleís the next morning and then played an hour session at their $10 DD game, losing only $150 after being down $400 at my low point. This was a frustrating session but at least I got a lunch comp out of it (salad, prime rib dip sandwich and a root beer float). Then I checked into Casino Royale and got my coupons which I used in the first session after settling in and catching up on some much needed sleep. I learned that they had reduced the value of the 2-1 blackjack coupon. I used it on a snapper with a $50 bet and learned that it pays 2-1 only on the first $25 of my bet. The other $25 was paid at the standard 3-2 so instead of netting $100, I only received $87.50. Now the total value of this coupon was a whopping $12.50.

This was an outstanding session for several reasons. I was flirting like hell with my cute blonde dealer who was giving me 75% pen. She was just my type: blonde, statuesque and stacked. I was getting so wrapped up in trying to date her that I was losing the count way too often. I played for two hours, winning $300 and arranged to meet her after her shift. We met outside and talked for an hour. She had her relatives in town until Sunday night, so we made plans to meet for a late dinner after she bid them goodbye. She told me she didnít have a phone, so sheíd have to call me. I smelled trouble right away, but what could I do? A gal who doesnít own a telephone Ė thatís unnatural. I found it hard to believe. She gave me a story about how she fell asleep while on a long distance call and got an $800 phone bill. She threw away her cell phone as a result.

"Ok, fine, call me Sunday", I said. We kissed goodnight and I never saw her again. She didnít call Sunday or any other day. I half expected it, but was still disappointed. Iíll have to check day shift on my next trip and see if I can spot her again. She was too good looking to give up on.

I was now on the plus side of the win ledger for the first time this trip (by a whole $40) so I had another comped rack of lamb/lobster tail dinner at the Outback, and then headed north on I-15 to the Cannery. I figured there might be uncrowded conditions for some double deck play this Friday night, and I was right. The side pit was open, adding five more double deck tables to choose from. I learned that they open that second pit only on Friday and Saturday nights.

I played for 90 minutes. I was up $150 early, but the first good high count wiped out my small excess and then some. The next rich count had me digging in my pocket for more Benjiís until I was in for what turned out to be an unrecoverable $500.

Well, it was nice being on the plus side for a while, but now I was down $460 again. Just as I had finally fought my way back to even, I hit a blizzard of stiffs on high counts and lucky dealer pulls. Hey, what can ya do? I vowed to hit Ďem hard tomorrow and called it a night. This wonderful game of blackjack can be so frustrating at times.

The next morning I played the DD game at my hotel. It was still grave shift. I was in the hole from the start and lost most of my high count bets. Getting gun-shy again, I only used $75 and $80 as top bets. Itís small satisfaction to note that my results would have been even worse than the $400 I lost using this modified (cowardly) spread. Now in the last two sessions I had dropped back down to my lowest point of the trip again Ė minus $860.

I made my customary visit to the Gamblerís Book Club. I spoke with manager Howard Schwartz for awhile and also bought Barney Vinsonís The Vegas Kid. I wanted to read Positively Fifth Street, the new book by McManus, but I had already ordered it at half price from

My next playing session was at the Golden Gate. I used the LVA's 2-1 blackjack coupon which stipulates a $10 maximum bet for the 2-1 payoff (if you bet more than $10, only $10 is paid at 2-1 and the rest is paid at 3-2). I broke even and then had lunch at their coffee shop with a resurrected, old comp slip Iíd been carrying for months.

After my nap and shower, I had dinner with some blackjack buddies and then headed north to the Cannery again. I had a score to settle with them. Buying in for $200, I was never down more than $100 initially, and won a series of $100 max bets to chalk up a nice $500 win. Then I had two break even sessions at Texas Station and Wildfire, leaving quickly when the pen deteriorated. I called it a night, now minus only $360 for the trip.

Itís getting frustrating just spinning my wheels like this. Iíve got to pull ahead and stay there like on most of my previous trips. Maybe I was getting spoiled. I had won so much more in the last year or two than my EV indicated, that I now might be expecting too much. I was learning the hard way that you canít win every time out. Perhaps the Law of Large Numbers was asserting itself. That would mean the pendulum would swing back the other way and my results would start "evening out". Even if I was to have a losing trip or two, my net results over the last year or two would still be way ahead of the EV I expected to earn over that time.

At least Iím getting used to the increased volatility of my new larger spread. I now win or lose $400, $600, $800 in a session or two and donít even stew about the losses. The good thing is that I still absolutely love the wins. It's better than any therapy I know of.

Of course those wins donít build character like losses do. Today was one of those days where I got an advanced degree in character building as the bankroll dived into a tailspin. It started with a $200 loss in my first session at Casino Royale. The pen was lousy from our Asian male dealer. I tried the Tropís DD table. We got a decent 65% cut from our lady dealer. Unfortunately she dealt only two go-rounds before being replaced by a stingy Russian male who cut 55%. I left, down another hundred. Then I tried the Palms $15 double decker. A similar situation ensued Ė I was betting properly and keeping the count easily enough but not getting the cards. The dealer refused to bust when she was supposed to, resulting in another $300 down the tubes.

I took a much needed respite and had a comped lunch of eggs benedict, fruit and a root beer float and then changed hotels again, this time to Main Street Station. I had two nights comped from a mail offer and would pay the $35 casino rate for the third night. After a nap and shower, I met my buddy Stu at the Cannery for dinner, using the comp I got a few nights ago. Afterwards I talked the floorman into letting me bet $10 at the only uncrowded DD game in the pit; an idle $25 table. He left the $25 sign up, to my relief. Here I had a good dealer with a 65% cut, only to be replaced quickly with a stingy hag who put the cut card in at 50%. I lost another $400 here and quit for the night, now down $1360 for the trip after 15 hours. This was my lowest point of the trip so far. Would things turn around? Or get even worse?

Itís time to re-access things. I havenít been betting it up at all in the last 24 hours like Iím supposed to. Iíve been getting gun-shy again and am officially disgusted with myself. Even though I can retroactively "justify" not making those $100 max bets because my losses would have been even greater, thatís not the way to look at things. I should just be following my prescribed bet scheme and taking my losses stoically, not withdrawing into a fearful defensive shell. I havenít made a $100 bet since early yesterday, and only a few $80 bets today. I must learn to overcome this chronic fearfulness while Iím getting hammered, and continue to bet aggressively.

Note: The conclusion of LV Proís May trip will appear in issue #43 of the Blackjack Insider Newsletter.


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