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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, Oct. 2003, #45

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.



Note: For part 1 of this trip report, click here.

I had been pleasantly surprise at the ease with which I managed to play that day-shift session at Suncoast. It served to whet my appetite for more. After a nap and shower, I had several hours to kill before picking up my date when her shift ended. I decided to return to the Suncoast on this late afternoon to get another session in before swing shift started.

Despite the 112-degree heat, I parked in the outside lot and found a table with two other players. The cut was still 80%. Itís just incredible Ė itís as if you died and went to Card-Counter Heaven. We were winning, the dealer was busting and my two table-buddies were whooping it up and high-fiving with me. I had a $60 bet out in a plus three true count when the axe fell. It didnít take very long. I had sat through maybe three shuffles, when the pit manager pushed my bet out of the circle and said, "No more blackjack."

Incredulous, I asked him to repeat what he said because he spoke in a very low voice. He said again, "No more blackjack or any other game. Youíre 86ed from the casino." My table-mates were dumbfounded. "Why? What did he do?" they kept asking. I gathered my chips and leaned close to one of them and whispered, "They must think Iím counting cards."

"So what?" he replied, truly outraged. I smiled, quickly donned my sunglasses and headed for the cashier. Once again, I kept my chin on my chest while cashing out so the cageís cameras couldnít get an accurate head-on photo of my face. As I was pocketing my $90 in winnings, I turned to leave. Standing in front of me was Gil, a young security guard.

"Sir, I have to ask to see your ID," he said. I told him it was in the car. He then asked if I wanted to tell him my name. I thought for a second. Instead of giving him the standard lecture about how I donít have to show him any ID, etc., I handed him the playerís card with the fake name Iíd acquired earlier. He looked at it, handed it back and said, "Well, Josh, I donít know what went on back there, but my orders are to escort you off the property and read you the Trespass Act." He proceeded to read it from a card he held, warning me that I cannot return to any Coast property under threat of arrest.

Two other security guards brought up the rear of our little procession as we paraded through the heart of the casino. Heads were turning to watch me, smiling with my shades on, and my three-guard escort as we made our way to the door. Gil was being quite polite and respectful and was actually laughing about the whole thing. When we got near the exit he said again, "I donít know what went on back there."

I said, "Gil, Iíll tell you what went on. They must think Iím counting cards or something."

Cracking up, he replied, "I guess they donít like to play at a disadvantage."

"Either do I." This made him laugh anew. When we got outside he told me to Ďhave a nice day,í and departed. At least he was decent about it. Iím glad I didnít get some hard-nosed asshole of a guard.

At first I was kind of miffed at myself for having lost the best double-deck venue in town. As I walked back to my car, I thought about things and soon became philosophical about it. After all, if they were going to come down on guys who were only betting red to low green like me, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable barring occurred. And I wasnít about to employ heavy cover betting to disguise my skills. Not with only a $100 max bet, which is chicken-feed by Vegas standards. If my EV is to make $34 per hour, Iím going to play my best game with only minimal camouflage, like taking even money on blackjacks. That one example of playing cover doesnít cost very much in long-term expectation, and makes you look like a typical gambler. Any additional subterfuge and Iíd be cheating myself out of my already paltry win rate. It would turn my whole approach into a waste of time. I did think the Suncoast management was being way too intolerant. Either that or they really donít understand card counting. If they knew my average win rate was just $34 per 100 hands, would they really want to risk alienating the other players just to get rid of me? Did they think I was a real threat to their bottom line? I though they were being incredibly short-sighted.

Then I made a serious mistake. Walking across the parking lot, I was checking my surroundings for any type of surveillance. Seeing nothing unusual, I got inside my car, started the engine, shifted into reverse and turned around to back out. Just then, I saw a small pickup, truck-security vehicle pull into my row and stop a few yards away. I could see inside the cab. The driver clearly had a radio microphone held up to his mouth and was speaking into it.

Now I was cursing and mentally kicking myself for being so lax. I could have cabbed it over to Rampart and hung out there for an hour or two. I could have waited for the heat to die down, and then later come back for my car. The only drawback to that was that, technically, I could have been arrested for re-entering the property. However, in retrospect, I think that might have been worth the risk. Now I have to assume that since they have my auto license number, that they also have my real name. After all the years of surfing the blackjack websites and absorbing so much knowledge, I really should have known better. Damned stupid mistake. I hoped it wouldnít turn out to be that serious of a blunder.

Still with time to kill, I drove to the Palms and played their $25 double-deck game. I was heads-up for most of this ninety-minute session. All my high count bets lost and I wound up dropping $590 here. Now my net trip winnings were down to $600.

Then I picked up my date. It would be good to get away from blackjack and enjoy the company of a cute gal for an evening. We finally got to use that Treasure Island coffee shop comp Iíve been carrying for months. We simply had to stop at the cage, call a host and have him re-authorize it. We had a fine dinner. Susan had the filet mignon while I opted for the mixed grill which included chicken, steak and shrimp. I turned her on to my fave beverage, the Island Breeze fruit smoothie. Susan packed up our cheesecake desserts to go. Iíve always found that kind of practical thriftiness an endearing quality in a gal.

We drove to Caesars Palace to see singer Andrew James at the Galleria Bar. Andrew was happy to sing my two requests: Tony Bennettís Steppiní Out With My Baby, and the old Sinatra tune, It Happened in Monterey. I wish I could tell you the evening ended as I would have hoped, but Susan was tired and sleepy after the meal and a full dayís work, so I took her home. She didnít ask me in for "coffee." Oh well. It was only a first date. We planned to get together again, either a few nights hence or on my next trip.

Later I tried the Ellis Island two-decker again, but the cut was a consistent 60% despite all my subtle hints to get the dealer to go deeper. I guess seeing that Suncoast penetration has really spoiled me. I recovered my initial losses and quit even. It had been a disappointing day. I had lost $840, got 86ed from the best double-deck game in town, and didnít even get to have sex with my luscious date. At least I registered the first serious barring of my card-counting career. Thereís no way I can play there again on this trip, and probably not for several months. By the time I can finally return there, the good penetration will have evaporated. I was dismayed at losing the best double-deck game in Las Vegas, but also felt kind of proud of myself. At least one casino in this crazy town thinks Iím dangerous. Thatís a first anyway. So, with mixed feelings, I called it a night.

I deliberately got a late registration for the blackjack tournament this morning. This was the result of advice Iíd received from Bigplayer and Stanford Wong. Thatís right. The man himself, who had written the tournament playerís bible: Casino Tournament Strategy, personally told me that playing in the later rounds would allow me to see the earlier results, enabling me to set a concrete win goal and have a more definite idea how much Iíd need to advance to the final table.

This was a "leader-board" type format in which Iíd be competing against all the other players in the tournament, not just those at my table. Weíd each start with $1,000 in chips, and play two sessions on successive days, each twenty-six hands out of a six-deck shoe with these rules: dealer hits soft 17, double after splitting allowed, resplit aces to four hands and no surrender. The minimum bet was $50 and the max was $1,000. The five highest cumulative win totals from both sessions would advance to the final table, with one wild-card drawing from all the losers to fill out the sixth table spot. First place would win $5,000, second place $2,500, third $1,000 and the remaining three players would each get $500. I figured I would need $3K to $4K to make the final table.

In todayís first session, I slow-played at the start, counting down the shoe. Bigplayer, Stanford and others had told me not to bother counting, as this has little effect on your efforts. Money management was the most important factor. Iím so used to counting though, that I figured Iíd use it just to see if I could get an edge on the other players. When the count rose to a true plus one, I started betting $250, $300 and $500. Three of the five players at my table had busted out. I wound up with $750 at the end. I didnít think this was a very good total, and it turned out I was right. I learned that one woman had accumulated $10,000 and several others had totals in the $7K and $8K range. I made plans to really go for it in tomorrowís final session. Iíd start out betting $300 a hand and hope for a good run early, then up my bets to $500 and hopefully $1,000.

In several sessions before the tourney, I had broken even at Palace Station, won $200 at Fiesta Rancho and lost $300 at Texas Station. After the tournament session, I lost another $135 at Palace Station to put my trip total at plus $365. Tired of spinning my wheels, I spent the rest of the afternoon in the room, reading and napping, as it was too hot to even go near the pool.

I met my editor, Henry Tamburin, for a comped dinner in the Palace Station coffee shop. We mostly discussed the upcoming book. Henry liked my newest suggestion for a title: Youíve Got Heat. There will also be a subtitle along the lines of: The Vegas Card Counting Adventures of LV Pro. We talked about the book contract, making several changes that had to then be approved by his lawyers. He told me about a video poker advantage playerís party heíd attended. We also exchanged news about local players we knew. Iím starting to get kind of excited about the book, as publication time draws near. We plan to release the book late in the fall, and this report will likely be the last chapter.

That night I headed downtown. All the single-deck tables at the Las Vegas Club were full, so I played an hour-long session at the Horseshoe. Mostly heads-up, then with other players, we never got better than standard Rule of Six. I won $165 here and headed for Casino Royale.

This turned in to a marathon session. I was there nearly four hours. I was in for $200, then another $200, and another. I must have made a jillion $10 and $15 waiting bets. Down to my last $35 and some silver in a plus two true count, I stacked it all up and got a blackjack. In that last half-hour, I won it all back, plus a small but sweet $80 profit. The pit guys were rooting me on after seeing the hammering Iíd been taking during the first few hours. I had lost most of my $100 max bets and it was a struggle to remain upbeat. It must have been those $60, $75, and $80 double-downs I won that kept me afloat. Now up $610 for the trip, I hit the hay for a much needed nightís sleep.

Entering the final twenty-four hours of my stay, I had breakfast at Dennyís courtesy of Casino Royale, and then settled in for an hourís session at their $10 double-deck table. My two table-mates and I got wonderful 70% penetration, but the cards refused to co-operate and I lost another $150. In the last two days, I had lost nearly $1,000, going from being ahead by $1440 to now up just $460. Ok, count your blessings, I thought. Things could be a lot worse. At least Iím still ahead for the trip. After twenty-eight hours of play, my EV says Iím supposed to be ahead by $960, so I was under expectation for the time being. I felt I must try harder now, as time was growing short.

In the second and final session of the blackjack tournament, I had tripled my initial $1,000 starting stake. That $3K turned out to be the highest point I could achieve. I was parlaying up to $1,000 bets, but three consecutive losing hands crippled me. One push and one loss later, I was tap city. Good thing I was pushing out those max bets because the players who eventually advanced to the final table had amassed totals around $7K to $10K. So I would have only been able to prevail if I could have put together a monster win streak of max bets. But it was not to be. I hung around for the wild-card drawing but, of course, didnít get picked. Well, it was only my first BJ tournament ever. All I was able to come away with was that I felt I had gained some useful experience for the future. In this type of "leader-board" tourney, you needed two things Ė good money management, and sustained luck when you push out those max bets. One factor is within your control, and the other one isnít.

Later that afternoon, I thought Iíd see if I could get good conditions at the Las Vegas Clubís single-deck game. The pen was an unspectacular Rule of Six, but the number of players at my tables never exceeded two others, so I had no complaints there. It was a session of nearly four hours, during which I slowly bled away $500 and was unable to make any kind of sustained recovery. Finally conceding that Iíd had enough abuse, and getting tired, I refused to chase my losses any further and quit.

Unable to contact Susan, I was solo on my last night in town, so I decided to treat myself to a good dinner. Once again, courtesy of Casino Royale, I drew a $50 comp to the Outback steakhouse. Starting with one of their specialty drinks, a coconut martini, I had the excellent coconut shrimp appetizer to complement it. The six shrimp were quite large and an excellent value. After a Caesar salad, I had the three small lobster tails as my entrée. It came with a baked potato loaded with every topping you could imagine: butter, chives, sour cream, cheese and bacon. Though totally calorie-laden, it was a rich and satisfying side dish. Along with my coffee, I had one of their specialty desserts. This one had baked cinnamon apple slices and roasted pecans surrounding a mound of vanilla ice cream covered in whipped cream, with caramel sauce poured over the top. Boy was it tasty. I thought I was full, but managed to eat nearly half of a portion so huge that it completely filled out a full-size dinner plate. I guess I needed some real "comfort food" to soothe me after that slow, painful $500 bloodletting at the LVC. It sure did the trick. I was stuffed and happy.

My last session of the trip was at the Terribleís double-decker. There were two tables to choose from, each with two players. The players at one table were morose and had few chips left, while the other table had animated players high-fiving it as the dealer seemed to be busting more frequently than usual. Being the eternal optimist, I naturally sat at the happy table, all other factors being equal The dealer continued to break and we took advantage of it. Winning several of my max bets, I finally colored out with a $300 win. After the $500 loss at the Las Vegas Club, I had been in the red for the first time this trip, to the tune of minus $40. This $300 win put my final trip total at plus $260 after nearly thirty-three hours of blackjack over six days.

Ok, it was less than minimum wage, but I was happy to come out ahead anyway. At least the $260 put me back over the top of my $10,000 benchmark. Even though I still wasnít able to increase the bankroll significantly, at least I was playing well and holding my own. I was thankful I didnít suffer any monster downswings. Things could have been a lot worse.

In future trips, Iíll be able to continue mixing in those $25 minimum pitch games, along with my usual $5 and $10 tables. If the bankroll continues to grow, God willing, Iíll be able to play a higher percentage of my sessions at those nicely uncrowded green tables, and generate bigger and better comps to go along with it. Plus my top bet and win rate should increase to the point where Iíll soon be making $50, and hopefully, $100 per hour in expectation. That scenario is not very far away. All I need is a successful trip or twelve in the near future. If I can get the bankroll up to $15K in the next few trips, I could raise my max bet to $150, or two hands of $100. That would be sweet.

Thanks for reading,

LV Pro

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