FRUGAL GAMBLING AND BLACKJACK
By Jean Scott
Jean Scott, the Queen of Comps, is the country's best-known low-rolling casino player. Her first book, Frugal Gambler, was a national bestseller. She has appeared on countless television and radio programs about gambling and her written work has been published in numerous gambling magazines. Jean Scott's latest book, More Frugal Gambling, and her video poker software, Frugal Video Poker, may be ordered at the BJI Online Store at special prices for subscribers.
I will have to admit that I never really was an expert blackjack card counter. Some 19 years ago, when my husband Brad and I first started gambling in casinos, we studied blackjack and mastered basic strategy. We read all the books, studied the various counting systems, and tried to master at least the simple high-low. Brad was more of a numbers guy and caught on pretty fast. And I could do pretty well some of the time – but I liked to chat it up at the tables and I could never multi-task too well. Besides, I am more of a word, rather than numbers kind of gal - and Brad said my lips moved while I was counting. Maybe that was why I was spotted and barred a couple of times.
But for 6 years we were quite happy with our success as basic-strategy-with-a-little-bit-of- counting amateurs. But it wasn’t long before I learned how to get us the most comps for the least amount of play. This was done mainly by going on the junket trail from our home in Indianapolis: to Vegas and AC on charter flights, to Harrah’s Tahoe on the company’s private jet, and with groups to Puerto Rico and Santa Domingo by commercial air.
I was always afraid that we wouldn’t continue to qualify for these heady VIP trips because we were basically one-green-chip bettors at the most. But our junket rep was always trying to fill out a group and almost monthly he could always depend on us to drop everything at even short notice (thank goodness Brad worked for the government and had a lot of leave and "sick" days stored up!). So we were welcome to join the high rollers that were mostly betting multiple black chips and we could enjoy the same luxurious level of comps as they did but with a much smaller risk.
Our peak of junket trips came when the rep needed a couple more gamblers to fill out a Monte Carlo junket – a trip to the "real" Monte Carlo in Europe. The upfront money needed for this was a lot more than we had ever put up – but we felt it was the chance of a lifetime. So we scrapped up the $20,000 needed by emptying every account we had except IRA’s. And it was a fantastic trip, with 3 days in Paris and 5 days in Monte Carlo.
But by 1989 the junket system was declining and the betting requirements to get luxurious comps were rapidly escalating. Things were also changing in our life. Brad retired and we wanted to spend longer periods of time in casinos, especially in Vegas, rather than weekend jaunts. And we were tired of the casino heat that we were noticing because of our knowledgeable blackjack play. But the biggest factor that would change our gambling was discovering video poker. We noticed that as the table game requirements for comps were going up, machine players were starting to be more heavily comped – and again, similar to our discovery with BJ, we could learn the system so we could get the maximum comps for the least risk to our bankroll.
We spent about a year with a foot in both worlds, but by 1990 we had joined our first slot clubs, and BJ was completely replaced by VP, which has been our game of choice ever since.
I guess I shouldn’t say "completely." We still play BJ on occasion. If we are in a casino that does not have good VP, sometimes the BJ games are pretty good and we enjoy a few hours with our old love. This is especially true when we are on cruise ships. We are out of practice so we don’t count cards, but we still know basic strategy – and BJ provides some low-cost entertainment at the minimum betting levels. And sometimes we even win!
We also are thankful for our blackjack experience because once in a while we are given an opportunity, because of heavy VP play, to be in invitational BJ tournaments (as well as slot and VP tournaments). We always accept these invitations because we have studied tournament strategy and this gives us an edge over many of the players in these tournaments who often don’t have a clue and play just like they do on the casino floor. However, we do know our limitations. Again Brad has the better math skills, which are necessary to do well in blackjack tournaments over the long term (I have never been able to do math calculations quickly). Therefore, I eschew those that require an entry fee and limit myself to the comped ones - and hope I am in an unknowledgeable player pool and that I get some lucky breaks. We have earned a little bit on this invitational tournament trail, but are still looking to snag a major payoff.
I was called the Queen of KuPon before the Queen of Comps and I never abdicated that throne although I don’t sit in it as much as I used to because of time constraints. However, the most frequent use of our blackjack knowledge is in the couponing area since the most lucrative casino gambling coupons must usually be used exclusively for blackjack. Since Max Rubin has covered table-game comps so thoroughly in "Comp City", I usually write more about comps and machine play. However, I do cover blackjack couponing very thoroughly in my new book "More Frugal Gambling."
Yes, VP is my top love these days, but I will never completely forsake my former love – blackjack!
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