INSIDE THE WORLD SERIES OF BLACKJACK
By Henry Tamburin
The SmartGaming.com web site is owned by Henry Tamburin, blackjack expert and author of the popular book, "Blackjack: Take the Money and Run". Henry is the editor of the Blackjack Insider e-newletter, and a feature writer for Casino Player magazine.
I was invited to participate in the recently taped World Series of Blackjack and this is a brief summary of my experiences.
GSN (formerly the Game Show Network) teamed with the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for the second season of the World Series of Blackjack. Up for grabs was $500,000 in total prize money with a cool quarter million dollars given to the winner.
The playing field included 40 invited amateur and professional blackjack players. The list includes a whoís who of blackjack authors, professional players, and tournament pros including:
Stanford Wong (author of Professional Blackjack, Casino Tournament Strategy, and host of www.bj21.com)
Anthony Curtis (publisher of Las Vegas Advisor)
Victor Nacht (owner of www.advantageplayer.com)
MIT Mike and Micky Rosa (two of the MIT players featured in the best-selling book, Bringing Down the House)
Kevin Blackwood (author of The Counter)
Kenneth Smith (tournament pro and BJI contributor)
Michael Konig (author of the books The Man With the $100,000 Breasts and Telling Lies and Getting Paid.
Jean Scott (author More Frugal Gambling)
LV Tournament Pro (professional tournament player, recent monthly winner in the LVH Million Dollar BJ Tournament, and contributing writer to BJI)
Regina Guzior (Regina made the finals in the first WSOB, she is an excellent tournament player and also blind)
Eric Kiel (recent winner of one million dollars in the LVH Million Dollar BJ Tournament)
Brian Zembic (the man with the thousand dollar breast implants)
Rene Angelil (husband of Celine Dione, and an excellent blackjack player)
"Hollywood" Dave Stann (dealer in Celebrity BJ and excellent tournament player)
Rick Blaine, author of Blackjack Blueprint-How to Operate a Blackjack Team and Blackjack in the Zone.
Ken Einiger, an excellent blackjack tournament player who finished in the top 5 in three blackjack tournaments leading up to the WSOB.
Katay Underhill, a friend of James Grosjean, who wrote the book Beyond Counting and participated in the first World Series of Blackjack.
Rick Jensen, owner of Texas Tournaments, and a contributor to BJI.
At the end of this article is a list of the 40 players who played in the World Series of Blackjack II. It is quite an impressive list and as one of the players in the tournament I knew this was not going to be easy to advance.
The tournament was held at the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas the week of Nov. 7th. A TV set was constructed for the taping of the tournament in an area adjacent to the pool and across form the GN café. The announcers were TV sports personality Matt Vesgersian along with Max Rubin, professional player and author of Comp City, who provided the color commentary and analysis of play.
The week began with player interviews on Sunday and Monday. Each player was assigned a time to be at the GN to be interviewed and taped. My time was 3:15pm on Sunday and the interview lasted about 45 minutes. Only general questions were asked about by blackjack background, how I intend to play in the tournament, etc. We were told the shots taken during the interview will be used to introduce the players on the show.
The first preliminary round began Tuesday morning. The schedule included taping two preliminary rounds each day beginning on Tuesday and ending on Friday, two wild-card rounds to be played and taped on Tuesday evening, and another on Thursday evening, and the two semi-final and final rounds played on Saturday.
The stage for the tournament included a grandstand seating area. Extras were hired from a local agency to be in the audience (yes they were paid). Some of the tournament players were also in the audience (including your truly in a few rounds).
Behind the stage was an enclosed area known as the "Green Room" where contestants would be staged prior to playing their round. I and a small group of other players spent most of our time there watching the taping of each round on a TV monitor while critiquing the playing and betting strategy used by the players.
We found out when we were scheduled to play our first round early in the week but we didnít know who are opponents would be (they really kept this a secret). We found this out at a morning meeting that was set up the day of, or day before, your scheduled preliminary round. At this meeting the playing rules were reviewed and we also had to bring the wardrobe(s) that we intended to wear during the taping of our rounds so they could be approved (we had been instructed not to wear any greens, blacks, whites, plaids, stripes, etc. Ö remember this is TV).
My preliminary round was scheduled for Friday morning. This gave me three days to observe the other first rounds that were played. A typical day included playing and taping of the first round in the morning, then a brief hour or so break for lunch, then the production crew would reassemble to play and tape the second preliminary round.
We had the same dealer for the entire tournament. Deanne had the honors (she is a regular dealer at the GN). It was long day for her but she did a terrific job considering the pressure of not making any mistakes and the long hours standing and dealing (on some days with three tapings she was on the set except for breaks from 9 am till nearly 9 pm).
You were expected to be at the GN several hours before your round. You were escorted to the Green Room and then to a make-up room where you were groomed (yes, even us guys had make-up and hair spray). All players were also outfitted with a small microphone to pick up our voices.
When the time came to play your preliminary round, the 5 contestants were brought on stage to the cheers of the audience, given last minute instructions on the rules, and then play began.
The rules used in the tournament were fairly liberal. Six decks were dealt from a shoe, s17, doa, das, ls, pairs resplit up to 4 hands and aces could be resplit. Insurance was allowed. Each contestant drew a card from a shuffled deck to determine seating position (high card gets first base). In this tournament the cards were always dealt to the first base player on every round even though the dealing puck rotated and every player had a chance to bet first (or last as the case may be).
Each player was given $100,000 in tournament chips. Minimum bet was $1,000 and maximum bet was $50,000. There were five contestants in each of the 8 preliminary rounds.
The tournament was fairly liberal with counting and announcing the playerís chip totals. Although you wonít see it on TV, about every 5 hands or so the producer would stop play and Deanne would count and announce each playerís chip total. This was also done periodically to check on the amounts of each playerís bankroll that were being tracked and displayed on a monitor (youíll see this on the bottom of the TV screen).
Surprisingly it took several hours to tape 25 hands of blackjack. Sometimes their would be a pause due to technical problems with the lighting or with a camera, other times it would be for the announcers to tape an introduction to a break, or some times we would pause to count the player chips, and a few times their was a pause to give the players some water to drink and to touch up our make-up. A few times we had to pause when Deanne made a mistake in a payoff and the tape had to be rewound to confirm the correct chip count. You wonít see it on TV but there was a floor supervisor standing directly behind Deanne watching everything that was going on at the table to ensure that no mistakes were made in dealing and making the right payoffs. Overall the staff at GSN did a terrific job in keeping the rounds moving on schedule.
I was also surprised at the number of cameras that were used for the taping (at least 5, maybe more). Probably the most important camera was the one overhead that filmed the playerís and dealerís cards as they were dealt. The other cameras would get playerís facial reactions when they won or lost an important hand or they would scan the audience for their reactions as hands unfolded. Some cameras are focused on the announcers who were located in an elevated booth behind the audience. This was a very large scale, very professionally produced show and the staff at GSN did a terrific job in looking after the players, making sure we were knew where to go and when, giving us clear instructions, and overall making us feel comfortable about the taping.
Surprisingly each round was exciting with the winners often undecided until the last hand was played out. In each round two or more players had a shot at advancing depending upon how they bet and played the all important last hand and what the outcome of Deannaís hand (whether or not she busted and if she didnít, the total of her hand often determined which player advanced and which playerís didnít). In all the preliminary rounds, the different possible outcomes of which players could win their round were determined after each player completed their final hand and just before Deanna played out her final hand and announced to the players and the audience. This makes for some exciting TV.
In the preliminary rounds, the player with the most chips won $10,000 and advanced to the semi-final round. The second place finisher advanced to the wild card round to play other second place finishers.
Unfortunately, I cannot go into details of who won their preliminary rounds (all the players sign an agreement not to reveal the results of the WSOB). However in the next issue of BJI Iíll summarize who played against who (there were some very interesting match-ups as youíll see).
The tentative schedule for airing the premier show is January 21, 2005. GSN is available from your cable TV provider.
Iíll provide more insights in the next issue of BJI and review the prize pool.
World Series of Blackjack Players
DR. RICHARD TARASKA
"HOLLYWOOD" DAVE STANN
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