IT’S ONLY A MILLION DOLLARS, ANYWAY …
An Inside Look at This Year’s Million Dollar III by the Undisputed Bad Boy of Blackjack, "Hollywood" Dave Stann
‘Hollywood’ Dave is a professional actor & gambler who divides his time between the trenches of the entertainment industry and the equally dangerous waters of poker and blackjack tournaments. A member of MENSA by age 14, he spent years as a card counter in the Vegas underground (his ‘survival job’ while paying the dues as a starving actor). The youngest player at the 2004 World Series of Blackjack, he beat out a field of gambling authors and legends to come in 2nd place in a photo finish that came down to the very last card dealt. He has filmed 2 seasons of GSN’s ‘Celebrity Blackjack’ as the smart-ass co-host and dealer, and has appeared on numerous other gambling programs, including A & E’s ‘ Caesar’s 24/7’ and the Travel Channel’s ‘Vegas Challenge.’ Currently, he is finishing 2 books on blackjack to be published later this year by RGE Publishing (www.rge21.com) and can be found at his home-away-from-home on the web, Ken Smith’s www.blackjacktournaments.com where he is available to answer questions and give advice on all aspects of gambling theory.
Who needs a million bucks? Not me, apparently! To be quite honest, I went to the final showdown May 13-14 with every intention of taking the whole enchilada – I had psyched myself up, studied for weeks ahead of time, and even got halfway to the money – but it was not, as they say, in the cards.
What’s really interesting about this event was the plethora of side bets that dominated the action. Although the World Series of Blackjack events on GSN may receive more publicity, the fact is that this Hilton event has a bigger prize pool than both years of the World Series combined! This means a larger field of talented players – and all the requisite side betting and amateur odds making that true gamblers love. For any given match up, you could find someone to make a bet with as to who would advance to the next round. Sometimes the bets would be even money propositions, sometimes 2-to-1 or more, depending on the players in question & the person offering the bet. And for the truly degenerate (myself included), "last longest" bets between players were common – money put up between contestants, the winner the one who lasts the longest before getting knocked out! Fun, profitable, and smart ways to offset the costs of attending this event when coming in shy of the money (as I did). Whenever you have a gathering a pro gamblers, you will find those willing to take action on any number of given bets! The bigger the tournament, the bigger the side action…
Don’t tell anyone, but I cheated during the tournament. I don’t think anyone found out, and obviously it didn’t work very well, but I most certainly cheated. If you can keep a secret, I’ll let you in on it… while most people competing were consulting their Stanford Wong ‘Casino Tournament Strategy’ notes to brush up before the game (or just crossing their fingers & hoping for good cards), I was in my room reading Wong, crossing my fingers, AND using a secret weapon so powerful, no one else has ever seen it! In a few months (just as soon as I finish them, that is), RGE Publishing is printing my first two books, Hollywood Blackjack and Hollywood Blackjack: ATS (Advanced Tournament Strategy). The first book is more of an overview of card counting and other advantage plays, along with many fun chapters on the years I spent in the trenches, undercover in casinos – as well as some great behind-the-scenes peeks into the World Series of Blackjack and Celebrity Blackjack. As for my secret weapon – that’s where the 2nd book comes in handy. While its still only half-typed, half-written, and with copious pieces of text floating around in my brain, ATS is an incredible resource for tournament play that is long overdue. Wong’s contributions to the field are the solid backbone of any good tourney player’s strategy, without a doubt. But in the 20-odd years since his book on the subject has been published, the blackjack world we inhabit has changed. Perhaps most notably is the fact that his strategies are much more well-known than they were when he originally published them. The typical player is better than they were in the 80’s or 90’s, and as a result strategy must change to embrace these demands. To get an edge over other advantage players, one must have an edge that differs in certain ways from theirs. ATS embraces a reflexive aggression index that lets you adjust your strategy dependent upon who you are playing with in the current round, so that you play one way against the pros and another way against ploppies – and all the shades inbetween. The only thing that worries me about publishing these books later this year is that once people start using these techniques, I’ll have to come up with yet another way to get an edge over everyone!
As far as cheating, well, it certainly felt like cheating to sit in my room and study 100 pages of strategy notes that nobody else on the planet has… but, obviously, the proof is in the results, so let’s look at how I did. Both rounds I competed in, I ended up as BR1 (first place) on the final hand. The first round, I was surprised to find that even with only a $250 lead over BR2, no one came after me with bets large enough to overtake my lead! I think they were all shooting for second, and my minimum bet on the last hand worked well enough to catapult me into Day 2 of the event. My 2nd round ended up even better – on the final hand, not only was I BR1, but I had more than a max bet lead over the entire field, a dream scenario. Well, this dream would soon turn into a nightmare as I watched everyone bet max & double down to try and catch me – and even though I had also bet max to correlate with their big wagers, I was dealt the 16 and had to surrender while everyone around me safely doubled to 20 and 21. Still, my lead was so great that if the dealer would have made any hand (with her 2 showing, that happens over 65% of the time) I still would have advanced. Not to be, as the dealer busted and sent me packing by a scant few hundred dollars. At least I was in good company – other notable pros Anthony Curtis, Blair Rodman, Joe Pane, and current World Champ Kenny Einiger all busted out with or before me. Skill may be a big factor in this game, but luck will always be there to rear its ugly head!
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