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THE WORLD SERIES OF BLACKJACK

by Norm Sheridan

Norm Sheridan has been an avid tournament blackjack player for many years. He has had a great deal of tournament success and attributes his good fortune to experience, hard work, determination and luck.

The World Series of Blackjack! Whoa! The tournament contestants (me included) assembled the morning before they started taping the tournament for an orientation meeting with the production company that included scheduling the players. You could cut the excitement right out of the air with a knife. Here were 40 players playing blackjack for a million dollars, with the player finishing in first place getting a whopping half a million bucks. Talk about the major leagues! This is the World Series of Blackjack Season #4, which is, by the way, airing right now on the GSN network every Monday night at 11 p.m. Eastern Time. If you are not in the Eastern Time Zone, it may still air at 11 p.m. anyway, or at 8, 9, or 10 p.m. depending on your cable feed. It airs as a 13-week series.

Season 4 is a little different than the prior seasons. This time there is more money to be won, and fewer "hand picked" players competing. In fact, this year most of us had to win our way to the finals. Players who participated in Season 1 and, I believe 2, were entirely invited thru resumes and auditions. This is a much more serious group of tournament competitors, and Iím probably here for the first time because there were more spots available. There were, however, a few spots given out in hopes of enhancing the quality of the shows. My personal favorite was the choice of Orel Hershiser, the Dodger pitcher, and 1988 World Series Champion. What could be more fitting than to have this World Series of Baseball Champion in the World Series of Blackjack? Now I know what you must be thinking. Here is some hill boy, with a good arm, and a small brain, getting a free pass into our game. Forget it! This guy is a real player. I canít imagine where Orel could ever compete in a blackjack tournament without me hearing about it, but somewhere he got some experience. He played to win, and was a big asset to the show.


Also invited to play was Penn of Penn and Teller, the actresses Shannon Elizabeth and Caroline Rhea, and Alice Walker, the million dollar "Three Card Poker" tournament winner from Caesarís Palace. The fact that she is a good looking "Three Card Poker" winner may also have had something to do with her selection! Add the winner of Season 3, Dr. Jeff Bernstein, and I believe those were all the invitees into this tournament. Past invitees of the World Series of Blackjack, who had to win there spots this year, were Ken Smith of BlackjackTournaments.com and BlackjackInfo.com, Hollywood Dave Stann, the self proclaimed Bad Boy of Blackjack, who always loves to give me a headache, and Ken Einiger, the WSOB 2 Champion. Nice going, guys!

So the stage was set, the play times handed out, and I happened to be in the last first round match to be taped Ö. three days after the meeting, but that did not mean I had three days off to do nothing. This tournament came with some hard work and long hours. Lets quickly flashback to the prior morning.

I arrived at the Las Vegas Hilton with time to spare and a lot of cash to pay for my $2,500 entry fee. It was luck of the draw, with six players per table and only one winner going to the WSOB. I am not so sure my draw had much luck to it, because I wound up on a table with the Ultimate Blackjack Tour Champion, David Matthews; long time competitor and tournament winner, Marvin Ornstein; and frequent television player, Skip Samad, who always "talks to those cards."

Play commenced and I was not faring particularly well. As I remember, Skip was the first player to be eliminated, and the remaining five got down to the last few hands. I found myself in the lead after a big win in the fourth to last hand, but the next hand was cruel indeed. I got swung and it then became absolute desperation time. I went in for the maximum bet on the 2nd to the last hand, and caught a 6 and a 3. The dealer had a 3 or a 4 card showing, so I doubled for all my chips.

Looking back, I believe I made a major error here. We all had one Power Chip, and according to the rule, you can use it to change one card during the round. If it is a double down card, you have to give up the chip before you look at the card, and then decide if you want to exchange the card. I thought about it and decided that I may need that chip on the last hand, and anyway you win most of your "9" double down hands when the dealer busts. So I hung onto the chip and agonizingly watched the dealer hit to 18.

I felt that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when one knows he must have the face card to win. (And I could have exchanged the card if I wanted but too late now!) Fortunately for me, I caught the face card and the rest of the table lost, leaving only Marvin and I in the running for the last hand.

I had a short lead. We both bet large, and I was dealt a hard 19 while Marvin caught a pat 20. Now I had no more need for that wasted Power Chip. I wasnít about to break up the

19 hand to try for more, when a stiff was just as likely to come. Marvin had to split his face cards, and caught one 20 and one stiff. It was then up to the dealer, who made a hand to give me the win. To Marvinís credit, he got another opportunity to enter in a last round try late the next day, and he eventually won his way into the BIG game.

About then it hit me. I was in the WSOB! Something I had wanted for over three years. Cool! Also, I noticed that I had had no breakfast or lunch and was very hungry, as they were escorting me off to do an interview. I waited what seemed like forever to get the informal interview started as the interviewer was busy. There were many forms and questions to answer, and I was getting hungrier. She was interrupted a couple of times with other duties and left me sitting there while I got even more hungrier. After a couple of hours, we were finally done, and then I was sent off to Wardrobe. I was told to hurry it up before they shut down for the evening. Again I hurried up and waited. I tried on a number of outfits, and was told to come back with a couple of my own the next day. It was almost 7 p.m. I finally got to eat, take care of a few personal chores, and retire for the day so I could get up the next morning for the orientation meeting.

After that meeting, I was off to another interview, and then to wardrobe again. I got to watch part of a match and then the day was over. The next day I had to be there for yet another interview. Day 3 had me there for one more interview. In total, I did three on camera interviews. Iím not sure if I finally got it right, or they finally got it right! Later, I got to watch another match being shot that day. I felt it was smart to get familiar with the set, cameras and surroundings so that I would be aware of any potential surprises, and be comfortable in my own match. Also, it can never hurt to size up your potential opponents in later rounds. The next day, I arrived for my round but the prior session was running very late. I reported to Wardrobe around 10 a.m. but we didnít begin until after 2 p.m.

Finally, it was time to get down to business. On Hand Number 1, Hollywood Dave starts in with the motor mouth tactics that all T.V. game producers love. Most of it seems to be directed at me, but thatís O.K., because I have taught myself how to Ďtune outí whenever need be. I only hoped it was bothering the other three players as much as Hollywood wanted it to do. He hardly let up as long as he was at the table, but I managed to squeeze in a few words here and there! It was an exciting match, and I believe we had a fun group of players that were having a good time during the play. Four players might have had a better time if they could have won! Thanks to Joe Fisher, Hollywood Dave, Kacie Bergeron, and Alice Walker (in order of seats) for being there, and keeping the game interesting.

It seems almost mandatory to mention the incredibly controversial play by Joe Fisher, in the second to the last hand. I have since been told things like, "I had better thank Joe for the gift;" "He must be my best friend now;" and "He threw it all away to give me the prize." But this is all nonsense! Joe made a good, yet very risky play. I commend him for having the guts to follow his instincts. Here is the hand setup, in betting order, with one hand left to play after this one:

Me

$56,250

bets $50,000

Dealt a 15 hand

Joe

$77,500

bets $38,500

Dealt a 13 hand

Alice

$125,000

bets $30,000

Dealt hard 18

My bet from the first position is an automatic max bet.

Joe split his bankroll, indicating that he would like to get a doubling hand. He needs to get a win-lose outcome on Alice to get ahead, or get all his chips in to get very close.

Alice bets just enough to cover the high if Joe does get all his chips in and doubles his bankroll (to $154,000).

I stand on my 15. I strongly considered hitting even though the dealer had a 4 showing, because a lucky hit with both opponents subsequently losing their hands would be my only chance to take the lead going into the last hand. The final decision to stand was based on the fact that it was likely that Joe would double his 13 hand, and if it loses, I would get 2nd. If it wins, then the dealer has most likely busted and all hands win, leaving me less than a maximum bet behind and betting last. (As it turned out, this was a wrong decision, because the next card was a 5, which would have given me a 20 hand.) Doubling was Joeís best chance for many reasons: If he caught a good card, he might swing Alice and have more than a maximum bet lead; he had his Power Chip left and would get two chances to pull a good double down card; the dealer does have a 4 showing; he will be just about even with Alice if the dealer busts and all win; and most importantly, playing conservatively for 2nd place is a poor way to go. Second place gives one the opportunity to go to the wild card round and play again, but only the winner of that round is rewarded, and gets to go on to the semi-finals. That will be a one out of five chance to advance when he has a pretty good chance to advance right now. Furthermore, his next best alternative is to stand. If he stands and wins, that means all will win, and Alice will have a $39,000 lead on him, I will only be $9,750 behind, and he has to bet first; leaving him little chance to win and nearly a 50% chance to drop out of 2nd place. If the dealer pulls 19 or better and all lose, he will have no chance to win except for a blackjack on the last hand, and if he puts all his chips in to try for the natural, then he can still drop out of 2nd place. To sum it all up, there is no lock on 2nd no matter what he does, and it is far better to win if he can.

It has been suggested that doubling for a lesser amount would be a better play, but I doubt it. He gains nothing on Alice if he does not get to within less than a Ĺ maximum bet on her. That requires him to double for at least $14,500. In that event, if all hands lose, he has lost first place and locked up 2nd; but if all win, he is $24,500 out of first, only $24,250 ahead of third and still betting first. All things considered, Joe had no safe play, and his gutsy all in double was his best chance to win. Nice decision under pressure, Joe! By the way, I do thank you for losing the hand!

After Joeís play, they stopped the action for a commercial, and came back for the last hand. None of that was shown on television, as first and second place were determined with the prior hand. The excitement and the congratulations were quickly over, the cameras stopped, and people were pulling on my arm. "Come on, Norm, you have 10 minutes to get to Wardrobe and change for your wild card round." Wow! I just finished the round of a lifetime, and they are rushing me toward the next one. Please, I could use a drink of water and a BREAK! But there were no breaks and I was rushed to Wardrobe, and back on the set in 15 minutes for the big Wild Card Round! All of the 20 players from my half of the 1st round sessions were there for the one wild card draw that was to become the fifth player at our table. You will be reading this a few days either before or just after it will air on GSN; a full 6 or 7 weeks after my first one aired; so I will not give away any results at this time. Suffice to say, when I finished, I needed a tall cool one and about 10 hours of sleep! It was a tough job, but someone had to do it!!!!

My thanks to the entire production staff and crew, who worked very hard and continually create better and better shows for the World Series of Blackjack.

 

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