LAS VEGAS TRIP REPORT (Sept/Oct, 2007)
by Barfarkel (a.k.a., LV Pro)
Barfarkel 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. Barfarkel’s book, You’ve Got Heat, contains the details of his playing trips to Las Vegas over a 4-year period. He also wrote the article "Graduating From Red to Green" that appeared in the Winter2003/2004 edition of Blackjack Forum. For details on You’ve Got Heat, now available as an e-bookclick here. You can also listen to a taped radio interview of Barfarkel that occurred on the American Radio Network by going to www.youvegotheat.com.
Casinos covered in this report include:
Santa Fe Station
The last time I visited Las Vegas was in February of this year when I lost $2,500. Since then, I re-discovered Reno in May and won $2,300, and found it to be a better venue for card-counting. Reno has single-deck games everywhere, and if you can get a head’s-up game, you might get many more rounds than you’d expect. However, the minute a second player joins your table, the pen invariably reverts to Rule of Six. So you have to keep moving around, but that’s a small price to pay.
I drove the highway through the desert more cautiously than usual. I had just received a speeding ticket on my way to work a few weeks ago, and the last thing I needed was another ticket. I wouldn’t be able to go to traffic school and have the points erased from my record on both tickets. Despite my slower-than-usual pace, I still made it to Casino Royale, my first hotel of this six-day stay, in less than four hours.
I settled in and unpacked. Unlike most other times, I didn’t go down to play right away. I just called it a night at 3:30 a.m. and hit the hay.
The next morning, I used the Casino Royale fun book coupons. First, I tried for a quad, and a $25 or $40 hand pay bonus on their 8:5 Bonus Poker machine. I played for a while, failed to get the quad, and down $50 I did what I usually do and took the "blackjacks pay double up to $25" coupon to the 6:5 single deck table. I flat-bet quarters mostly, raising my bets to $50 and $75 in plus counts and when few or no aces were out. Who knows? They might make a mistake and pay me double on a bet higher than the $25 limit as stated on the coupon. I lost my initial $250 buy-in, and brought out another Benji. Then I won some critical double-downs to spark a comeback. By the time I finally hit the blackjack on a $25 bet, I was up $250 so my net win was $200 to start the trip off right.
I drove up to Santa Fe Station where I hoped the good double-deck pen was still in effect. It was, but that didn’t help me much. I lost every high count bet I made and dropped $500 in an hour. After a comped lunch of prime rib dip and root beer float, I returned to the same table. This time I was successful on my fair share of double-downs, and I recouped $350 to put me back up by $50 for the trip.
I returned to the room and took a nap. That evening I had dinner with Bootlegger and Bootie at the Caesar’s coffee shop. It was a nice casual affair with old friends. We rehearsed Jackson, the duet we planned to sing together at Boot’s Sunday gig ― a new tradition during Green Chip weekends. I had a shrimp cocktail and grilled salmon while my dinner mates shared a crab cake appetizer and ordered Cuban and corned beef sandwiches.
Bootlegger wanted to get some sleep, so I got my car back from the valet and headed to Terrible’s. The tables were crowded so I didn’t play and called it an early night.
My first play the next morning was at the Mirage $25 double-deckers. I played for only thirty minutes and won $300. Then I drove back to Terrible’s during day shift, bought in, and gave them my player’s card with my real name on it, as usual. During the half hour I played, I made four or five Lucky Ladies bets, each time for the $25 maximum, and hit two winners ― one for a 10-1 payoff on a suited twenty.
I was still down about $40 when the two pit guys circled around my table, came up behind me and said,"Mr. Barfarkel, we can’t let you play blackjack here anymore. You’re welcome to play any other game in our casino, but not blackjack."
I was mystified and asked them how they had come up with my online handle. They told me they had not only read my book You’ve Got Heat, and enjoyed it, but they had also read my last trip report in the BJI which contained the following passage:
Also I had no recent Reno play with which to get room comps. I might have to pay full rack rate for a room as well. As it turned out, I had lots of points at one casino in Vegas, so I simply had my Vegas host call the host at the Reno property that the Vegas casino had recently bought, and transmit my play records to him. Sure enough, the Reno host came through with a four-night room comp. Okay, so far so good.
I figured I was safe writing that passage in the BJI since I didn’t mention the name of either the Vegas or Reno casino. But someone at Terrible’s had dug down and done some research and found out that I was Barfarkel, and that it was their casino I was talking about. So, after forty-five trip reports since 1999, finally a detail I wrote and published had cost me a playing venue.
At least they were polite and respectful and assured me they wouldn’t make a big deal about this back-off. Still, I doubted I could play there again this trip since they pretty much knew my face, and not just my name, from all the times I’d played here in the past. I was sure they’d inform all the other shifts and probably include a photo of me to boot. I actually told them to bring their copies of my book in and I’d sign them. Hey, they had me cold, and there was no way I was going to be able to bullshit them, so I tried to be decent and philosophical about it.
I drove back out to Santa Fe Station. Both $5 double-deck tables were crowded, leaving only the $25 table where a familiar duo was playing, my dinner mates from last night. I almost regretted telling Boot about this game, but he’s a good friend so I shrugged it off. I found out later that after I left, he colored up and departed soon afterwards. I wasn’t about to sit at his table, but had I hung around just a little longer, I would have had the $25 table to myself.
I drove to Palace Station and got hammered for most of the hour. In for $500, I managed to recoup $300 of it after being down to my last green chip. I had hit a few winners on some $150 bets near the end.
Then I checked out of Casino Royale and headed up to the Gambler’s Book Store to meet up with Tony Dalben. He had emailed me, told me how much he liked my book, and wanted to meet. If his name sounds familiar to you, it’s because he is the Dalben of the famous Einbinder-Dalben legal case that started with their arrest for "cheating" at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas in late 1983. They had been first-basing. By the time two expensive and exhausting trials were done, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that, in Tony’s own words:
My acquittal on these cheating charges, made it official that it is legal to obtain and transmit information on the identity of the dealer's hole card, if the dealer is not shielding it properly, to another player lawfully seated at a blackjack table. The case also applies to frontloading, since that player is legally sitting at the table seeing the card due to sloppy dealing procedure. The Supreme Court decision, however, does not protect "spooks" because they are employed agents standing behind the dealer, and not sitting at the table with the other players. The legal problem with this technique is that they are obtaining hole card information not available to all players seated at the table.
Previously, common sense has dictated that any information casinos knowingly or unknowingly provide, can be used by players as they see fit. Hole card play in blackjack has gone on for a long time, although a case of this kind has never been presented before a judge. It was a difficult, stressful, and an expensive experience to go through. I am very pleased that the results of the Einbinder/Dalben case have helped advantage players everywhere.
At the bookstore, Tony and I discussed the case and all he had to go through to see it through to the state Supreme Court. GBS Manager Howard Schwartz was familiar with the case and joined in the conversation. The featured attraction at the main Green Chip party on Saturday night was going to be Stanford Wong interviewing Tony about the case and its ramifications.
For a more detailed analysis of the Einbinder / Dalben case, you can cut and paste to this link at BJFonline: http://www.blackjackforumonline.com:80/content/spooking.htm.
I bought one book using my 20% author’s discount:Hollywood’s Celebrity Gangster ― The Life and Times of Mickey Cohen. Then I checked in at Terrible’s for my five-night stay and was relieved to find out that they hadn’t cancelled my room comp. Now the problem was, unless I decided to play a lot of video poker there, how would I rack up enough comp points for the future? I guess it’s time to search out and find a new home base hotel in Vegas.
After a restful afternoon, reading and dozing in the room, I got dressed and headed out. It was time for the first official gathering of the Green Chip brethrens this weekend. We met at the bowling lanes of an off-Strip hotel. On the way to the bowling area, I found an idle $15 double-deck table. I bought in and played for a half-hour. Losing at first, I was down to my last $30 or so in chips when I started to recoup. Soon I was even. Then I forged ahead by $200 and colored out.
I met the Green Chippers at the lanes. Bootlegger and Bootie, adhoc, Wylie, Ma’ Barker, EE Counter, onesizefitsfew, AA**, Lounge Lizard, and several others were there, plus assorted wives and girlfriends. I sat out the first few games, but was finally talked into bowling one game as they needed one more player. I scored a few spares, no strikes, and finished with a respectable score of 120, while AA** had 124 and adhoc won with a score of 140.
Back in the casino, I played another short session at a $25 two-decker. The pen was good at 65% to 70% and they used a notch on the discard rack to standardize the cut. I won another $185 and scored a dinner comp. After a mediocre chicken-fried steak and an inedible shrimp cocktail, which I had them remove from the bill after I complained about the quality of the food, I called it a night.
My first play this morning was at the Mirage $25 double-deck pit. They have $25 minimums on these tables until about 9:30 a.m., and then they usually raise the minimums to $50 for day shift. I was grandfathered in at $25 and "onesizefitsfew" invited me to join his table, as he would be leaving shortly, and it was the only table with less than three players. Then another counter sat at first base and started playing two spots. As soon as I saw how all four of our bets were rising and falling in unison, I quickly left the table with my $200 in winnings and drove to New York-New York. I was up $645 for the trip at this point.
I found an idle $25 double-deck table on the main floor. The key to my $500 win here came late in the hour when the true count was + 7. I had bet $150 and doubled my ace-7 vs. the dealer’s 6. The dealer turned up a 2 in the hole and hit to 18. Then he reached to turn up my down card. It was a beautiful 3 of hearts for 21!
Driving downtown, my first stop was the El Cortez. Since the best play there were the two $5 double-deck tables, I had to contend with the ploppies, who would buy in for $20, waste space, cards and time, bust out and leave. I was down $125 when the pit gal, with a heavy Asian accent, informed me that I was only allowed to flat-bet so I left.
At the Plaza, I lost $300 quickly at the lone $25 double-decker. On the way out I bought in again at an idle $5 table and won $100 back. After these two downtown losses, I was still up for the trip by $820.
On a whim, I got off the 15 freeway at Sahara. The day shift dealer’s at Palace Station were cutting only 55% to 60%. I shopped around for better pen, changing tables a few times. Finally, I hit a streak of dealer busts on high counts to come away with a $350 win during this short session. Now up $1,170 for the trip, I headed back to my hotel room for some rest and relaxation before the main Green Chip party tonight.
The party was great. Everyone was there at an off-Strip bar and grill near the UNLV campus. I had a few comped beers from their extensive menu and ate ribs, chicken, beans and salad. The card counting contest was won by Wylie, with his wife Ma Barker coming in second. Wylie got $100 if I remember correctly, plus a trophy cup. His winning time was 13.1 seconds for scanning through one of several numbered single decks and then naming the sole card that had been removed. After dinner, Stanford Wong interviewed Tony Dalben about his precedent-setting case as I described earlier.
Since it was Saturday night, I decided to hit the hay early and wait until grave shift to play when it would be less crowded. The next morning I hit the Mirage again. After forty-five minutes, I had doubled my $300 buy-in and cashed out. They’re real sharp at the Mirage and I wanted to continue to milk that nice double-deck game as long as possible. No sense overstaying my welcome.
I got together with Double 21, an old friend, for coffee at Starbuck’s. We discussed places to play and his confusion over why Don Schlesinger found it necessary to create his SCORE concept, when all it measures is the win rate. Double 21 figures that "win rate is the sum of frequency distribution times loss/win rate times dollar bet for all true counts." Over our coffee drinks, he wondered out loud, "why Don goes to the trouble of calculating SCORE, which is DI squared, when all it gives, using his precise model assumptions, is win rate. Why not just compare win rates for various games to evaluate them rather than SCORE? DI, by the way, is calculated by dividing win rate by standard deviation times 100."
The only comment I could make was to tell him what Don once told me― that SCORE was also a way to compare different count systems. Double 21 had posted about this nagging question but received no satisfactory answer as yet.
After we parted, I decided on a run at Texas Station, Fiesta Rancho and Santa Fe Station. At Texas, I started losing and took the rest of the hour to get even. At Fiesta, I was disappointed in the 60% cut I got head’s-up at the lone double-deck game, so I played only fifteen minutes and lost $200.
At Santa Fe, all tables were crowded. Then I finally found a seat at a $10 double-deck table. There were two to three other players at all times, so I only stayed for thirty minutes. Due to some $100 double-downs that prevailed near the end, I wound up winning $510, to raise my trip win total to $1,780. I returned to my hotel room for a shower and a few hours of rest in preparation for the last Green Chip even of the weekend. As usual, the Green Chippers still in town would gather at a bar for a buffet dinner and to hear Bootlegger sing while playing his guitar. Since I was to sing a duet with him, I prepared by studying the lyrics to Jackson that he had emailed me.
Editor’s Note: The conclusion of Barfarkel’s Trip Report will appear in the December issue of BJI.
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