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Vegas Vacation
Tuesday, 24 August 2004
You Can't Play Here
“Go ahead and color up. You’re welcome to play anything but blackjack.”

That’s how I finally got kicked out of the Golden Nugget. The best part is, I had decided independent of that edict that I was finished. I had to catch a shuttle to the airport in 2 hours, and I still needed to shower, eat, and pack. Now I can count up my money and see that I’m down $32.41, aside from plane and hotel costs. That means that since I left my house last Friday night, I have $32.41 less in my pocket, and I managed to get here and feed myself.

It would have been nice to win, but I’m just glad to get back near even since I was down nearly $1300 at my lowest point. Also, it’s pretty good that I got chased out of every casino that offered a decent single deck blackjack game. That means that even if I had won, I would have been forced to give up the dream of gambling full time and go back to medical school, which really seems like the best plan for me.

Getting banned from casinos just for playing a game well really makes me think though. At first, I understood the casinos point of view. I’m playing the game in a way that they lose money, so they are allowed to stop me from playing. But then, I started to get mad. It’s a form of discrimination against intelligent people. Smart people don’t gamble when they don’t have an advantage, and casinos are designed to take money from idiots. Wouldn’t it be noble to fight against an evil enterprise? I completely understand how counters like the MIT group form teams and try to cheat. Seriously, why do casinos even offer games that can be beat just by putting a little effort into it? Now I’m pissed again. Screw all casinos. I’m going to learn how to control dice, and then I’ll take Vegas for millions. Just wait. I’m kidding, but seriously, craps is the way to go if you want to get drunk cheaply. On the Don’t Pass Line, you lose 0.29% every throw. If you get one throw per minute, that’s $1.74 per hour at a $10 table. Now how many top shelf vodka drinks can you throw down per hour? I’m just looking for the best way to beat the system.

Posted by theforce/sidedish at 10:17 AM PDT
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Monday, 23 August 2004
Slowly Getting Back To Even
So there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I haven’t written in a while. First, this server was being modified, and I kept getting an error message. But later, I stopped trying since I was losing badly, and I didn’t really feel like announcing it. Aside from flight and hotel costs, I was down $1300 at the very worst. I had taken to playing at really shitty casinos with $3 and $2 minimum tables to keep from losing everything. Really, I was surrounded by the scum of the Earth, and I hated life.

The thing that really changed for me was when I met another card counter at the Gold Spike. I had been spreading my bets from $5-$25 at a $2-$50 table, not spreading my bets all the way to keep from being too obvious. But the guy next to me was spreading the entire way. Eventually, we were the only two at the table, and we played from 4am until about 8am, playing something like 400 hands an hour. I loved it. We were talking openly about counting, showing each other our cards to make our play more precise. Then, finally, after 4 hours, on a very good count, the pit boss says, “Shuffle. I’m sick of this shit.” And every time after that I tried to bet high, the dealer would shuffle. They knew me at the Gold Spike, and I couldn’t go back there. But this was a good thing. Here’s the shit I had to put up with at the Gold Spike. Drunk people spilling beer on the table and falling out of their chair. A stupid player doubling down on a hard 12, repeatedly. Street urchins wandering in to beg for money. Really, I was glad to be forced to play the $10 table at the Golden Nugget again, the one warm center in the giant turd that is downtown Vegas.

Why did I have to play at the Golden Nugget?
Las Vegas Club-poor penetration
Four Queens-they know me as a counter here
Gold Spike-they know me as a counter here
El Cortez-poor penetration, and one pit boss kicked me out once

What is so great about the Golden Nugget? Fast play, no heat, intelligent players, one supremely hot cocktail waitress and a few others that aren’t bad plus a hoard of 20 something people that wouldn’t go to the other places. Is it that surprising that I’m happier when I’m with people that are richer, more intelligent, and more attractive? So here’s my new game. I play at the Golden Nugget any time they have a single deck table with $10 or even $5 minimum. When they only have $25 tables, I play $5 double deck at the Plaza. This is working out well for me, and I’m much happier at these places than at the Gold Spike or the El Cortez. In fact, I’m making my money back. I stand before you now only down $150. I even popped up above even for a few minutes. So I’m still not winning any money, but I’m doing better than I was, and I’m happier than I was. Plus, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. I could never play blackjack for a living. Even after getting my second wind, I’m still looking forward to getting the hell out of here. Maybe I’d be happier playing on the Strip.

Posted by theforce/sidedish at 12:51 AM PDT
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Monday, 16 August 2004
Hot Hot Heat and Bad Bad Luck
Well, I knew I wouldn’t make money every day, but I hoped when I did lose that it wouldn’t have been this much. I caught the worst run of cards, and the dealers where mostly on fire. In fact, there was such a run of dealer blackjacks that a dealer said to me, “You must have a sense. Every time you bet high, I get blackjack.” Thanks for rubbing it in, jerk.

I’m also getting a lot more heat than I expected. I haven’t been told to leave except for the one time, but I’ve had one pit boss scan the discard pile and another tell the dealer to shuffle early. I’ve even let pit boss attention affect my play. The one time I had the opportunity to split 10s, I didn’t do it. I bet $75 and won, but if I had split, I may have won $300. But then again, I may have lost. The point is that the heat is getting to me, and I bounce from a table as soon as I get any. Then, I can’t return to that casino until there’s a shift change. This has forced me to memorize information about when shift changes occur and which pit bosses to avoid. Here’s what I’ve learned, broken down by casino.

The Las Vegas Club
Between 1-4 open single deck tables with $5 and $10 minimums. I tend not to get too much heat from these pit bosses. The bad part is that they have horrible penetration, and I have no advantage if there are more than 3 other players at every table.

Golden Nugget
2 single deck tables. Fortunately, I’ve never gotten any heat here, not even when I was here last month or in March. The bad part is that both tables have been $25 minimum since 6:30pm on Saturday. As soon as they drop back to $10 minimum, I’ll be there.

4 Queens
1 single deck table that is always $10 minimum and watched very closely. Shifts change at 3am, 11am, and 7pm. That means I can draw heat 3 times in a day. What happens when I see the same pit boss again? We may find out tomorrow.

Gold Spike
Between 1-3 open single deck tables with limits of either $2-$50 or $5-$50. In the evening, I sat at a $5 minimum table and enjoyed myself very much. When I went back at night, there was only a single $2 minimum table to play at, and playing at it sucked balls. The dealer was slow and so were the players. Really, speed is important when playing blackjack. Preferably, I’d be the only person at a table with a quick dealer. We could probably bust out 400 hands per hour. At the Gold Spike, I’d be surprised if I played 30 hands the hour I was there tonight. I’ll check in here often and hope for a fast dealer.

El Cortez
10 single deck tables with $3 or $5 minimum. I would love to play here all the time. I went back tonight, but the pit boss that kicked me out last time was still there. I’ll go back tomorrow afternoon and hope he only works the night shifts.

Now there was a time around 10pm last night where I had already drawn heat from the 4 Queens’ pit boss, the Las Vegas Club was too crowded, and I felt like playing at a place where I could bet more than $50 on a good count. What did I do? I went to my room and studied up for the second best game in Las Vegas, double deck blackjack. The tables are very similar, so it isn’t tough to transition between the two. Plus, it’s a lot easier to play without drawing pit boss attention. The problem is that my advantage is reduced. Where I have about a 1.1% advantage in a single deck game, I have about a 0.7% advantage in a double deck game. Still, I have the advantage so I’ll play it. Unfortunately, the hour I played a double deck game was also when I caught my worst string of cards. I lost $353 in that one hour at that one table. I decided to stick to single deck games unless I was absolutely forced to play double deck. Then, I lost even more money at various single deck games around town. I’m really just looking forward to a new day and a fresh start.

Day 3 losses: $510.11
Total Cost of trip: $977.40

Posted by theforce/sidedish at 4:50 AM PDT
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Sunday, 15 August 2004

I know you’re all curious, and hopefully you bet on it. In fact, I’m really curious what the over/under was. And the answer is....23 hours from arriving at my hotel until I got kicked out of my first casino. More on that later.

12:15am Saturday
Hotel check-in. At this point, I really wanted to start gambling, and I was getting overly frustrated at the amount of time it took to check me in. There’s no reason that a person should have to type for 10 minutes to get my key for a prepaid reservation. After I complained, she explained that she had been trying to move other reservations around so that I could have a non-smoking room. First, nothing in Las Vegas is non-smoking. There is a funk that permeates the entire city. From the time until step off the plane in Vegas until you take your second shower back home, you stink. Second, shouldn’t the hotel reservation software have already assigned me a room? The entire process should be: show my ID, get my key. What else needs to be done that a computer program can’t do? I’m calling all software engineers to action. The entire process needs to be fixed, and you could make tons of money by writing the standard hotel reservation software package. I’m looking your way Chris and Rich.

12:30am-4am Saturday
Gambling in my favorite casino, The Las Vegas Club. Nothing spectacular to report.

Day 0 winnings: $134.50
Total cost of trip: $757.00

1pm-8pm Saturday
Gambling in the Golden Nugget. The most exciting thing happened while I was eating lunch. My table had a nice view of the poker room, and while I was eating, paramedics arrived with a stretcher and a crowd started to form. Naturally, I joined the crowd to see what was going on. I couldn’t see much, but I man was definitely lying on the ground and being treated. I decided not to probe too much. When I walked past the poker room later, I saw a worker cleaning the carpet where the man had been lying. I’m still wondering what he was cleaning up. Sweat? Blood? Piss? I guess we’ll never know.

The reason I had to finally leave the Golden Nugget was that I simply couldn’t hold it anymore. At 6:30pm, they changed the 2 single deck tables from $10 to $25. Fortunately, everybody playing at that time was grandfathered in, and we could still bet less than $25, until we left the table that is. Well, I held it for another 90 minutes, but when my back started to hurt, I knew I had to give it up.

8pm-9:15pm Saturday
Gambling in the Las Vegas Club. The good thing about the Las Vegas Club is that there are at some times 4 single deck blackjack tables. The bad thing about the Las Vegas Club is that the penetration is ridiculously poor. If there are 5 or more people at a table, the dealer shuffles after one hand. Well, I got lucky and found a table with only 3 people sitting at it. When I sat down, they all grumbled, and I soon found out why. Everyone was a card counter. We weren’t all using the same system, or maybe the others just made a better effort to mask their play, but when the count was high, we all had high bets. It was great. We even shared cool card-counter moments like the following.

Basic strategy says that you hit a 12 against a dealer’s 3. A counter stands when the count is 2 or higher. Well, I had a 12 against a dealer’s 3, and the count was 7. I stood, and the dealer bust, which would not have happened if I had hit. The guy next to me saw what I did and said, “That’s the right move.” “I know.” “In that situation.” And in my best Morpheus impression, I said, “I know exactly what you mean,” as if at that moment we were the only 2 people that saw the true way to play the game. Our party was finally brought to an end when a fifth person sat down at the table. We all looked at each other, and I took the bullet and left the table to bring the number of players back down to 4. One of the others tried to stop me by announcing that he was going to eat dinner soon, but I had decided I wanted to explore other casinos.

9:15-11pm Saturday
Gambling at the El Cortez. I was taking a survey of all the casinos to see where I could play. The Four Queens has one single deck table, but it was full when I saw it. I decided to check out Binion’s Horseshoe again, but they still have only 6:5 blackjack, one of the most evil inventions ever. No other places even had blackjack tables until I stumbled upon the El Cortez. There were 10 single deck tables with lower limits of either $3 or $5. I thought I had discovered blackjack heaven. There were no other counters there. Everybody I played with played like an idiot. The reason for that is probably that they have the best pit boss I’ve ever seen. He didn’t even seem to be paying attention to me until the following occurred.

The pit boss leans over the table and sees my $25 bet at a $5 table. He looks at me, walks to the phone and has the quickest conversation I’ve ever seen. I didn’t hear what he said, but I knew what it meant. I try to cash out, but it’s too late. He’s there. He says, “You’re leaving?” “Yes.” “Well that’s good, and I suggest you play elsewhere from now on.” I didn’t say another word. It’s the same type of feeling when you get caught speeding, but not nearly as bad. I had actually dropped about $100 at that casino, and I going try playing there again in about 2 days. Still, I must tip my hat to that pit boss.

11:30pm Saturday-3:30am Sunday
Gambling in the Four Queens. I stumbled upon a theory which I plan to test over the next couple of days. Talk nicely with the pit bosses, and they won’t think you’re a card counter. This theory is still in development, but I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

Day 1 winnings: $289.71
Total cost of trip: $467.29

Posted by theforce/sidedish at 5:03 PM PDT
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Thursday, 12 August 2004
It's now less than 48 hours before I take off for my most ambitious gambling endeavor ever. My goal is to take Vegas for at least $4000 without losing my bankroll of $3306. Before I start, here are the ground rules I've established for my bankroll since my first trip to Atlantic City at the ripe old age of 20.

1. The bankroll consists of gambling winnings only.

2. Any money spent while on a gambling trip is a loss.

This means that from the time I leave my house on the evening of Friday the 13th until I arrive in Chicago on August 24th, every meal I eat, every stripper I tip, every bail bond I post, will come out of my bankroll. Unfortunately, this means that my bankroll is already down to $2415 after flight and hotel costs, and by the time I pay for airport shuttles, it'll be even less before I even sit down at a table.

I've already downloaded a free AOL trial so that I can check my e-mail and participate in the 3 fantasy football drafts I have scheduled during my vacation. I figured I could also entertain those stuck at work while I'm wasting away at the blackjack table. Also, if I even reach the first milestone listed below, I'll be able to convince at least one skeptic to join Jeff and me in Vegas for Spring Break next year.

$3306 means that I made money on the trip.

$6411 means I'll play the $25 two-deck table at Goldie's as much as possible during school.

$15000 means I'll rent out a dance club and throw a party for everybody I know in Seattle at some point in November. I think this is the threshold most people care about.

I'll update this blog at least once a day, and I include everything about gambling, girls, and pit bosses. I might even tell you how my fantasy football drafts turned out. And so that you have a feeling for where I am, I'm attaching a map of downtown Vegas. I'm staying in the Plaza. I have a feeling most of my gambling will take place in the Las Vegas Club, the Golden Nugget, and the Four Queens.

Wish me luck.

Posted by theforce/sidedish at 4:43 AM PDT
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