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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Santa Cruz' Rules of Blackjack



So. I’m sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas. Well, supposedly I am in New York, New York, but you can’t get a decent bagel here, the people are nice and the place doesn’t smell like pee.

I’m sitting in the sixth chair – the one the dealer deals with last. Sitting next to me, in order, are 29 Palms, La Habra, Orange County (frat boys identify themselves by their hometowns), Maria, and the Rotating Guest Chair of Death. The boys and Maria are friends and all are positively decoupaged with booze. The boys are all drinking frozen daiquiris that come in gigantic plastic tubes that are shaped kinda like oboes. Plastic oboes in neon colors with Krazy Straws sticking out of the tops.

The daiquiri mixture is mostly gone now, but they are adding to it by ordering a variety of hard liquors from Jen, our dubious waitress, and then pouring these back into their plastic oboes, where I can imagine them eating away at the cheap plastic. The smell from these things is searing to the eyes.

I can’t imagine what it tastes like, but “Fiery Death” would seem to be close. I mean, it’s like a Screwing-Harvey-the-Zombie-Kamikaze-on-the-beach-during-a-Hurricane. Blech. Even Tracy, our veteran dealer is turning green. Down the table Maria is downing a tumbler of peppermint schnapps every 15 minutes. At the end of an hour she is asking Jen for “another peppershit pops, pleash”.

Some of these are so big they come with straps.
No, really. (from vegas chatter.com)
The frat boys were at the “Party on – Excellent” stage of inebriation. This is the stage just after the “airing of the grievances” and just before the “2nd amendment roadtrip”. Due to a communication error during our introductions (La Habra belched and farted at the same time) the frat boys thought I was gay. But this was not a problem at all for the Three Muscatels. Maria looked disappointed though, which was nice.

Somehow I had completed the tribe and Santa Cruz (as I was known) was in the house, representin, kickin’ it old school, and keepin’ it real. Whatever all THAT means.

What became obvious though was that they were losing and I was winning. Not suddenly, not dramatically, but slowly and steadily. Over the course of our three hours together the four fuzzy friends lost between $200 and $300 per hour – per person. The many short-timers in the Rotating Guest Chair of Death chipped in another $100 - $200 per hour. Me? I walked away with $500 bucks profit, not counting 50 bucks in tips to Tracy the dealer and Jen the cocktail waitress.

Around midnight though, 29 Palms (who was nearest me) had a moment of relative clarity and asked me – in the 90 decibel whisper that only drunks can achieve – how I was doing it. And by ‘it’ he meant winning when he was losing.

Early the next morning, while I took my daily constitutional, strolling through the empty bars and closed restaurants of New York, New York, watching the janitorial crew picking pieces of barf out of the slot of a slot machine - I thought about 29 Palms’ question. Why WAS I winning when they were losing? It wasn’t as simple as they had sauteed their brains in formadehyde while I had not. And I realized that over the years I had concocted quite a few rituals and rules about playing blackjack.

So for you 29 Palms, and for La Habra, Orange County and Maria this is Santa Cruz’ 10 rules to gamble by.
A hand that has Doubled Down. (Wikipedia)
  1. Stay sober. So obvious it apparently needs to be stated in 30 foot high letters of fire. The odds are against you by rule. The house is against you by design – and that design is pronounced “Al-co-hol”. There is a reason why the drinks are free, the cocktail waitresses wear push-up bras and why casinos install bars every 50 yards. And that reason is pronounced “Pro-fit”.
  2. Play to have fun. Sitting down at a blackjack table with the intent of winning is a sure recipe for a short night and a long face. The necessary mindset is to play freely with the money you have set aside for this purpose. If you lose it (and the odds are that you will), then you had a good time doing it. And there is no way to win without the mindset that you are not afraid of losing. (This also applies to Life, by the way.)
  3. Know the game. If you want to have fun at blackjack, it behooves you to do the math. Know the odds for each situation beforehand: This will help you break even. And know when to Split and when to Double Down: this is where the opportunity to profit comes in.
  4. Play the last position at the table. This way you see a lot of cards before you have to make a decision, which increases your odds. And being on the wing means that you only have a smelly drunk and / or smoker on one side of you.
  5. Play at the appropriate table. If you only have $100 to spend that night don’t go to the $25.00 table – you only have 4 minimum bets, you’ll be tense, and you’ll play conservatively and lose. That is what happened repeatedly at the Rotating Guest Chair of Death. And why it was known as such.
  6. It’s is an art as well as a science. Under the hood Blackjack is a simple spreadsheet of odds. But that’s not much fun. So I also go by feeling. I vary my bets. I take risks occasionally if the energy is right. It is this mix of the coldly calculated and the deeply mysterious that make casino blackjack so fascinating. The opposite of this of course is playing frustrated. If you get mad at the table you start playing recklessly and voila you lose real big and real quick and you get really mad at the dealer. And then the Security goons repel down from the ceiling and drag your broke ass away and break it some more.
  7. Pocket your profits. This is THE key. I play at the $10.00 tables mostly, and whenever I get a winning hand from a large bet or from Splitting or Doubling Down I am rewarded with a different color chip. These go immediately into my back pocket, where they stay. So during the whole evening it appeared that I was just breaking even. Just once though, when the pitboss was changing the cards, I asked Tracy the dealer to ‘color me up’ because it was getting uncomfortable to be sitting, literally, on all of these profits. When I pulled out my stash the frat boys gaped in astonishment and then set up a deafening chant of  “Santa Cruz! Santa Cruz!” When Tracy the dealer stopped laughing she gave me a pretty purple $500.00 chip and I put it in my back pocket and sat down on my stake again. And that shut up the frat boys – for awhile.
  8. Stay focused. This would seem as obvious as staying sober. But casinos will go to any extreme to grab your attention AWAY from your rent money on the table. Above each table at New York, New York is a big screen High Definition TV tuned to a sports channel. And each table is tuned to a different one, so in view for each player are about 3 different sports highlight shows. Add to that the thumpin’ soundtrack pulsing throughout the casino (Tracy and I harmonized on old Culture Club and Scorpions songs), the super hot cocktail waitresses and the concoctions that they provide and you have the perfect storm of distraction: Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll AND Sports. Oh, and play the tables, not the machines. Even though the Blackjack machines have less distraction, they are also super boring. And people vomit on them from time to time.
  9. Be nice to your dealer and don’t piss off the pit boss. Face up blackjack means that you never (and I mean never in 30 foot high letters of fire) you NEVER touch your cards. Once your bet is in it’s little circle you don’t even put your hands on the table. Instead you indicate your intentions with a couple of simple hand gestures. And there is a reason for this. A reason that the pickled frat boys kept forgetting. They kept announcing their intentions, loudly, until Tracy had to lean over and proclaim very distinctly: “The. Camera. Can’t. Hear. You.” And that shut them up. For awhile.
  10. Walk away when you’re done. Have fun and lose your gambling money. That’s what it’s for. Then go see the shows, ride the rides and campout in the buffets. Maybe actually open the book that you brought from home. When the chips in front of me are gone I call it a night, whether or not I have any profits in my backpocket. Furthermore, I have a set amount for each day that I gamble, so I don’t blow it all on the first day. This time though I had to leave because after 12 Sprites from Jen I was cramping and my bladder was the size of a baseketball.
Yay! Now pocket that chip! (Wikipedia)
So that’s it. My 10 rules of having fun at Blackjack. Of course this wasn’t what I told 29 Palms when he asked me why I was winning and he was losing. He wouldn’t have understood my strategies in his advanced state of marination.

So I told him I was winning because I was gay. He considered that, blinked a couple of times, took another hookah drag of his milky brown cocktail of crud, announced “OKAY!” and gave me a fist bump.

All in all it was a great evening for everyone. I had a blast playing cards in my favorite environment, which was my sole objective (though I left with $500 more than I came with). Tracy the dealer had a great time because she didn’t have an empty table to stare at for 8 hours. The New York, New York casino had a great time because by my calculations they took in about $1,000 an hour in profit from our one table. And the Frat kids had a great time, even if they would pay for it the next morning – and the next month when their parent’s Visa bill came in.

Angus McMahan
angusmcmahan@gmail.com
@AngusMcMahan

P.S. Unpacking I found another $100.00 chip. D’oh!

1 comment:

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