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Winning at the Big 3

Everyone's got a buddy or an Uncle with winning gambling strategies, here are some that actually work.
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 3)

The most basic of basic strategies is that players hit with 16 and under as long as the dealer is showing a seven or higher. More detailed strategies and card counting systems can be found in the book, Blackjack For Blood, a bible for serious players. To brush up at home, Tall suggests, order a computer program called Ne Plus Ultra: The Master Course and Practicum. "It will teach you to count cards," promises Tall, "and uses flash cards to help you with memorization."

But it's more than just playing the cards at the table. Being successful at blackjack has a lot to do with how you handle the money in your wallet. "Let's say you have a mythical bankroll of $1,000," Tall suggests, leading the way through the high-end shopping mall that fronts the Bellagio. "Try to avoid betting more than 2 to 3 percent of that bankroll at any given time. And never chase your losses. I've seen guys lose two or three bets and then they start doubling up to win their money back. They think they're due for a win, but I don't believe in 'being due.' I've seen too many guys get unlucky; they count cards like foxes but can't catch a good hand and find it impossible to win. The public comes to Las Vegas with the intention of gambling for the entire time that they're here. Instead of taking a break when they're losing, they head for the ATM machine. You get angry, you probably have a few drinks, you chase money. How can you possibly win?"

After cruising the Bellagio's blackjack pits, Tall comes upon a table with a two-deck shoe and a $25 minimum. Perfect for our purposes. He stands around the table awkwardly for a couple minutes, fumbling through his pockets, looking for his money, moving very slowly. What he's doing is watching the cards being dealt for two hands and contemplating the status of the deck. Judging by all the low cards hitting the table, he figures it's heavy in 10s and aces -- a real advantage for players. Tall lays down a $50 bet and hits blackjack immediately.

Since his two cards are the only high ones on the table -- and it seems as if 10s and aces should be rolling out in rich profusion -- he bets $100 on the next hand. A pair of fives come his way, he doubles down, and draws an ace. He shifts down to $50 for a third hand and gets a 17 to the dealer's 15; she promptly goes over. While Tall clearly is getting good cards, he is also maximizing his opportunities, and the display being put on here is impressive. The dealer shuffles her double decks and Tall wagers only $25 because he has no clue as to what cards will be coming next. They turn out to be ace-three for him and a visible six for her.

Tall doubles down and draws an ace. Then she turns up her bottom card to reveal a 16, exactly what Tall figured she'd have. But she draws an ace, instead of the expected 10, which turns out to be the fourth ace dealt in this single hand. He watches as the dealer sweeps away his $25 chips that had been on the table. Then Tall suddenly gathers up the $700 in front of him, looks at me, and says, "We be gone."

"That's it?" I ask, a little disappointed at having watched him for such a short session.

"Once four aces are out, that deck is shot," he says. "There's nothing there for us anymore. Besides, we almost doubled our money." Eagle-eyeing around the casino for a place to cash out his winnings, he says, "Here's another thing to remember: when you win money, it's not the casino's money anymore, it's yours. A real fallacy is when people think they're playing with the casino's money, so they play looser. Once you win the money, it's yours. Take it. Then leave the casino."

And that is exactly what we do.

Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.

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