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Blackjack Counters

Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Rush Limbaugh, Spring 94

(continued from page 2)

In 1986, though, using computers--concealed or not--became illegal in Nevada. After a confederate was severely beaten and extorted in the basement of one well-known Strip casino, Ron returned to straight counting. "It became almost impossible to make a living," he recalls. "I was banned from just about every casino in the world. Forget Vegas, I couldn't even play in Europe. One week a friend and I tried to play down in the Bahamas. They made us give back everything we had won, maybe $50,000, and we each spent a night in jail. The world--not just Vegas--has grown very intolerant of counters."

But on Fight Night everything changes. He's like a convict on work release.

Perched on the edge of his chair, resting a hand precariously low on the blonde's back (she's an escort rented for the evening), Ron appears to be concentrating on everything in Caesars but the cards. He's joking with the dealer, splashing his $500 and $1,000 chips in messy piles, casting lascivious glances at the seductively clad women strolling past. You can see what the pit boss is thinking behind his obsequious smile: "What a fool."

For nearly an hour Ron bets the minimum, seldom changing the size of his bets despite the occasional richness of the deck. He is, however, letting his comely companion play a spot every so often, in effect doubling the amount he is wagering. In a few rounds, Ron and his lady are up several thousand dollars. A crowd begins to form around the table. You can hear people whispering, "He's betting a thousand a hand" and "Look at all those chips." Everyone is mesmerized by the magnitude of his wagering--everyone, that is, except Ron, who appears more interested in working his fingers into the blonde's dress.

A large crowd, according to Ron, provides good cover. The casino is loath to boot out a customer--especially one who's betting so big--in front of other patrons. When five hands in a row produce a disproportionate number of low cards, Ron makes his move.

Looking like a bitter drunk who's miffed at losing his last three hands, Ron covers four different spots with $2,000 each. The pit boss takes a step closer to the table. The woman, seemingly on her own volition, takes a handful of chips and stacks them on the other spots. She looks at Ron for approval. "What the fuck!" he yells. "You feel lucky? Go ahead! Go ahead; it's only money!" The table is loaded with four $5,000 bets. He's successfully increased his wager nearly twentyfold--and the deck is clearly in his favor.

The dealer has an eight up. The woman, peeking at the cards, reveals Ron's hands: a 20, a blackjack, a 12 and a 19. Ron hits the 12 and busts; naturally he stands on the others. The dealer flips over her hole card, a 10. He wins three out of four, including a blackjack: $12,500 profit.

Ron must be tempted to return to a minimum bet; the deck is no longer rich. Instead, to the crowd's delight (and no doubt the pit boss's, too), Ron yells, "Let it ride! What the hell, double the son of a bitch!" His escort stacks the chips into $10,000 columns. The pit boss grins. The dealer takes a deep breath. And before a card can be dealt, Ron spills his drink all over the table.

The woman shakes her head. "That's bad luck," she says, pulling back the bets. "I know," Ron says to nobody in particular. "The cards are getting cold." Pushing the dealer two $100 chips, Ron gathers his tokens and stumbles to the next table.

For the next six hours, well into the wee hours of the morning, Ron continues to work. Shortly before the sun rises on Las Vegas, when the all-night gamblers start to drink black coffee instead of whiskey, Ron quits. He's up nearly $90,000. "I gotta stop," he says to the dealer. "My luck is changing." Ron leaves one last $100 tip and smiles at the pit boss. "You can never be too superstitious," he announces. "Especially when it comes to cards."

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