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Playing with the Pros

Our intrepid gambling columnist goes head-to-head with some of blackjack's top guns and holds his own
Michael Kaplan
From the Print Edition:
Kurt Russell, May/June 2006

(continued from page 2)

For five days here in L.A., on a high-tech stage set, complete with red velvet curtains and swirling lasers, 49 tournament hotshots have spent afternoons and evenings angling for a chance to win $300,000. On the last day of the finals, winners from each of those seven tournaments crowd around a single championship table and prepare to take a shot at the money. Remaining in action are two Daves (hyperkinetic Hollywood Dave, who sports a tight pullover shirt and black leather wristbands to go with his spiky hair, and David Matthews, a lanky dude who is not the famous singer but a former professional gambler who now works for a gambling-related publisher); Rock 'n' Roll Darrell Arnold, who's got black hair streaked with red and more tattoos than a card counter could catalog; blackjack nerd Ken Smith; pimped-out looking Tyrone Jackson; an elegant Asian woman who goes by the name of Adriana Jade; and Monica Reeves, a tyro blackjacker whose boyfriend is the professional poker player Jim "Krazy Kanuck" Worth (at least one fan in the online world has joked that the statuesque Reeves ought to be nicknamed "Big Pair").


None of the contestants are exactly shy. Right from the start they are all perfectly comfortable in soliciting high fives and cheers from the studio audience. Following a particularly strong play, Hollywood Dave autographs a card and flips it into the cheap seats. On the sixth hand (an elimination round), miniskirted Monica asks the crowd whether she should go all in. They roar affirmatively. And she is happy to have listened as she lucks into an 18 against the dealer's 5. But after the under-card reveals itself to be an ace, and a 3 comes on the hit, well, it's bye-bye Monica.

A couple hands later, Tyrone Jackson busts out after mistakenly going all in (he meant to hold back $1,000 in chips). Following Tyrone's departure, Ken Smith loses most of his stack and Hollywood Dave gleefully taunts, "You must feel sick. Like you want to vomit in your shoes."

By the 16th hand, Hollywood Dave is out of the game and so is Smith. The competition is down to David Matthews, Adriana Jade and Rock 'n' Roll Darrell. All three, to varying degrees, are blackjack experts. They've played tournaments before and are unlikely to get rattled by the money at stake, the bright lights or the crowd. But no matter how steady these three may feel, one of them will be eliminated this round.

Because Rock 'n' Roll Darrell is trailing significantly on hand 16, he pushes his entire stack ($89,000) into the betting circle. In second place, Matthews is nearly a lock to survive this round and risks a minimum bet of $1,000. Adriana, in first place, is a lock and she wagers $16,000. It works for two of the players: When Rock 'n' Roll Darrell stands on 13 and the dealer makes an 18, he struts offstage with a sign of the devil cockily flashed toward the audience.

By hand 26, the final elimination round, a winner will be declared. But in reality, it doesn't even take that long. Adriana loses three hands in a row, busts out on round 20 and leaves David Matthews the only remaining player. He jumps skyward, gives her an enormous bear hug, does a victory lap around the set and, no doubt, spends the rest of the day trying to figure out how he's going to spend his 300 grand.

Michael Kaplan is Cigar Aficionado's gambling columnist.

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