Blackjack vendetta (Intro): Defeat and obsession

Six decks of Blackjack cards, table and discard tray.

Blackjack vendetta begins: six decks of cards, my improvised table and the discard tray made of resin.

I began playing Blackjack on Christmas Eve, 2013. After learning the basics on the Web, I taught my niece and played with her to see who would end up with the highest stake. I applied Basic Strategy and she didn’t. Sometimes she would look at me and ask “What should I do?” – I would then peek at my computer and say something like “Theoretically you should hit”. Sometimes she would comply; sometimes she would complain and do as she wanted. We played the entire holidays and, although I had a great time and came to love the game, I lost consecutively.

Note: my niece was only eight.

I then assigned myself to a personal vendetta and decided to learn the game. A friend made me a discard tray out of resin and I improvised a Blackjack table out of an old wooden table and some felt. I joined an excellent Blackjack forum and was introduced to a brave new world. I made a fantastic new friend online, who sent me six decks of actual casino-used playing cards and taught me the ins and outs of the game. I bought Blackjack software and mobile apps and began counting cards everywhere. From that Christmas onwards, I trained rigorously for seven months, and then went to Las Vegas for the first time.

Every time my niece saw me during those days, I’d have a pack of cards in my hand. She would then ask “All that because I beat you last Christmas?” and I’d answer “Yes” with an angry smile. Of course, I wanted much less to beat her back than to show her how awesome her uncle was when he beat the casinos.

But apart from that, something was driving me towards that trip with an ever-strengthening grip. Maybe it was the desire for adventure, the lure of “easy money” or the challenge itself. I don’t know now and I didn’t know then. But I trained and trained. Obsessively. I used a mobile app in-between weight-training sessions in the gym, during stupid meetings or even in the bathroom. I counted cards using the same app while running on the treadmill and listening to audiobooks. I would count the license plates of cars while commuting to work at 150 miles per hour with my sport bike. I’d deal myself six hands and play them all using a combination of perfect Basic Strategy and cover plays, while applying my carefully-designed cover betting scheme, talking to my wife and having one or more glasses of whisky. I also made a counting drill program in MATLAB to practice exactly the way I wanted. Eventually, I could count down a physical pack of cards in 15 seconds and a digital one in 10.4 seconds, two cards at a time. The departure date finally approached and I felt ready.

How oblivious I was to the roller-coaster of emotions that would soon set me in much more than a mental journey through cards and numbers, but into an inner journey towards my own character… or the lack thereof.


Tomorrow I’ll begin a short series of posts that tells the story of this first trip. These posts were modified from the original ones, published in the paid section of the Blackjack forum I mentioned, where my nickname was “Skull”. I advise you go there (I mean the free portion of the website) for topnotch discussions on all aspects of the game.

(Continues on Riding the positive wave >>)

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