Blackjack vendetta (Part I): Riding the positive variance wave

(If you haven’t already, you should read << Blackjack vendetta – Intro first)

Surfing wave with rocks underneath.

A nice ephemeral wave… full of rocks underneath.
(by Jeremy Bishop / CC0 1.0)

I stayed ten days in Vegas with a rental car and, even so, many of my toes got blisters. After only three days, my eyes burned with the smoke and my head hurt because of the dryness and the stress. My voice became hoarse too. The casinos blatantly reminded me that my vision is not perfect anymore and that I should have made those long-needed glasses before the trip — my blurred vision only contributed to my headaches (and maybe the free drinks too). The constant flux of semi-naked women almost ended my marriage and to make up for my naughty eyes, I had to finance such a huge amount of buying that I was afraid not to be capitalised enough to keep my game going. Hours after the day’s sessions ended, my mind kept counting. It was just random non-stop counting, so I eventually decided I should actually count something in order to feel less crazy. Solution: women +1, men -1, others 0. I don’t have to tell you that it didn’t take long for the count to reach positive grounds.

Man, I loved all that! I loved walking around looking for opportunities and knowing I had an edge (or, at least, hoping so). I loved to see everyone there just to spend money while I was there to work and make money. I loved when I stood in front of those huge hotel-casino buildings and, although trembling with anticipation, I thought: “I’ll put up a good fight, you’ll see!”.

Well, that was not really the case at first though. I hated when I first sat down at a Blackjack table and could hardly play Basic Strategy right. I was so paranoid with cover that I wanted to talk so much and disguise my counting so much that, needless to say, I lost the count. I then did what I was taught to do: I left. What I couldn’t realise then because of my nervousness was that I was flat betting. This was just a trial run. Without varying my bets with the count, there was no need whatsoever to leave the table when losing the count — I was just playing Basic Strategy. Nevertheless, I got lucky and left with a decent win (my first real win ever), but it felt terrible because I had done everything wrong.

Decided to make things right this time, I played two more sessions somewhere else. But, believe it or not, both were 6:5 Blackjack. I had simply forgotten to check this little “detail”. This was my first day right out of the airplane, so I decided I was too tired to play at all and went to sleep. Before actually falling asleep, I couldn’t stop thinking I was realising a dream that grew inside me during seven months of training. I thought of the guys in the forum and of all the stories I had read and all the teachings I had received for free. I thought about my great friend who had taught me so much. I was decided to make it work, so I forced myself to sleep and to go to battle recharged the next day.

To make a long story short, I won quite a lot for the next four days. I was very happy. I was not only not losing, but I was winning. And a lot. To be more precise, I was up more than two times my expected value (EV) for 50 hours of play (my plan for the trip), but I had played less than 20 hours. Although I knew I was being lucky, I also knew I was managing to do what I had trained for.

I could easily keep the count even while talking to others and drinking quite substantially (surprisingly, I felt dealers were pretty slow in general). Since I decided to use almost no indices in this first trip, seat position made no difference whatsoever and I could count the cards in any order I felt more comfortable with at any given time, making it great for cover. I can reliably tell you there were many players that looked much more like counters than I did (notwithstanding the scores of stupid moves they did). I was very aware of the environment and the game, being able to apply many kinds of cover at the right moment. I would wong-out or skip hands in a natural fashion and I would put the money out when I had to. I was always emotional about my play (both for cover and for real), but I always followed my bet ramp perfectly or, when I didn’t, I had a reason. Looking at the discards was never a problem; in fact, I only needed to do that very few times per game (granted I was estimating by full decks). I had never practiced even once to play an 8-decker, but by the end of the trip, 33% of my sessions were 8-deck games. While practicing 6 decks at home, I trained to know the true count (TC) without any mental arithmetic, but now I had to adjust my TC conversion for 8 decks during the play — nevertheless, I had no difficulty in doing so.

My game scouting, extremely clumsy at first, was very precise now. I could know the penetration before watching the shuffle by discerning a thin red line in the shoe and then benchmarking my perception while in the hotel room. There I would hold different quantities of cards in an inclined position and simulate their placement in the shoe. My record-keeping was getting much better and I forced myself to always take notes right after each session. It is a discipline thing, Don Schlesinger would say. I bought a very small notebook with a little pen attached  and I prepared the fields I would be filling up beforehand: # of decks, rules, table min, cut-off, shift, elapsed time, total buy-in, min bet, max bet, dealer speed, errors, tips, win/loss, heat, seat, comments. I was getting serious about all that — and it felt good.

Apart from occasional offers of player’s cards and some annoying questions from one or two pit bosses (PBs), heat was never a problem and I would usually cater to a good relationship with dealers and floor personnel. It was great to go to the casinos to collect my share of their profits, so much that I had to use all my will power not to feel in control of the outcomes of my play. After I saw the shiny over-confident eyes of my wife gazing at the amount of chips I had in the safe, I couldn’t stop telling her: “It is just positive variance babe, just positive variance. Let’s enjoy the moment, but it is very unlikely it will keep that way the whole trip“.

Well, as expected, it didn’t.

In the next two days, after just eight sessions, I lost everything I had gained and much more — but that’s when the real learning experience began.

(Continues on Just a gambler >>)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s