Blackjack vendetta (Part IV): Finding my bearings

(If you haven’t already, you should read << A fearful digression first)

Compass

“Yes, I know my directions”.
(“Compass“, by Walt Stoneburner / CC BY 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

Las Vegas, the day after my psychological debacle.

I wake up at 8:00 a.m., feeling as if I had been in a fight… and lost. I am decided to go play at a sequence of casinos that had provided me a relaxing atmosphere so far; I want to concentrate in my counting with the least external influences possible. These casinos are a little far from my hotel, so I go get the car in the Valet service. When the car arrives, the guy makes me the usual question: “Any directions for today sir?” While I am handing him the usual five bucks, I realize that I have known my directions since way before the trip.

I had made dozens, no, hundreds of simulations with the CV software, so that I could know the risks involved. I knew I was playing with more than 50% Risk of Ruin (RoR), but that was OK, because it was just a learning bankroll. That didn’t mean, however, that I was going to make crazy bets. No, not this time. The small bankroll was meant only to provide a threshold for reassessment. I didn’t intend to stop playing if I lost it entirely; it would only be a moment to carefully reevaluate my playing. Was I losing because of not counting accurately? Was I unable to follow my bet ramp accordingly? Or was it only the normal variance of the game? If either of the two first questions checked, I would stop playing temporarily. I would practice in the hotel room for a while using both software and physical decks. When I stopped making errors, I would begin playing for real with a reduced spread until I felt comfortable with my counting. If I were still making errors, I would stop playing altogether. But that was not the case. I had not yet lost my entire bankroll and, apart from the moments when my mind would enter self-sabotage mode, I was accurate. 

The grand realisation of last night’s ordeal was as simple as it was sublime. In my previous experiences in the Stock Market and with sports betting, my biggest mistake was not having a plan. That provided fertile grounds for my biases and fears to flourish. But not now. Now, I have a plan. A well-designed plan created through serious research with the help of amazing Blackjack authors and an amazing community of Blackjack players. A plan that was the culmination of more than seven months of training.

During all this time, I made no two consecutive work-out sets in the gym without an intervening counting drill with my phone app. I would not run on the treadmill without many six-deck counting drills either. I would not go to the bathroom without counting down decks. I would not commute to work without counting the other car’s plates. I would not go to sleep without playing at least a couple of shoes in CVBJ while listening to audiobooks about quantitative stock trading. I knew I was ready.

No, my friend. I know my directions like the back of my hand”, I answer the Valet guy. All I need to do now is follow them.

*

The next three sessions are in three different casinos and I win all of them. I do what I have to do in all sessions and get lucky. At the third session, it is a good battle.

The count keeps negative or neutral for a long time while I am losing most of my bets, so I take a bathroom break. By then, I am getting really good at timing the game — based on the discard tray, the dealer speed and the number of players at the table, I estimate a two-minute break to be ideal. I come back at time to make one last minimum bet before the shoe ends.

The next shoe tells the same story, so I decide to step back to call my wife, who is supposed to be shopping close by, while keeping the count. She says she is almost by the door of the casino, so I tell her not to get in until I say so. Right now, there is only one player at the table and the count is not going anywhere. Right when I think I’ve been away from the game for too long, the count starts to surge upwards. I tell her to come in and to be ready to play when/if I give her our signal. We had rehearsed a call-in tactic while at home and I wanted to try it.

I begin to play right before she arrives full of shopping bags and with an excited smile on her face. This will be great cover, I think, and then I tell her to sit down and I ask if she wants to play. As planned, she says “Not now” and looks for the cocktail lady to ask for a coke. By then I had already prepared her pile of chips, which corresponded to one max bet and was located at the leftmost portion of my chips. She knew that. The count reaches +2 and then +3. I give her my signal and she nonchalantly grabs her pile from my stack while asking “Can I play now honey?” She is already putting her bet in the circle when I say “As if I had a choice…”. Everybody laughs and I am effectively playing with double my spread now. We keep that game until the end of the shoe, making a substantial win for the session. The count didn’t sustain itself at max bet level all the time, so I gave her simple signals to make her increase or decrease her bets to predefined levels. In doing so, I was trying to equalize our bets in a way that the combined amount was close to the correct one, while I was making some opposition bets. It worked like a charm. We decided to celebrate with a nice Italian meal at the Carmine’s and with a great Cabernet. We took the dessert back to our room in order to rejoin forces for the evening: we were going Downtown.

At night, we play at five different casinos and I never diverge from the plan. She was always with me, but she didn’t play in all of the games. Somehow, I couldn’t find good games Downtown — most of them had no surrender and bad penetration. It contradicted what I have gauged from the forum’s posts, but I knew I had not looked enough around for good games. Anyway, I adapted my tactics to wong-out more aggressively and also to spread more aggressively with her help, but only in ideal situations. With that in mind, I only let her play in two of the five games we played and she was flawless.

In the last game of the night, I am playing for around ten minutes and winning. We are both drinking Vodka with Red Bull and having fun, when the count begins to drop a lot and fast. I am taken by surprise for that sudden change in the count, so I begin looking for a not-very-obvious way to wong-out. Suddenly, the dealer seems to hear my thoughts and decides to help. She asks for my wife’s ID. That had become a habit, since she looks pretty young, so she promptly handed the dealer her ID. He then demanded to see her passport! That had never happened before. I politely complained a bit, acting as if I were offended, and took the opportunity to get up and leave. A perfect forced wong-out! I couldn’t ask for anything else, so we called it a night and went back to the hotel to celebrate…again. Thanks, Mr. Dealer.

(Ends on Here, by Spartan Law, we lie >>)

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