Blackjack vendetta (Part V): Here, by Spartan Law, we lie

(If you haven’t already, you should read << Finding my bearings first)

spartan shield

“Come back with your shield, or on it.”
(“Leonidas“, by Scott Vandehey / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 / Desaturated from original)

Las Vegas, the last day.

During the morning, my wife convinces me to go buy a gift for her — a watch — but it is actually a trap. She wants the watch, but much more than that, she wants me to buy one for myself. All I wear are G-shocks and she hates it when that big black thing appears underneath my suit. Thankfully, I only wear suits in weddings or celebrations of the sort (and when I can’t find good excuses not to attend such events). Nevertheless, I abide and buy the thing. At least it will be fitting to my last session tonight, I think. I make use of the situation to tell her: “Forget about me until tomorrow honey, I have serious work to do”. She had already planned pool, SPA and whatever, because she knew I had to say good-bye to Blackjack, and that I wanted to do it alone. 

In the room, I turn on my computer and open CVData. What I want to do is to make sure I understand the probabilities of the game I am about to play. I want to cut the fuel for my biases in its root: uncertainty. Biases and fear feed on the inherent uncertainty of the game. While the short-term outcomes are unpredictable in Blackjack (as they are in the Stock Market), the long-run ones are much more predictable — as long as you get there in the first place, and follow your plan. If I can’t master the fear derived from the uncertainty in Blackjack, I will never be able to master the fear in the Stock Market. There, your edge is much more elusive. It might disappear at any given moment or, what’s worse, it might have never existed in the first place. Believing and sticking to the plan is much more difficult. In Blackjack, I know what to expect — I only need to put up with that damn variance.

I spent the afternoon making simulations and understanding the odds of many different results. In doing so, I wanted to make sure I really accepted the risk. I had realised during my losses in this trip that these are two very different animals – to understand the risk and to really accept it with all your heart and soul. If I had been overcome by my own biases and fears while red-chipping, what to say now that I intended to bet only greens and blacks? That would be my final test.

In the last couple of days I had recouped all my losses and had even won a bit. My bankroll was untouched, so I decided I could make an important practice for my future in Blackjack and move up to a higher bet level. Until now, I had only played as a red-chipper in $5, $10 and $15 tables. However, I had played an increasingly worse game, because I had not adjusted by bet ramp accordingly to cope with the increasing minimum bet limits. The idea had been not to draw too much attention, so I had kept (or tried to keep) my bets below what I considered to be the “checks play” level. Now, I wanted to bet only greens and I was going to apply my full 1:16 spread… at least. But I wouldn’t be over-betting to recoup losses this time. I was going to make a controlled experiment to prove a point: that I could follow the plan under pressure. I knew that, as with any hypothesis, I couldn’t really prove it; but I could at least falsify the null hypothesis that I couldn’t play accordingly under pressure. And that was worth my entire trip bankroll for sure.

When the night came, I felt ready. I put my new watch and kissed my wife good-bye. She remembered a saying that I had told her many times before. It was something I had read in a Steven Pressfield’s book called “The Warrior Ethos”. 

“A Spartan mother handed her son his shield as he prepared to march off to battle. She said, ‘Come back with this or on it.’ ”

She told me to come back with my shield or on it and I understood it as a green light to risk it all if it was necessary, but, most importantly, to do what I had to do. Follow the plan. That’s all I had to do, even if that meant to lose it all. And that’s exactly what I was going to do. I had played almost five thousand hands in ten days, so I knew what I was capable of. I had studied the whole afternoon to be in peace with my odds. And with the help of my wife, I had conquered that peace. 


Later that night, everything would happen. I would have my largest loss, my largest win, my longest session and the largest number of buy-ins. I would face the fastest dealer ever and the most crowded conditions. I would eventually see myself playing with a sea of black chips in front of me. Even so, I would place the correct bets over and over again. I would wong-out at very negative counts, sit-out hands at strategic moments or switch tables altogether when a fresh shuffle approached next door and the current game went sour. I would talk to the dealers and pit bosses at the right time cover-wise and the count would effortlessly stick to my mind, even while I ordered one beer after the other. I would reach to my wallet time and time again while clearly steaming and chasing my losses like a crazy gambler. But, this time, I wasn’t really steaming: I knew with unprecedented clarity that session was only a tiny piece of the one-and-only Blackjack session that would eventually lead me to the long run.

The outcome of that last black chip adventure?

I couldn’t care less.

All that matters is that I was back on the horse… and I had my shield with me.


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