The One Time It Makes Sense to Double Down on a 13

Took a quick trip to my local Native American gambling hall yesterday – Harrahs Cherokee Valley River – which I still think should use the #HarrahsCherokeeValleyRiverCasinoHotelandResort in every post.  Anyway, pretty uneventful trip, casino is same as I remember with a decent amount of tables open for a Wednesday afternoon, but I did learn something new for future reference.

While playing blackjack with one other player the dealer missed a stay signal from seat 1 on his 14 vs. dealer showing 4.  The next card was exposed as an 8 and I had a 13 – the pit boss came over, heard the dealer explanation, asked our take on it, looked at the cards and then looked at me smiled and said that is the next card out.  I hit, made 21, the dealer busted, table was happy.

Seemed like a great situation all the way around then the pit boss came back with a smile and deadpanned ‘you should’ve doubled’.


I was so happy that I got a easy free win that it never crossed my mind to double in that situation.  A good reminder to always think about the way to maximize your advantage because there are rarely occasions where the house gives you a guaranteed win!

Apparently Blackjack Isn’t The Only Game in Vegas

I’m a gambler by nature.  I play the stock market, my Caliper score is near 100 for risk-taking at work, and I’m up for trying about any type of game at a casino.  This last trip to Vegas I wanted to give myself a few breaks from the blackjack tables so I scheduled in a couple of diversions.  I’m not a sports book guy and I can play golf at home so I was looking for additional gambling options.  The 2 ways I found to move off the blackjack tables this trip were a bingo tourney and a NLH poker tourney.

I tweeted a little about the Bingo event @blackjackroi during my trip.  It was a free event from Total Rewards and I went in with extremely low expectations.  I was 20+ years below the average age in the huge room of 500 people.  There were people with strategies, extra cards, their own stamps, it was quite the spectacle.  Once the event started I will say it was actually a fun 90 minutes.  There were 9 separate events, each with a different way to get a bingo.  Some of the games lasted 5 minutes with one winner and some lasted a long time with multiple bingos.  I was only close one time when I missed a $1200 bingo by one number.  I was surprised that at times I found myself getting into it and hanging on the next number called.  I won’t go out of my way to participate in another event, but if I’m already headed to Vegas and there is a free event during my stay I’d do it again.

My second alternate event was a $75 poker tournament at Planet Hollywood.  There were 21 total entries with a guaranteed total prize of $1000 so the odds were pretty solid.  I’m not a regular poker player, but I always enjoy watching WSOP and back during the poker boom I was a decent home game player.  You know where this is going so I’ll get straight to my bad beat story…played solid, made it past the break with 20X the big blind and post break went on a small run.  Then I remembered why I play blackjack.  A2 diamonds, I raise 2X BB, 2 callers, flop A2Q – I raise 6X BB, one loose call from reckless player, turn 6 rag, I go all in and player goes into tank…I’m begging for a call, basically taunting to get the call, and sure enough calls – I turn over cards and they don’t even want to show their AJ off-suit…River…Jack and I’m out and off to nearest blackjack table.

Even with the bad beat at poker these distractions were worth the time and small investment to give myself a break from my blackjack play.  If I’m looking to make money I will stick with blackjack, but as a gambler I will continue looking for ways to diversify my play.

Blackjack Bros

As I’ve written before I prefer to play blackjack alone.  It lets me play my strategy and avoid some of the annoying personalities you sometimes find at the tables.  On the Vegas trip I just completed it turned out that I spent more time playing with another person at my table and overall it was a positive experience.

There were two people I played with.  One was my buddy who happened to be in town for a conference and the second was a random.

First, my buddy.  We’ve known each other since freshman year at college and keep in touch regularly so he knows my gambling hobby and we have good communication.  He doesn’t play much so he let me drive his play while I could allow him to make his own decisions on marginal hands without getting frustrated.  He makes good money so playing a $25 table wasn’t out of his league and we found open tables at Bally’s high limit room which is one of my favorite haunts on the Strip.

Playing with my friend was fun, it was like playing two hands since he followed my lead on most hands and we were able to keep our money rolling for hours with some rollercoaster streaks that including being down to a last ‘all-in’ moment to being up double our buy-in.  We talked about old and current times, chatted with the dealer and cocktail waitress, and generally had a good time while playing cards.  This was playing cards for entertainment value and by using solid strategy with 3:2 blackjack and a 6-deck hand-shuffled shoe we were able to truly enjoy the experience.  I won’t preach here too much, but if odds were worse like at most tables these days and we played poorly like most novice players the money would have gone quickly and the experience wouldn’t have been nearly as solid which is one of the reasons gambling is dying in Vegas.

Next, the random.  After I said goodnight to my buddy at 11pm I headed over to the Paris high-limit room where $100 is the lowest limit.  This is another of my favorite Vegas spots when I want to play solo and try to make some money.  I was in earning mode at this point, my trip had me down 15 yards which was painful and I wasn’t drinking so I was ready to focus and play solid cards.  As usual the 6-deck $100 table was open so I sat down ready to make a run.

I played for about an hour and had almost doubled my money when the cards started going cold.  At the same time a guy I had played with the day before entered the room and sat down.  This is pretty ballsy – I don’t have the cojones to sit with someone at a $100 table since you just don’t know what to expect and the money can get real in a hurry.  This guy was good though, he didn’t ask to get dealt in, he waited for the dealer to ask him if he wanted in and immediately said no I’ll wait for the next shoe – I told him that it was okay if he joined so he got in.

We played in near silence for over an hour, both playing solid strategy with a couple of minor tweaks that we both used and became accustomed to.  If you alter from basic strategy it can be acceptable as long as you are reasonable and consistent – and since he used surrender that was a sure sign of someone who knows what they are doing.  The cards were fairly benign until hour two when we both started going on a run which improved our moods and bankrolls.  Into hour 3+ we held constant above our buy-ins and then the cards got hot and we both started pushing bigger stacks including him playing 2 handed.  The last shoe for me turned out to be the perfect time to bow out when I won the last hand I counted my chips and had doubled my buy-in to go up 13 yards for the night making me nearly even for the trip.

I said goodnight to my playing partner and then realized I didn’t even know his name – Ben turned out to be a solid blackjack bro.  I still prefer to play alone, but if there are other players out there like Ben I’ll be happy to play with them in the future.

My New Annual Vegas Tradition?

For 10 years I worked at the same company – moved up the ladder and was generally happy with the way things were.  Then we were sold, new management came in and they sent me on my way.  The day I was officially told of my pending departure I was on a commercial shoot in L.A. so I did what any self-respecting gambler would do – I finished my work, booked a comp room at Caesars, got in my rental car and 4 hours later was sitting at a blackjack table drinking my weight in ‘free’ beverages.

That was 3 years ago and I would have never guessed that same basic scenario would play itself out 2 of the next 3 years.  Both of my last 2 job changes have been on my own terms, but they have worked in very similar patterns.  Job isn’t going the way I had hoped or envisioned for whatever reason, I start searching, new opportunity presents itself, company pays out annual bonus, I resign, head to Vegas for 48 hours, come back and get started on the new gig.  Grand scheme of things it’s not a bad routine.

This years edition of the Vegas trip is happening on Monday.  There really is no better place for me to spend this type of transition time.  I’m going by myself, will sleep in, play blackjack, drink too many Bud Lights, eat a good burger at Todd English pub, maybe play a poker tournament, and then fly home ready to start my next job.

This year’s trip does have one new wrinkle – a Bingo tournament.  It happens that Total Rewards has a free Bingo tourney going on while I’m there so I figure WTF, I’ll spend an hour to see what it is all about and who knows maybe I’ll win a couple of bucks for my trouble.  I’ll be sure to post about this one on Twitter and here on the blog since I’m picturing a lot of rascal scooters and good people watching.

While I hope that my new job will be more fulfilling than my last two and keep me engaged longer than one year, I know that if for whatever reason it doesn’t work out I have a familiar pattern to ease the next transition.