Vegas blackjack trip: Lessons learned from a WSOP star and a retired hippie

I’ve been on a cold streak in my recent blackjack efforts.  It has been 4 months since I’ve had a significant winning trip to the casino and my frustration level has been rising.  When I go through these rough patches I do my best to evaluate my strategy and find opportunities to improve.  I found new ideas to employ from two unlikely sources during my most recent 4-night Vegas trip.

Night 1: Get your money in good! 

My first change was something I worked on prior to this trip after playing next to a WSOP star in a high-limit room on my last Vegas trip.  I was playing alone in the PH HLR and a guy who looked familiar came in and sat in seat 1.  He sat down, started winning and never stopped winning – turning $2K into $15K in less than 3 shoes while I stayed basically flat.  We chatted for a bit and he confirmed that he was a WSOP pro who I had seen on at least one final table and made his living playing poker with many big cashes.

What I learned from watching him wasn’t something he said, but rather how he played.  He was aggressive in bet sizing, taking advantage of favorable runs, and making the most of his opportunities.  I don’t think he was card-counting, but it is possible.  My takeaway was to press my bets more aggressively than my current strategy, which I was eager to try throughout this trip.  There are some obvious downsides to this including

  1. Math – since I don’t count cards the house still has a slight edge
  2. Risk/Reward – the more you press the more you bet which can quickly add up to some high-priced hands and
  3. The luck of the draw – sometimes when you get it in good, the cards still find a way to crush dreams.

Night 1 was my first opportunity to test this betting strategy out and it was relatively successful.  It was a fairly routine night with a couple of hours in the Bally’s high-limit room and I came away up 10 yards and avoided any major potholes before calling it an early night.

Day 2: Don’t play like a tourist!

I arrived a day early for my conference so I could spend the day playing cards.  Since I don’t live within 2 hours of a casino I try to maximize every visit which can lead to some extended table time.

Before we get to the blackjack I had some World Cup games to watch.  I went down to the Caesars sports book to watch the last games of the opening round including 7am games – Mexico vs Sweden & Germany vs Korea. The book was full at 7am with 90% Mexican fans, 5% Germans, 5% Sweden and 1 Korean guy.  If you recall Mexico got crushed, then amazingly Korea beat Germany and the Mexican fans turned the Korean guy into a hero.  He was there 30 minutes after the game with all the Mexican fans chanting KO-RE-A and taking selfies with him.  If it were a 7pm game they likely would have carried him around to all the bars with them for the night.

After that soccer fun, I headed out to start my blackjack day.  As usual, I began at Bally’s high-limit room where I had to ask them to raise the table minimum from $25 to $50.  I don’t mind playing $25, but really I did it to keep away other players and get as much solo time at the table as possible.  That turned into a bad decision as I quickly gave back my winnings from the night before.  Back to even I took a walk to the Paris HLR and almost as quickly dropped 15 yards into the hole, grr.  I didn’t blame either of these on the new strategy, in both cases, I caught terrible cards with no chance of making money.

After the quick beatdowns, I wanted to slow the pace and headed to Planet Hollywood for the 1pm $80 poker tourney.  Somehow. that went worse than the blackjack.  I made one bad bluff, then had an all-in 9s vs. 10s and poof out in the 3rd level.

After a quick lunch, it was back to Bally’s to try and make something out of a day that seemed to be slipping away.  This session at Bally’s was much better than the earlier trip and I floated between even and up 5-10 yards over the course of several hours.  As it got close to dinner time a very personable guy came to sit at my table.  The dealer knew him and he offered to wait until the next shoe so he started off on the right foot.  Sometimes I’ll leave the table when a new player joins, but this guy seemed like fun so I told him to jump in and away we went.

This guy is the retired hippie mentioned in the title of this post.  He was fun, friendly and made some really good points.  I felt a little like the Dude in Big Lebowski when the old cowboy showed up – I didn’t quite know what to take from the guy, but he seemed like he sat with me for a reason.  He mentioned that he was retired and now comes to the casino every couple of weeks.  About 3 shoes in he had doubled his money and abruptly said good luck, grabbed his drink and headed out.  I stuck around, now up 10-15 yards for the session.  About 45 minutes later he came back with a new beer and bought-in again.  He said he went to the Diamond lounge to get a beer and some food.  Another 15 minutes and he doubled again, cashed out and said goodnight.

I finished the same shoe up 12 yards (3x my buy-in) cashed out and went to grab dinner.  During dinner, I realized that I was playing like a tourist and the hippie was playing smart.  We walked away with roughly the same amount of winnings, however, he did it with smart quick wins, while I rode waves up and down which could have easily left me in the hole if I didn’t get away from the table at the right time.  This gave me the theme for the rest of my week:


It was getting late (for an East Coast guy with meetings at 8am the next morning) so I headed back to Caesars.  That walk takes me through The Cromwell, which is my favorite location on the strip right now.  For once their HLR was open on a Weds night so I had to make a stop.  I was the only one there, as usual, and they were happy to let me play at a table that may or may not have been reserved for someone else.  I played a couple of uneventful shoes and then ran into a rough shoe which had me up 5 yards until a huge 9-yard split-double loss crushed the momentum and sent me home down 10 yards for the trip.

Day 3: Quickie

My 3rd day started with my wallet hurting and meetings all day.  After all day meetings and a team building dinner I was exhausted, but I made the short walk to Cromwell to start my blackjack night.  It turned out that was a good call.  I sat down at the $100 HLR table, ordered a bud light, and within 3 minutes had tripled my buy-in.  I looked at the dealer, pushed my chips across the table to chip-up, then hung out and waited for my beer before walking home.  I had just used both of my new mottos – I pressed my bets quickly, including a $300 hand that went up to $1200 after 2 splits and a double (I won 3 of the 4 hands)  which had me sweating big bets, and also walked away up 24 yards instead of riding my stack down to less of a win.  Now we’re ahead for the trip and I feel good going into the last day.

Day 4: Make or Break

As an introvert, I’m not a fan of Vegas on the weekends since the casinos tend to get very busy and my favorite tables are often crowded.  This Friday wasn’t much different so when my meetings ended around 4pm I waded through the tourists looking for an empty table at one of my favorite high-limit rooms.  As usual, I started my tour at PH and planned to play my way back to my room at Caesars.  Unfortunately, the HLR at PH was busy so I headed to Paris where they had an open $100 table.  I played for an hour or so with small swings up and down until I was down about 5 yards and it was time for some dinner.  When I came back from a quick dinner break, the same table was still open in Paris so I sat down in the same seat and proceeded to win 12 yards (doubled my buy-in).  I applied lesson #2 above, cashed my chips and headed to Bally’s.  At Bally’s, I played at my favorite $50 table in the HLR for about an hour until a couple of drunk guys came to join me – as soon as one of them pulled out their cigarettes I chipped-up and walked away up another 8 yards.  Now, I’m up 15 yards for the trip and have one last stop on my way home.

I walk into my favorite HLR on the strip – Cromwell – and sure enough, it’s empty – game on.  This was the make or break moment for the trip.  I was going to go home a winner, it was just a matter of whether it would be a small margin or something to be excited about.  The first shoe started slow, but then a run got me back to even at the end.  The next few shoes were similar with slight moves up each step along the way.  It was getting late (for a guy with a 7am flight) and I told my dealer that I needed the next shoe to be a winner so I could get some sleep.  The last shoe didn’t disappoint.  The shoe started off good, then got very good, and then I hit the moment of truth..

$250 bet, I get a pair of 2s and the dealer shows a 5 – split and the next card is a 2, next card 8 – pit boss looks over and says ‘You’re in the shit now’ – now I’m in $1,000 for the hand and take the double-down card face down.  Hand #2 gets a 6 then a 10 for 18 and hand #3 gets Queen for a 12.  Dealer turns over a 7 so she’s got 12 – deep breath – next card a 5 for 17.  So now we’re even on the 2 hands I can see and the moment of truth with the $500 hand, dealer flips my down card and YES it’s a King – whew, we’re going home a winner.

The rest of the shoe was uneventful and when the last hand was a blackjack in my favor I pushed my chips to color-up, tipped my dealer and walked away with 3x my buy-in.

Of course, when you win you don’t want the night to end so I played roulette at Caesars on the way to bed and went from $100 to $400 then called it a night at $200.

Overall a good trip – learned a couple of valuable lessons which will hopefully help my blackjack game and bankroll in the long-run and in the short-run came home +43 yards for the trip!

Next Vegas trip is planned for Sept and hopefully, I’ll find my way to my ‘local’ NC casino before then to keep my blackjack run going!


One thought on “Vegas blackjack trip: Lessons learned from a WSOP star and a retired hippie

  1. Travis says:

    When sitting down to play a sixdeck shoe, you should also recognize unfavorable patterns of cards being drawn out at the table. If you lose 4 times in a row, irrespective if count gets good, its best to leave that table for another one. The key to winning blackjack is to take advantage of a good flow of cards, this not necessarily can happen with a good COUNT when playing against a sixdeck.

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