That One Killer Winning Blackjack Shoe

I’ve played enough blackjack to see shoes* that have contained the good, bad and the ugly in terms of wins and losses.  In most cases the results stay within the realm of reasonable expectations even if that means taking a chunk out of your bankroll.  I’ve had shoes that have gone well before, but this last trip to Vegas was my all-time biggest positive swing on one shoe.

*A shoe in blackjack is the plastic card holder where the dealer places and then pulls cards for play on the table.  A shoe is measured in decks of cards (I play 6-deck hand-shuffled shoes) dealt before the next shuffle.  As a side note I’d recommend never playing more than a 6-deck shoe and avoid continuous-shuffle machines at all costs.

I wrote earlier about my climb back to even money for the year and this is the brief tale of the shoe that got me there.  I was down a decent amount for the trip, it was getting late on my third night in town, I was playing at a $50 limit table in Bally’s, and I was down $500 on this one shoe alone.

The first 1/3 of this last shoe was looking bleak and I was about ready to throw in the towel and accept a losing night.  At that point I started a nice winning streak that got me back to even for the shoe in a few hands with a couple of splits and doubles.  Once I was back to even, things got exciting in a hurry.  I don’t recall exact hands very often and this was the case tonight as well, but one thing I clearly remember from this run was being dealt 4 straight blackjacks!  That streak of easy wins built my bet size up quickly and the wins kept coming after that run with nearly every hand.

I was getting fired up, the dealer was nearly shouting on every hand when it seemed like I couldn’t lose and the chips kept flowing my way including a 2x split with 2 doubles that hit for another big hand win.  The last few hands of the shoe cooled off until the last hand came up as a blackjack to finish off a great run.

When all was said and done I went from $500 down to $2,500 up in the last 2/3 of that one shoe for a $3K swing.  I’ve never had a single shoe with that big of a win and that is a rush I won’t soon forget.

Now I’ve set a very high, and probably unrealistic, bar to judge my future shoes against, but I’ll keep playing to try and match, and then exceed, the rush and win from that one elusive killer shoe on my next Vegas trip!

The Long Climb Back to Even Money

My 2017 blackjack year started off extremely poorly with a big loss that dug me what felt like an insurmountable deficit.  I use yards as my public unit of measure and I started the year 55 yards down during a weeklong Vegas trip in early January.  After that rough start I took stock of my strategy and used data to evaluate options for improving my results.  With that foundation I began a nearly 6 month climb out of that hole.

It is hard enough to sit down at a $50 or $100 blackjack table, but the stakes jump quickly when you are already in rough waters.  Luckily, I can afford to lose a decent amount and still pay the bills, but it hurts the ego and makes the trip so much more painful when the bankroll is shrinking.

I started my climb with short trips to Harrahs Cherokee Valley River to test out my revamped strategy and claw back some cash.  By taking small steps I was able to go on a solid run of 7 straight winning sessions before hitting a slight 10 yard hurdle before my latest Vegas trip.

So heading into Vegas last week I was only down 20 yards for the year and feeling good about my strategy.  This was another relatively long trip of 4 nights so I didn’t need to rush, but of course I was ready to hit the tables within 15 minutes of checking into my room at Caesars.

Day 1 was a short session so I stopped by my favorite high limit area at Bally’s.  Unfortunately, the first round began slowly and sure enough I dug myself a deeper hole.  Nothing notable during the short session, just a run of the mill poor night which added about 8 yards to the deficit.

Day 2 brought 117 degree heat – and it doesn’t matter at that temperature if it is a dry heat, it is just brutal, and so was my day of blackjack.  After my conference I went through another couple losing rounds at Planet Hollywood and Bally’s which left me hurting and back down 35 yards for the year – ugh.

Now we’re back in the danger zone, down a significant amount and second-guessing my strategy going into day 3.  The day started with a pep talk from none other than Dr Phil at the conference and maybe that was just the thing to get me back on track.  I began the climb at the Paris high-limit room and had a nice run to cut into the lead a bit, then had a very short, but productive stint at The Cromwell HLR .  My comeback was on track and after dinner I kept the tide rolling with a return trip to Paris HLR which closed the rest of the gap and got me back to even in a round that included my largest single bet (without a split or double) on one hand of $750 which was thrilling and terrifying at the same time.  Now was it was decision time.  I’m even, I’m on a roll, it’s getting late and I have to get up early for work tomorrow and I’m walking back to my room.  So of course I walk by my favorite seat at Bally’s and it’s open so I’ve got to see if I can keep the roll going.  After 2 hours it was looking bad, down 10 yards and getting tired I kept plowing forward.  Then I hit the best shoe in a long time…about 1/3 through it was meh, but then I couldn’t lose, including 4 straight blackjacks, and that 2/3 of the final shoe took me from 10 yards down to 25 yards up in under 10 minutes.  Every card hit, the dealer busted, and doubles and splits came up winners – it was amazing.  The dealers, pit boss and other players in the small high-limit area all were watching in relative amazement – it was a huge swing and sent me to bed well ahead for the week and even for the year.

On day 4 it was a packed work agenda and so I kept my play to a minimum with not much excitement except for a nice last shoe that swung down and then barely made it back to even for the day with a solid double-up on the very last hand.

It was quite the rollercoaster of a trip.  Now I’m even for the year and I’m looking forward to my next Vegas trip in September to move into the black for 2017!

 

Improving My Blackjack Play Using Data

In my day job I rely on data for most of my key digital marketing decisions so when I was struggling earlier this year with my blackjack results I decided to turn to the data and see what I could find.  The KPI for this project is pretty simple – money won/lost at live casino blackjack.

To get to the underlying data that led to that final result I realized I needed to dig a little deeper and analyze my play on a shoe-by-shoe basis.  In January I started tracking my results per shoe on my favorite app in my phone’s notes as well as every shoe played in a live casino.

With 4 months of results that spanned hundreds of digital shoes and dozens of live shoes I took the data and started crunching numbers.  The first thing I realized was that I needed to stick with a game longer – when I bought in for slightly more money and backed that buy-in up with a re-buy of 50-75% of the original amount on one table I had a stronger chance of hitting a strong run and earning money than buying in for less and hoping to win in shorter bursts by switching tables once that amount was gone.  I also learned that my style of play can lead to several winning or losing shoes in a row, but the variability isn’t very large between any given shoe so I should be able to weather a couple of bad shoes and still have the opportunity to make money.  Interestingly I didn’t see much difference between my play and results in surrender games vs. no surrender allowed – which is the only option at my local native American casinos – this was fairly surprising to me.

Armed with this data I’ve made a nice run since my poor results in 2016 and rough start to 2017 and now I’m only a couple yards from break-even for this year.  Of course now that I think I have some things figured out there is a great chance I’ll go on a terrible run which sends me right back to the drawing board.  At least now I’ve got some more data behind my play and I’ll keep working the numbers to deliver positive ROI on my blackjack play.

My First WSOP Event (Spoiler: I Didn’t Win)

I have, what I believe to be, a similar bucket list of most avid gamblers, and one of those items is to play in the main event of the World Series of Poker.  Yes, I’m a blackjack player, but I like to dabble in other casino games and no-limit hold-em tournaments are always a fun distraction.  At some point when the kids are out of the house I’ll cash in some of my 401k money and pony-up $10K to play in the main event.  Until that happens the best option I could find was a $365 1-day event at the WSOP Circuit event at Harrah’s Cherokee.

I headed up for a Saturday night with 3 buddies and since we arrived a couple of hours early I had to play a few hands of blackjack to kill time.  I played at a $50 table in their high-limit room which had 8 tables open all night as well as 8 $100 limit tables.  I had a nice opening run which earned enough to pay for my tournament entry plus a couple bucks for drinks.

This casino is apparently the most profitable in the Caesars chain which I can believe based on the number of players.  In addition to 16 full high-limit blackjack tables they also had 6 craps tables at $15 or above without a spot open, and nearly every other table and slot section was close to capacity.  The volume and high-dollar play was impressive.

After the quick win at blackjack I was feeling good going into my WSOP debut so I headed to table 2 seat 8 to start my run.  Once I entered the room it was a bit overwhelming.  The tourney was held in their events center where once-famous rockers and country singers play every other weekend.  Picture a hockey rink sized floor with a small stage above the floor, and now imagine that scene completely filled with poker tables…plus more tables in the hallways and waiting areas outside the main hall.  It was stunning.

I headed on to the stage to find table 2 and grabbed my seat a few minutes early.  One of the players was clearly a regular in these events as he had ‘bagged’ for the main event on an earlier day.  Everyone else seemed to be more like me and we started playing pretty much by the book.  It took about 30 minutes for me to pick up anything worth playing (KK from big blind) and of course the entire table folds except the small blind who only called then folded to a min bet after the flop.  After that it was fairly routine up and down and I made it to the first break a few chips ahead of the original stack.

Shortly after the break I had several playable hands in a row and made a slight positive run.  Then the wheels started to come off.  I picked up A10 suited and my 3BB bet was called by one other player.  Ace plus 2 nothing cards on the flop so I bet again, getting a call, 4 on the turn, I bet again and get a call, another nothing card on the river and I’m feeling strong so I check to induce a bet and sure enough he bets so I call and he flips over an A4 off-suit…OUCH.  I’m now crippled and hang around for a few more hands, fight off an all-in for almost nothing then go all-in w/Q10 suited vs. 6s and the 6s hold-up.

My dreams of making it big in poker were quickly dashed, but it was a lot of fun.  I’m going to delay any hopes of the main event until $10k isn’t as big a deal, but when the circuit comes back through I could be talked into playing again.  Until then I’m going to stick to blackjack as my gambling fix.

 

March Madness: Weekly Blackjack Casino Trips

This has been another interesting spring for me.  For the 3rd straight year I’m in the job change process.  The last two years have been on my terms and this year is due to a potential sale of our start-up.  Don’t get too excited, unfortunately I’m not cashing out with a big check and riding off into the blackjack sunset.  This is a distressed sale and we’ll likely come out ahead, but short-term we’re in limbo.

This suspended state of operations has meant that I’ve had much less day-to-day activity while the lawyers and finance folks fight through all the details.  Of course, whenever I have any potential downtime I look for the opportunity to play some cards.

This Thursday will be my 3rd straight week with a casino trip.  I’ve been working remotely on Thursdays starting with March 2, National Blackjack Day.  After a solid day I realized that I could make the 2 hour drive to my closest casino, Harrah’s Cherokee River Valley Casino, play a couple hours of blackjack and be home at my usual dinner time without a lot of hassle.

I know that once this deal closes the wrinkle in my workload will change dramatically and I’ll have to rely on conference trips to Vegas to get my gamble on in the near future so I’m trying to make the most of my time right now.

I have learned that with regular trips to a casino money and time management is critical and I need to be selective in my game.  The patience has paid off thus far with solid, but not spectacular wins on the past 2 trips.  I also have learned that stopping while ahead is key since my time is limited I don’t have the luxury of waiting for the next big run, so I need to cash out once I’ve made a nice profit rather than playing until I make a huge score.  Playing regularly is more about hitting singles and doubles than shooting for the grand slam.

I’ll keep my string going as long as possible and hopefully become a better blackjack player from the experience.

My Wallet’s Gone! My Wallet’s…Oh Wait

As a huge Seinfeld fan, Morty yelling like a madman when he thinks his wallet was stolen at the doctor’s office always makes me laugh.  Of course when I actually thought I lost money – and not from the dealer pulling 5’s for his 16’s all night – at the casino and had a similar reaction it wasn’t nearly as funny.

I had been celebrating National Blackjack Day at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River casino on March 2 (3:2) and having a good day.  I played at the $50 high-limit room by myself and doubled my money then gave back a bit before deciding to cash out and head back home.  I chipped up and headed to the cage to cash out with a slight detour to watch the free slots tournament.

Sidebar, those slot tourneys are fun people watching.  Bunch of old folks smashing machines in search of a bunch of free rewards points.  Anyway back to the story.

After a few minutes of people watching I reached into my pocket to cash my chips and noticed there wasn’t any cash.  Usually when I gamble I keep my cash in a front pocket so a) I don’t have to sit on my wallet and b) it’s easier to access.  Anyway nothing was there, nothing in my back pockets and just my normal few bucks in my wallet.  Oh crap.  Did I drop it when I pulled out my phone?  Did I leave it at the table?

I trace my steps, ask my dealer, do another lap, check all my pockets and wallet again and still nothing.  I walked back to the table and asked the pit boss if he’d help me out.  He wasn’t warm and fuzzy to start with and this wasn’t his idea of fun even though there was literally no one else in high limit.  So head of security comes down, I repeat my story, he calls the eye in the sky and they start to rewind tape.

I keep talking to the dealer, look under the tables, do another lap, then do the check of all locations again and then…D’OH…I had folded my extra bills and slid them on the inside pocket of my wallet.  I don’t recall doing it, not just today, but ever doing it before in my life.

Now I’m embarrassed as hell.  Immediately tell the security guy, who was GREAT by the way, both in trying to help and making me feel better about being a pain.  Tell the dealer and pit boss who rolls his eyes, apologize to everyone for being a moron, drop a $20 on their table, cash my chips at the cage, and get in my car as fast as possible.

So my National Blackjack Day was mildly profitable and pretty damn embarrassing.

National Blackjack Day Interview with High Roller Radio

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts it has been a pleasure getting to know many of the people out there who have similar interests as I do in the gaming industry.  Recently I was lucky enough to be interviewed on High Roller Radio about National Blackjack Day.

We had a fun conversation about 3:2 blackjack, #NationalBlackjackDay and the ways casino companies can improve their experience for everyone, including millennials.  If you have a moment take a listen and let me know what you think!

Also, while you are there check out some of the other fun interviews and content from some great experts and characters in the gambling world.