Vegas 48-Hour Guys Trip Recap Nov. 2017

Last week was my annual 48-hour guys trip to Vegas.  Usually it happens in the summer, but this year it was postponed due to some scheduling conflicts.  There were two of us staying in a comped room at Paris with another buddy down the street at MGM Grand.  As always, there was little in the way of actual plans, leaving the schedule open to gamble and drink as much as possible.

Day 1: One long losing blackjack session

I landed at 11am on Wednesday, took Uber to Paris.  As a sidebar Uber is absolutely the way to go from the airport to the Strip, $14, easy access from the parking deck and no worries about long-hauls.  I’ve found that cab rides from the airport to the Strip are about $20 and the ride back to the airport is less than $15.  I had a noon call for work which took about 15 minutes then headed straight to my favorite table on the strip.

I walked through the indoor street connecting Paris to Bally’s and found ‘my’ table open.  The table I always look for is the $50 6-deck shoe in the high-limit area at Bally’s.  I know most of the dealers and pit bosses, I can almost always play by myself, and it is a pretty good atmosphere.  I sat down around 12:30, bought in, and promptly got a blackjack.  Unfortunately, that was the only good part of the first shoe, the rest was a downward slog.  2nd shoe, first hand blackjack again and another losing shoe, ugh.  3rd shoe, dealer starts with blackjack and you guessed it, I won a bit.  So I was now settled in, the drink girl knew to bring me a Bud Light when mine was almost gone and it was time to grind away.  I played shoe after shoe and then yada, yada, yada it was after 9pm and I realized hadn’t eaten anything since pretzels on the plane.

I walked to Burger Brasserie next door for a solid burger (way overpriced, but it’s Vegas and I had a $30 food credit) and got a text that my buddy had just landed.  At this point it is 10:30 PT, I’d been up since 6am ET, drinking beer since noon, and it was time to lurch back to my room to pass out.  Overall a fun day, but playing for so long at the same table is never a great strategy and not surprisingly I ended the day down over 25 yards – that makes for some expensive ‘free’ Bud Lights.

Day Two – Don’t call it a comeback

After the losses on day 1 I woke up early and decided to walk the strip before my buddies got out of bed and get off to a positive start to the day.  Coming from the east coast I never sleep past 7am in Vegas so I was up and out the door at 6:30.  Walking the strip early morning is always an interesting experience with a combination of degenerate gamblers continuing their streaks of good or bad luck, club kids coming home in full party gear, golfer guys grabbing coffee, hookers looking for a last trick, convention attendees hurrying to breakfast, exercise buffs crushing a few miles, and the homeless randomly strewn across the sidewalks.  It makes you feel awesome and awful for yourself and for people in general at the exact same time.

After my slow walk down to Venetian and back I got my buddy and headed to Earl of Sandwich at Planet Hollywood for a quick breakfast and to get the comeback started.  After a quick bite I jumped into the $100 table at Planet Hollywood which continued my losing ways with another 10 yard loss, oof.  I also played $100 worth of team slots with Chris from Faces N Aces who was not in Vegas but playing virtually – that was a total bust – playing $1 WOF machine at $5 per spin and it was gone within 5 minutes and only one positive win in the whole play.  My buddy went back to the room to rest for a bit so I walked with him back Paris and stopped by the $100 table at the high-limit room.  This session was bumpy as well with a slight win streak followed by some uneven results that finally trended down until my buddy came to grab me for lunch down another 5 yards, grr.

Poker Tournament

Lunch was another good, but over-priced, burger at Gordon Ramsey’s BRGR at Planet Hollywood which I paid for with points so I couldn’t complain too much.  At lunch our third friend joined us and we discussed the $80 daily poker tournament at PH.  We decided to all play and split any winnings equally between us.  The three of us bought in and were assigned to separate tables as part of the 50 person field.  These small tournaments typically start slow and this was no exception, I played conservative and hovered near even for the first few rounds until we got to break.  Both of my friends were doing better, one was up about 50% and the other was the chip leader after a double knock out.  After the break my table started to loosen up and I made a small run while my buddies were treading water.  A few minutes later one of my guys busted so now we’re down to 2 chances to earn our money back.  Right before the 2nd break I was hurt by a tough river card leaving me towards the bottom while buddy #2 busted out on a semi-bad beat.  Now the team hopes are down to me and I’m about 16th out of the 20 players left at the final 2 tables.  My strategy was to wait until I had a huge hand, go all-in, hope for the best and repeat until I got back into better shape.  Fortunately people were now playing very loose and 3 of our 10 players were gone in just a few rotations.  I picked off a couple of blinds going all in with no callers and then shoved with Queen-9 of diamonds and was called by a guy with similar stack size and a pair of 3’s – terrible call on his part I thought.  Flop was Queen, 9, blank, then river was another Queen to give me a boat.  Now I’m back in the game.  With a decent stack and players donking off chips as we got close to the final table I made a nice move to get back to a respectable position of 6th out of the final 10.  So you’re saying there’s a chance.  Once the final table started the dude in 8th immediately started pushing for a chop.  A couple of people were going to go along, but me and the guy with huge chip lead said no.  2 more busted and guy pushes for chop again, but the two of us say no again.  Next hand I bust out guy right behind me and now I’m 4th out of 7 and choppy keeps going so I said ‘NO, we’re here to play poker…worry about your cards not the chop.’  Chip leader and dealer agree with me and shortly after I bust out #7 to get to 3rd of final 6.  We all put in $20 to pay off whoever lost next which was the bubble.  Now we’re down to 5 and I’m basically in a tie for 2nd, way behind the chip leader who had the rest of us all covered by far.  We get down to final 3 with chip leader at 4x me and other guy who were tied.  I offer chop to other guy for 2nd and he declines then immediately goes all in with Queen Jack and I call with King Queen and now I’m heads-up at about 1/3 of chip leader.  I get cards and play well heads up to get us nearly even.  I then pick up a flush vs his straight and cripple him.  Couple hands later and he’s all in with King 10 spades and I call with King Queen.  Queen comes on the flop and only one spade, fade the next streets and I just won $1400.  Split 3 ways after the $80 buy-in and I’m up ~$400 in poker after getting crushed in blackjack, go figure.

Back to my games

I was hoping to parlay my poker luck into blackjack winning so I went back to the PH HLR and proceeded to play for several hours while my buddies wasted their winnings playing the big wheel.  After an hour my buddy comes in to tell me he is going to get the big wheel girl to hang out with us tonight – riiight.  The only hand of note in this session was pretty fun – a $150 bet saw me get 77 vs dealer 5 – split, then a 7 so now I’m working 3 hands.  4 lands, double (face down), next 7 gets a 10. 3rd 7 gets a 3, double (face down) – Total hand is now 5x$150.  Dealer turns over a 2 for a 7 – crap – next card is an 8 and….10 for the bust!   That was a solid win, but overall session wasn’t great so after another hour I’m ready to roll and he proclaims he got the digits, but she can’t hang out tonight because she has to take her dog to the vet after her shift (which ends at 9pm) – okay, whatever makes you feel good.  I lost a few bucks, but nothing terrible at blackjack and now we’re headed to play some team roulette.

We each pitched in $100 for roulette, got $5 chips, picked a few numbers and played a few of the outside bets.  Team roulette can end in 5 spins or be a lot of fun.  In this case we were drunk enough and we hit a number (that I picked) the 2nd spin.  Now we’re up and 2 spins later we hit another number (friends pick, #34) so we’re rolling and sure enough #34 hit twice in a row.  Now we’re way up, take our 100% profit off the table and keep playing the rest of the money with no further hits until it runs out.

It’s 9pm and dinner time at BLT Steak at Bally’s.  Great steak dinner, used a $100 comp towards the bill so free for me and my buddies were happy to get a discount.  After dinner the guys headed back out to PH to watch girls spin wheels and I decided to call it a night.

Of course, when I say call it a night that means stopping by the Paris HLR before bed – my bankroll was hurting and this was a high-risk move before I got on the plane early in the morning.  I bought in and started off with a decent shoe and then had a great shoe to more than double my buy-in.  At that time another guy came into the room so I decided to cash out.  Now that I was on a roll I wanted to keep playing and headed to Bally’s HLR.  Bally’s was another good run and generated more than a triple-up on my buy-in, but at 1:30am I had to quit and cash in so I couldn’t push my winnings even higher.  With these last-ditch efforts I was back to nearly even for the 48 hours and called it a night at 2am to get up at 6am for my flight home.

At the airport I played Wheel of Fortune slots and ended up doubling my $40 before takeoff.

Another fun, although not ultimately profitable, 48 hour guys trip to Vegas in the books.  Maybe I’ll follow this week’s results up by becoming a poker player first and a blackjack player second – yeah right – blackjack is where my heart is even if it is hurting my bankroll in recent trips.  As Arnold would say…I’ll be back!

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I Am Still Going to Vegas

It has taken me nearly a week since the senseless shooting in Las Vegas to write this post.  I don’t have anything newsworthy to add to the chorus of voices around the story, but since Vegas is my favorite destination I feel the need to write if for no other reason than just to clear my head.

I’ve been to Las Vegas at least 40 times, including 20 trips in the past 4 years, and it is always my first choice for conferences and vacation travel.  I have made friends with dealers, hosts and bartenders in my favorite Strip casinos along with a great cast of characters from gambling themed Twitter, podcasts and blogs.

Gambling, specifically playing blackjack in Vegas, is my favorite pastime.  I would be in Vegas right now playing cards at Paris, Bally’s, Cromwell, or Planet Hollywood if I could do anything I wanted to at any moment.

I set all this up to give a little context for my words.  I don’t know of any personal connections who were injured or worse, but I can’t be sure since most of the Vegas contacts I have are not people I speak with when I’m not there.  So in the back of my mind I keep thinking, what if I come back to my favorite Vegas place and find out the bartender was at the concert?

Selfishly, I want Vegas to go back to being Vegas as fast as possible.  I come to escape my normal routine and that usually includes lots of friendly banter, laughs and smiles.  I can only imagine how hard that must be for people who were so close to such a terrible event.  I don’t know what to say to them, I want to ask if they are okay, their families, their friends, and I’m curious about their experience that night and this week.  But, how do you talk about that without sounding like a voyeur and worse I’m sure they don’t want to relive it over and over again with every single customer.  Not to mention it really brings down the mood talking about something so heavy.

I’m guessing I’ll probably try not to mention it unless someone else brings it up when I make my next trip in November.  I want to have fun and I want the people who earn a living trying to make it fun for me to feel as normal as possible.  Until I get there I really just don’t know how it will feel.

On another selfish note I really don’t want to stay at Mandalay – that is where we are booked for a conference in January.  I want to support them and know that nothing bad will happen to me there, but just being in a place that had such a horrible event and trying to enjoy myself seems wrong.  I wonder if MGM will rebrand the property at some point.

Like I said at the top, this post was just a way for me to vent.  I’m the least impacted person by this jackass, I’ll keep coming to Vegas, life will get back to normal quickly for me, I wish that was the case for all those people who were more directly impacted, but I know that realistically isn’t true for many of those who are permanently changed by this one horrible act.

I love you Vegas, I mourn for those who were killed, I wish the best for those who are recovering, I celebrate those who have come to aid others in so many ways, I abhor the man who did this, and I vow that I am still coming to Vegas as often as I can.

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.

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 Idea to Bring Millennials to Casino Gaming (Not VR, eSports or Video Games)

Holy hell, if I never read another article about millennials and gambling it would be great by me.  And yet here I am writing one.

So let’s get to it, how can I, an unknown blogger who doesn’t work in the industry add any value to this conversation?  I’m a digital and brand marketing strategy guy by trade and so I look at this as a strategic marketing question rather than a gaming issue.

What do millennials want?  I don’t really know.  I’m GenX, my kids aren’t old enough to be millennials, but I do know how I would create an experience that may make the gaming experience more attractive to those who will be the next generation of players.

Experience.  That is the key word.  When between 3 to 8 millennial friends get together and say let’s go to Vegas (or another gaming destination) all of them can have an experience at the pool, or the club, or a show, or shooting guns, or driving exotic cars or picking up girls/guys, etc with ease.  But how many of them can have an experience at a craps table or blackjack or roulette without any friction?  One, maybe two?  Maybe it is the money, or not knowing the rules, or losing too quickly, or feeling insecure, or who knows why, but there are too many potential barriers which don’t exist with other activities.

So here goes.  Let’s make gaming an experience.  If you have 3+ people under 35 in your group staying at my casino you get to have an hour behind the tables – not the ‘free gaming sessions from 11-noon’ but a real experience.  You get your own private tables to deal blackjack to your friends, you get to rake the craps dice, you get to spin the ball in the roulette wheel.  Holy shit I want to spin the ball!!!  But wait, random blog guy, with no experience in the industry we can’t do that!  There are rules, and millennials want to play Frogger, and what about the social media, this will never work.

Whatever, you are smarter than me, figure it out.  Do this with Total Reward credits, oh snap, you just signed up a bunch of millennials to your rewards program!  Screw Frogger or whatever the hot game is, by the time you put it in your casino the kids will have moved on to the next game and you’ll have a bunch of lame old games on your floor.  And can you think of something more Insta-friendly than a pic of you spinning the roulette ball for your friends at your own private table in Vegas?

And after your super-friendly staff has made this experience amazing for their new friends, guess what, they will feel really confident in their ability to play these games with real money using the credits they just earned on their rewards cards.  And maybe they’ll tell their friends about it and when they come back to see their favorite DJ this summer.  They can tell their friends they once dealt blackjack and they will show them how to play after they hit the pool.

So there you go.  You’re welcome casino industry.  And when you are ready to run the test case I’ll be happy to be your marketing strategy consultant.