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.

 

When the Family is Away This Gambler Will Play

My wife and kids had a couple of days off last weekend and headed out of town to visit some of her friends and their kids.  I had a few items on the honey-do list, but knew that I’d be able to work in at least one session at our semi-local casino.

As their plans took shape I realized I could get in two trips with a little creative planning.  I split the weekend into 2 parts with a quick day trip to Cherokee Valley River which is only 2 hours away and then a short overnight at Harrah’s Cherokee to play a little poker in addition to my usual blackjack.

Saturday Day Trip: I got up early, walked the dog and headed up to North Carolina for a short day-trip to play some blackjack at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River.  If you recall from my previous posts this isn’t a great resort destination, but they do have a decent amount of tables and since I had some things to do over the weekend it fit into my plans.

I made the 2 hour drive and for some reason was surprised to find nearly every single seat at every blackjack table full.  This place is not for vacationers so crowded tabled made for good people watching.  I literally saw people running to get a seat when a new $15 table opened and at another table every seat was full while the dealer and pit boss opened new cards and went through the slow process of opening the table.  With that backdrop I actually played some video poker to kill time and broke-even which ain’t bad for a guy who has no clue about the right strategy for that game.

Finally, I was able to find a non-smoking $25 table with a couple of guys who seemed to know what they were doing and jumped in at first base.  The session was pretty decent with only a few bad plays from a guy who couldn’t seem to find the nerve to hit on 14, 15 or 16.  I was flat for the first few rounds and then had a couple of good shoes to get slightly ahead.  The last show before I had to get back in the car and head home was solid and as it came to an end I was on a nice roll when I got to the last hand which of course turned into a big bet, split and frustrating loss which cut into my total win, but being up a few yards overall made the drive home bearable.

President’s Day Overnight: With the holiday I was able to get my work done at the office in short order and head out in the early afternoon for a one-night trip to Harrah’s Cherokee which feels like the Wynn after visiting Valley River earlier in the weekend.  This was my first trip to a casino resort with my dog which was an interesting experience, apparently it is fairly common based on the number of people I passed on the dog trail and the fact that they have a very nice woman at the bell desk who calls herself the ‘Milk Bone Lady’.  The dog did great, which is completely inconsequential, but good to know I can do it again if necessary.

On to the gambling.  I arrived in time for their $80 Monday night NLH poker tournament which was relatively small with under 40 total entries (including re-buys) but well run.  I enjoyed the tournament, made some decent progress and then busted out with pocket 10s vs pocket Jacks in 8th place at the final table.  Not a bad result, I could have gotten away from the 10s but it was getting late and I wanted more action.

After the poker I headed downstairs to the blackjack tables to see what the action looked like.  As usual virtually every seat was taken from the $15 to the $50 tables.  I sat at the one open table on the entire floor which was a $100 6 deck.  I played one shoe solo and broke even, then two drunk guys joined me after asking if I knew how to play since apparently they ran into some of the morons I’ve also seen at the tables in the highest grossing Harrah’s property in the U.S.  These guys were pretty fun, knew how to play, and we went on a nice run which netted over 10 yards in 2 shoes.  After that a couple other people wanted to join so I wished them good luck, cashed my win and headed back to walk the dog before bed.

It was a fun and profitable weekend.  I got the honey-do list done around the house, made 2 trips to my ‘local’ casinos, and learned I could travel for gambling with my dog.  Overall I’d call it a win on all fronts.

 

CES and Blackjack Don’t Mix – When Will I Learn?

I’ve written at least 2 of these posts in the past 3 years.  Somehow I always start the year off with a big loss during CES.  I say somehow, but looking back at this last trip really I shouldn’t be too surprised.

As you probably know CES is the giant electronics trade show that happens the first week of every year.  I attend most years and as part of the week I find my way to the tables on a regular basis.  I don’t think I’ve ever come back from CES up on my gambling scorecard and this year was no different.

The week started off on a bad note when I played the $50 tables at Bally’s on Monday the 2nd, which for the record is the earliest I’ve started gambling in a new year.  This is usually one of my favorite places to play, but this session didn’t go well with a loss and a faux pas.  The loss was minor, but my misstep was embarrassing, guy comes in and I’m only one playing at 4 tables.  He talks to dealers and the pit boss, they all know him and as he is sitting down at other table he looks at me and says ‘should I come play with you?’  I say ‘no thanks I prefer to play alone.’  Everyone stops.  Well shit what did I do?  After a second I realized he was flirting with my dealer and wasn’t talking to me.  Crap.  I apologized, but he thought I was a douche and both of us ended up losing after that pretty quick.  I saw the guy later on the casino floor and apologized again, he was fairly cool about it, but I still feel like a dumbass – I know better – keep your mouth shut unless you have something good to say!

Day 2 and 3 had a lot of work related activities with only a quick $25 table session snuck in here and there which didn’t really move the needle either way.  Day 4 gave me a window to play in the afternoon and so I hit the $100 tables at Planet Hollywood which turned into a nice session with a comeback that got me back to even for the week.  Nothing eventful, but most of the splits and doubles went my way which makes for a winning combination.

Day 5 was depressing since I met a buddy and he wanted to play at $10 or $15 table, which on the strip at night during CES is nearly impossible so we ended up playing $15, 6:5, auto-shuffle machine at Bellagio – this was my personal version of hell.  The dealer and I were talking and he knew it was a joke so he started yelling 6:5!!’ every time someone got blackjack just to rub it in.  After that I went to play high-limit again at PH which was a mistake, I had been drinking all evening and was on tilt after Bellagio hell which contributed to a really bad loss.

On my final night again I started playing $100 tables after many drinks at happy hour and dinner which isn’t an excuse, but the game went poorly again and when I made a nice comeback I pressed my luck – losing 2 separate $500 hands on bad beats (double/split hit to 19 & 20 vs. dealer 5 where dealer hits to make 21) and ended up down again for my last night.

Unfortunately, it was another rough CES gambling trip, so what went wrong…

This trip was long – arrived at Paris Las Vegas on Monday the 2nd and didn’t head home until Sunday the 8th.  That is the first challenge – with so much time there are plenty of chances to hit the tables and so sticking to a game plan isn’t as easy as a 48-72 hour trip.

I was also very busy with work meetings and an event that our company participated in which I was leading.  Challenge #2 – I am usually distracted while at CES with work obligations and this time with a major event which means that blackjack becomes my relaxation activity from the stress of the week so I’m likely to play with less focus on my game and try to extend my table time as a way to wind down from long days.

Of course there is also plenty of alcohol flowing at every happy hour and business dinner which leads to challenge number 3, drinking and gambling.  I like to drink and gamble, but usually I don’t start until I’m at the tables and then I can pace myself, when I arrive at the table a few drinks in it typically leads to loose and aggressive play which works fine when cards are in my favor, but this time they went the other way.

The last of my personal blackjack challenges during CES (the struggle is real) is playing with co-workers and friends.  I can’t really say no when friends and co-workers want to play and I can’t say hey let’s go play at the $100 tables so we end up with the masses at $15 6:5 auto-shuffle hell holes pissing away a few hundred bucks with almost no chance of winning which chips away at the week’s bankroll.

These are all excuses,  I realize that, but I need something to keep me motivated to stick with my blackjack game plans early in the year.  It honestly sucks to start the year in a hole that I’ll be digging out of all year-long.

The good news is I have 4 planned Vegas trips through June to make my comeback so stay tuned to see where we go from here!