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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Quick stop in Baltimore makes Maryland my 11th live casino gambling state

I had a short work trip to Baltimore last week which gave me the opportunity to add another state to my personal list of live casino gambling visits.  Unfortunately, this trip didn’t go well for my bankroll with a poor performance at the $100 high-limit tables which I’ll attribute to trying to cram in a session when I didn’t have the time to play strategically.  Probably over-justification, but I’ll stick with that story.

This brings my tally of states to 11 with AZ, CA, CT, FL, IA, KS, MS, NC, NJ, NV and now Maryland.

This also extends my personal streak of continuous months visiting a casino to 19, which I like to pat myself on the back for since the closest casino to my hometown is a 2-hour drive.

 

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!

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.