Wednesday, January 20, 2010

License and Registration, Please - Part Three

The theme of this series of posts involves the uninformed and oblivious screwing with the time and money of the informed and focused. Thus far, we've looked at ineptitude in the gym and on the golf course, which directly screws with a man's time and indirectly screws with a man's money. In this final installment, we go where the action is, directly to the money - the casino floor.

A great thing about living in South Jersey is the proximity of Atlantic City, our own (very) miniature Las Vegas. While those from North Jersey, New York, Washington, Baltimore, etc. may have a trek of 2-3 hours or more to AC, many a South Jerseyan can make it to the bright lights within 50 minutes of backing out of the driveway. For a lot of us from this area, AC stands as the crown jewel of the 21-and-over life, something we drool over as 18-19-20 year olds like a dog staring at a steak. What beckons to us is not necessarily the bars and club scene, because once you hit college the party life becomes habit. No, I'm talking about gambling.

There's a reason that the gambling age is 21, and whether you believe it should be lowered to 18 is another issue. I don't have a problem with it being 21, because I want the population of gamblers on the floor at any given time to be as SMART as possible. I don't mean book smarts, I mean knowing a.) what their limits are, b.) what their surroundings are, and c.) WHAT THE HELL THEY ARE DOING. Towns like Atlantic City were built on the losses of those with clouded judgment. The casinos welcome you with open arms in anticipation of feeding you drinks and blinding you with visions of jackpot grandeur until your pockets are empty. Understand that going in.

Foremost, if you do not know the game you are playing, you are not only being reckless with your own money, you are being reckless with the money of others much of the time, and that can get you into trouble (or at the very least it will yield you the scorn of everyone around you). The first time I ever played in a casino was in Montréal at age 20 (legal age is 18 there), and I only played roulette (I know, soft) because I knew at least I'd be essentially playing a game independent of those at the same table as me. I was honest enough to admit I didn't know blackjack or craps well enough to deserve a spot at one of those tables. And to this day, I still don't know craps that well, so I have never put one red cent on a crap table. Part of that stems from seeing two acquainted friends nearly come to blows in Vegas over how to bet during a crap game.

But what I have come to know is blackjack, and blackjack possibly above all others is a team game. Everyone sitting at that table is playing against the dealer. And since every decision you make alters the card progression for the rest of the shoe, it is overwhelmingly imperative to know what the hell you are doing. It's not that hard. Spend an hour on or read the Wikipedia article on blackjack and you'll know enough. There is a right way to play and a wrong way to play, and both are outlined pretty clearly.

John I and I recently won about $600 between us in just one shoe, largely because everyone was playing right. Playing right means hitting a 15 when the dealer shows an 8, even though you know you're probably busting. Even if you do bust, you have to take one for the team, not only because what goes around comes around, but because it perpetuates a mathematically proven winning strategy all the way around the table. For instance, if you chicken out on that 15, maybe the next card is a 10 or face and you do get to live a bit longer when hitting would have busted you. But now the guy next to you rightly hits his 14, gets the 10 you would have gotten, and he's busted. Then the guy next to him with the 10, he doubles down and gets a dog-crap 6. While you cross your fingers for the dealer to bust, she flips over a 10 on her 8 to give her an 18, and now everyone at the table has lost the hand, including you, and now both dudes to your left are giving you the Manning Face. Had you hit your 15 and busted, the guy next to you gets the 6 to give him 20 and the doubled-down guy after him is still in good shape with the next card coming. One decision takes the table from 0-3 to a likely 2-1 on the hand. I've seen it way too many times.

Obviously this case is hypothetical and could easily go the other way, but the two underlying themes are these: 1. karma comes back to you - play right and the cards will fall the way you want over a long enough time period; 2. not playing right screws with other people's money as well as your own. If you don't care so much about your money, that's your business, but I damn well care about mine, even if it's the money that I've deemed expendable enough to cash in for casino chips for an hour or two.

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