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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Bingo, blackjack and video poker - Part 2

29 January 2020

Last week I told you about the first part of my bingo, blackjack and video poker weekend last Labor Day. It started Saturday afternoon with registration for the blackjack and video poker tournament at Red Rock, continued with a session of bingo at Palms, and ended with a rush back to Red Rock for a cash drawing for those who had registered earlier in the day.

I didn't win anything at bingo or in the drawing, so I was hoping to do well in the tournament the next day.

The first time I played blackjack was about 20 years ago. I was going to Las Vegas to meet Frank Scoblete. I had his Best Blackjack book and I thought I'd surprise him by learning basic strategy. I made my own strategy card and developed some mnemonics to remember the strategy. I studied my strategy card on the plane on the way to Las Vegas.

Usually Frank and I would go our separate ways, me to the slots and video poker and he to the tables, after we had met for a meal. This time I told him that I had been studying basic strategy and I was going to play blackjack with him.

There was a bit of a hitch, though. Frank liked to play in the high limit room, so I was betting green chips on my first foray into the blackjack world. I wasn't too worried, because Frank was going to be beside me the whole time and he would tell me if I was making a mistake.

I ended up being a bit of burden to Frank. The casino would usually raise the table minimums as the day wore on. I would be grandfathered in at the green chip level because I was already at a table when its minimum was raised.

The exemption applied for that table only. If I moved to another table, I would have to honor its minimum.

Frank would sometimes like to change tables when the cards went sour on one, but I was obligated to stay at the table or bet more than I was comfortable betting. It was a long time ago and I don't remember how we worked this out. In hindsight the only fair thing to do was to let Frank do what he had to do because he was betting more than I was, and I could either stay and fly solo or go hit the video poker.

I played a little blackjack here and there after that. I think my last time was 15 or so years ago in Tunica. It was my first night there and I was the only one at the table. I had been playing a while when I had a hand that took a few cards. I asked for another hit.

The pit boss had been watching and she said, "Are you sure? I've been watching you play and you've been playing basic strategy. You don't have the total you think you have."

Now, I admit that I had had a drink at the table, but I was more tired from jet lag than buzzed. I checked my arithmetic, she was right, and I waved my hand over my cards. At the end of the hand, I said that that was enough for that day and called it a night.

And that was the end of my blackjack career.

I have long since forgotten my basic strategy mnemonics and I have no idea where my homemade strategy card is, or if I even still have it. To get up to speed on blackjack again, I went onto the Wizard of Odd's site and printed his basic strategy chart.

I practiced using the chart for a few hours using the blackjack trainer on the Wizard's site. I didn't attempt to memorize basic strategy again. I just wanted to be able to use the chart quickly.

A bit after midnight I went through the rule sheets I had picked up at registration to ensure I knew the ins and outs of how the tournament worked. At the end of the blackjack section, the last two paragraphs, it said that players were not allowed to bring any kind of aids like strategy charts to the table. Players moreover were like Senators at an impeachment trial because we were also not allowed to talk to any of the people watching or to the other players at the table. There goes my plan of asking the others for the right move if I had trouble with the chart. At least we weren't threatened with the pain of imprisonment.

I panicked. There was no way I could memorize basic strategy before my blackjack session at 10am. I went to Plan B and printed the Wizard's simplified basic strategy and used the Wizard's blackjack trainer to try to memorize it.

After an hour of practice, and ignoring some of the misplay warnings from the trainer because the strategy I was using was simplified, I called it a night.

On Sunday I got to Red Rock about an hour before my scheduled time. The tournament was between sessions, so I asked one of the tournament reps in the pit if the tournament players got as upset as regular blackjack players if you made a basic strategy mistake. The only thing I remember about his answer is that it didn't make any sense. I asked him if players really couldn't bring strategy charts to the table and weren't allowed to talk at the table. Again, I don't remember his answer but it was clear that he hadn't read the rules -- and maybe this was his first rodeo, er, blackjack tournament.

I went to an electronic blackjack game to continue to practice. I still needed to refer to my chart frequently. I thought about bailing on the blackjack, but you had to play in both the blackjack and the video poker sessions to be eligible for any prize. I was just trying to survive the blackjack portion and hoped to do well at video poker.

I tried to get back to the tournament area to watch the session before mine, but it had already ended. I was still debating about whether I should play when 10am rolled around. I finally decided to go for it.

I was the first one to arrive at my table. I was assigned to first base according to the card I was given at registration. Eventually the others sat down at the table too. When everyone was there, I said, "It's been years since I've played blackjack, so I'm apologizing in advance."

A lady sitting at the other end of the table said that she hadn't played blackjack in many years also.

As it turned out, I didn't have anything to worry about. The dealer didn't care that I had my strategy card on the table. I didn't really need it, though. All I had to do was watch her.

When I was supposed to hit, she held the deck in front of me and looked at me. If I was supposed to stand, she held the deck in front the next player and looked back at me to make sure I signaled to stand.

I didn't have to take a vow of silence, either. There was a lot of banter at the table. The two top players even discussed how much they should bet on the last hand based on what the highest score in the tournament was so far.

I ended up having a lot of fun. I survived the blackjack round, well out of contention for any prize.

Unfortunately, I was also well out of contention for any prize in the video poker round too.

My total take for the weekend: A coke and some snacks at bingo and a Pepsi and some snacks at video poker.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots