You have reached the blog of Keith Elder. Thank you for visiting! Feel free to click the twitter icon to the right and follow me on twitter.

Breaking Vegas

Posted by Keith Elder | Posted in Friends, General | Posted on 05-06-2005

Imagine you are sitting in your money making cube at work one day and an email comes into your inbox that reads: “Do you want to go to Vegas for 4 days and stay at the Paris Hotel? If so, reply and let us know.” Crazy I know but we aren’t the 12th best company to work for in the nation for nothing you know! So on May 19th at about 7:00 in the morning, 175 team members and myself from Quicken Loans jumped on the Fun Jet and headed to Vegas. When the plane landed charter buses were waiting to take us to the hotel. As soon as we got off the charter bus, DWal(pronounced D-Wall, in the orange shirt in the pic, also my roommate for the trip) and myself were looking for some food so we hit “Le Cafe” in the Paris with about eight other team members for some breakfast. After eating, about 4 of us wanted to go hit the tables. Let the games begin! For about two weeks in the office prior to leaving, I had been reading several Blackjack books and re-learning the basic strategy. I say re-learning because when I was in college, once every now and then we would head to the casinos in Biloxi. They were close being only about an hour away. All we ever played was $2 Blackjack because that is all we could afford. But to start playing at a $2 table, all you need is $30 – $40 to ride the roller coaster up and down. Several times we came back with $150.00 in our pocket after playing all night. Nothing big of course, but $150 to a broke college kid means you can upgrade from ramen noodles to soft tacos at Taco Bell for a few weeks. Anyway, I digress. Any book you read about Blackjack worth its weight will tell you that you have to know how to play basic strategy. Not only that, you have to implement it right down to the wire. The only time you deviate from basic strategy is if you are able to count cards which then gives you an edge over the casino. However, if you are not able to count cards, do exactly what the strategy card tells you to do. Before leaving for Vegas, Dwal and I made an agreement to stick to the strategy no matter what. As the books say, we are not going to play with emotion, gut feelings, or hunches. When you do this, things turn bad. After eating breakfast at Le Cafe we headed over to the tables with Matt and Kirk. We had had breakfast with Matt and Kirk and it quickly became apparent they had the same mindset about playing we did. We wanted to find a nice $5 table to start out. At the Paris Hotel and Casino you will not find any $2 tables. As a matter of fact you will be hard pressed to find a $5 table past 9:00 AM or 10:00 AM. Early in the morning the Paris has several $5 tables, but as the tables fill up, they up the stakes to $10, or $15. In the early hours of the morning, they pull some of them back down to $5. When we walked over to the tables, we found a $5 table that had a few openings and a couple of us jumped in. We noticed a few of the other guys there were what we call “Walk Ups” and wouldn’t be around but for a few more minutes. A “Walk Up” is someone who walks up to the table and doesn’t bring enough to the table to ride the roller coaster. Basically they are just playing with a few dollars and hope they get lucky. Blackjack is a roller coaster. One minute you will be up and then you loose a really good split with a double down hand and you are back under. A lot of books refer to what you should bring to a table initially for your lay down as “minimum units”. I cannot begin to tell you how many people walked up to the tables we were at and sat down at an open spot only to get up a few hands later leaving their money at the casino. A lot of them threw down say $20 on a $5 table, or even $40 on a $5 table. Either way, they do not have enough to ride the roller coaster. A lot of them are also in a hurry it seems. You have to have at least several hours for a session (unless you get up big real quick if the cards are coming out). For example, on a $5 table, you need to bring at least $100 for your initial lay down. This gives you 20 units (or 20 bets to play with). Some books even suggest a 30 unit lay down initially. That is up to you and how much your bankroll is though. The worst thing you can do is start betting $10 bets. Now you are down to 10 units to play with. Doing this, you just cut your roller coaster ride in half. If you want to play $10 min bet that is fine but bring $200 not $100. I will give you an example of why you need these units in a bit. So after a few minutes, all four of us were sitting down at the table. Everyone was starting off small with minimum bets. I got up a few dollars pretty early and as most people do when you get up, play with the casino’s money. When I got up I started upping my bet and as soon as I did I drew 8’s (which you always split). I split ’em against the dealer’s 5. This was a no brainer right? Next card that came out was an 8. I split that eight. Now if you are doing the math, I now have $15 per hand times 3 hands. The next card that came out on an 8 was a 3. Double Down! So now I have $60 on the table for one hand. I get my double down card and stay (it was ok, not great). The next card is dealt and I get a 2. Double Down! Now I am in for $75 on one hand. If you remember the thing I said early about riding the roller coaster, well, here we go. The odds are in my favor, the dealer is going to bust. The dealer starts to deal her cards out and hits 21. What are the odds! So I lost my biggest hand. I played it perfectly though, it was almost text book. So now I am about back to even and the downward spiral continues. Matt and Kirk were doing well at this point, they got up early and were getting some nice cards. I went all the way down to where I had about $25 left of my initial lay down. Now of course this took about 2-3 hours. The cards had to turn though. After a shoe redeal, I started keeping better track of what was coming out. When the card count got high, I went all in with my remaining money. At this point it was like $35.00. If I didn’t win this, this session was over. The cards come out and I hit Blackjack and there are face cards all around! In one hand I claw my way back to almost even. In about another 30-45 minutes I am now up a hundred dollars. What a roller coaster ride to start my Vegas trip off with. At that point I get up. I have doubled my initial lay down plus it is time to check into the hotel now. Dwal and I got our bags in the room, changed into some shorts (man it was hot there) and headed back down to the tables. As it turned out, we were both up about $100.00. At this point we decided to hit the $10 tables. We laid down our $200 (20 units) away we went. After awhile we road the coaster until we had doubled up again and then walked. A lot of people get up in a game more times than not, it is just a matter of when to walk away. After getting up we went to eat and then to bed. We got up about 11:00 PM and hit the tables across the street at the Barbary Coast because we couldn’t get in anywhere at the Paris. This turned out to be big in our favor. About 5:30 AM we got up from the table at the Coast and by this time Dwal was up like $400 and I was up about another $250. We went to bed at about 6:00 AM. Man, what a ride. In the first day, we were up a combined total of $1,000. On Friday morning we got up and went to eat breakfast. The word had started to spread about our day and our winnings when we would pass someone here and there. Most people wanted to know where we were at? “We didn’t see you at [insert place], or [insert another place]”, was what we heard from most people. We were there to gamble though. We were committed to increasing our bank roll, not doing things that we could do back in Michigan. Several of my close team members wanted to come with us on our journey. We let them in on one condition. You have to play basic strategy to a “T”. If we say hit, hit. If we say double down do it. And you have to play with so many units starting out. After finishing breakfast, we filled a $10 table up in the Paris. Things didn’t go very well for me to start out so I moved to another spot on the table. For no reason really. It doesn’t matter where you sit really. And the myth about what other people on the table do hurts you is a myth. It doesn’t matter. After moving to another spot I had to go all in AGAIN to stay alive. We played that day for about 10 hours straight. Dwal was hitting big and walked away with about $500 for that session. I broke absolutely even when we walked. That is a lot of work to break even but it was a good time as everyone was having fun playing. That night we hit the Coast again and things start to turn for me. I am up a couple hundred on a $5 table where we are playing with some guys from the office. Later that morning about 5:00 AM we walk back through the Paris and see Dlittle and some guys playing at a table so I join in and walk away with another hundred in just a matter of minutes. But it has been a long day. We’ve played Blackjack for about 16 hours in one day. We’re up but we are tired. We sleep in on Saturday, at least as long as we can. By this point our bodies have no idea what time it is and they really don’t care. By Saturday morning, we are up big. Saturday we hit the $15 tables and in a few hours I pull $300 from one table. DWal gets up from the table we are at to join some other team members since the cards aren’t coming out in his favor. I eventually join him and pull another $200. So for the day I’m already up $500! My total winnings the best I can tell are about $1300 – $1500. It is hard to tell because we were throwing money around pretty generously and eating some REALLY nice meals needless to say. We had to leave on Sunday so we get up and pack and try to get a session in on the tables before having to leave. This didn’t favor well for me as I wound up loosing about $500 on Sunday before leaving. All the money I won on Saturday was gone. Did I mention it is a roller coaster. I take the blame for the loss on Sunday though. My mind wasn’t in the game and I was really tired. I broke one of the rules of playing Blackjack. If you are tired, emotional, not able to perform at your best, then don’t play. I shouldn’t even have played on Sunday but you never know. All in all, DWal and I came home with about $800 each from the trip. We ate like kings and even had enough comps to take 7 people to breakfast Sunday morning. When you play that much Blackjack, it is funny how you start to know the cards. Toward the end of the trip I started deviating from basic strategy at bit, but only because I was able to sorta keep some kind of record as to what might be coming out. When I deviated from basic strategy more times than not it paid off giving me the advantage. For those that are going to Vegas for the first time, allow me to save you all the time reading a lot of Blackjack books. Just follow these basic rules. While it will not give you a real advantage over the casino, it makes the odds more even at like 49/51.

  • Buy a basic strategy card. You can pick these up in most hotel stores in Vegas. Bring it to the table with you and sit it down right on the table. The casino doesn’t care. Most of the time I played with a card in front of me, if for nothing else to just double check it sometimes.
  • Play the basic strategy card straight down the wire if you cannot count cards. This will give you the best odds at winning. If you do not hit a 16 against a dealers face card, you are going to loose %75 of the time. These cards are meant to tell you what to do to give yourself the best odds. If you don’t do what it says, you suddenly turn the odds against you.
  • Play your units and ride the roller coaster. When you do your initial lay down, get enough units to ride the roller coaster. Also, be able to loose your initial lay down. Be sure you can part with it. If you can’t then don’t even bother playing.
  • When betting starting out, play minimum bets until you get up. Once you get up enough playing minimal bet where you have enough units to increase your bet, do so. Example: Let’s say you are playing a $5 table. You get up $100. Now you have $200 total. Increase your bet to $10 minimum (since you have 20 units at $10 to ride the roller coaster). If you get up another hundred or $200, from that, then walk. Several books even say to pocket half of your winnings if you double your initial lay down. If you loose back down to that walk. At least you walk away with something. I used this tactic when starting out because I was building my bank roll. However, in Blackjack you have to bet big to win big. As I started playing with their money, my bets did increase.
  • You might be asking, “How did you get up so much playing minimum bet then?”. For me it was double downs and splits (which is why several team members started calling me “Double Down” and DWal “Split”). When you get to split eights and then get a double down on that against a dealer’s 5 or 6, that is where you can make up a lot of ground quickly. Not only are the odds in your favor the dealer is going to bust, but you increase your bet based on those odds.
  • Surrender a hand if the casino allows it. Not all of them do. Just ask. Surrender means that you don’t like your hand and you don’t want to play it. When you surrender you give up half of your bet. Say for example a dealer deals you a hard 16 and he is showing a face card up. Even though the basic strategy card says to hit (since you are going to loose this %75 of the time anyway at least fight for a chance to win), would you rather loose half your bet %75 of the time, or all of your bet %75 of the time? You should surrender a hard 15 or 16 against a dealer face card. For more information on Blackjack surrender read Fred Renzey’s article on it.

Write a comment