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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Playing Blackjack With an Old Chinese Woman

Caesar's Palace's Blackjack Pit
I first went to Las Vegas in 1969 with my parents (I was practicing law in Chicago at the time, age 25), but we didn't do much gambling. Some slots and Keno (kissing cousin to Bingo and every bit as cerebral). Two years later Charleyne and I had just married and my sister Mary Beth herself was married soon after that same summer in Phoenix. My parents suggested to Char and I that we four go to Las Vegas after Mary Beth's wedding, and so that's what we did.

Before the trip Charleyne had a happy thought: let's read a couple of books about gambling and learn what's smart to do and what's not. That proved one of the best ideas I'd heard in my life, and saved me a lot of money through the decades. The best of these tomes was "Gambling Secrets of Nick the Greek," and, though aged, is still a first rate guide to gambling and how to play the basic games. We learned, for example, that a smart Blackjack ("Twenty-One") player has no decisions to make—the game is all mathematical odds. At the casino gift shop you buy yourself a little laminated card that tells you what to do when the dealer shows one card while you examine your two cards on the table, and then you do exactly what it says. No guessing, no hesitation. Craps is similar. The craps table is filled with sucker bets. In the photo observe the part of the craps table layout that says "Field"; if you place a bet there and the next roll of the dice hits one of those number it will pay off. That seems like a good bet until you see the photo below which shows how often the numbers on the dice will come up. Seven has the most combinations, then six and eight have the same, and so on down the numbers. The "Field" is rigged for the least likely combinations, and is therefore a loser's wager. Smart money in craps plays the Pass line only, and makes big Odds bets on the side. In a future post I will explain the rules of craps (which, perhaps, is not a kind thing to do given how addictive it is).

New Years in Vegas, Me in the Middle
The purpose of this post is to tell one story from the many trips I've made to Vegas with wife, partners, dates, family, and a large number of friends.

My partner of twelve years, Jerry and I were in Vegas for four days in the early 90s, staying at Caesar's Palace (great place), sometimes playing at the same tables but often seeking good gambling luck apart. Around 8 p.m. on one of these evenings I sat down at a $25 Blackjack table. I always have a gambling budget for each day at the gaming tables, and I stick to it religiously. If I exceed my budget, I go do other things (swim, read book, explore Vegas). But things had been going well that day—hence the move to a more expensive table—and, to my amazement, things went very well at that particular table too. This wasn't true of all who sat down at the table—players came and went all the time I was there—but it was true of an older Chinese woman who was sitting next to me. She and I both kept betting more or less the same (i.e., following the mathematical odds), and the money was pushed our way. When those started to be bigger chips, I would salt them away in my pocket. One of my gambling rules is "never touch the salt," so I never took chips back out of my pocket, and I deliberately remained ignorant of how much I'd salted away.

As time went on, this woman and I began to talk, and she was good fun. She'd been born in China, but lived in L.A. for decades now. She much disapproved of the man her daughter was going to marry, but had resigned herself to the fact. Her English was passable, and she understood more than she pretended. She laughed at all my jokes, which is hard to do if you're hearing a foreign language. So she and I became buddies. Around midnight we both packed it in, and after a bit I wandered to the cashier's cage and pulled the salted chips from my pocket. They added up to $1200 from an original investment of only $200! Very happy, stuffing the $100 bills in my pocket, I turned to find my Chinese friend in line behind me. "I made a thousand dollars!" I told her. She smiled broadly. "Me too!" she replied, hands mountained with chips.

I returned to my hotel room, and shortly after I arrived, Jerry came barging in. He'd made $800 playing craps at a downtown casino that had good Odds betting! We joyously threw all the money on our bed, and then "Scrooge McDucked" (do you know the verb?) in it until we misplaced a $100 bill. A frantic search produced the bill from under the bed, and that calmed us down.

The next afternoon I was wandering through Caesars and I saw my Chinese friend sitting at a crowded $25 Blackjack table. Amused by the idea of joining her again (I am not superstitious), I waited until a chair opened up at the end of the table. She was opposite me at the other end of the table, and I wasn't sure she had noticed my presence. After about half an hour of play, neither winning or losing, the table was dead. No conversation, no banter from the dealer, no eye contact with my friend (though she'd was bound to have noticed me by now), so I decided to shake things up. When the dealer paused the game to shuffle cards, I pointed at her and heard myself say, perhaps too loudly, "There is no truth to the rumor that that woman and I are having an affair!"

She burst out laughing, but the rest of the table, including the startled dealer, looked at me as if I were from Mars. I winked at her, tossed the dealer a tip, and wandered off in search of gambling booty.


Related Posts:
"Far Too High in Las Vegas," September 1, 2010
"How To Play Craps Vegas Style," April 15, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013


  1. great post I'm a huge roulette fan myself from Spain
    My weblog : William Hill High Stakes Blackjack

  2. Bunch of thanks to you for giving a worthwhile read! Truly fascinating story added to the world of gambling! :)