There’s nothing like winning money at the casino. I would honestly put that feeling up with any of the best life has to offer, whether it’s sex, your favorite drug, what have you.
There was a time — and in the grand scheme it was only a few years ago, so not that long — when my best friend, Trey, and I would go to the casino four or five nights a week, back when he and I lived together. We were regular blackjack players as 21 year-olds. After I left my first job, before I was working as a dealer, I went through a patch where I didn’t have very much money in the bank (one of the life’s worst feelings), but we still went. It was just… Trey gambled the majority of the money.
Since we always split our winnings, whenever he came up I did, too, even though I wasn’t assuming any risk. There was a night we went, a couple years ago, when he played $500 on a $100 minimum table and stacked it into something like $3,000. He gave me $500 to gamble, and we bought into a $25 table and wound up making another $1,500, an even $2,000 apiece. I gambled exactly $0 of my own money that night and walked out with two grand just because my best friend is cool as fuck.
There were a good number of nights like that. I mean, we didn’t walk out with $2,000 all the time — rarely, actually — but if Trey played $200 some nights we’d make about that much apiece; the majority of the time he just lost his money. Because casinos.
We’ve not been going nearly as often over the last six months — maybe once or twice a month, tops. But last week we went; I lost $200 playing Pai Gow and another hundred playing blackjack; then I took out another hundred and money played on a Pai Gow hand. I eventually lost it all.
After filing for my taxes, knowing I’d be getting paid on Thursday (today) anyway, I texted Trey to see if he wanted to go again. This was on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. He said yes, of course, just as I have every time he’s asked me if I wanted to go. Now, though, our roles reversed, as I had money to blow and he doesn’t, saving up for his wedding and what not.
Anyway, we got to the casino and I took out $300. Trey had tattooed earlier so he decided to play $100 of his own right off the bat. Playing blackjack, he lost pretty quickly. On a $25 minimum table, $100 can turn into $500 fairly quickly, but it can also be gone in three hands. One time I bought in $300 on a $25 table, played $75 on my first hand and got a split and two double downs (accounting for all the money I bought in with) and lost.
So we were down $100 before I started playing. After mild success, maybe double what I started with, the shoe hit a fucking lull. I was only fluctuating between $25 and $50 hands, but nothing was working. The doubles were bleeding my stack. I think I got down to my last four quarters at one point.
But, magically, it finally turned around. The dealer busted a couple hands in a row and I started saying fuck it. I played two hands at $50 apiece and blackjacks and double downs were coming up frequently; when they worked out, my stack was making its way to the $1,000 plateau — more than I could have hoped for going into the night — and Trey and I were feeling pretty comfortable. With about $600 behind and a $125 bet up, I doubled down on A-3 with a dealer 6 showing, and pulled an ace, giving me a measly 15. I needed the dealer to bust or I was about to lose $250 and be barely above even money for the night. Luckily, that’s exactly what happened.
Trey and I walked to the cage and I cashed out $1,000 shortly after. All that work to make $300 apiece, I thought to myself. I gave Trey his original $100 and took the other $900 to the high-limits, because this is free money and we came to make some more.
We went through the massive double doors and into the high limits. There were two $100 minimum tables, one $500 minimum, and a couple $50 mins. I chose the latter.
I bought in with $300 and lost it fairly quickly. When I came out with another $300, I knew if I lost it I would be back to original money, and I knew if I got down to that I would’ve played it, too. Again, I got lucky because I didn’t have to.
Once the shoe turned in my favor, as Trey put it, I “attacked it”. My strategy changes a bit on a $50 table, since I know if it goes well it goes really well, and if it’s bad it’s just as bad. So on every $50 win, I upped the bet to $75; if I won that, I’d bump it to $100 a hand, and so on. There were a few times I won enough hands consecutively — with splits, doubles — that I got up to $150 bets. It was beautiful blackjack. Everything was working for me.
I got three full stacks of $25 chips — $1,500 total — and had another $300 or so on the side that I was still playing with. I colored up to one $1,000 chip and another $500 chip, and lost the remainder pretty fast.
So Trey and I did well for ourselves. $1,500 gave us an uneven $760/$740 split, but that’s okay because what’s a $20 bill, really? It felt especially good for me, because so many times I’ve been on the receiving end of money I didn’t have to risk to earn. That’s what makes Trey and I best friends: we are extremely fair to each other. We both want the other to make it just as badly as we ourselves want to.
Over time I’ve developed a love-hate relationship with blackjack, because after dealing it every day I’ve seen just how often people lose. It sapped all the fun out of my favorite game, which is why in recent months I’ve turned my attention to games like Pai Gow and Baccarat. It’s like I’ve changed my gambling preference to games I enjoy playing, rather than the actual reason I’m at the casino in the first place: to make money.
I play basic strategy aggressively, doing a few things against the book to maximize my implied odds. When it works, as it did on Tuesday night, a lot of money is made. When it doesn’t work I usually lose fast, and in blackjack you typically just lose, anyway.
The feeling I get playing Pai Gow is more like a love. Like I’m paying $200 or $500 for the enjoyment of playing.
With blackjack, I don’t enjoy it. I don’t enjoy one bit of it. It’s more of a business relationship: I play it to make fast money. I know it better than any game, and it’s not whatever comes up; I have some control over it. Not a lot, but enough to work with if I have enough chips at my disposal.
Okay, new goal: Don’t go to the casino again for a little while.