Card Counting in Las Vegas
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Las Vegas Blackjack DiaryBy Stuart Perry
(From Blackjack Forum Volume XVI #1, Spring 1996)
© Blackjack Forum 1996
[In February of 1994, New Yorker Stuart Perry did what thousands of amateur card counters dream of doing—he took his $20,000 in savings to Las Vegas to take a shot at being a professional blackjack player. He spent eight weeks card counting full-time, and all the while he kept a session by session, casino by casino journal of his playing results, all 269 playing sessions, with his thoughts on the games and conditions he encountered, the dealers, the pit bosses, the heat, the barrings, his occasional suspicions of being cheated, and the roller coaster ride of the wild fluctuations.
Now, Stuart has decided to publish his card counting diary, which tells his story exactly as it occurred. His book is Las Vegas Blackjack Diary, and we’ve never seen a gambling book quite like this one before.
It’s not the type of book any major publisher would be interested in, so don’t expect to see it in your neighborhood bookstore. It’s not a glamorous tale of adventure, but a brutally honest account of what it’s like for a “little guy” to take on the casinos single-handedly. If you’ve ever dreamt of trying this yourself, don’t pack your bags till you read Stuart’s story first. It’s the truth.
Rather than write an extensive review of the book, we’ve arranged with the author to reproduce the first two days of his eight-week journal here. –A.S.]
Session One. Golden Nugget. 8:50-9:50 am. Graveyard shift. 1 and 6 decks.
I woke up a little nervous this morning. I guess that this is normal in any new venture—especially one in which everyone dealt with is the enemy—which is the reality for a blackjack card counter. As I drove to my money box to get $5500 (the normal amount I will use as a daily backup for card counting), I reminded myself that the odds will be in my favor and that these odds meant that I was merely going into the casinos to earn some money. This pep talk calmed me down.
Unfortunately, the session was a losing one, a possibility that has an almost even money chance of occurring. I made two bets of $50 off the top to start my single-deck play; I lost both hands to a dealer 20. Within 15 minutes I was behind close to $900.
After a small comeback, I left the single-deck game when three other players joined. I played a $25 shoe game in which I won a small amount over two shoes of play despite never having a true count of over 1 ¼; the count I needed to raise my bet minus camouflage—at least in this game.
I then hopped back to the now uncrowded single-deck game and won back about $200. One dumb thing I did was not making a bet for the dealer (toking) when I had two hands of $100 on the table at time when he could choose to shuffle.
The dealer shuffled. I left the bets out to start the new deck—pulling back a bet is a very bad practice for card counters—and split the two hands. Very soon after this, my hour was up.
Like last year, I was given no heat by the Nugget pit. I hope that will continue.
Session Two. Riviera. 10:40-11:40 am. Graveyard shift. 2 decks.
The penetration was not good. The best I could find was 60%--which was about the worst available a year ago in the Riv’s two-deck games. Compensating factors—to an extent—were my $25-$400 (two hands of $200) spread and lots of fast head-on play.
Unlike the Nugget, I was given some slight heat. I once had a play decision in which it was correct to split two tens versus a dealer five; before doing so, I quickly looked around the pit and saw no one watching. I then made this move and won both hands. After this, a pit boss did start to watch.
I got ahead close to $1000 and then lost two straight $400 rounds (two hands of $200) near the end. The last deck went well, which helped ensure my maiden win of this blackjack venture.
After my win at the Riv, I walked across the street to the Stardust, ate a couple of hot dogs, and then spoke to Paul—a sports betting money mover I know. He has only two NBA games to concern himself with today, but lots of college tournament games are on the horizon—a good time to avoid him at this place!
Session Three. Gold Coast. 1:20-1:35 pm. Day shift. 2 decks.
Incredibly, I suffered my first barring in my third play session. It was a shocking experience.
When I first entered the Gold Coast, I noticed only crowded $5 tables and one empty $100 table. I asked a pit boss if any quarter ($25 minimum) tables were available. The boss answered that the $100 table would be converted to a $25 one for me. After this was quickly accomplished, I sat down to play and was quickly joined by two other players. As I played, I engaged the pit boss in conversation. I asked about restaurants and other features of the Gold Coast (answers that I already knew).
As I talked, I had a lucky run in my blackjack play. Without ever going beyond two hands of $100—and progressing to this point only off a win with two hands of $50 or one of $100—I got ahead nearly $700 within 15 minutes. At this point, the pit boss said to me, “I think that’s enough.”
I answered him, “What do you mean, sir?”
“You can play other games here, but you aren’t allowed to play any more blackjack.”
As I colored up my chips without protest (what was I supposed to say?), one of the other players commented, “What the hell is this? The guy wins and they throw him out for that?”
I cashed out and left in a daze. Was my card counting that obvious? Was this the first in a quick, long string of barrings?
Later, Frank, my card counter friend, told me that the Gold Coast and its sister casino, the Barbary Coast, often throw out ANYONE who is winning any real money if they even suspect the player knows even basic strategy well. Franks also told me that each of these casinos has evicted him about 40 time. However, since they evict so many players, one could easily go back in—especially on another shift—and play again in day or two! I’ll see how I feel before I decide to go back to the Gold Coast.
Session Four. Rio. 2:20-2:45 pm. Day shift. 1 and 2 decks.
After I recovered from my Gold Coast experience, I walked across Valley View to play at the Rio. After I crossed this mini-highway, a 40ish lady walked up to me and remarked how I looked like the “All-American Man.” Maybe with my Levi jacket and new Levi jeans, I did. At first glance, the lady looked cute, and I thought of the possibility of some fun later. However, on closer look, this woman looked less attractive and in our quick conversation, I came to feel that she was looking for someone to stay with and sponge off. Perhaps the Gold Coast bosses had sent her out there to snare me!!
After this diversion, I played mostly head-on in the one and two-deck games and my luck remained golden—even better than it was at the Gold Coast. I got blackjacks on several big bets (more likely in high-count decks, but I got far more than my expected share) and I won nearly every double down bet I made.
I used a little camouflage—mostly making some big bets off the top—and got no heat despite my winning. The tables then got crowded and I decided that it was wise to leave at this point.
Session Five. Flamingo Hilton. 3:50-4:35 pm. Day shift. 2 decks.
My three session winning streak came to an end. As I saw deck after deck getting reshuffled at 50% or so penetration, I asked myself, “Why am I playing in this crummy game?”
I know the sad answer to my question: to stop myself from over-playing and getting barred from all of the very few good games in Vegas.
The Flamingo Hilton machine shuffles many of their two-deck games; the dealer then cuts. I prefer a player cutting.
Even head-on play and a decent bet spread couldn’t make me a winner.
Session Six. MGM. 5:40-6:45 pm. Day shift. 6 decks.
It sure is a LONG walk to the casino from the self-park.
In the next Blackjack Forum Cheesie awards, this casino should get the Pack Your Backpack Award. I’ll lose a couple of pounds in the walk this week.
The penetration was between 4 ¾ and 5 decks today. I never had more than two others at my table and the true count and ace side count—and my method of keeping it without being obvious in a shoe game—caused no problems.
Though this session was not any real disaster, it was the type of session that epitomizes the frustrations of blackjack for card counters. For most of the session I was winning—a few times by around $600. On the last shoe, the true count went past 2 ½ for the first time; I was thus a favorite to win more money.
Didn’t happen. I lost several $100 rounds (two hands of $50) and one $150 round (two hands of $75). Luckily, my camouflage of not increasing past two hands of $50 unless coming off a win saved me from a far worse loss, since the count got very high near the end of the shoe.
Session Seven. Golden Nugget. 8:40-9:40 pm. Swing shift. 2 decks.
I got my first meal comp here. The dinner buffet—which I actually got comped to earlier on my graveyard play—was delicious. However, it didn’t come free!
With the one-deckers crowded on the main floor, I played in a $25 two-deck game in the baccarat pit. Two or three high rollers from the East played at my table. One of these high rollers claimed that he had won $27,000 in one night at Foxwoods (a mostly lousy penetration, eight-deck Connecticut casino, which I scouted but never played in). On one hand this player stood on a 15 versus a seven (in a neutral deck—though I new he wasn’t counting). This player and his friends must have gone through $5000 each in the time I played. I also did poorly, though my losses, and bets, were for far less.
February 28 Totals: +$1,126, 5 ½ hours
I was happy with the results of my first day of play, but realize that my results are totally insignificant from a statistical point of view.
I know well that my trip winnings WILL NOT average $200 an hour as they did today. Still, sleep came easily at my apartment. This is typical for me after a winning day.
Session One. Riviera. 1:15-2:15 pm. Day shift. 2 decks.
I slept in late today. Most days, I’ll probably start earlier.
Penetration continues to be bad here. Plus, almost all of the few times that I had good counts, I lost. I never went past two hands lf $100. No heat for me today.
Session Two. Golden Nugget. 3:40-4:40 pm. Day shift. 1 and 6 decks.
Before I started my Nugget play, I stopped in Leroy’s, my favorite sports book, across the street. I checked out the NBA lines. If I was betting the NBA, I suspect I’d bet the Knicks tonight. The Knicks have gone 0-3 on their four game West Coast trip and tonight’s game in Sacramento is their last and best chance to get a win on this trip. The game opened with the Knicks a 4 ½ point favorite and has now reached 6. Thus, I know that some big bettors feel the same way.
I realize that it would be dumb for me to bet this game since I am not following the league closely enough. I have not kept power ratings or anything else that would tell me if 6—or even the opening line of 4 ½--is too low or high.
Without such an anchor, betting basketball, or any sport, is a losing proposition. It’s like guessing in blackjack play—the act of a dumb gambler. My days of closely following the NBA now seem like 100 years ago.
At the Nugget, I ended my four session losing streak and also won in this casino for the first time in three tries. I played mostly single-deck with two shoes mixed in. In the single-deck, I was a little suspicious of how closely Lana held the cards to her chest. Later, I observed her and could always see the top card coming off the deck. Though I believe that blackjack cheating by dealers in Vegas is extremely rare, I am always alert to the possibility. At the end of my session, I played a little against Lana and added about $100 to my winnings for the session.
Session Three. MGM. 10:30-11:40 pm. Swing shift. 6 decks.
After watching the Knicks pull away late in their covering 100-88 win, I left the Stardust—where I’d watched the game—and drove up the Strip to the MGM. And, no, I didn’t second guess my not betting the NBA.
I had my wildest blackjack session so far. The blackjack roller coaster was in full swing!
I first fell behind by over $800 in the first half hour—losing most of it in one high-count shoe in which I won very few hands. The pit observed me closely during my losing streak.
After this loss I decided, during a bathroom trip, to risk another $1000 plus in this decent penetration and uncrowded game. At first, I lost another couple of hundred dollars with one other player at the table. When this player left and I had head-on play, the tide turned—big time! The turnaround began with a four bet winner on a multiple split of threes (a very lucky win since splitting threes is a DEFENSIVE move, in which a player is trying to cut losses) when the dealer busted. In the next shoe, the count skyrocketed to a true count of plus eight. On the big bets, I won nearly every hand with dealer busts and my blackjacks being the key. At the end of the shoe—after a loss and a lowering of the count—it was natural to cut back to $25 bets. Because of this cutback, I decided to play one more shoe (I often will leave a casino if I am betting very high—two hands of $200—at the end of one shoe, since a small bet at the start of the next shoe is often seen as the sign of a card counter.)
Despite this late cutback, I had over a $2000 plus turnaround. Nothing spectacular happened in the final shoe.
Session Four. Flamingo Hilton. 12:40-1:40 am. Swing shift. 2 decks.
Crummy penetration continues to exist in this joint. I hopped around to find uncrowded conditions.
Session Five. Rio. 2:20-3:05 am. Swing shift. 1 deck.
Because of my great session here yesterday—though it was on a different shift—I felt a little paranoid coming here. To give the pit bosses the “right” impression, I found some used keno tickets elsewhere in the casino before I sat down, and I bemoaned my “losses” in that sucker game. My keno ruse and my falling behind early by over $700 kept all eyes and heat away from me. I not only battled back to win, but also got a coffee shop comp from the pit boss.
Session Six. Golden Nugget. 4:10-4:45 am. Graveyard shift. 2 decks.
Just as yesterday, I got walloped in the two-deck baccarat area game. Last year, the Nugget sometimes had $10 two-deck games in this pit, and I lost every time but once there then. Must be a jinx!
Unlike last night, I played almost the whole time by myself and thus lost faster. I don’t believe that I ever had over a $200 winning streak in this session. When my losses got close to $1000 for the session, I decided to quit for the session and the day.
March 1 Totals: -$475, 5 ½ hours.
Week One Card Counting Totals: +$651
Time: 11 hours
As I well know, losing days at blackjack card counting are far from uncommon. I also know that I’ll have days on this trip far worse than the $475 I dropped today. ♠
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||Blackjack Card Counting in Las Vegas on a Very Small Bankroll
Stuary Perry discusses making a living by blackjack card counting in Las Vegas on a $20,000 bankroll. Perry shares his blackjack card counting techniques, wins and losses, and card counting camouflage.