Daily Archives: May 7, 2012

Blackjack – Another Bug on the Windshield of Life

During the late-1990s, prior to awakening to Y2K I was absorbed in a search for a lost gold mine.  I had zero interest in casino gambling and card games of chance.  But I had three close associates who believed themselves to be experts at the game of blackjack, two of whom made frequent trips into the canyons with me and had the grace to listen when I talked about it.

Because of this, I occasionally accompanied one or another of them to casinos near Albuquerque, just hanging around while they played, originally.  But I suppose this wasn’t enough.  Deano, then Mel wanted me sitting at a blackjack table enough to plunk down chips and insist I play, despite the fact I knew nothing about the game.  I found the whole thing stupid and boring.

But I saw Mel win a lot of money on those tables and Deano claimed he did, as well, though I didn’t witness it.

A Strange Way of Thinking, More Future Me: Bass-ackwards Letter to the Past, Mel King

Post-Y2K turned into a somewhat different matter.  Mel had always said he could make a living playing blackjack, and from what I’d witnessed I though it might be true.  But he also emphasized it wasn’t something a person could depend on, which I believed.  Deano also claimed he could make a living at it, which I believed less.  And a couple of others I became acquainted with post-Y2K, also threw their hats in the ring of pronounced ability to make a living at blackjack, whom I believed not at all.

I was running through a series of realizations of my own concerning making a living doing almost anything, squeezing by working graveyard shift as a motel clerk, substitute teaching, polishing the wheels, bumpers, grilles and gas tanks on long-haul trucks.  Squeezing by is an over statement of my success.

So eventually, when Deano proposed sponsoring me with chips, loaning me a book on blackjack, accompanying him to the local casinos, I eventually succumbed.  I learned the basics, witnessed his successes and failures, and observed carefully while I lost his money.  I wasn’t long noticing the tables are chock-full of people who believe they can make a living playing blackjack.

I also noted that they showed no signs of demonstrating that ability at the tables.  They’d mostly all read the same books, or books that said the same things about winning at blackjack.  Books, I noticed, that repeated dozens of conventional wisdoms, reiterated identical strategies to those pit bosses hand out to fledgling players sitting down at the felt for the first time.

So, every player at every table, along with the casino bosses, dealers, kibitzers, gambling addicts and losers were all singing from the same songbook.  Everyone knew exactly what a person ought to do to lose at blackjack by following the yellow brick road.

I wasn’t long concluding that if a person could win money on the tables the answer to doing it wouldn’t be found on the strategy card the pit bosses pass out to new players.  Bowing to the goddess of ritual.

In 1998, Mel had given me a CD with an animated blackjack game on it, hoping I’d practice.  It allowed a person to set up a group of players, each following particular strategies for betting, playing against them, seeing how various strategies fared, one-against-the-others.  I’d never loaded it on my comp.

But now, in the post-Y2K era, I dug out that CD.  At first I just practiced using the conventional wisdoms and Deano’s book of blackjack religion. 

But that didn’t float, and it didn’t fly, though my learning of it was cheaper than sitting in a casino, at least for Deano.

Eventually I noticed the settings allowed me to let the machine play itself.

I could set all six players using different strategies, different nuances, allow them to play 24/7, against the imaginary casino.  Thousands of times, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, eventually.  I could test strategies, tweak them for each player in each position, cull strategies least successful, try anything.  Anything.  Discard it and try something else until I found every microscopic edge a player might use.  And measure it against every other.

Just leave the machine running, check every few days, test, tweak, think, and launch it again.

What I learned from that computer and that software is that it’s possible to ‘almost never’ lose at blackjack, possible to win middling large amounts occasionally, possible to pick up at least a few bucks almost always with concentration, hard work and patience.  And a willingness to throw out the book.

But the baggage of carrying it into a casino is contained in the scorn and hatred of everyone else at the table. 

You see, blackjack players believe universally it’s possible for a player to cause them to lose by violating the ‘rules’ of strategy handed out by the pit bosses.  Split a pair of tens, hit a pair of aces instead of splitting them, and everyone at the table, they believe, loses.  ‘Playing for the table’, they call it.  Though the table doesn’t pay anyone who plays for it, should the person lose.  And the table doesn’t share any wins. 

I can’t count the times some well-meaning player sidled up and whispered, “Get security to walk you to your car.  The guy over there says he’s going to catch you in the parking lot.”

As with other religions, as with patriotism, getting crosswise with doctrine can be dangerous.

Old Jules

Surveillance Weirdness

Saturday October 28, 2006  

 

This brave new century offers a lot of interesting twists and turns for the observant.  I was reading a blog this morning, someone ruminating over a friend request he’d gotten from someone, maybe in India.

I’d gotten a similar request yesterday, so it caused me to consider whether blogs aren’t being used by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, both here and abroad, to find folks with particular sets of viewpoints.

For instance, I came across a blog the other day posted by a person who called himself something like ‘dope-smuggler’.  Hmmm, thinks I, is this for real?  The blog entries and photos all involved various aspects of the use of controlled substances.

Suppose I worked for DEA, I went on thinking.  Would I throw out a trot-line or two searching for folks who’d like to admit on blogs that they were felons?  I think I might.

Or suppose I worked for Mossad  (I think that’s the right spelling), the Israeli intelligence agency.  Would I like to know as many names and locations of people who held Nazi-like viewpoints?  Would I be equally interested in folks who rabidly approve of anything Israel might do?  Probably.

And so on.  But that’s not what this blog is about.

This blog is about what’s happened with surveillance technology and general nosiness, both of government and individuals.

The technology and availability of spying equipment with amazing capabilities and invisibility at a shockingly low price is out there for anyone.

At least it was shocking and amazing to me when I found myself moved to investigate the matter.

One day I’d been sitting at a blackjack table for about twelve hours, and when I got to my car in the parking lot my cell-phone rang.  I answered and was treated to hearing a long playback of my conversations at the game-table several hours earlier.  I thought back and recalled a guy who sat next to me for a while wearing an unusual fanny-pack he kept messing with, so I figured it was him.

But his motive for doing such a thing was a mystery, and how he happened to know my cell-phone number was one, as well.

That happened several times, the casino playback thing, but I only saw that particular person once, and when he took the chair next to me I asked him if he had his equipment with him.  “Oh yeah,” he answered with a laugh.  “I always carry everything with me.”  And left the table.

During the same time-period Jeanne was in New Mexico.  We were in the living room, me standing, her sitting across the room, having a conversation.  The land-line phone rang and I answered.  Similarly to the casino experience, I had a conversation played back to me, but this time it was the conversation Jeanne and I’d just had within the past five minutes.

Someone obviously had the capability to listen to what was said in my home.  But what’s intriguing to me is that they wanted me to KNOW they had that capability.

That happened a couple more times and I could never see any signs around the house of any microphone/camera, but it was obviously here.  From then until now I’ve gotten spam emails I don’t open, but with subject lines referring to something or other that’s happened in my life, said or done, recently.

Which confirms for me that I am one helluva interesting guy.  I cannot for the life of me imagine why anyone would put that kind of effort, energy and expense into my life, but I do try to provide with them with some amusement in various ways.

Sometimes I figure it’s the rich neighbor kid, sometimes I think it’s the neighbor across the street next-door to my buddy, Wes, who’s generally known to be a negative busybody.  But that doesn’t quite fit the casino incidents.

I haven’t a clue. 

But after the first phone-at-home incident Jeanne and I went to a surveillance store and looked over what was out there on the open market.  After seeing it, I decided we live in a time when it’s useless to think there are any secrets, any privacy, if anyone’s determined enough to want to know, sick enough to be willing to put out a few bucks and plant a device.

Flattering, though, knowing that despite the fact I don’t talk to anyone but the cats these days unless I’m on the phone, I’m still one hell of an interesting feller.

Golly.

Old Jules