Tag Archives: gambling

Scaring the high-tech scarable

Three wooden toothpicks under the hatband forward of the feather leaning backward scares the hell out of them

Three wooden toothpicks under the hatband forward of the feather leaning backward scares the hell out of them

Good morning readers. Thanks for coming by for a read.

During those upsy-downsey times when I was trying to squeeze out a living playing blackjack I picked my casino carefully.  Only casinos offering the surrender option allows the player to throw out the blackjack books and stack the table and the odds in his own favor.  It’s a cause for black looks and hatred from the other players, but deep suspicion on the part of casino security and pit bosses.

Surrender doesn’t exist in a lot of gambling joints.  It allows players, once they see both their cards and one of the dealer cards, to take back half his bet and bow out of the hand.  I’d spent a lot of time on the computer figuring out how to turn this into a slight, but significant bending back the fingers of the house advantage.

One day I was doing fairly well on third base at the Santa Ana Star Casino.  I was wearing the high roller, and I always kept a few toothpicks in the hatband ahead of the feather for easy access during moments of contemplation.

My splitting 10s and not splitting aces at times, not at other times, doubling down sometimes, surrendering others, was working despite the fact it defied the traditions, superstitions and religions of blackjack.

I’d been there an hour or two when the pit boss came over standing beside me, watching.  At one point he bent across the partition during a hand, close to my head.  I thought he was smelling my high roller.  But a few minutes later two security men came and stood with him, watching.

A couple of hands later two more security folks came and stood behind me watching the play.  I didn’t change my strategy, kept getting as much money on the table as I could when the advantage was my way, surrendering when it wasn’t.

When the dealer finished the shoe the pit boss leaned over to me and said, “Would you mind taking your hat off please?”

I reached up and pulled it off, thinking he was admiring my high roller.  He bent over and squinted, along with the four security guards.  I handed him the hat and he showed it around, feather side up.  They all squinted.  Then one of the guards carefully took one of the toothpicks out of the band.

They’re just toothpicks!”  He handed it around so they all could confirm it.

He handed my high roller back to me and shrugged to the security men.  “You can go.”  Then he turned back to me.  “Why do you keep toothpicks in your hatband?”

By this time I’d caught onto their suspicions and concerns.  I was barely able to restrain myself, keep my humor dry.  “Mojo.”

What?”

Mojo.  Three toothpicks brings me paired 10s and more blackjacks.”

Sneering, he shrugged and walked away.  Surrendered and never knew it.

Old Jules

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Gamblers, Gambling and Risk-taking

Previously blogged May 17, 2005

Saturday a recently acquired friend and I revisited one of the sites I spent a lot of time puzzling over during the search for the lost gold  mine.  The place was the focus of the ’98 search  and a good many years prior to that.  Sometimes it amazes me how many times I climbed and unclimbed the west face of that mountain, always finding something new and puzzling.  I spent most of a month camped at the top, friends coming in for a week or so, then heading back to their lives elsewhere without finding what we were looking for, but finding enough adventure, fellowship and mountain air for a while and remember as one of the good times.This was Jim’s first time up there.  We went in mainly to look at a rock pillar that’s peeling away from a cliff face.

It’s a formation that fascinated a man I’ve come to know awfully well by his work; a man I never met, but whom I followed around that mountain puzzling over what he did, how he did it and why he did it.  A man who lived and died 150 years ago, roughly.  A man who knew a gamble when he saw one, went into a canyon spang in the middle of Apache country at a time when the best he could hope for if he was a quick death, or if his luck was bad, hanging upside down over a slow fire.

I’ve been wearing the arrowhead that almost certainly killed him hanging from a leather thong around my neck for a decade or more.  The ruin a few charred logs high, a long-tom sluice he carved with an axe out of a three-foot diameter log, a 400 pound rock he chiseled down to use as an arrastra and a hundred or so signs and symbols he made on rocks, along with his various diggings are all that’s left to tell what kind of man he was.

A gambler, he was, gambling on being caught by Apaches, gambling a broken leg in a place where such a thing was sure death.  A man who believed in himself so thoroughly that in that setting that he pecked away at the base of a 50 ton pillar of rock trying to get at what was underneath until it gives a man the fantods even today to walk beneath it.

One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating as I watched Orion chasing the Pleiades across the night sky to the background music of wind in the treetops is the thought of how a man of that sort would feel about a world where low-level risk-taking is a criminal offense.

A time when edging the nose of  a vehicle onto the pavement without fastening the seat belt probably won’t get you hurt, but it will almost certainly get you a conversation with an armed pair of mirror sunglasses.  A time when risk is defined in how many years it might take you to get cancer from whatever you’re eating or smoking.  When excessive gambling is betting the grocery money at the blackjack table.

I wonder if he’d have played a wheel, or just picked a few numbers that suited him and bought a hundred tickets with the same six numbers on them, going for broke on something he believed in, the way he did in life.

One of the ways we define who and what we are includes what we’re willing to give up to travel around the sun a few more times.  That guy on the mountain wasn’t inclined to give up much.

Old Jules

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

The Poor and Under-educated

Previously posted June 9, 2005

There’s been a lot of discussion on various threads about the statements people who think they know, (politicians, academians, religious zealots, know-it-alls, do-gooders and others with the wisdom to know what’s best for people who aren’t fortunate enough to be them) that most of the people who play the lotteries are poor and under educated.

The Poor:
I’d be the first to agree that people who are one or another level of ‘poor’ play the lotteries.  Most of us are poorer than we’d like to be…. that’s why folks such as Hollywood Henderson and Jack Whittaker bought tickets.

But how poor can a person be and still buy lottery tickets?

The poorest people I know are living on the streets panhandling.  They have their values straight, as a rule.  Priority one, when some money falls into their lives:  A bottle of something, a fix of something.

Priority number sixteen, or thereabouts:  Something to eat.

Priority number twenty-seven:  A lottery ticket.

Those folks aren’t buying a lot of tickets.

The somewhat higher level of poor people do buy some tickets, I’ve observed standing in line behind them at the convenience store.  They drive up in automobiles, buy a case of beer for the evening, some chips, and probably go home to watch the results on television.  They mightn’t have a nice home…. maybe a trashed out mobile home in some park full of human lessons to be learned, anger and loud music, but they aren’t actually poor.

In fact, by any standard besides the one we judge such things by today for social reasons, these ‘poor’ people are generally enjoying a level of wealth seldom experienced in human history.  There’s food available to them through food banks all over this nation to keep them from starving.  They have shelter from the weather and warmth in the winter.  They can purchase clothing at any garage sale for a quarter.  They drive automobiles or use public transportation unless they choose to walk.

In a world where the history of human living conditions have predominantly involved worrying about where the next meal is (or isn’t) coming from, where death by exposure to the elements has almost always been a reality, the US doesn’t have more than a smattering of poor people by standard that existed a century ago. 

Those poor people referred to by the politicians and statisticians are adults, making choices about what risks they wish to indulge with the money they have in hopes of improving their lot.  They’re submerged in wealth.  If you don’t believe it, imagine those pictures you probably see on television of villages somewhere with kids lying around with pot-bellies, flies walking all over their faces, them without the energy to lift a hand to brush them off, one step away from exiting the vehicle because there’s nothing to eat and there’s not going to be.  That’s poor.

The Under-Educated:

I happen to have a pretty fair formal education, though I’m ‘under-educated’, as is everyone I’ve ever met.  Which boils down to all lottery players being under-educated, and that being a shared trait with all those who don’t play.  Until someone invents an educational level that includes being ‘over-educated’, and ‘just-the-right-educated’, none of the above tells us much about who plays the lottery.

But it does tell us a lot about manipulative rhetoric, politics by guilt, religious posturing, hypocracy, and a willingness (or unwillingness) to allow adults who might be just as smart and savvy as we are to make their own choices about how they want to spend their money.  About what risks they’re willing to take in life.  That comes under the heading of something called, “freedom”.  Not a lot of it floating around these days.

Old Jules

A Filler for Bad Texas Weather

Good morning everyone, Jeanne here.  Jules and I discussed the possibility that the horrendous weather he’s been having down there in the hill country might inhibit his going online for a day or two, so I’m putting up a couple items that I was going to save for a future Ask Old Jules entry. As always, if you have a question yourself that  you’d like to see answered in a future post, you can put it in the comments on either site. 

Old Jules, my partner and I  have asked spirits/orbs/ghosts into our home so that we can take photos of them. We have some good orb pics. The thing that have really noticed is that within a minute of my partner sensing something in the room, I often smell an incredibly strong smell of rotten eggs/rotten flesh. This has happened about 3 times whilst asking for beings to be photographed. The other night after taking pics I suddenly smelt it in my bedroom, like it was following me (and I was undressing). My partner seems to sense beings,  but I don’t.  I smell them, but he can’t.
So my main question is whether this smell is of bad spirits/demons?

Sounds as though you might need to try the NOSE (Neotronics Olfactory Sensing Equipment; Neotronics). It’s likely to be the rage in the next generation of marketing ghost-chasing equipment to television watching ghost busters.

Paranormality’s grand
Electro-magnetically scanned;
Ghost-chasing adventures
And captitalist ventures
Finally go hand-in-hand.

Old Jules, what’s the best strategy to play blackjack online?

The best strategy is to not play online. Would you play blackjack at a casino where they took the cards into the backroom to shuffle them, where everything important happened outside your range of vision, where the whole thing, beginning to end, was done in a dark room illegally and you’d have no recourse in the unimaginable event you could prove you’d been cheated?

Online gambling from the US just about fits that description. The online casino strangers you play with provide the games because they have a vested interest in winning. If Lady Luck doesn’t offer up the profits there’s nothing at all to keep them from helping her along.

Thinking on your Feet

A friend and I were chewing the fat outside a car wash business he owns next to a convenience store in Las Lunas, New Mexico a few years ago. A pregnant woman who worked at the convenience store came outside and plopped down out of sight of the front door, smoking a cigarette, sitting on the concrete and leaning against the building.

We’d discussed this woman before…. a nice young lady with a life a person wouldn’t wish on anyone…. last time I’d seen her she was sitting in the same spot crying, which is how I came to ask my bud about her story. Anyway, seeing her brought her into the conversation again.

Most recent weirdness in her life:

The lady was  20 years old. She’d gone into Isleta Casino a while back with a friend, began feeding her paycheck into the slot machines. Now, it was illegal for this woman and her friend to be playing the slots, minimum age being 21.

So what happens? She hits a $5000 jackpot on the machine she’s playing. It lights up like Times Square on New Years Eve, making all kinds of commotion, people coming from all directions to see. She knows she’s going to have to show an ID to get the money. So what does this poor lady do?

She and her friend beat feet out of there, leaving the jackpot.

I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is this: What the hell was she doing putting her money into a gambling machine if she couldn’t accept a payoff, supposing she hit?  Did she do some heavy thinking about this?

But, even so, she ought to have been able to get someone legal to accept the payoff and split it with her, thinks I.

But she knew she was breaking the law, and what do you do when you get caught red-handed? Why hell, you run if your knees are still good enough to allow it.

That’s what’s called thinking on your feet.  Thinking afterward what you done-already should have thought before-wards.

Old Jules

Frank Sinatra and Count Basie– Luck be a Lady