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.