I have two distinct lives. One in the trenches of low-budget film and television, the other in professional gambling. Because of the feast-or-famine nature of show business I need a reliable income... gambling. So here you will read about both worlds. Enjoy!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Blackjack Ball 2012

Every year there is a party for some of the greatest minds in Blackjack.  Attending are great writers, and theoreticians like Stanford Wong, Arnold Snyder, and James Grosjean.  Also in attendance are some of the great players of all time, like Al Francesco, members of the MIT and Hyland teams, and James Grosjean.  But the Blackjack Ball 2012 was an epic gathering.  Cocktails began at 5:00 and my wife and I were fairly early.
James McDermott
I was thrilled to see this man in attendance.  Who is James McDermott?  In the 1950s this man, along with Roger Baldwin, Wilbert Cantey, and Herbert Maisel first calculated basic strategy for blackjack.  There were no computers.  All they had were adding machines.  They published their findings in a little book called Playing Blackjack to Win in 1957.  For the game of Blackjack this was the Big Bang.  Before this no one had figured out exactly when it is correct to take another card, or double down.  (Or if they had no one had published it.)

That little book inspired this man:

Ed Thorp
Ed Thorp wrote the first book on counting cards, Beat the Dealer.  It was the first book to prove that blackjack could be beat by keeping track of the cards.  The book changed blackjack forever, and without exaggeration was responsible for the earnings of tens of millions of dollars by the people in this room.  It was no wonder that he received a standing ovation when presented with a plaque which read:

With deep appreciation, we salute you for the immeasurable contributions you have made to the craft of Professional Blackjack

Max Rubin presents Ed Thorp with a plaque. 
Ed Thorp was the first person inducted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame, and every year at the Ball a new member is inducted.  This year it was Ian Anderson, author of Turning the Tables on Las Vegas and later Burning the Tables in Las Vegas.  Most books for card counters teach you how to count the cards, and what the proper strategy decisions are. Anderson was really the first author to discuss how to get away with counting cards; how to actually take the money out of the casinos, and this was a really important contribution.

A quick note about the Blackjack Hall of Fame.  It is not without controversy.  Often people question, why is this person in and that person not?  The people who founded the Hall of Fame wanted it to not just be for blackjack authors, but for players.  Guys (and girls) who have gone out and consistently taken money out of casinos, as well as people like Thorp and McDermott who have contributed through publishing.  Because of the secretive nature of what we do it is hard for people to know why someone belongs in there if they don't know that person, or have heard the tales of their exploits. For example, last year the inductee was Zeljko Ranogajec, a person you probably have never heard of.  But trust me on this, if anyone belongs in a blackjack hall of fame it is Zeljko.  There is probably someone out there sucking millions out of casinos that none of us have ever heard of.  Someone who really belongs in the Hall of Fame but will never be there because they keep their activity secret. It is not a perfect system, and it is evolving, but it is the best we have at this time.

After dinner was a calcutta auction, and then the famed competition for the Grosjean Cup.

The competition starts with a test of 21 questions.  Here are some of the questions from the quiz.

3. If you get this one wrong, you’re disqualified. Casino Player Magazine awarded this casino the title of “Best Blackjack in America” in 2011. As the sponsor of the Blackjack Ball and home of the Blackjack Hall of Fame, this casino can offer their loose rules and high stakes games because everyone who attends the Blackjack Ball agrees not to play blackjack there. Name that casino.

The answer - Barona.  I have to say that I think this is actually a brilliant move on Barona's part. They give the members of the Hall of Fame a comp for life with the understanding that those people will NOT play blackjack there.  All the people who attend the Ball are also supposed to agree not to play at Barona, and some of them are not so scrupulous about this, but still I I think Barona saves many thousands of dollars with this.

7. True or False? For the basic strategy player, the blackjack switch games at the Bellagio, which are dealt out of a continuous six deck shuffler, have a lower house edge than the Bellagio’s best double deck games.

Answer - It’s hard to believe, but the double deck games at the Bellagio that stand on soft 17 have a .19% edge off the top and their blackjack switch games, even with a continuous six deck shuffler are only .18%, so the answer to seven is True.

20. According to Stanford Wong’s December issue of Current Blackjack News, where would you find the most blackjack tables in December of 2011?
          A. In the Greater Seattle Area 
          B. In Florida’s land based casinos 
C.  In Reno
          D. At the Mohegan Sun

Answer - As of December, 2011, there were 132 blackjack games in the greater Seattle area, 173 blackjack games in Florida and 173 blackjack games at the Mohegan Sun and Reno, even when you take out Sparks and Verdi, tops the list at 189. The answer is C. Reno.
Four people scored a 13 on the test, Anthony Curtis, Big Tony, Wahoo and Mr Yuk.  We needed a fifth and there were 6 or 7 players who scored 12 so they had a sudden death playoff.  They came to the front of the room and had to "name a casino in California that deals the game of blackjack."  If you named a casino that had already been named, or if you blanked, you were eliminated.  One by one they checked about 30 casinos off the list before they started getting eliminated.  Poker player Blair Rodman got sort of a bad call from the ref when he named Trump 29 and was eliminated because the real name is Spotlight 29. Eventually WRX grabbed the 5th spot at the final table.

The first competition was card counting.  Each of the 5 players at the final table was given a single deck with 5 cards removed.  Because people use different counts the question was, "How many black cards are missing from your deck?"  I don't remember if he had the slowest time or if he made a mistake in the count, but WRX was the first eliminated.

As you can see, some of the rounds are serious blackjack skills, like ace sequencing, and some are just silly, like arm wrestling.  The biggest upset of the night came when Mr Yuk defeated Anthony Curtis in the arm wrestling competition.  Anthony has competed in this event many times and this is the first time he has ever lost the arm wrestling competition.
Place your bets.  How many cards in the discard rack?
I called it 42.  James Grosjean was standing next to me and said he wasn't very good at card estimation but he'd call it 45.  Correct answer - 44.
For the memorizing cards section a deck was spread for 30 seconds giving the players time to memorize as long a string as possible.  They then took turns naming what card would come next as Max dealt.  When you named the wrong card you were out.  Mr Yuk won again and seemed to be on  a roll.  Wahoo was the 2nd man eliminated from the final table.  Then came shuffling chips.
Mr. Yuk - epic Fail!
Mr. Yuk apparently no experience with this essential blackjack skill, whereas Big Tony got his name from the size of his hands.
Even with this win Big Tony was low man at the chip count.
Then there were 2.  Anthony Curtis, seasoned veteran, and Mr. Yuk a young newcomer, his first time at the Blackjack Ball.  The final test - a 5 hand blackjack tournament.  They each start with $1000, and Anthony Curtis has the button.  This is a big disadvantage. Blackjack tournaments are the opposite of poker tournaments.  The button acts first.  That means that on the crucial last hand Anthony Curtis will have to bet first, and act first.  Will Mr Yuk be intimidated by the fact that for years Anthony Curtis was considered the best blackjack tournament player in the world?  Or is Anthony intimidated by the fact that Mr. Yuk is the first guy to ever put his arm down?

At this point Joe Pane says to me he'll take Anthony Curtis and lay me $15 to $10.  I quietly say to Yuk, you play many tournaments?  He says, a lot.  I tell Joe we have a bet.

Hand 1.  Anthony bets $100 and Yuk bets the same.  They both win.
Hand 2.  Yuk bets $100 and Anthony realizes he need to take the lead.  He bets $300.  Yuk gets 18, Anthony gets 11, and the dealer has a 7 up.  Anthony chooses to just hit which seems to clearly be the right play when the bankrolls are only $1100 and he has 300 bet.  Anthony makes 20, and the dealer makes 18 pushing Yuk.  Anthony is now up by $300
Hands 3&4.  I don't remember exactly what happens but between the 2 hands Anthony has some very bad luck, gets swung and going into hand 5 Yuk has $1,350 and Anthony has $900.
My bet is looking really good at this point, but then Max announces that the final hand is a secret bet!  Oh no. This means that if Mr. Yuk is not an experienced tournament player he could very easily blow this.
Hand 5.  Mr Yuk gets dealt 20, and Anthony is dealt hard 6.  Anthony is drawing dead.  Anthony doubles down - his secret bet was 450.  Turns out Mr. Yuk bet $500 which is an excellent bet.  This bet means that if Anthony were to bet his 900 and get to 1800, if Yuk also wins his 1350 goes to 1850 beating him.  If Anthony had bet 900 and Yuk sees he has a blackjack (taking him to 2,250) then Yuk can double down with whatever 2 cards he has and if he wins he gets to 2350.  Yuk only loses if he gets swung - Anthony wins while Yuk loses.  I think that only happens about 8% of the time.  

Congratulations to Mr. Yuk, a victory for the new generation of blackjack players.


Phil C said...

Thanks a lot for this update! I was hoping to go, but it didn't work out for me.

House of Pane said...

I love the play by play on the Blackjack Tournament portion of the final table. Not a thing missed well done Mr. M

ZenMaster_Flash said...

Excellent post. Very enjoyable to read.

I was extremely surprised that I had all of the correct answers for the questions included.

Could more questions be posted ?

Richard Munchkin said...

Joe Pane will be writing an article for BJ Insider that will have all 21 questions.

Joe Pane said...

The 21 questions are available at in the March Issue. The correct answers for the 21 questions will be published in the April issue

Anonymous said...

I think the blackjack hall of fame in Barona is a great idea. There is only one person who does not belong in it. Max Rubin does nothing more than play golf and rat out AP players to the casino. He is nothing more than a greeter for the casino. How did he get into the hall of fame,oh yeah he started it. He is nothing more than a self promoter,who knows how to play basic blackjack.