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!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Blackjack Ball 2013

Last weekend was the 17th annual Blackjack Ball. This is my favorite party of the year since it allows me to see so many people that I only see once a year. It is a gathering of professional gamblers of the highest level.

In addition to cocktails, and dinner there is a competition for The Grosjean Cup. James Grosjean won the competition three times, so Max backed him off, but named the trophy after him. It starts with a Calcutta auction. If you aren't familiar with this players are auctioned off either as individuals, or in groups. For example, anyone who has made it to the final table in the past gets sold as an individual, but everyone else gets grouped, like members of the MIT team go off in a group, all the lawyers go off in a group. Anyone that doesn't fall into an obvious group gets thrown into the "field". (The field is almost always a good bet because it can have 20 or more people in it.) All the money that is bid goes into a pool, and is returned not to the players that win, but to the players that bought them. Players are allowed to buy a percentage of themselves back from their buyer. For some reason I am always the first person auctioned off, and this year I went for $2,000. I always go for way too high a price, and after all the auction was done, and the money counted 4th place paid a bit over $1,900. So if I made it to 4th I would still be slightly minus.

After the auction comes the test. The test consists of 21 questions, mostly multiple choice, a few fill in the blank and a few true/false. This is not really about professional gambling, but more sort of jeopardy -  trivial pursuit with a gambling category. Here are a few examples.
  1. Barona now offers more double deck games than any other casino in the world. True or False.
     (It's true)
  2. True or False. In the 9/6 Jacks or Better video poker game —yielding 99.54% when played correctly—Full Houses return 8-to-1 and Flushes return 5-to-1.
    Max always has some trick questions, and I kicked myself for missing this one. It is true. It pays 8 TO 1 or 9 FOR 1.
  3. This comes from noted gaming attorney Bob Loeb. Here’s the question: Three of the following signs have been sighted at casino blackjack tables in the United States in the past year:  Which was not a real sign? 
    a.     “Showing your cards to other players is not permitted; violators will be ejected.”
    b.     “English only spoken at this table.”
    c.      “Proper identification is required for all bets exceeding $100.”
    d.     “Handicapped players may be asked to give up their seat at this table.”
    I got this wrong, and it astounded me. I chose D, but the correct answer is C. Has this casino never heard of the Americans With Disabilities Act?
  4. You’re playing an 8 deck shoe. It’s the first hand. You open with a $200 bet. There are three other players on the game. You get a natural and the dealer has an ace up. Using the High Low count, you scan the table and the count is zero. You hammered the last shoe to the tune of $12,000 and now a new boss walks up and folds his arms and starts giving you the stink eye. You decide to make a cover play and say, “even money.” Within one dollar, how much does this cost you in terms of reduced E.V.?

    This is a fairly typical Max question. He fills it with a lot of info that is irrelevant to try to confuse you, and many people got this wrong. If he had just said, How much ev. do you give up on a $100 insurance bet?" I think many more people would have answered it correctly. The correct answer is $7.69 so you could be within a dollar either way. (Someone remind me to write another post about my asking all the bosses I worked with at the Golden Nugget what it cost to insure a blackjack.)
  5. We have 102 people with us tonight. Within 5, how many people in this room have personally netted at least $1,000,000, lifetime, during their professional gambling careers?
    (I probably shouldn't reveal this or the casinos will drop a scud missile on the place next year, but the correct answer is 48. That is a pretty amazing stat when you think about it.)
Okay, the tests are done, the papers are graded, time to call up the top 5 for the table competition. The most right was 14, and that was done by Bob Dancer, my cohost on Gambling With an Edge. Bob went off in the field - I told you that is a good bet. One person had 13 correct, that would be the gambling degenerate that writes this blog. Two finalists with 12 - JT and Wally. Wally won the Ball the first year in 1997. Two people had 11 correct, Anthony Curtis, and Henry Tamburin. That makes 6, but only 5 can advance so Anthony and Henry had to have a tie breaker. There are 36 states that deal legal blackjack if you include states that have "cruises to nowhere". They had to take turns naming those states until one repeated or named one wrong. I would say they got through 20+ before Henry said, "Maryland" which I believe has legalized it, but so far does not deal it.

Round 1

Now we were down to 5, and made our way to the blackjack table. We were on the bubble, because only 4 places pay. One person is going to be eliminated after the first challenge. Each of us was given a single deck with 6 cards removed. On go we would begin counting. You slap your deck down on the table, and assuming everyone gets it right then the slowest is out. If anyone gets it wrong they are out. Now because people may be using different counts the questions is, "how many ten value cards are in the remaining 6?" Now if you think about that, all that really matters is the tens. You don't need to count the deck like a card counter, you just need to count the 16 tens. I finished first, and I don't remember the rest of the order except that Wally was last. Wally had flown in from St. Kitts, had no sleep in the last day, hasn't counted cards in probably 25 years, and he took about an hour and a half. Well, it wasn't that long but it was reeeeeeaaaaally slow. 

Since I was first I confidently said, "2". Max turned over the 6 cards, and there were THREE tens! I got it WRONG! I was in shock. While he went on to the others I recounted my deck and I had 14 tens in it - including two jack of diamonds. I pointed out to Max that my deck was wrong, so it turns out I had counted correctly and was given credit. Unfortunately Bob got his count wrong, so Bob was out on the bubble, and Wally progressed.

Max preparing.

Round 2

Now were were 4, and there would be 4 challenges.
  1. The first was a new game that is going to be coming to casinos soon. I guess this was to give everyone a preview so we can think about how to beat it before it arrives. It is called Showdown Poker. Everyone was dealt 6 cards which you have to split into three 2 card hands. (Straights and flushes don't count.) They do not have to be good better best as in Chinese Poker. You can put them in any order you want. You turn over the first 2 card hand and the lowest loses his money into the pot. You turn over the second 2 card and, and again the money gets pulled in from the lowest, then you turn the last 2 card hand and whoever has the highest wins the pot. I forget who won, but we all bet the minimum so it was kind of random, and had no real bearing on the outcome.
  2. Deck estimation. Max put some cards in the discard tray. If you are within 4 you win your bet. Unfortunately I guessed 29, and it was 34 so I just missed. Wally hit it on the head with a guess of 34. don't count the old dog out just yet.
  3. Flashing signals. The idea is that you are handed a card with 2 things to convey to anyone in the room you select as a partner. The person to your right can select anyone else in the room to try to pick off what your signals mean. There is some really complicated way that you get paid, or don't, or what happens if you get picked off. Sound confusing? It really is, and this is one of those that I think should be eliminated. It's a huge advantage to guys like me that have team mates I have been signaling to for decades. We have multiple signals for the same things, both verbal, and physical. But take a guy like Anthony Curtis who hasn't played blackjack in years, and even then was mostly a solo player. If everyone at the table was a former team player it might be fun, but as is it is just confusing.
  4. One hand, winner take all Blackjack tournament. The twist here is that whoever wins the most gets the losing bets form everyone else at the table. I have the worst position. I have to bet first, and play first. I bet the minimum $100, and surrender my hand, so whoever wins the hand gets my $50. Anthony Curtis ends up betting his whole stack which I think is a crazy bet. He is basically laying me 20-1 on this hand. If he wins he gets my $50 and if I win I get his $1,000. I mean there is also Wally and JT to consider, but I think it is crazy for anyone to bet other than the minimum except JT who had the lowest stack going in. As it turns out JT was the low man at the end of this hand so round 2 was over and he was eliminated.

Round 3

There are 3 of us left. Myself, Wally, and Anthony Curtis. Coincidentally this is the same group of 3 at the final table at the first Blackjack Ball which Wally won. Curtis has made the final table 5 or 6 times but has yet to win.

  1. This was another counting test, although this time you had to count how many 7,8,9s in the 6 cards removed from your deck. You had 45 seconds. 45 seconds? I literally just sorted all the 7,8,9 out of my deck just in case my deck wasn't complete. We all went all in and we all made it so it was really no result.
  2. I should add here that each challenge is printed on a card which the players selects. Some you know what it means, and some you don't. It was Anthony's turn and he selected Feats of Cunning, Balance, and Luck. Turns out this was sort of Chip Jinga. Max put a stack of 10 chips on the table. We took turns drawing a card, and whatever number is on the card was the number of chips you had to add to the stack. (face cards count as 10) Of course Anthony, always looking for the edge would offset his chips on the stack, tilting the balance for me. I was out first.
  3. Cutting cards. The object is to cut 15 cards from the bottom of a single deck. Anthony cut 12, Wally cut 13, and I managed to hit 15 on the nose. Wally and I advanced to the final round.


The last event is a 5 round tournament with an interesting twist. Rounds 1 3 and 5 are regular BJ, but round 2 and 4 are Blackjack Switch. Because I won the prior round I got to decide where the button starts which is a huge edge for me. It was a bit of an anti-climax because Wally bet all his chips on the first hand, and I bet half of mine. I got a blackjack, and he got 16 against a 6. The dealer made a hand so the tournament was over, and I had won. This is my third win so I am now backed off along with James. 

After the final table there is an after-party back at Max's house. More food, drinks, and conversation long into the night. What a great night with the most interesting people you can imagine. One person I spoke to was on his way to the country of Yap where he was going to be declared The King of Yap for one day. True story.


Nicholas said...


Anonymous said...

I'm sure Max Rubin turned all of you in to his buddy Mike Patterson

Anonymous said...

Will they rename the cup? :-)

Richard W. Munchkin said...

I don't know. That would be up to Max.