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August 28th, 2016 at 5:54:30 PM permalink
The dog days of summer. The heat in Las Vegas can be stifling. I remember once walking from my hotel room at Sam's Town to the parking garage. By the time I got to my car I was sapped. Could be that the drinking from the night before didn't help. It never does.

I wouldn't normally go to Vegas at the hottest time of the year, but I received a mailer for a comped two-night stay. Since I had no other offers for a free room to consider (and don't know when or if there'll be others) I booked my reservation.

My vacation to Vegas was only a few days away and the anticipation was building. I want to pull into this city sharp and ready. Going over charts, indices, notes. Practice. Have my blackjack game down cold.

We've all been there, those of us who have studied the game of blackjack, who have put in the study and have the discipline for a winning game. You arrive in Vegas or a like destination, get yourself situated, and the casino beckons. You place your money on the baize, the dealer cuts you out some cheques and you make your wager. The cards are in the air, and you know how to play them. This is the same ceremony I've done countless times. There's a continuity to all of this, a familiar flow, a long relationship. And there is always anticipation.

Which way will this game go? How good? How bad? And how quickly?

And what is your demeanor when dealing with the fluctuations of luck? One of the first things a student of the game of blackjack should learn is just how bad it can get. He should accept it, understand the risk of ruin, and bring enough money to ride out the negative flows.

Vacation is a good time to get lucky. After all, we're on an adventure. We want something good to happen; get away from the routine of everyday life; have some fun. Let both my double downs after split win! Let me hit my 5-card 16 and draw ANYTHING that keeps me in the action, then let the dealer bust! Come on, paint my ace!

What gives me solace after a losing session? The fact that I know I made the right decisions. Good luck can be an amazing rush, but there's always its evil twin so it can't be depended on over time. An edge can.

There is a certain kind of personality that is intrigued by the slight advantage that card counting and expert play can achieve, especially because in the world of casinos this advantage must be finessed. I confess.

So as I'm about to embark on my trip I am grateful that I can spend two nights in Vegas. Life has its challenges, and some of us are burdened with difficulties where even a little getaway is out of reach. We should all be thankful for what we have. It speaks to our soul.

I've lived my entire life in a suburb of Los Angeles that is located in the San Fernando Valley. From here there are two basic ways to get to Vegas by car: either the route that skirts Palmdale, then on to Little Rock and through to Victorville (this route is known to many of us who live in "The Valley" as "the back way"), or, you can make your way to the 210 east to the 15, then go north over the Cajon Pass. Either way you wind up going through Victorville and on to Vegas. On this trip I chose to go "the back way." Unless you're traveling late at night or early in the morning you'll probably have less traffic taking this route.

In the map above, notice the city name Los Angeles. Directly above the "s" in Angeles you'll notice a pink, box-shaped area--that's part of the San Fernando Valley. You'll notice that to the upper right of this area is the Angeles National Forest. Circumventing these mountains is the reason for the two different routes of travel to Vegas. (Located in the Angeles National Forest is the Mount Wilson Observatory, which houses the 100-inch Hooker telescope, the largest telescope in the world from 1917 until 1949.)

Once you pass through Victorville you'll reach Barstow about 45 miles down the road. (About 12 miles west of Barstow is the small town of Hinkley. Though not shown on this map, this is the town made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich.) Then, just before Baker you'll see:

This sign is iconic and known by Las Vegas bound travelers from Southern California.

Then, you'll travel through Baker (home of the world's tallest thermometer, see below),

and on to Primm, just over the California/Nevada border with its three casinos. (One of them, Whisky Pete's, displays the Bonnie and Clyde death car, see below. There's a good book about the outlaw couple entitled, Go Down Together, by Jeff Guinn.)

I like to travel to Vegas by car. It allows me the freedom to start my trip whatever time of day I want. If I had to get up at a certain time in order to make a flight I would find it stressful and confining, and I would probably have a poor night's sleep. I like to go to bed and wake up when it suits me. And if I go by car I have a way to get around Vegas once I'm there. On the day of my return trip home I can leave Vegas whenever I want. I like this freedom. But then we're only talking a 4 1/2 hour drive each way with no traffic.

So let's go! I like to get on the road. Off to someplace else. A comped hotel awaits me; a game of skill where I have the edge; female dealers full of sass and charm. Optimism, and a prayer.

So on my drive to Vegas, about 20 miles before I reached Baker, the traffic came to a complete stop for 10 minutes. Then it was stop and go for the next half hour. When I finally got up to the wreck site it appears that a Honda Fit, or some such small 4-door, had rolled over in what looked like a one-car accident. Hope everyone's okay.

Then at the California/Nevada border it started raining pretty hard. What? The outside temperature dropped from 105 to 75.

I arrived at hotel/casino XXX where I'm staying and decided to get in an hour of blackjack on "day" before the new crew came on at 6. Won $320. Nice way to start! Playing $10 to $80, DD, DAS, RSA, 60 pen. Opened for $50 on my very first hand. (Pit bosses like to see that at a $10 min table.) Then, on each successive new deal I'd open for $20 or $25. At one point there was a monster count. I had out three greens and 4 reds--$95. I wanted to stay under $100 because that wager would get a call-out or scrutiny. Dealer gets an ace up and I go to put money in the insurance field. I place out $45 and ask if I'm good. The dealer says, "Yes." Now, at the time, I couldn't really tell if I had out $90 or $95 as my wager. I was trying to keep the count, side-count aces, notice the discard tray, notice if the pit is taking in this play, etc. So my $45 insurance bet was $2.50 short and the dealer wanted to take $5 from my wager. I objected because she told me I was good. She apologetically agreed with me and so did the suit. They called it a push and I lost nothing on the hand. (This once happened to me at another casino where I had a $175 wager or thereabouts. The dealer said I was good on my insurance bet, which won, but then took $12.50 from my hand for not insuring the whole thing. I let it go so as not to make waves, but I should have pressed it. The dealer shouldn't say "You're good" when you place slightly less than half your wager on the insurance field and ask if you're okay. It is fairly clear that you're trying to insure your whole bet. I mean, it's not like my wager is $95 and I'm putting $25 in the insurance field.)

Sometimes I'll place more than enough in the insurance field when my original wager is some weird amount that's hard to figure. Then the dealer will cut out the correct amount and push me back the over, or he might let the over-bet stand and slide it all back to you if I win.

Back to my room for a warm bath and a snack--some low fat yogurt with peaches and blueberries that I brought from home. (I left the spoon in my car so I improvised by fashioning a hermetically sealed plastic cup from the room into a spoon.)

Very tasty.

Back down to the blackjack tables for a night shift session. I bought in for $300 and within about 15 minutes had worked it up to about $500 or so. This was grrrreat. Then I went on a losing session and managed to lose my winnings and about $270 of my buy-in. Then went back up some. At one point the count was +6 with five aces out and one deck left. I had $60 out there and got a soft 19 versus a dealer up-card of three. Well, at a +4 or greater TC index I've got to double. Dealer verifies that I want to double mentioning that I have 19. I didn't change my mind. Dealer busts. Good thing she did, because I wound up with junk. Walked away after 1 hour and 15 minutes down only $48. So I'm still + $272 for the trip. Pen varied from 60- to 80% this session. Got a lunch comp for tomorrow for my efforts as well. One suit was on the phone and kinda looking in my direction, but nobody lowered the boom. Hey, they've got to look somewhere when they're on the phone.

Fun little side story: Two Asian gents to my right, mid-40s, playing $25 to $80 a hand or there abouts. Not counting. The one right next to me has out an $80 wager and a $3 tip for the dealer. Winds up splitting and then doubling down on hand 2--and he has tips on all three hands. Dealer draws out to an 18 and all three of his hands win. I can't even remember now if my hand lost or won it was so riveting. When he takes in his huge win I say, "Life is good." He says, "You don't know that 'till the end." I pause and say, "Life is good right now." We all laughed. It was a fun moment. He had a max wager that morphed into three hands, and it all depended on where the dealer ended up. Big bets! Three-way tip! Suspense! Man, those are the ones you want to win!

Having myself a nice vodka and orange juice. Like I've said before, it's nice to be up your first night.


Hit the blackjack table, again, at the casino where I'm staying. Played a 40 minute session and came away $77 up. My first hand was a blackjack with a $25 wager. At one point with one deck left the TC was +7 and I had an $80 wager. I get 9,9 verses dealer 7 up. Well, this was a split play. On the first 9 I get a 6, hit again and bust. On the second 9 I get another 6, hit again and get yet another 6 for 21. I won this hand so the whole thing was a push.

So now I'm up $ 349 for the trip.

Comped lunch.

Went to Mandalay Bay to do the $20 gets $30 promotion. It looks like their double-deck games were $100 min so I found a shoe game that paid 3 to 2. It was a $25 minimum so I put out the $30 bet along with the complementary one dollar tip for the dealer. I was dealt a 6,4 and the dealers up card was 9 so I had to double. I get a three, dealer has a nine under.

So now I'm +$289 for the trip (plus a $10 cash comp).

Off to casino XYZ. Bring out the polygraph! In one hour I won $677, and I never had a bet larger than $60. Ask for a lunch comp for tomorrow and got it. The pen was never greater than about 55%.

So far this is a crazy good trip. Not that I've won a huge amount of money, but still really, really nice. Played some VP at XYZ. Lost $14. I was killing time because I was going to trade-up my lunch comp for tomorrow for a dinner comp tonight. I went over to the buffet to see if my lunch comp would work for dinner. It was short. I was going to go see the suit to make the trade up, and as I'm walking off the girl at the buffet calls me back. Seems the guy in line behind me heard my plight and had a dinner comp for 2 and he didn't want the other dinner to go to waste. He said we don't have to eat together. So, here I am writing this as I'm enjoying dinner. I found the guy's table and walked up to him and laid $2 on his table and said, "The least I can do is get your tip." He appreciated that. And I still have the lunch comp for tomorrow.

+$952 for the trip.

Maybe I'll hit my home casino on graveyard. Two hours to go. I'm having a screwdriver in my room so the prospect looks dubious. I have a mind to go hit the craps table and have some fun. Come on, the field pays 3:1 on 12. (Not that I ever play field bets.) I've tipped almost nothing for blackjack dealers this trip. In fact, I tip less now than I used to. But I like tipping crap dealers, generally. Put them on the Pass for $2 or $5 and give them some shoes. Somehow there's a camaraderie--a bond. So what to do? Pour another drink or go downstairs. Or both! 12:05 am. I'm drawn to the casino. I want to have some fun!

So I go. 3.25 hours later I've won $449. Did I play too long at one session? Probably. But I've had a few and I'm somewhat inebriated. And you know what? I play pretty good and have a good act when I'm drinking. Besides, I sure wasn't going to drive someplace else.

I lost $300 in 8 minutes when I started out. Then in about 30 minutes I got back to even. And for the rest of this session I just gradually won. It was about 4:20 am by the time I went to bed. I never did play any craps.

+$1,401 for the trip.


I awoke at 9:50 am. Having another yogurt with peaches and blueberries with my makeshift spoon.

I check out and it's off to the comped lunch buffet at casino XYZ.

Then on the road to home. For fun I took Las Vegas Blvd all the way to Jean. At the Gold Strike the prospector below greets you at the parking lot entrance.

I wasn't in the mood for more blackjack on my last day in Vegas. I put in 7 hours on this trip. On the way home I stopped at Buffalo Bills for a little break. A few years ago they used to have a couple blackjack tables that had their layout in Spanish. They're all in English now. From what I could see they don't have good video poker offerings.

So it's nice to be home and I had a great trip. This was my 90th trip to Vegas as a card counter. I enjoyed many of the players that were at the table with me, and I'm thankful for the win.
Last edited by: Greasyjohn on Aug 29, 2016
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August 28th, 2016 at 8:42:06 PM permalink
In an effort to relay information I thought I would let you know that this was a great trip report/ very detailed - glad you won.

Could have lived without the pictures of the yogurt but fun regardless. - did you run into kj😇
No longer hiring, donít ask because I wonít hire you either
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August 28th, 2016 at 10:11:19 PM permalink
Hey John, good trip report. I was just wondering, you said you lived in the Valley and went through Victorville many times, I was just wondering if you used to stop at Adelanto and play poker back in the old days. You said Victorville and it brought back memories. I forget the name. What was it, the High Desert Card Room or something like that? As many times as I stopped there and I can't remember the name. Sheesh. I guess all that's out there now are prisons.
'Emergencies' have always been the pretext on which the safeguards of individual liberty have been eroded.
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August 28th, 2016 at 11:13:07 PM permalink
Congrats on the win. Loved the trip report!
You can shear a sheep a hundred times, but you can skin it only once. ó Amarillo Slim Preston
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August 29th, 2016 at 5:32:09 AM permalink
Nice read as always, GJ.
Nice little win too!

I never knew they had a telescope in the mountains outside LA built to watch hookers in Vegas ,-)
Good stuff.
Youuuuuu MIGHT be a 'rascal' if.......(nevermind ;-)...2F
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August 29th, 2016 at 7:11:23 AM permalink
Great report.

I'll be in Vegas in a few days for the holiday weekend.

Reading reports like this get me amped up and ready to go.
Eater of Worlds
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August 29th, 2016 at 7:56:06 AM permalink
Enjoyed your trip report. Thanks for posting it!
You serious, Clark?
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August 29th, 2016 at 8:40:05 AM permalink
Good report sir. I started skimming when you started going in depth about your BJ plays since I don't like the game but the back way to LV is good info.
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August 29th, 2016 at 8:40:36 AM permalink
I really enjoyed your trip report. Question: are you hiding the name of the Casino "XYZ" to hide your identity or are you trying to keep a the Casino a secret gem so that people don't exploit it and ruin it?
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August 29th, 2016 at 12:45:51 PM permalink
What a terrific report GJ! Not because you won, or threw in a couple pics, or even just because I enjoy your writing... but because I can feel the passion you have for the game, the trip... the adventure. It's this passion that I connect with and appreciate throughout your writing.

Always enjoy your reports. Since you clearly keep good track, do you have any statistics for your trips? Not dollar amounts per se, but out of your 90 trips, how many winning and losing trips have you had?
Playing it correctly means you've already won.

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