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BlackjackInfo News: Issue 21A - February 4, 2004

I left home on Friday of last week on a tournament trip, taking in events in Tunica and Las Vegas. I'll be on the tournament trail all week, so I decided to try something different with my newsletter. I'll be reporting in each day, in a sort of tournament and table play diary. I hope the week provides some interesting content, and I hope you'll indulge my concept here. We'll be back to normal for the next newsletter.

Meanwhile, you can expect an email each night this week. We'll start with a recap of the past weekend, and go from there...

This Issue includes:

Bally's Tunica "Blast from the Past" Blackjack Tournament, last weekend

My tournament odyssey began on Friday, at Bally's Tunica casino, where the advertised $125K "Blast from the Past" Blackjack Tournament again exceeded expectations. The turnout was a record 270 entrants, which ballooned the total purse to $160,000. Congratulations to Edward Johnson of War Trace, TN who took home the first place prize of $65,000.

I have all the notes from the final hands of that event, and I'll be posting a full listing with commentary at the Play by Play section of BlackjackTournaments.com. I hope to have it posted this week, but I have a pretty busy schedule here in Vegas. As a teaser for that detail, there were some pretty appalling plays late in the game.

My own experience in the Bally's event was pretty uneventful. The Bally's tournament is a hybrid event, with an accumulation-style first two rounds, then a standard elimination-style semifinal round. Of 270 players, the 35 with the highest chip counts after two rounds advance into the semifinals. Making aggressive bets in this format is a must, and I do just that. Unfortunately, that means I usually end up with a total of zero. Very typically, that was my result for this tournament. I played 10 hands in total.

I didn't actually play much blackjack that weekend at the tables either, though my two hours of play at least yielded a small profit of $135. But, it wasn't enough to make up for the $500 Bally's entry fee. Luckily that problem didn't last long.

A Profitable Stop at the Hollywood Casino

After the Bally's tournament, I had several hours to kill before my flight from Memphis to Las Vegas, so I decided to head over to the Hollywood Casino in Tunica. Hollywood has a generous mail coupon program, but I was no longer receiving their mailings because I hadn't been playing there for several years. I planned to play a little video poker to accumulate some points on my players club account there, and hopefully I'd be back on the gravy train.

Also, at the advice of a friend, I knew there were several potentially profitable slot machine plays in the casino. Yes, you read correctly, profitable slot machine plays. I've written before about the concept of banking slot machines that accumulate some sort of bonus which is paid out occasionally. If you know which machines to watch for, and can find them in a situation where other players have built up a bonus for the taking, you can reliably make a profit off of these games.

So, upon arriving at the Hollywood, I did indeed find opportunities on three different slot machines. The expected profit on these plays is fairly small, but I was very lucky. I made money on all three machines, including a $720 jackpot on one. After the three machines, and a total of about 20 minutes of play, I was ahead a healthy $1200. I didn't find any other opportunities on slots, so I went back to the original plan.

Gaining the premier status (Marquee, they call it) at Hollywood requires you to earn 900 points on your card in a six month period. Since I hadn't played there in several years, I was starting with a clean slate. At video poker, they award one point for $20 of coin-in. That means I needed to run $18,000 through a machine to accomplish my goal, less the small number of points I had accumulated at slots already.

To accomplish that in a short amount of time, I needed a fairly high denomination, or multi-play video poker machine. The best pay schedule in the casino other than occasional progressives is full-pay 9/6 Jacks or Better. In the high limit area, there are several of these games available in dollars with triple-play and five-play varieties. With a single hand wager of $15 on triple play or $25 on five-play, I had just what I needed. Of course, at those betting levels, an unlucky session can be pretty expensive.

I played about half my needed action at triple play and half at five play, and was again quite fortunate. Although I hit only a few quads, I had more than my expected number of pat full houses, which pay 45 coins on each line. After I reached my target of 900 points on my slot card, I had won more than $1600 playing video poker.

I hope this is a good sign for Las Vegas. A brief stop at Hollywood had erased the negative result from the Bally's tournament, and left me with a trip profit of over $2500. Off to the airport I went.

On to Las Vegas: The Casino Royale

I'm all business this trip in Las Vegas, and that starts with saving money on expenses. For the first two nights of my week in Vegas, I'm staying on a free room coupon at the Casino Royale. Now, this casino isn't much to look at, but it has three things going for it:

First, the location is superb. It's smack in the middle of the Strip, sandwiched between Harrah's and the Venetian, straight across the street from the Mirage. It doesn't get much better than that.

Second, they always mail me coupons good for free room nights every month, as well as an excellent monthly gambling coupon package.

And third, their food comps are remarkably easy to accumulate. You can use them in the Outback Steakhouse on their second floor, or at a Denny's in the same building.

Glamorous? No, but darned effective. A clean free room, free food, and with the coupons lots of free money as well. What's not to like? That's why I'm sitting here now, in my room at the Casino Royale, listening to the Venetian's clock tower bell chiming the hour of 11 PM, fighting to stay awake long enough to finish this missive.

Casino Royale: Story 1

I had an amusing incident happen today playing blackjack at the Casino Royale. Among the 8 coupons I received upon check-in, there's one that pays 2:1 on your first blackjack for bets up to $25. In using it, I found the first reason to ever sit down at one of those single deck games that pays only 6:5 for blackjack. The awful game becomes pretty good when you have a coupon that wipes out the sole problem with the game! So, I parked myself at a 6:5 table, hauled out my coupon, and began making $25 flat bets.

I played several hands, under the attention of a watchful pit person, and waited to be dealt my blackjack. Several hands into my play, the dealer turned up an Ace and asked the table for insurance bets. In this particular case, there were plenty of face cards left in the deck, and insurance was the correct play. Now, if you're a basic strategy player, "Just Say No" to insurance. But in this case, with information about the remaining cards, taking insurance was the correct play.

I tossed up another green chip for insurance, and the dealer broke it down to place my insurance bet with the usual two reds, two silver coins, and a 50 cent piece. The dealer did not have blackjack, so my $12.50 insurance bet disappeared into the tray. Meanwhile, the pit guy had been distracted for the duration of this hand. When he returned, I noticed him staring intently at my stack of chips, including the $12.50 I had received in change.

I figured I knew exactly what he was thinking... How'd this guy get $12.50 in front of him? He has a coupon for blackjacks that pays 2:1. Did the dealer make a mistake and forget to pay him the bonus, paying him $37.50 for a blackjack instead of the $50?

Thinking I'm on top of the situation, I tell him: "I bet you're wondering how I got this, right?" He nodded, and I told him: "I took insurance". He nodded appreciatively, and when he responded, I realized that I had been focused on the wrong thing all along. He said "Yeah, there's not much reason to be paying out 50 cent pieces on this game, unless the dealer has made a mistake."

It was then that I realized what he meant. At a 6:5 table, there's no need for the 50 cent pieces since they pay an even $6 for every $5 bet when you get a blackjack. Any odd money is paid off at even money only. The only reason 50 cent pieces are even on this game is for insurance bets. That was a subtlety that I had never considered about this game. Of course, the less things considered about this game the better. Just steer clear of these games, unless you have a 2:1 coupon of course.

Fortunately, my blackjack wasn't long in coming, and I had some luck during the wait. Upon receiving a blackjack and the $50 it paid, I immediately colored up and headed to the cashier with a $112.50 profit. Better yet, after I played all my other coupons, which are mostly for video poker, I had accumulated a strong total win of $620. About $100 of that is directly from the coupons, $40 is from cashback, and the rest was from good fortune while playing for the coupons.

Casino Royale: Story 2

While playing video poker for the coupons, I also had an enertaining moment. I was playing along, and stopped to refer to my video poker strategy card, to decide between holding a 9JQK straight versus the suited JK. (JK is the right hold.) The gentleman sitting at the machine next to me struck up a conversation about video poker strategy, and we discovered that we both used the WinPoker software to practice.

A few hands later, I had a hand pop up that I knew the correct play for, but it always makes me think anyway. I was dealt 9TJK of diamonds, and an offsuit card, a two I think. I commented on the hand to the gentleman, saying "I know the right play is to hold the 9 for the straight flush, but it always seems like it would be more fun to go for the Royal." He agreed, and sympathized with me. Of course, I made the right play, holding the four cards to the Straight Flush. Before hitting the draw button, I said aloud: "Now, just deal me the Queen of diamonds, so we'll always wonder whether the Ace would have completed the royal if I discarded the nine as well."

I pressed the draw button, and up popped the Queen of diamonds, completing the straight flush 9TJQK. I'll never know if the Ace would have filled in the Royal, but I certainly was glad to collect $250 for the Straight Flush. Filling the inside straight flush is a 1 in 47 likelihood. It was fun to fill it in such dramatic fashion.

Things turn south at the blackjack table

This sure sounds like a dream trip so far, right? Well, things can turn around in a hurry. The Stardust tournament includes a banquet on Monday night, which is a pleasant meal and a great chance to visit with friends from all over the tournament world. After the meal at the Stardust, I headed back to my room at the Casino Royale, and stopped downstairs to get in an hour or so of blackjack.

Casino Royale has only one good blackjack game in the house. It's a two-deck game, usually with about 60% or more of the cards dealt before shuffling. Betting $25 to $150, I quickly dug a $600 hole in the first ten minutes. An hour and a half later, I finally threw in the towel with a $900 loss. It was one of those typical sessions, where the dealer outdraws most of your hands. So, that session brought the dream trip its first hiccup, and with it, all my coupon profit disappeared and then some.

Tomorrow the real fun starts, with my first playing session in the Stardust tournament scheduled for noon. I'll have details of the tournament format and my round in the message tomorrow night. For now, it's time to get some rest. I have serious work to do tomorrow!

Wish me luck! -Ken-

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