Last weekend marked the 10 year anniversary of my first Blackjack Ball. I still remember my first blackjack ball, nervously introducing myself to my heroes like Tommy Hyland, Richard Munchkin, Dr. Thorp, and Max Rubin before sheepishly retreating to a corner of the room. Now, I get to enjoy memorable conversations with many of them. Here are some of the top takeaways from this year’s Blackjack Ball.
I’m gonna be honest… I got frustrated by the 21 question quiz. I always get frustrated by it, but that’s because I’ve never made the final table. I’ve been one question away 3 times now (this year being another year of barely missing the cut). But I was extra frustrated because a lot of the questions preceded my blackjack career.
Then it hit me: The Blackjack Ball has been going on since I was a sophomore in High School. More than that, many of the attendees have been crushing blackjack tables since before I was born. That’s so cool, and I feel like the fact that this brilliant, eclectic group of AP’s have been celebrating the craft for 23 years deserves more recognition than I’ve given it. So cheers to Max Rubin, Richard Munchkin, et al who’ve been instrumental to this special party. Which brings me to my next point…
One of the takeaways from my conversations was that quite a few heroes, or OG’s of AP, are still enjoying hitting the tables! Some of the greats, like Richard Munchkin, are enjoying retirement, I had multiple conversations with people telling me about their recent card counting session or backoff. Tommy Hyland showed me and Joe748 his trip report from a recent blackjack trip. Another blackjack author was sharing about where he’s still getting play on the Las Vegas Strip.
In a conversation with one AP, who’s professional gambling winnings make my teams’ successes look like chump change, I asked him if he ever counts cards anymore. He said, “Oh yeah. I came to Vegas to play!” This just blew my mind, but reminded me that we don’t simply count cards for the money. There is a reward simply in implementing this crazy skill and beating the casinos!
A reality that came up in conversation is the deteriorating quality of blackjack games in Las Vegas. The increase in 6:5 tables has led BJ21.com to remove those tables from their list of “blackjack games,” instead considering those tables the same as all the other “carnival games.” But while Vegas is getting worse, Max Rubin said that across the country, Blackjack is having a bit of a revolution.
That really resonated with me. I’m constantly hearing people complaining about the terrible rules in Vegas. And yeah, it sucks. I’ve still been able to generate pretty decent EV in Vegas in the past year, but it’s not the same as it was even a couple years ago. With the increase in resort fees and paid parking, the LV Strip seems to have become obsessed with getting a short-term edge over tourists. While I think that could drive away smarter players, they don’t seem to care. But that doesn’t change the fact that in the rest of the US, there are more casinos and beatable blackjack games than any time in the history of card counting. So before thinking that blackjack is specific to Vegas, consider what other hot spots in the country might be a better EV decision.
Ok, this bullet point is just an excuse to share my favorite quotes of the weekend, which came from Mrs. Hyland’s explanation of how she and Tommy met. This was the first time I had met Tommy’s wife, so I had to ask her what she thought when he told her he was a card counter. As she retold the story, he explained what he did, her reply was, “What the hell is a card counter? Sounds like a crook to me.” Then, the next time she met him, he was getting a professional wig and makeup made so he could avoid detection at casinos. Her response: “What are you planning on doing? Robbing a bank?”
What we do is never going to make sense to most people. I really can’t think of another job where you are obeying the law and playing within the business’s rules, but there is still a benefit to subterfuge. Of course Mrs. Hyland came to understand that Tommy is incredibly honest and has a clear moral compass (Max Rubin stated at the Ball that, in his experience, card counters and AP’s are some of the most honest people you could know). Well, Mrs. Hyland didn’t simply come around to Tommy’s card counting… she even became a card counter herself for a season!
This year’s very well deserved inductee into the Blackjack Hall of Fame was Rob Reitzen. (For those unfamiliar with Rob, he is one of the most, if not the most, successful blackjack players of all time, using card counting, ace-sequencing, shuffle tracking, and more.) Rob gave an emotional acceptance speech, in which he shared about the great relationships he’s made and high moral character of the people he’s been able to play blackjack with.
Then, the next day, Darryl Purpose played a song he had written about life and risk (watch the story behind the song and hear the song here), which I think everyone in the room was able to relate to. Then, later that day, BJA Pros and my friends, Spartan and LeviMich, drove over 4 hours to be able to see me, my wife, Joe748, and “Rachel” while we were in town. That was how much they valued the connection we have with each other as friends and APs.
Why am I sharing all of this? Because cards come and go. Money comes and goes. And EV comes and goes. But these relationships and the impact we have on each others’ lives is something we will keep with us for the rest of our lives. And I’m incredibly thankful for the friends I’ve made both through the Blackjack Ball and Blackjack Apprenticeship.