Category: Blackjack tips

As I was saying…

Okay, so I took some time off.

Since the last post, I visited Barcelona, Grenada, and Almeria, Spain, courtesy of the lovely Rhonda K. and the wonderful folks at Cosentino. Much eating and drinking was involved (was that a roofie I quaffed?). No casino visits, however. The rules for table games are just too wacky in Europe. And I just wasn’t willing to play poker in a non-English-speaking environment. It’s enough of a struggle playing in my native tongue.

Other stuff happened: A long stream of charming AIRBNB guests visited from around the globe, and I wrote a series of articles on casinos and gambling for the Oregonian, our local paper here in Portland. I’ve pasted one of them below for your edification.


AC: Will the last one to leave please kill the lights?

An article in the September 7th New Yorker Magazine takes a deep dive into the choppy waters of Atlantic City. You’ve probably heard some of this stuff before: the cataclysmic failure of the Revel, declining gaming revenues, the closing of this casino and that. But NYer staff writer Nick Paumgarten does a solid job of putting a human face on this tale of woe and also frames it in the perspective of New Jersey politics. Could Chris Christie’s presidential bid (such as it is) be put into jeopardy, smashed to smithereens, because of the Revel’s spectacular flameout?NewYorker, Sept 7

Who knows? But reading Paumgarten’s piece had me thinking about the several times I’ve visited AC. I’m not sure why I returned, especially after my initial visit.

That first time was actually three strange weeks I spent there in the summer of 1979 developing a stage play (“The Man Who Shot The Man Who Shot Jesse James”) with nine other like-minded artistes, and bedding down in the damp basement of a Quaker school. Water bugs the size of baby rats frolicked in the shower stalls, begging to be squished, while we taught acting classes and emoted in the gymnasium upstairs.

Gambling had just been recently legalized and we walked snootily through Trump’s crowded new boardwalk casino, decrying the glitz as offensive to our sophisticated Manhattanite sensibilities. The glitz stood in sharp contrast to the grungy streets immediately nearby, upon which pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers openly plied their wares.

Yes, this was one strange town, a fact eerily demonstrated on our final night. As we were partying in the gym, lighting hit the school. Lights flickered, came back on. Partying continued for awhile, until someone pointed to the big clock on the gymnasium wall.


It was running in reverse.


Gambling Tips x 9

As mentioned earlier, I landed a nice writing gig for The Oregonian, which allowed me to expound on the topic of gambling tips. Here are the ones I landed upon as they appeared in the newspaper. I’m sharing this with you courtesy of the Oregonian Media Group, which published the following article in the September 9, 2015, edition:


No doubt about it: Luck plays an important role in all casino games. And everyone who plays experiences swings of luck, both good and bad. But you can sidestep bad luck and improve your chances of winning by following these simple bits of advice.

Tip #1. Join the club.

Spirit Mountain has the Coyote Club, Chinook Winds has the Winners Circle, the Mill Casino has the Mill Club. In fact, virtually every casino offers you the opportunity to participate in their version of a players club.

The concept is simple: The more you play, the more the casino rewards you in the form of free or discounted meals and hotel rooms, as well as giveaways, special offers and merchandise. If you’re not already a member, becoming one should near the top of your list on your next casino visit.

Tip #2: Double your money.

In blackjack, always double down (that is, double your bet) when your first two cards total 11. Also, double down when you have 10 and the dealer’s face card is nine or less. Caution: This move is not for the faint of heart. Be prepared to experience a pulse-pounding jolt of adrenaline.

Tip #3: Split those cards.

No, you should not physically rip your cards in half. In blackjack when you hold two aces or two eights, you should split them into two hands by doubling your bet.

Tip #4: Assume the position.

Texas hold’em is a challenging game. If you’re a newbie, an important thing to learn (after the ranking of hands, of course) is the importance of position at the table. Simply stated, the closer you are to the dealer’s button, the freer you are to play a wider range of hole cards. An example: you’d might very well fold a pair of pocket deuces in early position, but (assuming no one else has entered the pot) raise with them in a late position.

Tip #5: Read the fine print.

Rules and payouts differ from machine to machine and table to table. Whether it’s video poker, slots, or a table game, take half a minute to look over the rules, even if you’ve played the game previously. Occasionally rules and payouts will have been adjusted since your last visit, and it pays to be prepared by knowing the latest ground rules.

Tip #6: Take slots to the max.

To win the jackpot in progressive slot machines, there’s no choice: You must make the maximum bet. But jackpots on non-progressive slots often pay disproportionally more when you make the maximum bet versus the minimum. Take a few seconds to see which type of payout will yield you a better result then adjust your wager accordingly.

Tip #7: Can you afford more? Then bet more.

The payouts are often more generous on slot machines that have a higher minimum bet. That means, for example, that many times playing a dollar machine versus a quarter machine is a better choice.

Tip #8: New to video poker? Start with Jacks or Better.

Although you’ll find banks of video poker machines situated among slot machines, the two games could hardly be more different.

When you play a slot machine, nothing you do can affect the outcome; your only decision is how much to wager. In video poker, however, you must decide which cards to keep and which to throw away; this directly affects how much you win.

If you’re new to video poker, cut your teeth on Jacks or Better. It’s the original version of this electronic game and it’s simple to learn. The goal, as its name implies, is to get a hand that contains at least a pair of jacks. The higher the hand, the more you win.

FYI, payouts at the casino are generally better than the Oregon Lottery version of the game.

Tip #9: Visit the web

It will come as no surprise that the Internet contains a cornucopia of information about casino games. Many casinos, including Spirit Mountain, Chinook Winds, and Seven Feathers, post rules on their websites.

To dig a little deeper, check out the free basic strategy charts all over the Web. is a good place to start.

Plus there are dozens of sites—free and paid—devoted to poker and tailored to players of all skill levels.


Texts from the Battlefield: Sam and the Main Event

You might remember that several months ago on this site, I profiled my friend Sam (“The Nicest Guy You’d Never Want To Sit Next To“), currently one of the most successful poker players in Portland. Several months ago his skills at the table really paid off and he won a $10,000 entry in the World Series of Poker Main Event.

He was generous enough to share with me the text messages he sent to his “rail back home” as he progressed in the tournament, which for him began July 6.  FYI, each player starts with 20,000 chips. Spoiler alert: Despite his enthusiasm and crafty play, he did not make the November 9. And a caution: The texts are lingo-heavy.

He started texting on day one start and continued through his final hand. Here they are, for the most part verbatim…

Monday 2:19pm

Rough first level. Got down to 17.5k [chips] at one point from 30k SS but managed to climb back to 23.6. Got coolered in one hand AQ<AK when he doesn’t three bet me pre and board runs out KQ6A6. I check called three streets. Lotta time to recover tho….Let’s fucking goooooooo!!!!

Monday 4:36pm

Second break…roller coaster level. Got back up to SS then back down to 23k. Now back over SS at 31k or so. Maniac at table keeps wanting to mix it up with me. Just won a big pot off him so prepared for fireworks going forward. Thank u all for the texts and well wishes!!! I will update every break which is every 2 hours. Thanks for all the support!!!!

Monday 7:15pm

Dinner break. Another roller coaster level. But ended with 26.5k coming back to 150/300/25. Let’s keep it going!!!!!

Monday 10:55pm

Horrible level. Good news is I still have chips. Gonna focus and not text any more until bag and tag after one more level. Thanks again for the support guys!!!!!

Tuesday 12:55am

Bag and tag!!!!! Got down as low as 6k but climbed back to 14k. Coming back to 500bb on Wednesday. Thankful for all the support. U guys are the best. Not what I envisioned…but day 2 is day 2.

Wednesday 10:24am

Day two starts at noon today. Coming back to almost 30 bb’s. Making day 2 was my first goal now I am hopeful to be able to chip up. Loooooooong way to go but I’m def excited to get back to the table. Same as last time…will update on breaks. 😎👍🏼

Wednesday 2:12pm

19k at first break. Table is good…no one has gotten out of line yet. Been all in 4 times. Once AIPF TT vs TT for a chop against a 14bb stack. Then bvb all in on KT9 flop….we both have KT lolol

Three bet cram AK and got thru twice. Then lost a flip AQ<JJ vs 13bb stack.

Coming back to 300/600/75 so surviving but looking for spots to gain chips.

Wednesday 2:33pm

Bust….Second hand after break I’m BB. There’s an EP open and a 3b from the CO. I have JJ and 4b rip. First guy recrams and is CL at the table. JJ<KK. Blah. Thanks for the support guys.


And then there’s this

Apropos of nothing, here’s something I just received in the mail.

IMG_1289It’s an envelope that asks the eternal question: How can something be free if it’s prepaid? Or vice versa?

17 blackjack beginner boo-boos, part two

I’ve been a bit slow in doling these out, but here at last are a few more tips to keep in mind.

Error #7: Not splitting

What is splitting? It’s when you are dealt two identical cards (two 8s, two kings, etc.) and then increase your bet by splitting those identical cards into two separate hands. If you do this correctly, it’s another rule that can give you an advantage over the house. You can consult a basic strategy table, which I’d strongly recommend if you plan to play more frequently in the future; there are a number of variations on which cards you’d split versus the dealer’s particular up-card. But for now here’s a very simple rule about splitting.

Always split aces and eights. Always.

Not complicated. Memorize it.

Splitting aces and eights and eights in blackjack.
To split or not to split: There’s only one answer…

The thinking boils down to this: Two aces is a terrible hand, adding up as either two or twelve. Two 8s are awful, too, since they add up to the bane of your blackjack existence, 16. By splitting, you can turn these awful hands into an advantage. Your aces have a shot at giving you blackjack twice; your 8s can yield an 18 or better; plus if you catch a 2 or a 3 to go with your 8, you can double-down.

Error #8: Splitting 10s

You know that scene in the original “Frankenstein” movie, where the villagers chase the monster with their fiery torches, then burn the poor fellow to death? Many of you might be under the impression that the villagers were so worked up because he threw that cute little girl into the well.


They’re chasing him because he committed an even worse crime: He split 10s at the local casino. (This was a scene edited from James Whales’s original cut of the film.)


Splitting tens in blackjack.
Suffer a fiery death if you split these two cards or any two cards, for that matter.

Split 10s and you’ll gain the enmity of everyone at the table and for good reason: It’s a stupid move. An exception: When you’re counting cards, there is a set of specific instances when it’s actually a smart move. But for our purposes, do not do this. Why?

To clarify, we’re talking about any two cards valued at 10: King/Queen, 10/Jack, etc. And no matter how you slice it, 20 is a great blackjack hand. When you split 10s, you’re putting yourself in an excellent position to draw a worse hand. Plus you’ve altered which cards the dealer will draw; often the dealer will end up with a better hand than he might have had you not made that idiotic split; often he’ll draw to one that beats you and your table mates. They will hate you. If they have torches, you might very well suffer the fate of the monster.

Error #9: Not doubling down

Okay, it can be expensive. But doubling down is potentially the most profitable move you can make at the blackjack table.

Here’s how it works. After the dealer finishes dealing the initial round of two cards to each player and it’s your turn to act, you can double your bet by sliding the appropriate amount of chips forward. The dealer then gives you one, and only one, additional card; after the other players have acted and the dealer takes his card or cards, if you beat this total, you’ve doubled that initial bet.

Theoretically you can double down on any two cards. Players do actually double-down on blackjack; don’t. In all practicality, there are only several conditions when you’ll want to (and I command you to) double down.

  • When your two cards total 11. Many times you’ll draw a 10, giving you an unbeatable hand.
  • When your two cards total 10, and the dealer’s face-up card is a nine or less.
  • When your two cards total 9 and the dealer is showing a six. This move is designed to exploit his (hopefully) weak hand.

In many casinos, you can double down after splitting. This can be the juiciest and most fun you can have at the BJ table. Here’s a classic, fasten-on-your-seatbelt scenario.

  • You draw two 8s and split them.
  • Your first 8 draws a 3. Time to double down! Time to move on to your second 8…
  • Your second 8 draws an 8. Split them!
  • Back to that second 8 which draws a…. 3. Double down!
  • Onto the third eight which draws an…8. Time to split ‘em.
  • Back to the third 8, which draws a… 3. Double down!
  • Back to the fourth 8, which draws a 3. Double down again!

Yikes! If your initial bet was $10, you’ve just won $80! (The voice of reality: “Or lost $80.”)

Error #10: Starting out with an insufficient bankroll

You need to have enough money to finance potentially profitable moves such as the example directly above; you literally wouldn’t be able to do it with just $50 in your pocket. So how large of a bankroll do you need?

In deciding, you need to ask yourself (a) how much you can comfortably afford to lose and (b) how long you want to play. In answering that second question, keep in mind that this is a very fast-paced game. At a full table, the dealer doles out a complete round of cards at the rate of about one hand per minute. If it’s just you and the dealer (an excellent way to play, BTW) you can easily triple that rate. So if you want to hang around for more than ten minutes, you need to have ample funds at your disposal. My recommendation is to have at least fifty times the minimum bet. That would be $250 if you’re playing a $5 table, double that for a $10 table, etc. Not only will those amounts give you some staying power, they’ll also give you a much better chance of actually winning.

More to come next time…

Oh, happy gambling movies, #3

Before he become a worldwide heartthrob, Clive Owen was dealing blackjack as the title character in the 1999 film, “Croupier.” This is a crackerjack film noir for players and non-players alike; it’s light on the arcane dialogue and thick on atmosphere, characterization and intrigue.

By David de la Luz from Mexico City, Mexico (Clive) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Clive Owen: Who says blackjack is a dead-end job?
Owen plays a writer with casino experience in his past. Once ensconced as a croupier, he gets involved in a plot to separate the casino from some of its money.

So this film blends elements of an art film, a heist movie, a con movie and noir. It all comes together in a very satisfactory way, thanks to the brooding Owen and director Mike Hodges, known for his brutal and brilliant “Get Carter,” the original version starring Michael Caine.

Plus get this: It actually has an upbeat ending, winding up in a place quite unexpected.

Rating: 5 nuts (on a one-to-five scale)

Casino Buffet

A little wrist action

Now that Apple is launching the Apple Watch, a host of questions arrive along with it. Can you legally wear it while driving? Will anybody actually purchase the deluxe $12,000 model? And most importantly, will the Apple Watch be useful in playing poker? Here’s an answer, kind of: Tips on your wrist.

“Dad loves blackjack…”

It’s rare that you come across a written piece that centers around gambling and tugs at the heart strings, but New York Times Op-Ed writer Frank Bruni has written one that does just that. Read it here: “My Father’s Secret.”

WSOP schedule

The 2015 World Series of Poker recently announced its schedule. Lots of changes are in the offing, like bigger starting stacks and new tournaments, including one named “$565 Colossus No-Limit Hold’em”; it’s being played on May 29 and has a $5,000,000 guaranteed prize pool. Expectations are high for this one. The WSOP folks are saying that, in terms of participants, they expect it to be the largest poker tournament ever held, meaning upwards of a gargantuan 7,000 players.

The action begins to wind down July 5 with day one of the Main Event. If you’re one of the fortunate nine to reach the final table on this granddaddy of big-time poker tourneys, you’re guaranteed to take home at least $1,000,000.

17 blackjack beginner boo-boos, part one

Hey, you didn’t know you could make as many as 17 mistakes at the blackjack table, did you? Read on, dear BJ neophyte, and you’ll be able to sidestep all of them.

Error #1: Being intimidated.

You’ve flown to Vegas to have some fun. Even if you’re there for business, you’ll probably want to blow off a little steam at your hotel’s casino. Blackjack sounds like a good idea, but you’re intimidated by the prospect of sitting down with other players. Maybe you actually did play one time and had your decision-making impugned by someone at the table who used words like “Why did you take a hit?” The snarky tone of voice implied the addition of the word “moron” at the sentence’s end.

Are you going to take the easy way out and park yourself in front of a slot machine?

Please don’t.

Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone was or is a newbie. Two suggestions. Numero uno: Be pals with the dealer; many of them will love to help you. Number two: Do a little research—perhaps beginning with the steps that follow—before you head off to Las Vegas or your local casino.

Error #2: Not knowing the rules.

The version of blackjack that you play in a casino does bear a resemblance to the game you played in your dorm room or at the kitchen table. The casino’s rules, however, are different and if you don’t know what those rules are… well, dumb luck will carry you just so far.

Prior to setting out to gamble, take a few minutes to review the rules online or in a book. Some casino websites post those rules.

Then when you’re at the casino, before placing your chips on the table, familiarize yourself with your particular casino’s version of the game. Yes, there are variations. These are usually spelled out on the green felt and on the printed signs near the dealer. Rules can (and very often do) differ from table to table on the casino floor. Or from country to country. Don’t get me started about London or Venice

Read the felt...
Read the felt…


Error #3: Accepting poor odds on blackjack payouts.

If you’re lucky enough to be dealt blackjack (an ace plus a card valued at 10) and the dealer does not, you automatically win. Traditionally the payoff has been 3:2, which means on a $10.00 bet, you win $15.00. It’s one of the advantages that you as a player have at the blackjack table. However, a dismaying number of casinos are paying out at 6:5, so you’d only get $12.00 on a $10.00 bet. This repellant variation of the rules should be clearly displayed at the table. If you see it, run away screaming!

Error #4: Accepting even money on blackjack.

Here’s the situation: You have blackjack; the dealer has a face-up ace. Before checking his hole card, the dealer offers you even money, for example $10 on a $10 bet. Trust me on this: Even in the short term—even if you sit at the table for just an hour—this is a bad idea. Most times the dealer will not have blackjack. By accepting even money, you are compromising one of the only advantages you have at the casino.

Yes, there are specific conditions under which you would take insurance, but these involve card counting and you’re not at that stage in your illustrious career as a player of the game.

I implore you, do not accept even money when you have blackjack.

Error #5: Buying insurance.

This is a close relative to #4.

Here’s how it works. The dealer has a face-up ace. You don’t have blackjack. The dealer asks “Insurance?” as he arcs his hand in a semicircle across the table. If you were to take him up on this generous offer, you’d place an additional chip on the table—up to half of the amount you’ve wagered– in front of your original bet. Let’s say you’ve got $10.00 out there; you’d place a five-dollar chip on the table. If the dealer has blackjack, he pays you 2:1 or $10.00 on your insurance bet, but takes your original ten bucks. It’s a wash.

If the dealer does not have blackjack—and he probably won’t—he takes the insurance chip and you’re out $5.00 and you haven’t even played out the hand yet! This is a terrible bet and you’re a chicken if you do it. Just don’t.

Error #6: Playing “Lucky Ladies” or other side bets.

This is another way for the casino to extract money from you. Playing these side games is so tempting because the minimum bet is just one buck and it requires no skill or decision making at all. Yes, the payouts are large, but the odds against winning are larger. Much larger. If you have money that you’d just like to throw away, this is a wonderful bet. Otherwise it would probably be more fun to stuff your greenbacks into a bong and smoke them.

More beginners’ errors in the next post…

Oh happy gambling films, where art thou, part two 

or, Gambling with the facts

“Based on a true story.”

These words, appearing in movie advertisements or in opening credits, are supposed to confer verisimilitude upon a film, and a hey-this-really-happened kind of expectation on the part of the prospective viewer. But when you get right down to it, it’s the same thing as an ingredient label that reads “may contain artificial ingredients.”

gdcgraphics [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Jim Sturgess, of “21.” MIT student by day… bane of blackjack tables by night.
Case in point: “21, the 2008 film starring Jim Sturgess and Kevin Spacey, and based on the “nonfiction” book, “Bringing Down the House,” by Ben Mezrich. It’s the tale of a card-counting team comprised of MIT students. It gains (supposedly) its impact because it’s true. However, if you were to peruse the book’s copyright page, this is what you’d read:

“The names of the characters and locations in this book have been changed, as have certain physical characteristics and other details. Some of the events and characters are also composites of several individual events or persons.”

In other words, it’s not true. And I think it’s fair to surmise that the film based on the book is even less true; after all, that’s what big-studio movies do, right? They use books as fodder, as starting points to weave a cinematic web that may or may not bear any resemblance to the source material.  In the case of “21,” what we’re left with is a series of serious-faced casino hijinks in which bad things happen to stupid people.

Rating: One Nut (on a one- to five-nut scale)

Truer, in the sense that it presents authentic characters and emotions, is “Rounders, the 1998 Matt Damon/Edward Norton poker drama that’s a thriller-diller to those of us who gamble and (I’m guessing) pretty much a snooze to everybody else. This antipathy on the part of the civilian population is probably due to the downbeat storyline as well as to the dialogue, which is ultra-thick with poker lingo. They should distribute glossaries with this film. Or display Poker to English subtitles.

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Edward Norton as Mr. Bad Influence in “Rounders.”
The movie works grandly (right, fellow poker players?) because Damon and Norton seem to have absorbed the essence of the game and its lifestyle. And then there’s John Malkovich chewing away at the scenery as a malevolent, Oreo-eating Russian named Teddy KGB.

The climactic scene (a scene a faire, if ever there were one) pits Damon versus Malkovich in a two-handed game of hold ’em that’s got to rank with filmdom’s best-ever card scenes. Extra points go to writers David Levien and Brian Koppelman who, along with director John Dahl, crafted a conclusion that’s not a total downer.

Rating: 4 Nuts


Casino buffet

Can you trust your local video poker machine?

If you’ve played video poker, you know that following the initial deal, the machine typically suggests which cards to keep, which to discard. Personally I’ve found that, on the casino floor, this advice is often useful. In fact, I’d estimate that 90% of the time the machines are correct in their recommendations. Beware the ubiquitous Oregon Lottery machines, however, because evidently they’ve been programmed to screw you.

A story in Willamette Week explores a suit filed by a disgruntled player named Justin Curzi who contends that, after being dealt an open-ended straight draw, a video poker machine in Northwest Portland advised him to toss away the wrong card, cutting in half his chances of completing the straight. Repeated tries yielded the same kind of results. (For what it’s worth, while I no longer play the Oregon Lottery machines, my past experiences tell me that Curzi’s claims have real merit.)

This kind of rigging has cost players $134 million, says Curzi. So not only is he pissed off; using his own funds, he’s actually suing the state to recoup players’ losses and says he has internal Lottery communications that back him up. You’ve gotta applaud the guy’s gumption, which you can read about at the WW site.

The Wacky World of the Wynns

Steve Wynn then: A spot for the Golden Nugget with a cameo appearance by the Chairman of the Board.

Steve and Elaine now: Bye-bye to a Member of the Board.