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Cut the Deck

Blackjack as civil disobedience

By Bob Harris

ONCE AGAIN, casino gambling hit the ballot last fall in such exotic resorts as Cleveland, Springfield, and Spokane. If you believe the used-car dealers, real estate moguls, and other various leeches financing these campaigns, the hot cash will provide the townfolk with better schools, libraries, snake oil, and lounge bands.

Of course, gambling produces no tanglible product to which labor and ingenuity add value. All-night Keno, free piña coladas, and community college girls dressed like a Joe Eszterhas stroke fantasy aren't the same as a rebuilt manufacturing base. The best this casino/skybox/trade-zone bullshit can do is rearrange wealth, not create it. Which means that the minute Toledo and Fort Wayne offer looser slots, the money blows town.

What to do when the city council bets your future on a roulette wheel? Simple. Beat them at their own game. Play their blackjack, count their cards, and use their own money against them. It ain't as hard as you're supposed to think. Besides, revolution is supposed to be fun.

Here's your things-to-do list:

  1. Learn the basic strategy. Computers long ago figured out the optimal play in each situation, and the grid is published in a half-dozen books at the mall. My Cliffs Notes version: Hit anything up to 9. Split only 8's and aces. Double on 10 or 11 if the dealer has a low card (2-6). Otherwise hit. Stand on 12-16 if the dealer has a low card (2-6). Otherwise hit. Stand on 17-21. This oversimplifies the computer model, but it works OK, and--bonus--you can actually remember it.

  2. Start your count at zero. Add one for every low card (2-6) in play, and subtract one for every high card (10-ace). Ignore 7's, 8's, and 9's; reset at zero when they reshuffle. Since dealers have to hit bad hands and you don't, you win more often when the undealt deck is rich in face cards. The count is how you keep track.

  3. Start with minimum bets. When the count is higher than the number of undealt cards, bet more (but keep it at twice minimum until you're flush). If the count gets below minus-5 or so, wander away for a while. That's it.

(OK, here's No. 4: don't listen to anybody nearby who seems to know better. If they were that smart, they wouldn't be in a casino.) Of course, the house has pit bosses and surveillance cameras watching everybody. No fear. Think "mall security guard." Still, if you sense heat, stroll. If they narc you, just pick up your chips and leave quietly.

Advanced tip: in Vegas, Atlantic City, or any other festering sleaze pit where Howie Mandel headlines, you can save time by meandering the blackjack area as if looking for a friend. Slow down if there's a table with a ton of low cards in play. If the next hand is equally faceless, sit your keester down. Play a few hands, then hit the next casino. You'll save time, improve your odds, and never get caught.

Your town will probably have only the pathetic little riverboat, so you'll need patience. However, the dealers are usually way slower, and the spread between the minimum and maximum bets is much higher. Enjoy.

It's perfectly legal, but about as exciting as Charo doing the Macarena. The novelty wears off, and counting by 1's probably got old about the time you learned not to chew on other people's furniture. It eases the monotony to think of it as a sit-in with card games.

Just promise to be creative with your loot. Set up a Gamblers Anonymous chapter. Buy newspaper ads explaining why gambling sucks. Start a voter registration drive. Post card-counting info on light poles outside the casino. Run the bastards out of town.

Have fun and do nice things.

My dad bought cigarettes and Lotto tickets at the corner for 20 years. He never won anything. I was working near Tahoe when his lungs gave in. His casket was purchased with blackjack money from Caesar's.

We figured it was about time he won something.

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From the April 17-23, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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