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Letís Save Blackjack
by Bobby Singer

In the Winter 2001 edition of Gambling Times, I wrote about my personal passion for playing winning Blackjack. In that article I wrote about some of my favorite casinos around the world and why I was so fond of those particular casinos. Now I would like to share some personal interesting moments from the world of casinos; some funny, some not so funny and what we can all do today to save our favorite game.

My all-time favorite casino was in the Royal Haitian Hotel in Port Au Prince, Haiti. Over the years I exceeded fifty trips to Haiti and have the most wonderful memories. First, I never had a losing trip. One of the owners of the casino would play tennis with me almost every day and then watch me take his money every night. He, as well as his other floor executives, were very aware of my skills. I often refer to these memories as ďthe good old days.Ē

A typical day for me in Haiti during the seventies was waking to enjoy a lovely breakfast followed by a healthy walk. Then the owner of the casino and I would play tennis. After napping in the afternoon I would enjoy a wonderful gourmet dinner, usually at a fine French restaurant in Petionville, a small town in the mountains. Then, it was off to the casino where the fun began!

The casino actually had stands erected where locals would come to watch me play. My play would generally last from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. My range of bets ran from $100 as a low bet to the most I had ever wagered on a single hand, $12,000! The rules in the casino included surrender and were extremely liberal. They dealt four decks, never cutting off more than a quarter to a half of a deck. I played at the table with three of my closest friends. One was an executive with General Motors. One was in the printing business in California and one was a head and neck cancer surgeon from Michigan who just recently published a very funny book called Silverware Grew in Her Garden. Everyone always referred to us as ďThe Fearsome Foursome.Ē We were the ultimate Damon Runyon characters, as were the two brothers who owned the casino. Prior to Haiti, they were in the casino business in Cuba.

On trips to Haiti during a holiday season my wife and kids would join me. My kids would actually sit and play Roulette. The rule in the casino was it didnít matter how old you were as long as you didnít hold up a game. After the kids would lose their chips they would come over to me and I would reach into the dealers tray and give them a black $100 chip. Yes, you read that correctly, I would give them the casinos chips to gamble with. On several occasions during my trips to Haiti, after several hours of play, I would get up and go to the dealerís side of the table, move the dealer aside and proceed to deal to my friends as well as myself. I would actually root for the casino while I was the dealer.

What is all this nonsense about? Giving chips from the dealerís tray (with the casinoís permission) to my kids? Dealing to myself and to my friends as if I worked for the casino? Well, itís about having fun, being relaxed, laughing and enjoying the game as it was in the good old days. Itís about what it was then and what it is now.

Although the casinos in Las Vegas didnít allow the same freedom as I enjoyed in places like Haiti, they certainly were Runyonesque, fair and exciting. The rules were liberal and gave those players willing to really learn the game of Blackjack a more than respectable advantage. The average casino strip dealt three and a quarter of four decks, allowed double down after splits and the dealer had to stand on all seventeens. Some casinos like Caesars Palace even had surrender. Now, letís look at todayís Las Vegas strip casinos and what they are attempting to do to the game to cause the neophyte player to lose more and faster.

Frankly, the changes that are being made are really not in the best interest of the game or the casino. Blackjack saw its massive growth beginning in the late sixties. The reason it has grown so large and surpassed the other table games is precisely because it can be beaten. Unfortunately for the typical player, less than one percent of players possess the discipline to learn the game properly. This is the prime reason casinos make money offering Blackjack. When a casino tries to squeeze every last dollar out of the game by changing the rules, the net effect has always been to eventually ruin the game. Witness the American Roulette wheel with an extra zero. Most players donít even know why they donít like the gameóitís because they lose too fast. This is despite the fact that roulette is the most popular game in Europe; where there is only one zero on the wheel, and the playerís money lasts longer. To save the casinos from their own bad judgment, we must fight back!

Iíve been playing Blackjack professionally for almost forty years since Beat the Dealer was first published. Iíve seen the casinosí attitude toward the good Blackjack player change over the years from very little concern to todayís very alarming attack on the core of his intelligence, and the game. Most of the casinos today are dealing six decks, instead of four. If they offer a two-deck game, they donít allow surrender. Many casinos have introduced constant shuffling machines on many of their Blackjack tables. Dealers now hit soft seventeen on most tables with the possible exception of high limit areas, and even these are rapidly disappearing.

Blackjack can be played as a game of skill unlike other casino games that can only be played as games of chance. The casinos have been aware of this for almost forty years but I believe that we are today at the crossroads of this fabulous game. A few misguided casinos are trying to take us into the twilight zone. Last year, Las Vegas alone entertained almost 35 million visitors.

In addition millions more entered casinos in Atlantic City, Mississippi, and the more than 600 gambling establishments in almost thirty-five states. The number of people who are willing to learn to count cards and therefore win consistently from casinos is outrageously small compared to the many millions who lose fortunes at Blackjack tables around the world. Yet the casino accountants appear unsatisfied. They want it all. If they could, they would eliminate card counting, the only way a knowledgeable player can have an edge over the casino. If they succeed at this, blackjack will become as unpopular as American Roulette.

What steps can we take? Donít play in games with bad rules, and be vocal about it! If youíve learned to master the game and count cards, play only in those casinos with liberal rules and where the dealer stands on all seventeens. If you donít count cards but can play perfect basic strategy, donít play at tables where they hit soft seventeen. When in a casino where soft seventeens are hit, ask a floor person to show you the tables where they stand on all seventeens. If youíre in a casino where they only have tables hitting Ace, 6, find one that doesnít. If you see Blackjack tables with constant shuffling machines, donít play! If they cut off two of six decks, donít play! And let them know why you wonít play! Be tough! Be stubborn! We must all stick together if weíre going to keep Blackjack the only casino game mathematically beatable. In the end we will save not only the game, but also the casinos that offer it.

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