Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Gamble Blogging: A lifetime of running cold. (Part 1)

I am not what you would call a "lucky" gambler. I've never hit a jackpot, I've never had a straight flush in 3-card poker, I've never had a big run in blackjack, and despite playing poker for 27 years now (in various iterations, both live, online and video) I've never, ever hit a royal (or even a straight) flush when real money was in play.

I'm not exaggerating here. My best live poker hand, ever, was 4-6's that I caught at the Choctaw Casino in 2011.  And it only bagged me a pot of around $100 since only one guy came along with me (playing 4-8 limit) and I knew that I couldn't over-bet, or bet the maximum, because he would go away.  I've seen straight and royal flushes, been beaten by them (5 times so far) but I've never actually caught them.

My biggest gambling win to date was a $2 Superfecta hit at Delta Downs in 2010 on race 9. On a lark, after thinking I spotted something in the prior performances that made it seem as if the race would end this way, I bet 4-7-5-8 straight. Total wager: $2. Total win: $653.27. It's the first, and only, time I've ever had to fill out a form W-2G in my life. And even then I was JUST over the 300/1 minimum payout in Louisiana that triggered the tax form.

And while I gladly paid the taxes, after taking some partial legitimate gambling losses as an offset against it, I've never had that feeling again.

I think that's part of the reason why I like to gamble but don't have a driving need to gamble. Honestly I could take it or leave it but I do enjoy it as a form of entertainment. There's no way I'd even consider being a gambling "pro" because I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I would eventually hit the mother of all cold streaks and that would anger my wife. (A wonderful woman, whom I love but has no risk tolerance when it comes to gambling).

I caught the casino bug in 1991, after a trip to Lake Charles with some co-workers from a local restaurant.  We would get off work at night at around 11 PM, then drive to Lake Charles from Houston, sometimes arriving at the casinos at around 2 AM. We'd play until around 8 AM, drive back home, go by someone's house and shower up, take a quick nap, and then be back on the restaurant floor for our evening shifts around 4 PM.  It would not be unusual for us to head to the bar for drinks after work that night, before stumbling home around 3 AM for some sleep. Of course, I was much younger back then.

I'll never forget that first trip to a casino however, at the time I thought it was the greatest place in the world.  We went to the Isle of Capri, which is still there and exists as the "budget" casino option in Lake Charles these days.  Back then there was also a Harrah's, but it was damaged in one of Louisiana's many hurricanes and is no longer there today.

I want to say that, back in the day, the boats would leave the harbor and paddle around Lake Prien all night, but I could be remembering that incorrectly.

Once we arrived I remember that one of my co-workers, an assistant manager whose name I don't remember, put $5 into a slot machine and won $500 within three pulls. Needless to say, her gambling was finished for the night so she just hung around the other assistant manager (who she was not-so-secretly sleeping with) and watched him play blackjack all night.

That first gambling trip I got hammered, both figuratively and literally. Free drinks while gambling was a new one for me, and it didn't take me too long to over-imbibe on whiskey and cokes. I also didn't have a clue what I was doing playing blackjack.

Drunk and clueless I proceeded to blow through a $500 bankroll in short order. Thinking back, I might have lasted 3 hours. So, I was done, no one (wisely) would lend a drunk novice any more money to blow, so I settled in to sober up and watch my friend play until it was time to go.

My buddy was on a heater. A heater so hot that he had accumulated $10K from a starting bankroll of $2K at the $25/25K table.. He got more dealt blackjacks in the hour I watched him than I received all evening. It was amazing to watch as he kept racking up win after win after win. I didn't realize it then (Novice!) but he was counting cards as well as playing with a strategy and progression.

He was also getting drunk.  VERY drunk.  So, as it came down to time to leave he turned around, looked at the group and said "I've never made a five-thousand dollar bet". His logic was that, should he lose, he'd still be up over double him money and he could say that he'd made the biggest bet of his life. If he won, well, he was buying drinks that night at the bar.

You can imagine what happened next. He was dealt 7-4 and the dealer had a 5 showing. I remember him uttering a curse word as well all looked on.  Even with my limited knowledge of gambling etiquette I knew that it was bad form to coach him. With a grunt (which I still remember today) he pushed out the other $5K to double down.  This left him with around $200 out of his original stack.

Of course, he pulled a 3.  His only hope was for the dealer to bust.

There was no way that was ever going to happen. The dealer showed his second card to be another 5 and then promptly turned over a King for 20.  Almost six hours of work, gone in one hand.  An $8K gain turned into an $1800 loss in around 1 minute. It was, to this day, the 2nd most brutal gambling beat I have ever seen.

It also instilled into me a lifetime devotion to conservatism on the gaming tables. When gambling sober (which used to be a rarity but not in the last few years) I walk away with wins now and consider myself lucky to have them. I don't make out-of-bounds bets and I never bet more than 20% of my stack.  Ever.

For a while, a long while, after witnessing that disaster, I was too conservative, I didn't play blackjack for a long time after the whipping that I took and I secured myself solely to quarter slots. Eventually I moved to the .20/.30/.40 cent bets on penny slots. It was a long, hard slog of gambling for me that changed the first time I visited Las Vegas....

That's a story for the 'next' installment.

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