Coming off our trip to Atlantic City I was feeling pretty good. I had just come off two "successful" gambling trips where I won (slightly) and only lost slightly. The important thing was that instead of blowing through my entire bankroll, and then heading to the ATM to get some more money to waste, I had actually come home, and deposited back into the bank a considerable amount of cash.
This is a big step for any gambler. Not the first time you do it mind you, because luck is just that and can strike on any one trip, but if you can do it consecutive trips in a row then you start to think you might be on to something. And I was. Like most people who head to the casinos I had previously just gone with the idea that I'd throw money into a slot machine and see where luck took me. The idea that my play could affect the house edge hadn't yet registered. I understood the basic concept that some games were better than others but I still thought silly things such as it mattered if you put your player's card in the slot in terms of what you were paid out (it doesn't) and that casinos tightened the slots during peak hours (they can't, it doesn't work that way)
My first gambling book changed all of those thoughts forever. It also changed the way that I gamble to this day. It was a basic book, 1000 Best Casino Gambling Secrets by Bill Burton. And while the 1000 items aren't exactly "secrets" they are things that the average gambler doesn't consider. As an accountant, and amateur statistician, I was familiar with concepts such as "house edge", "expected return" (the house edge in inverse form) and "standard deviation" but I had never given them much thought when gambling in the past. I also bought Gambling 102 by the "Wizard of Odds" Michael Shackleford. Again, it's nothing earth shattering, but if you're stepping into the world of statistical analysis for gaming then it's probably a must-read. Finally, I started reading up on horse-betting, learning about overlays and why you should always try to find (and play) them.
In short, there was a huge learning curve. I purchased training software for video poker, as well as played countless hands on free software designed to help me learn strategy. In my life I've probably played 3-4 Million hands of poker in the various iterations, over the last couple of years you can probably add another Million hands to that count in video poker alone.
I started out, as everyone should, with "Jacks or Better" learning, and losing along the way until I finally started getting less and less correcting warnings on the simulators. I was learning, and not as slowly as I feared. I kept playing hands and I kept getting better. I also started playing blackjack again on Wizard of Odds, using their strategy trainer and actually doing better. The wife and I had a Vegas trip coming up so I was confident, I just knew I would not only play better, but budget myself better and come home with money for a change.
It was our Birthday weekend in 2014 and we were staying at the LINQ. I was ready to play video poker and my wife was excited to see a new property. Things started off solid. I played at TAG Sports Bar the first night and hit three 4 of a kinds (on Jacks or Better) to get me slightly up. The next day we were headed downtown where I knew things were going to be good.
And I wasn't disappointed. I switched over to "Double Double Bonus" poker and started hitting 4-of-a-kinds again. Nothing with a kicker, and nothing that paid out too much, but wins were wins and, after a while, I was up somewhere around $300 and was starting to think I had this gambling thing all figured out.
Then the standard deviation caught up with me, and I started to lose. It happened first at the Golden Nugget, where I blew through $100 of my profit rapidly. It continued at the Downtown Grand (another hundred) and culminated at the Four Queens. So, after all of that I was even for the day but still feeling optimistic due to my start. Before quitting for the day we went to the D for a drink at the long bar. I decided to hit the blackjack tables and, lo and behold, caught a friendly shoe and left there up $100.
The rest of the trip was a continuation on the theme. One casino up, one casino down. At the end of the trip we counted up all of the money we had remaining and we ended up putting the exact same amount of money into the bank after the trip as we withdrew before the trip. I was like Clark Griswold in "Vegas Vacation". "Hey, I didn't lose!".
But Las Vegas was like the dealer. "OK Cory, now you're really gonna get it!"
More on that in the next installment.