Thursday, March 15, 2012

I hate casinos

Yeah, that's pretty blunt, but there it is: I can't stand casinos. I don't understand the appeal at all. I mean, I understand once I find myself inside one. It's hard to resist all those flashing lights and cheering people and the way the casinos make you go up and down and in and out in an effort to make you forget the existence of an outside world; all the better to put you in the mood to lose your money. But in general, I have no desire to spend time in a casino, I never consider going to one when I'm looking for something to do, and I'm totally baffled by people I know who love to spend entire weekends at "the casino". It's just something I don't get.

But casinos can be awesome settings for amazingly cool stories, can't they, and not just fictional stories. Check out this amazing tale of a guy who took three different Atlantic City casinos for $16,000,000. And he did it straight-up. No card-counting here (although to be honest, I'm not sure why card-counting is considered 'cheating', unless 'cheating' is defined as 'doing anything whatsoever to increase one's odds over the house's'): he beat them fair and square, and fascinatingly, the casinos practically invited him to do it.

As Johnson remembers it, the $800,000 hand started with him betting $100,000 and being dealt two eights. If a player is dealt two of a kind, he can choose to “split” the hand, which means he can play each of the cards as a separate hand and ask for two more cards, in effect doubling his bet. That’s what Johnson did. His next two cards, surprisingly, were also both eights, so he split each again. Getting four cards of the same number in a row doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Johnson says he was once dealt six consecutive aces at the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He was now playing four hands, each consisting of a single eight-card, with $400,000 in the balance.

He was neither nervous nor excited. Johnson plays a long game, so the ups and downs of individual hands, even big swings like this one, don’t matter that much to him. He is a veteran player. Little interferes with his concentration. He doesn’t get rattled. With him, it’s all about the math, and he knows it cold. Whenever the racily clad cocktail waitress wandered in with a fresh whiskey and Diet Coke, he took it from the tray.

The house’s hand showed an upturned five. Arrayed on the table before him were the four eights. He was allowed to double down—to double his bet—on any hand, so when he was dealt a three on the first of his hands, he doubled his bet on that one, to $200,000. When his second hand was dealt a two, he doubled down on that, too. When he was dealt a three and a two on the next two hands, he says, he doubled down on those, for a total wager of $800,000.

It was the dealer’s turn. He drew a 10, so the two cards he was showing totaled 15. Johnson called the game—in essence, betting that the dealer’s down card was a seven or higher, which would push his hand over 21. This was a good bet: since all face cards are worth 10, the deck holds more high cards than low. When the dealer turned over the house’s down card, it was a 10, busting him. Johnson won all four hands.

Johnson didn’t celebrate. He didn’t even pause. As another skyscraper of chips was pushed into his skyline, he signaled for the next hand. He was just getting started.

Absolutely fascinating.

1 comment:

Roger Owen Green said...

great story.
but I hate casinos more than you do. The noise and the ambiance (such as it is) gives me a raging headache