After a bit of small talk Paddy said, “I was going over your rules for minimizing losses when playing poker and blackjack and remembered that you spent a lot of time in Las Vegas didn’t you?”
“I did,” I acknowledged. “I was in Vegas for at least a couple of days any time Anne Murray was booked there (which was at least once a year) and also a few times just to gamble or to see a particular show. Between 1969 and 1995 I spent ninety days in Vegas.”
“Do those rules you laid out for minimizing poker and blackjack losses apply to playing those games in Vegas?” he asked.
“Generally, yes,” I replied. “But the rules for splitting pairs in blackjack don’t apply unless the dealer is using only one deck, which is very rare in Vegas. But you should still always split aces.”
“What about the poker rules?” was Paddy’s next question.
“They apply,” I assured him. “But when playing poker in Vegas you have to remember three other things....”
“Which are?” he interrupted.
“First,” I explained, “always be sure you understand the house rules; they may vary from one game to the next. Second, and, even more important, the odds are pretty good that there’s at least one person in the game who’s a lot better player than you are. And finally, because the house either takes a percentage of every pot or you have to pay to play, your winnings will be less than in a regular poker game.”
“How did you defend yourself against those things?” he inquired.
“I made sure I stuck to my general rules,” I answered, “and I always set a limit on how much I was prepared to lose....”
“But that was one of your rules anyway,” he again interrupted.
“Yes,” I agreed, “but in Vegas I added a wrinkle. Say I was prepared to lose two hundred dollars. In a friendly game, I’d stay in until the agreed quitting time or when I lost my starting two hundred dollars, whichever came first. But, in Vegas I’d quit any time I lost two hundred dollars.”
“What’s the difference?” Paddy prodded.
“In Vegas,” I explained, “say I was up a hundred dollars, which meant my stake was now three hundred. If my stake dropped to one hundred, then I’d lost two hundred so I’d quit.”
“How long would you play if you continued to win?” Paddy queried.
“Until I doubled my stake or was no longer enjoying the game, whichever happened first,” I responded.
“What else should I remember?” he asked.
“That odds work only in the long run, I told him. “You can’t depend on odds in the short run, so never let an aberration throw you off your game.”
“Well,” Paddy went on, “what’s the impact of that in Vegas?”
“Enormous,” I told him. “Just consider the house edge. In roulette it’s about 5 or 6%, and in craps it’s 14%; which is why I never, under any circumstances, played craps, and would only place one bet on roulette. But the house edge on blackjack, if you play sensibly, is less than 1%.”
“How come the house edge is that low?” he asked.
“Because,” I explained,” the dealer is a robot. The dealer must take a card if he has 16 or less and must stay on 18. He must also stay on a 17 involving a 7 and a 10 or face card. But if the 17 involves an ace, he must hit.”
“I’m getting a headache,” Paddy complained.
“Then never gamble in a casino,” I admonished him. “I think it was Nick the Greek who said that the greatest asset in gambling is the ability to think clearly under stress.”
“Well,” Paddy said as he got up to leave, “that’s sure as hell excludes me.”