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Ah, Sweet Memories

29 October 2005

I remember the first time I ever sat down at a blackjack table. At the time, I had not a clue about how to play the game. The dealer was trying to help but was about to give up.

You see, he had been explaining that when my first two cards total 12 through 16 and the dealer has a 6 showing, I should just stand. He was full of explanations about how a dealer having a 5 or 6 up card is good for the player and how if anyone was going to bust, I should let it be the dealer.

But by the time he finished telling me all this, I was so confused that I couldn't remember what to do. So when the scenario repeated, I most likely hit when I should have stood pat. He rolled his eyes, and I remember feeling my face turn red.

You see, I had never even heard of Basic Strategy, much less seen a Basic Strategy chart. All I knew about gambling is what I had seen in James Bond movies. I had never heard of the "house edge" or games that had "positive expectation." I never imagined that anything other than luck could influence winning or losing.

All I knew was how I played "21" as a kid: keep saying "hit me" until your cards total 21. No kidding. That's how I thought you were supposed to play blackjack.

What in the world possessed me to walk into a casino without ever having read anything about the odds against my winning? Did I think my personal charisma would affect the cards and that somehow I would just automatically win? Or maybe I thought I had some sort of special electromagnetic field around me that shielded me from bad luck? Heaven only knows what I was thinking.

But now, 26 years after that first casino foray, I know a lot more about the game. I know now that the player having to act first, and of course getting the first chance to go bust, is what gives the casino that initial 8 percent advantage. I've also learned that the 3-to-2 bonus payout for a natural gives back to the player a healthy 2.25 percent.

And I've learned that proper hitting and standing, doubling and splitting can give you back another 5.25 percent. In other words, knowledge and skill can give you far more than the luck of drawing a natural.

Also in the last 26 years, I've become thicker skinned. I no longer blush if someone questions what I do with a soft 18 or if I surrender two hands in a row. Or if my decisions seem inconsistent to other players.

And I almost never take advice from a dealer. Too much of what a blackjack dealer knows has been gleaned from other players. I'll take my own advice over theirs any day.

So, what got me started down memory lane?

Yesterday, after focusing almost exclusively on video poker for the last six months, I sat down at a blackjack table and realized I couldn't remember how to play. Of all things, I had to rely on the dealer to guide me.

Of course, it's like riding a bike and it all came back to me, but previously I never would have considered playing without an hour's worth of computer practice the night before.

And then today I played again. I was the only one at a six-deck table until another woman sat down. It was obvious that this was her first time ever to play. She didn't know where to put her bet. She didn't know how to signal for another card or how to stand; she even touched her cards. And she certainly didn't know when to double or split. The dealer, however, was very patient and helped her along and gave her very good advice.

And for one very tiny second, I thought, "What in the world possessed her to walk into a casino?" But only for a second.

Until next time, aces and faces to you.

Linda Mabry

Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com
Linda Mabry
Low Roller Linda Mabry lives and gambles on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She writes a weekly, general gambling advice column for the Biloxi Sun Herald, and may be contacted through her e-mail address, lnmabry@cableone.net or her web site www.thelowroller.com