Colin’s Takeaways from the 22nd Annual Blackjack Ball

Colin with Tommy Hyland and Joe748 at the 2018 Blackjack BallI just returned from 5 days in Las Vegas where I attended the 22nd annual Blackjack Ball. It was the first time my wife was able to join me, and Joe748 was in attendance as well.

I learn a few things every time I attend, and wanted to share a few of the top things that I came away with:

This is my new favorite story… One of the quiz questions for the coveted James Grosjean cup was something like, “which of the following Blackjack Hall of Fame members sometimes drives for Ubër?” The options included 5 hall of famers, as well as a “none of the above, we’re talking about hall of famers here.” It turns out, the correct answer was Bill Benter, the card counter turned horse racing handicapper who has made billions! Later in the evening, I asked him why he drives for Ubër. His response was to show me how easy it is to sign up as an Ubër driver, as well as bragging about his rating of 4.97/5 from his passengers. I asked what he says when passengers ask what he does for a living and he said, “I tell them I’m a businessman.” Oh, and his iPhone screen was cracked.

Why do I love this story so much? Because I love stories of anyone who isn’t fundamentally changed by money. There’s the billionaire founder of Ikea who was famously turned away from a Gala because he arrived on the bus, his preferred form of transportation… He was going to the Gala to receive an award for “Businessman of the Year.” There’s “Harry Potter” author, JK Rawling, who lost her billionaire status after giving most of her wealth away. Something about Bill Benter being so connected to reality is insanely refreshing to me.

Don Johnson Blackjack BallI was able to sit down for a podcast interview with Don Johnson, the man who beat Atlantic City for $15M. Don was voted into the Blackjack Hall of Fame last year for good reason. But in my research into him, there were a lot of gaps in the story. The interview helped fill in many of the gaps, as did a private conversation I had with author Michael Kaplan. But the reality is that there are parts of the story that we will likely never hear, and Don definitely wants to keep it that way.

We will be editing the podcast together and hopefully releasing it in a few weeks.

Rubin_zpse6795dfdIn a conversation with Max Rubin, it was immediately apparent that BJA members are a pain in his you-know-what. He says you guys keep coming into Barona, making him evaluate your play and needing to get backed off. Perhaps it’s the quality game at Barona, their friendly backoffs, or the draw to meet the famous Mr. Rubin, but he was complaining about it.

But the conversation quickly turned into some amazing advice on how to look less obvious as card counters. Here are a couple bullet points:

  • Don’t have your “head on a swivel.” You know what he’s talking about… the card counter who’s looking left, looking right, watching the pit, watching security, looking everywhere between rounds and during the shuffle. He said gamblers don’t do that. To which my wife said, “Colin, you do that.” Busted. Max’s advice was to NOT sit at 3rd base, where you have to turn your head to see the discard tray. Instead, sit closer to first base where you can see the discard tray more naturally. Also, sit where you can see the pit without having to turn your head.
  • “We Look at the People.” He said that he’s trained their staff to not look at a patron’s play, but to “look at the people.” He described the way card counters tend to act and dress, as opposed to gamblers. I’ll let you fill in the pieces, but you probably know what he’s talking about. ?

fugoI had the pleasure of catching dinner with Tommy Hyland, Joe748, Spartan, and my wife at Fugo de Chao. I’d never been, but it instantly cracked my list of top-10 non-casino places in Las Vegas. The salad bar alone would have been an amazing dinner. Then add delicious all-you-can-eat meat and you’ve got a huge winner in my book! It’s a bit pricey, but if you’re looking for a meal close to the strip that isn’t in a casino, you should definitely check it out.

blackjack_ball_total_moneyBy my count, this was roughly my 35th trip to Las Vegas, and it was as Vegas as ever. I saw a gambler sitting with his wife at a slot machine, continually pulling a lever. The catch: he had a copy of Dave Ramsey’s “Total Money Makeover” in front of him. I couldn’t help myself, so I had to ask if he’s trying to get out of debt. He said, “yes,” though he admitted he wasn’t following the steps outlined in the book yet. Yeah, no kidding! I’m sure penny slots don’t play into Ramsey’s “debt snowball.” I also played a little blackjack. Some things were frustrating, like the 6:5 games on the strip. But I also found some really good games, both on and off the strip. I’m still bullish on card counting and advantage play!

There were many amazing conversations with fascinating, brilliant, and good-natured people, including the brother/sister team managers who ran one of the most successful card counting teams in history. But I’m going to keep all those conversations between us. I also want to say that it’s an absolute honor to be allowed to attend the ball each year.  It’s also an honor serving the BJA community and I hope to see an increase in BJA Members being invited to the Ball in the future!

Until next time, keep generating EV!

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