Posted by Dr Fro 2:49 PM
Some time around the summer of 1999, my old fraternity had an alumni golf tournament. I was asked by the organizer to take care of the black jack on Saturday night.
First, a bit of perspective:
The black jack scene among fraternities at UT while I was a student in the early 90s was huge. Although the schedule changed from time to time, there was a game at (at least) one fraternity house every night of the week. I typically played in the Kappa Sig house on Monday nights and dealt at the KA house on Wednesday nights.
Getting the gig to deal was a really big deal. You could make a fortune. Usually the upperclassmen had a monopoly on the whole racket, but some of my pledge brothers and I started dealing regularly as freshman and continued until we graduated. The house edge alone meant that it was pretty profitable, but there were a few other factors that made it particularly juicy:
- there was a bizarre rule that pushing on 17 meant that the dealer won
- a lot of players did not know or did not care about basic strategy and would basically give away their money
- most players would stay however long it took to run out of money. There weren't many players that would cash out as a winner
This was all before I kept detailed records of gambling wins/losses, but I would guesstimate that I made around $10k over this time. I probably gave a good $2k back at the Kappa Sig house.
We started out small timers but as our bankrolls and greed grew, we let the games get bigger, measured in terms of number of tables and maximum stakes. We knew what we were doing, so we figured we could handle the risk. There were certain protocols we always followed.
Then there was that alumni golf tournament. It was 4 years after we had dealt regularly at the fraternity house, but it was like riding a bike. I bought a bunch of cards at the local drug store, Guido put up the rule sheet and got a bunch of low denomination bills from the bank. I brought the chips. We got Clay to agree to deal the cards (but not back - we wanted all the profit). Clay was the fastest dealer we knew.
Over the course of the tournament we either started losing our appetite for risk or we were too easily persuaded by others. Either way, we caved and let 3 other guys in on the action. Now the profits would be split 5-way.
That night we started setting up the room. One of the new backers, Chris, started opening the decks and making shoes. I always did that. Always. And when I used to do it, I would first count the cards, looking at them face-up. He wasn't following the protocol. I stayed silent.
We ended up with two tables. We set the max bet at $25. A trend emerged pretty early that would hold up for the next 9 hours: the table to our left was losing small and the table to our right was winning big. After several hours of this, we did a quick accounting and realized that we were down about $2k. Not good. The other 3 guys wanted to raise the stakes. We never did that. It was against the protocol. Guess what? We were once again persuaded to stray from our own protocols.
I tried everything to reverse the trend. I switched dealers, dealt myself, etc. No change - the table on the right was winning big. Betting over $100 at a time, each player was just minting money. One guy said, "I swear it seems like every other card is a face or an ace." That caught my attention. However, I noted that it was this table that was playing with the cards that I bought. The other table - the one with the losing players - was playing with some spare cards we borrowed when we realized we were going to have 2 tables.
We shut the thing down at 5a.m., paid as many players as we could and wrote down addresses for the rest so we could mail them checks. I sent Clay and Guido to try to see if anybody would settle for "cash now, but at 90% (or so) of what you won" This saved us some of what we would have lost.
When I did the final tally, we had lost $12,900.
Although not happy about losing 1/5 of that personally, I chalked it up to "you can't win them all", "you win some you lose some", and "the dealer still wins in the long run."
Guido and I spent the night at Lucas' house. THe next morning, Lucas said to Guido, "Seriously, it was like you were playing /PEA-NUCKLE/. "
Guido asked him to explain, and Lucas said, "You know, because any time they wanted a face or an ace, they got it. You know, a /PEA-NUCKLE/ deck has only 9, 10, J, Q, K and A."
I flew off of the sofa. "How do you spell /PEA-NUCKLE/?"
"It's spelled all fucked up, like P-I-N-O-C-H-L-E or something like that."
Then it hit me.
I thought that maybe I saw that word on three of the six decks I purchased at the drug store. I made Guido drive me to the house and we dug through the trash can to find the cardboard boxes the cards came in (the cards themselves were either pissed on or incinerated at the end of the night). There it was on the boxes.