Sunday, July 02, 2006

"I should have won that coin flip!"

I started playing blackjack in casinos because it was a game that seemed to be at least partly skill-based. Then I learned some half-assed counting strategies and applied them half-assedly in casinos in New Jersey and Connecticut. For those non-math people out there, we're talking about about 1/4 of an ass by this point. Hardly enough to grind out any kind of profit. But it was fun, sort of.

But it was also creepy. I had developed an eerie sense of when a table was going to get cold, or even when a dealer was going to not break even though he was a big favorite to do so. So at the risk of sounding like an insane, superstitious person . . . some general observations meant not to persuade, but rather to merely tell other experienced blackjack players who have experienced the same thing that they are not alone.

I put a large bet up. Large for me is about $250. I'm dealt a 20. The dealer has a 5 showing. My friends, who have since busted out and are now standing behind me as my ad hoc cheering section, are practically already congratulating me for my great sense of timing and testicular fortitude. I know that something's amiss. I can feel it in my stomach that I am going to lose, and I watch mostly in the vain expectation that I might be proved wrong this time. I don't have time to articulate any of this to my pals, or to the table at large. Before I can even say, "I don't feel good about this...", the dealer flips a picture card under the 5, for 15, then an ace, then a five of diamonds. 21. Everyone else is shocked. Tough one.

What makes it tougher is that I'm supposed to feel robbed by this. Somehow, in the time between being dealt my strong natural 20 and the moment the dealer pulls his miracle 21, a certain sense of entitlement is supposed to creep up into my consciousness. "I was entitled to win. I had 20! He had a 5." Of course, the expectation of winning is sort of illusory: I didn't do anything to 'earn' the 20 against the 5. So why feel married to the rights that it's supposed to confer upon me?

If we were betting on a slightly-rigged coin flip, I wouldn't feel robbed when heads came up and I bet tails, no matter what bizarre trajectory the coin took on the way down. I mean, has anyone ever said "I should have won that coin flip!"? Blackjack, and all games of chance against the house are essentially the same thing. Blackjack is no different from a slot machine is no different from Let it Ride is no different from craps. The only thing that is different is the show the casino puts on for you, and the illusion of control and involvement you get to feel in what is essentially a series of slightly-rigged coin flips.

(Sure, the house edges are different, but they're all negative expecatation games for the player.)


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