On the green felt tabletop before me there lies an ace, four, five, three and ace. My mind is closed and frozen, and the dealer is glaring at me.
I meet his aloof demeanor with an eager smile. Friendliness seems like my best option since my mind is suddenly blank, and I need his help. “Ok, John, what do I do?”
He raises an eyebrow and looks irritated. “What do you think you should do?”
“Hit? Stay. I don’t know! I’m new at this.” My mind swirls as I look at his cards. His first is face down. His upcard is a seven.
I can’t think. I can’t think! This is awful.
“What do you have. Count it. Soft 14, right? Can 14 beat a hard 17? Just think about it.”
So I tap my cards twice. “Fine. Hit me.”
“Don’t touch the cards,” he mutters.
I add another ace to my hand. That makes 15. “You’ve got to be kidding! Hit me again.”
So he does. With a seven.
John smirks as he takes my chips. When I bang my forehead just once against the table, he scolds me for breaking the house rules.
I read J. Edward Allen’s The Basics of Winning Blackjack on the first leg of our flight to Las Vegas, and I felt like I understood it. Because look: I can tell you to never hit on a hard 17 or higher. Stay on all hands between 12-16 when the dealer’s upcard is a 4, 5 or 6. Hit or double down on all soft totals under 17. And Mikey? Always double down on 11.
But when the cards start flying and the pressure is on and John the Dealer openly shows his ire, I just shut down. I can’t explain it. My entire life is like this. If I’m good at something, then I’m good at it. If I don’t catch on right away, I fall to pieces.
I know just how I look–like Austin saying ”I’ll staaaay,” on a five.
I won’t lie: Cards are not my bag, baby.
Meanwhile, my betting buddies are having their way with the blackjack table. To my left, Kim splits a pair of aces, gets a blackjack on both, leans back and says, “That’s how it’s done.” To my right, GB watches the cards methodically and collects and collects and collects. And Mason? Who knows what on earth Mason is doing—he’s fluent in this game, and he knows tricks that aren’t in the J Edward Allen guide. He takes big risks, plays big money, and the cards try to do him some favors.
Their stacks are getting higher. John still hates me.
I slide two more chips into position, and watch as they’re greeted by a pair of threes.
“Should I split ‘em?” I ask Kim. She’s distracted, “No, probably not.”
“What do you think, John? Split ‘em?”
So I do. John tosses me an eight and an ace. “Now what?” I ask.
So I do.
I can’t remember the rest of the hand. I only know that I won it, and the payout was nice.
“That’s it for the free advice, kid. You’re on your own.”
Shortly after, he takes a break. When he returns, he’s even angrier.
In the end, I win twice what I started with. I thank John for his cranky, spiteful help, and thank my husband and friends for their more cheerful and steadily-flowing assistance. There wasn’t a moment in the game when I knew what I was doing, and that was fine, because guess who walked away in the black?
I wasn’t the only one who came out ahead, either. Thanks to GB and his wicked smart blackjack skillz, he tucked $210 dollars into his pocket as we walked away from the table. Not bad for a fellow first-timer. (Blow it up, G-dog!)
So there you have it: My first Vegas double down. That means I can cross 36×37 assignment #16 off the list, and move on to telling you about #17. There are some fun stories rolled up in tomorrow’s post, and I can’t wait to tell you all about them.
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