Tuesday, May 10, 2011

All I wanted was a free buffet (unedited)

Allegedly the price of gas is going to stop rising, so say the pretty pretty TV people.

Yesterday I could have filled my tank for $3.82/gallon. But I had a 7-cent discount coupon for the gas station, so that made my gas $3.75/gallon. Today gas was pretty much $3.99/gallon everywhere I passed this afternoon and evening. Those gas price forecasts did note that the price may spike a bit yet before a true drop in the cost per gallon. The pretty pretty TV people were right.

So with gas going for $4/gallon, the last thing I need to be doing is driving an extra 30 miles to go to a casino. I didn't. I took my bike to a guy who does tune up work out of his home, and for half the price of a bike shop tune up. He hopes to open his own bike shop eventually. For now, without the overhead costs associated with a bike shop, he does tune up work cheap, and I reap the benefit.

I normally have my bike tuned up by May, but it was a lousy April, so I haven't missed many decent bicycling opportunities. By this time next week I'll be working out the rust in my knees and back.

After dropping off my bike this evening I went to a casino, Mistake Lake as some of us like to call it, about a mile from where the bike guy lives. I don't make many cameos at the casino any more, even though I live closer to it than I ever have. I use to go more often when I lived another 10 or 20 minutes away, but I have lost my appetite for it. (I do play poker at the poker room occasionally, so I haven't gone cold turkey here in Minnesota.) I like to gamble in Vegas, but I learned several years ago that the highs aren't as high as the lows are low, so I don't go to the casino very often here in Minnesota. Besides, online porn is cheaper.

I arrived at the casino about 8:30 p.m, still plenty of time to partake in the modestly priced weeknight buffet. I should have ruled it out immediately, as I tend to find that the end-of-night buffet offerings are getting long in the tooth, unless you are lucky. I don't expect the food to be 6 hours old, but it was a rather slow night at the casino, so I doubt there was a lot of fresh food at 8:30.

I was surprised by how little atmosphere and action there was in the casino. I'm not the only one scared off by $4 gas, I guess.

Instead of going to the buffet for dinner and trying to win back the cost of my meal, I sat down at a blackjack table and thought I'd play for 20 minutes, win $25 and then go eat. (The buffet would have cost me less than $15.) I won my first two hands, then lost two. I then went up $15, only to lose it. I couldn't hit a nice run of cards early, and I stuck to my conservative $5 wagers, so I had to win four or five more hands then I lost.

It didn't take long before I was in the hole, and no matter what I did, I couldn't catch a streak of winning hands. Sure I'd win a few hands in a short burst, but every time I'd win $20 or $25 in short order it was after I dropped $30 or $40 over a slow losing streak.

For every lucky hand I won, I lost three or four to bad luck. Maybe it was an average night, but I sure seemed to lose with 20 more often than I should have. Players get lucky and draw to 21 occasionally, but the dealer seemed to do so far more often than I did.

I hate when I am dealt a pair of aces. You can split them and draw one card on each ace, but that's it. If you don't draw a face card, you're stuck with whatever you have, unless it is another ace. At Mistake Lake they let you split aces up to four times. I drew a new ace on my split aces twice, so I had four hands on the table, and I drew one face card on the four aces. Naturally I lost on the other three hands. It was that kind of night.

I also had lousy luck on double down hands. If I doubled down on a 10 or 11, I'd almost never draw a face card. If I doubled on a soft 15 or 16, I wouldn't draw a 4 or 5, I'd draw a face card or some other worthless card, then need the dealer to bust because I didn't have a potential winning hand. Rarely did the dealer bust. I openly laughed at my misfortune a few times. It was just that kind of night.

I started with $100 in chips, and at one point I was down to $10. Despite that I stayed alive, and finally started catching a few breaks. I remember looking at my chip stack on a few occasions and noting it was at $85. I had caught a few breaks, hit an occasional double down and bumped up my bet to $7.50 or $10 when the cards were running favorable. I remember twice looking at my bet and realizing if I won the hand I'd be back to even or up a couple of bucks. Each time I had that break even opportunity, I'd lose. I just couldn't get back to even.

And before long my stack slowly whittled back down. I was so frustrated and angry at myself for sitting at a table that had managed to suck the life out of me for three hours that I finally got up, hating myself for having such lousy luck and not getting up when I was close to even. I could have tried to win that last $20 at another table. Instead I walked away with $27.50 in chips.

A dude sitting at my table when I left was destined for the same painful realization I was. The guy bought in for $20, and despite making some unwise decisions, such as splitting cards in situations where most players wouldn't, or doubling down at times when most players would stand, he was having decent luck. He'd bet $5 most often, but occasionally he'd bump his bet up to $15 or $20, and sometimes play two hands at a time. He bet $20 on a hand after the dealer had a blackjack, doubled down on the hand and won $40. At one point he turned his $20 into $120. But slightly unorthodox play will eventually catch up to you. When I left he had about $40 in chips, thanks to chasing a win with two or three consecutive big bets that didn't pan out. Unless he pulled more money out of his wallet, I'm convinced he walked away a $20 loser rather than a $100 winner.

Before giving up for good I decided to try my luck at a different table. I started by betting $5 on the first hand of a new shoe and got blackjack. From there I continued to win. I bumped my bet up to $7.50 and kept winning. I made $10 bets and won a few of those, too. There were four of us on the table and the other guys were making bigger wagers than me most of the time, and they were winning, too. They weren't winning as consistently as I was, but the dealer was busting quite a bit. I don't think I lost more than three hands. I may have pushed once or twice, but I had a few blackjacks during this shoe, and kept raking the chips in. In a matter of minutes I turned $27.50 into $100. There were still several hands left in the shoe, so I decided I'd better gamble a few bucks and see if my luck continued.

It did. I kept raking in $7.50 or $10 a hand for another four or five hands, and by the time the end of the shoe came I had more than $160 in chips. For that 10 minutes I was nearly unbeatable. Had I known I was in for that kind of luck, I'd have won $1,000, but I have found that you can have incredible luck for half of a shoe, and as soon as you think you're unbeatable, something changes and you can't win a hand. So I avoided the temptation to start betting $20 or $25 a hand, as I didn't want to leave the casino in the hole, and I didn't want to stick around another hour trying to break even. So I remained conservative and kept winning.

I decided to make a $6 bet on the first hand of the next shoe, to see if my luck continued. If I had won, I would have continued playing to see if I could turn that $6 into another $50 or more, but I lost the first hand, so I cashed out. I finished $57 ahead for the night.

It was midnight, too late for the buffet, and I was more than ready to go home. I spent less than four hours playing blackjack, and have no complaints about my per-hour winnings, but I could have lived without the emotional roller coaster and the prospect of dumping $100 that I didn't need to burn.

If only I had remembered why I went there in the first place, I could have had that free buffet and been home three hours sooner.

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