My cousin Shawn gave me his copy of "Beat the Dealer," by Edward O. Thorpe years ago. Mr. Thorpe was responsible for casinos going from two to six decks in the shoe after he developed a card counting method that took away the house's advantage. I devoured that book over and again until its dog-eared pages were all bloodhounds. The book came with a chart that one could memorize on what pairs to split, when to double-down, etc. based on the dealer's up card. I spent way more time on that chart than on any of my college courses. I even geeked out and kept track of my college wins and losses(a couple hundred more w's) in a little notebook. My roommates and I used to sit around pounding beers and flipping cards as fast as we could while adding and subtracting ones to prep for our weekly trips to rob the natives.
Casinos are a great way to get a piece of culture when traveling. Someone said not to look for virtues, depravities can't be faked. I spent some time in a casino the first time I was in Amsterdam(in between the coffee shops and hookers, of course.) That was the first place I gambled where others could put money on your hand. I was up a couple hundred gilders(yep, it was a while ago) and all of a sudden lots of people were betting on the way I played. I double-downed cuz Thorpe said I had to and Dutchmen groaned as they placed more chips on the table. Then the dealer pulled a picture on a hard six-teen and people cheered, some of them even flipped me a chip or two.
So when I went to the capital city(in case you're wondering, it also has goats and cattle roaming the streets) to sort out my stolen passport and realized that it had a casino, I decided to have a look.
Tinted windows, clock-less walls, and free drinks for the players, yep I'll give it a go. I stood behind the only blackjack table that had a dealer and waited for a seat to open up. Then I realized only two people had money on the table. I asked the dealer if I could sit third base. Statistically the seat right before the dealer is the best over the long run. That's the first thing you need to get into your head if you're gonna be Thorpeian about your card playing, hot seats and hot shoes are for suckers. The dealer told me I couldn't cuz the 'Mouna modala is sitting there.' Okay, I guess that's the first thing to realize about a Bots casino- respect for old men even extends to the table. So she ousted someone younger than me and I took a seat right next to the shoe.
I changed 400 Pula and watched the pile ebb and flow while I struggled to dust off the chart. Luckily even the dealers move painfully slow in this country and I was able to keep a count though I was way out of practice. I got into the rhythm of the cards snapping, the fluidity of the chips re-distributed, and the chatter of the players. I kept hearing the dealer say something that sounded like, "Surrender." One time she said it and everyone but me tapped behind their chips. The dealer took half their bets then turned up her down card. Hard fourteen. Picture. She paid me and everyone at the table asked me how I knew. Cultural insight, for sure. That's how the Motswanans got this little paradise called the Kalahari Desert, they didn't want to fight the Zulus or the Boers for the fertile lands they'd occupied for centuries so they surrendered and moved.
All of a sudden I was playing cards with four people betting behind my hand. She dealt me two eights. I grabbed another chip and spread my pointer and bird. Mouna madala shook his head and said, "Eesh." You always split aces and eights, said I. "Ahh but you are taking a gamble." No shit mister, this is a casino. I bought me a new pair of kicks with the winnings and had enough left over for breakfast.
I just wanted to stare at the sun. Is that so wrong?
23 hours ago