Piece #29

The Montreal casino opened in the fall of 1993.

How often did I go the first month the place was open? I am  ashamed to say I went thirty times. Yes, I went every single day, usually in the middle of the afternoon. On Fridays I would make a point of leaving before sundown but I would be back after dark on Saturday night.

I might spend a few minutes playing some slot machines but my game of choice was blackjack. I knew the rules of the game from playing 21 for nickels and dimes with my parents when I was a teenager.

When I played, I often sat next to a guy who had just retired from the shmata industry. During the course of the month, I watched this man gamble away his entire retirement fund. He had no idea how to play.

I knew the basic blackjack strategy. As a talk show host I had interviewed a blackjack expert on more than one occasion. Besides, it was fun. I would usually go with a stake of $50 or occasionally $100. I would find a seat at a $10 table and play a few hours at a time. Sometimes I would win and sometimes I would lose.

On one occasion, all the seats at the $10 tables were taken so I sat down at a $25 table where I was visited by Lady Luck. I kept winning one hand after another. I planned to go home with my winnings but stopped for just one more bet at the $100 table. I hit blackjack so I stayed at that table where I just kept winning.

By the time it was all over I had won an astonishing $9000.

Believe me, I had plans for that money. I would pay down my  credit cards, squirrel some of it away in my savings account and have plenty left over to renovate my home office.

I had my heart set on buying a beautiful English green leather club chair. I certainly had no intention of giving the money back to the casino, that’s for sure. No, not me. But boy, I told myself, I sure knew how to play.

The following morning it was back to the casino. Was I going to bring them back the $9,000?  Of course not. I’m no fool. I went back with only $3000.

I then had the misfortune of plunking myself down at a $25 table with the luckiest blackjack dealer in the history of the game. This man would never go bust. Never. Not once. He would always get blackjack or cards adding up to 21. The worst he ever had was a 20.

Everyone at the table could not believe the guy’s luck. We all lost hand after hand. Many of the people at the table simply walked away. Not me. I figured his luck would have to turn at some point. I wanted to be there at his table when that happened.

It didn’t happen. The guy kept wining hand after hand after hand. Within less than an hour, my $3000 stake was gone.

Did I go home, nurse my sorrows and start planning the office renovation with the $6000 I had left?

No I did not. I was like a man possessed. I would show this dealer. I took a cab from the casino to my apartment and told the driver to keep the meter running and wait for me while I went upstairs. I grabbed the $6000, hopped back into that cab and we sped right back to the casino.

I headed straight for the same table. There was the hated dealer. I sat down and started to play again. This time it took a full two hours before I lost the entire $6000. I had one chip left. Enough money to take a cab back home.

Was I depressed and demoralized by this incident? No I was not. I was actually quite happy about it. Why? Because I suddenly saw the casino for what it really was. For me personally, one of two things would happen. Most of the time, I would lose. The rare time I would win, I would give the money back to the casino. I came to the sensible conclusion that there was simply no way for me to come out ahead.

I stopped going to the casino except when I would take Mom. She loved it.

Blackjack is usually played at a table with 7 seats. One evening, Mom chose a full table and parked herself in the seat just before the dealer, the seat to the far left of the table, the position  known as third base.

I was standing right behind her coaching her on what to do.

For one hand, the dealer had a six showing which is considered a bad card for the dealer. There were piles of chips being wagered by the other six players. A considerable amount of cash was riding on the outcome of this hand.

Most of the players at the table had good hands that added up to 18 or 19. Mom had a 17. All the rules and all the common sense dictated that you do not ask for another card. You stand on 17.  It’s  not a great hand but it is certainly not a bad one especially with the dealer showing a six.

The other players, the dealer and I all naturally assumed that Mom would stand on her 17.

“I vont anudder card.”

“Are you sure?” asked the dealer.

“Hey, lady, are you out of your mind” said one of other players.

“You have a 17 for crissake!” said another.

“Mom, please don’t take another card.”

Mom ignores all the advice. The dealer looks at her. She looks right back at him.

“I said I vont anudder card.”

What card does she get? She gets a 4 which gives her a winning hand of 21.

“You see? I told you!” says Mom.

The dealer flips up his covered card and it’s a 4. He now has a total of 10. His next card is a 10 so he has 20. Mom wins but everyone else at the table loses.

Had Mom stayed on her 17, the dealer would have had his total of 10 plus her 4 for a total of 14. The next 10 would have given him 24. That means he would have gone over and everyone at the table would have been a winner.

The other players were furious. I was terrified as I spirited her away from that table as quickly as possible.

On a previous occasion, when I took Mom to the casino in Cannes, I gave her strict instructions. I told her that Dad and I always thought it was very cute when she cheated when we were playing cards at home. I impressed upon her that French authorities would find any such cheating less amusing.

My mother may also be the only woman in the world who had a system that ensured that she would emerge a winner every single time she set foot in a casino without exception.

What was her secret system?

Whenever she would win, she would keep her winnings. If ever she would lose any money, her face would turn red and she would start crying. To stop the flow of tears, I would instantly give her all the money she had lost and a few extra chips to cheer her up and make her look like a winner.

I called it the Bombardier system.

When the company made a profit, it kept the money. When it went  into the red and started to cry, the government gave it all the money it lost to make it look like a winner.

Mom was Bombardier and I was the taxpayer. Bailing out Bombardier? Annoying. Putting a smile on Mom’s face? Priceless.

This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Good memories, Good warnings. 🙂

  2. Love this story, Tommy. You have truly captured the nuances between parent and child that are often invisible to others. Your mom was blessed to have what most moms hope for – the knowledge that as long as she was alive, her child would have her back, unconditionally.
    I lost my beloved mom six weeks ago, and although our relationship was often fraught with disagreements, we had a bond like no other. That’s why I am loving reading about you and yours. Thank you.

    1. Thank you Andrea for your kind comments. My condolences on the loss of your dear Mom.

  3. What a great story!! I’m sad to say I will miss your stories! I look forward to standing in a huge line no matter how long to purchase your book! All the Best!

    1. Thank you Heather. I will make sure that you are at the front of the line.

  4. Priceless indeed! As is your memoir.
    Brilliant strategy to post these pieces gratis.
    Way more effective than costly promotions, book tours, ads and the like.
    Please, please, don’t leave us hanging midway, waiting with bated breath for the next chapter in this unforgettable saga.
    Way to go!

    1. Thank you Rachel

  5. I love your “Bombardier” analogy. I was in suspense at first wondering if your blackjack star/guest advice was going to be better or worse than your dog trainer guest. Perhaps your paleontologist guest who was subsidized by George Lucas would have been more helpful 🙂 I am looking forward to the next installment.. no pressure or anything. Unless the pressure is what is help you put out such a good read.

    1. Well done and enjoyable

  6. Amazing story. Can’t wait for the book!

  7. Oh Tommy, your mother was lucky to have such a wonderful and understanding son. Cheers to you!

  8. OMG….Your Mother was something else…..and so are you.
    Yes, you must get that Book done and on the shelves.
    Don’t over think it. JUST DO IT. It’s a….YES!

    1. Thanks Annabelle

  9. Heart felt writing. I enjoy each story anticipating the next! Well done. x

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