The Night I Lost $10,000 On One Hand Of Blackjack

Evie M.

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*Screen names have been changed. This story may be triggering to some readers. Proceed with caution.

Before this night, I never imagined life could implode with a simple click of my mouse. Focused on distracting myself from the pain of a failing marriage, this possibility sat at the bottom of my list of concerns.

My catastrophic loss happened faster than I could process. The night started like any other with the clock reading 3 AM. A smoldering cigarette in my right hand, I tapped out a message with my left.

*EvieD: This shoe is nasty, guys.

CarlosCarlos: Bruh, Katrina has pulled either twenty or a Blackjack five times in a row.

Diabolos: We’re due for a win. Yo, Evie, what’s the count?

This night, like every night, my husband slept alone. Some friends and I played online Blackjack. We’d sat in the high-roller’s room for almost ten hours at this point, one of our more casual meet-ups. I took a swig from the bottle of Krakken beside me on the couch and grimaced. High on a generous amount of weed, I fought to keep my eyes from closing.

I knew better than to smoke and drink while I played. Staying sober is rule number one for any serious player. But for the past year, I’d wanted to remove myself from reality. Once a proud professional card counter, I didn’t have the heart to take my craft seriously anymore.

For hours, the cards ground our faces into the floor. Our bets kept climbing in a desperate bid to recoup our losses. Up and down, win and lose, more often than not, this is the way it went.

Placing progressive bets is a fool’s way to play. Without card counting, there’s no guarantee a player will walk out ahead, no matter how many books there are on “crushing the house”. Winners don’t build casinos. We knew this better than anyone, but we still didn’t care.

To each of us deep down, gambling stood for something else. The digital chips meant nothing.

My eyes traveled to my phone. I noticed several missed calls, but couldn’t remember the last time it rang, maybe days? I rarely spoke to family and friends anymore.

HueyLouis43: What are you going to do?

Another dealer in Atlantic City, every night after work, Louis spent his tips.

EvieD: I’m going to up my bet to the max.

HueyLouis43: Are you counting cards? What’s the count?

EvieD: No, I just have a feeling that the Ace about to drop is mine.

A risky choice

Despite popular belief, it’s not illegal to card count, but it is frowned upon — a lot. If you take the house too often, you’ll get booted from the casino and blacklisted. Most dealers look the other way if the tips are flowing, especially in the early morning hours.

This is the reason people followed me into whatever room I went: I gave them one hell of an advantage.

The problem is in an online casino, they cut the deck at 50% penetration, and with people coming in and out, it makes counting tough.

Besides, it was too late to start unless I back-counted into the shoe. Inebriated, I couldn’t even get close to focusing my hazy gaze enough to try. I’d messed up by clouding my mind with booze and weed, but I wouldn’t back down, not then.

IamPepeFrog: Whoa, watchu doin’ girl? Back up!

HueyLouis43: You’re going to guess while the shoe is this bad, Evie? What’s going on with you lately? You’re a card counter, use that to your advantage. Make us some money!

Chadster09: Yeah, Katrina doesn’t care if you count because we’ll keep tipping her. You’ve been working all week for that money.

“Evie can do it,” said Katrina, the dealer, with an encouraging smile at the camera. “I’ve never seen someone win as much as her. She’s just going through a really long losing streak. She’s due for a win!”

HueyLouis43: Oh, Lord, this is bad.

Chadster09: Let’s go!

IamPepefrog: We up in here! Woo!

Yourgod: Come on, Evie!

My hand hovered over the trackpad as I prepared to place my bet of ten-thousand dollars, the limit for the casino. With my credit cards maxed out, this had to be the hand I won it all back on, I was sure. I sat anchor, which meant the Ace coming out of the shoe would go to either the dealer or me, and I liked my odds.

Everyone would love me if my guess turned out correct. I didn’t even want to play the game anymore, I just desperately needed them all to keep looking up to me.

But I miscalculated. Katrina got the Ace of Hearts.

HueyLouis43: Oh, God, no.

Louis had $5,000 on the table.

“Insurance?” asked Katrina, sweeping her hand over the felt.

Please don’t flip a face card, I thought. Please, God, don’t have it.

In my sadness, I’d tapped out my entire bankroll playing fast and loose too often. Blackjack became an obsession rather than work. I couldn’t afford the $5,000 I needed to buy insurance. $100 is all my bank account offered until payday.

None of the others took insurance on their hands, either, but we all should have.

“Oh, no,” said Katrina with a gasp when the card reader flashed red. “Blackjack. Oh, oh, no…”

I stared at Katrina on my screen. “You have got to be shitting me right now.”

IamPepefrog: Fuck!

Pepe left the table $3,000 in the hole from that one hand.

HueyLouis43: Oh, damn. Brutal.

Katrina scooped up the cards. I watched, helpless, as my digital chips disappeared.

And that’s when I learned I had a terrible problem.

Unable to admit defeat

The next day, I woke around 5 PM. I lay in bed, blinking, hoping the memories from last night came to me in a vivid dream instead. Once the reality settled, I jumped out of bed and grabbed my computer to log onto the online casino.

My balance read: $0.00. My bank account didn’t lie far behind. Over a year, I’d lost $25,000, an even larger bankroll, my savings, and copious winnings.

How did I get to this place? Ten years ago, when I played my first hand of Blackjack, I never imagined a game would consume my life.

On my twenty-first birthday, my father took my best friend, Michael, and I to the South Point Casino in Vegas. An avid Blackjack player, Michael bubbled with excitement.

“I can’t wait,” he said. We practiced basic strategy for weeks in his kitchen.

After about thirty minutes of play, I understood his enthusiasm.

“Look! You’re doing great!” He’d told me after my third winning hand in a row. “Make sure to tip the dealer. Place your bet on the tip spot, there.”

I did as told.

The dealer said: “wow, you’re very kind,” holding up the $25 chip when we both won the hand.

Though pretty, her smile presented as a rather sad one.

“You’re welcome” — I squinted at her name tag — “Svetlana from Russia.”

Svetlana duplicated her tip and placed the chips in the cup, and I remember feeling good.

Overweight and struggling with a binge eating disorder, I wanted to make her light up again. Making someone happy that could’ve been hurting as much as I brought me peace. Svetlana could have every cent I won if it took her pain away.

For two years, I practiced counting cards with religious fervor before I went live on a casino floor. I learned several techniques, including Hi-Lo and the Wong Halves method. When I won my first Blackjack tournament, I received a cool three-thousand dollars. Most importantly, as the only female to compete, I gained the respect of every man in the room.

I soared.

From then on I enjoyed a comfortable part-time career playing Blackjack. A decade later, saying my career took a pitfall would be an understatement. This destruction doesn’t happen to experienced players. On top of that, I deal cards professionally. I see every day how gambling destroys lives if you don’t play smart.

Proud and afraid, I couldn’t admit I’d developed a serious problem.

But my husband, Deon, still noticed.

Alone

When I arrived home from work the next night, Deon waited for me in the kitchen. With two breakups behind us, Deon struggled to keep us afloat, but I’d hidden how far my life slid backward.

“How…how did this happen?” he asked once I sat him down and explained. “This is what you do, Evie. This is your job. You’re a professional card player. How could you be so irresponsible?”

“I didn’t use your money, D. I have a separate account.”

“That’s not my point.”

Though I tried to listen, his words bled together until they turned to a dull hum in my ears. I struggled to voice the why behind my terrible choices, that I needed help.

I don’t remember much, but Deon made a bed on the couch so, I concluded the conversation ended on a negative note.

What did it matter? Our marriage sat on a precarious cliff. A gust of wind could have tipped us over the edge. Whether created from the fan of a 52-card deck or not struck me as irrelevant.

That night, I signed onto my account one more time. Hurting, I wanted to talk to my friends.

EvieD has entered the room!

CarlosCarlos: Holy shit, thank God! Evie’s back. Now we can win.

HueyLouis43: Playing again after yesterday? That’s hardcore.

My eyes welled with tears. Certainly, these people could ease my pain. With estranged family and friends, they’re all I had.

EvieD: I’m not back to play. I need some help.

IamPepefrog: With what? We’re kind of in the middle of a run here, Ev. I lost 90k earlier, and I have to make it back.

EvieD: I just want to talk.

No-one responded.

EvieD: Please.

I stared at the screen. The conversation started again around ten minutes later.

CarlosCarlos: Dude, I ate Taco Bell earlier. I’m thirty-five and seriously regretting my choices.

YourGod: Raunchy.

IamPepeFrog: Pay attention, assholes, we’re here to make money. I have a quota.

Without money to play, I no longer existed. After all the hours spent together, the praise and popularity, in the end, I wound up alone.

So why did I do this to myself?

Recovery

I called my family the next morning to ask for help. Starting with my sister, I explained my plight.

“You know, Dad guessed this would happen a few months ago,” she said.

My father didn’t react at all when he heard the story but transferred money to my account anyways.

I’m not sending anymore, he texted. You fuck this up; I’m not helping you.

I won’t, I wrote back and meant it.

A year has passed since I sat on the other side of a Blackjack table. My family and close friends helped pull me out of the pit. I threw myself into my work as a dealer while I chipped away at my debt, and learned the real danger of addiction. I’ve taken the last pennies of the dying, the addicted, the lonely who don’t quite fit in.

Like me, All they wanted was glory, an escape from the hard truth, not money. That’s what fueled my addiction, anyway: the deep itch for love, adoration, never the cash or the flash.

I understand better than anyone what it’s like to risk it all for the high of approval from others. To ache for the way blood pumps through your veins, saying:

“You’re going to be okay.”

“See? Everyone loves you, don’t be afraid.”

Reflecting on all the turmoil, I am thankful for losing every cent I owned. With no money, I became another face to the people I thought mattered, and grew to accept myself alone.

I learned the cards, other people, addiction, none can measure your worth. Without it all, you’re still you: a legendary winning hand.

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