At three o’clock in the morning Circus Circus Casino in Reno was not nearly as loud and boisterous as during the day when live circus acts filled the stage. As Steve walked toward the blackjack tables he remembered the first time he had seen Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas back in the late 70’s. The circus theme and atmosphere was so exaggerated that you could smell the saw dust in the air and you wouldn’t have been too surprised to see a mound of elephant poop on the floor. Trying to concentrate and play blackjack in that place was a nightmare because of the noise and distractions. Acrobats were performing their feats of agility while trapeze artists flew across the tent-like ceiling. Clowns actually roamed the casino floor messing with the customers and juggling. It was a bit too much and as casino management finally figured out, it was excessively distracting customers from what they wanted them to do, gamble and lose their money. Things were much more subdued now.

Steve was at Circus Circus because they had a lot of single deck Slot Online blackjack and at this time of the morning he figured the tables wouldn’t be too crowded. Steve knew that when playing serious single or double deck pitch games, the ideal scenario would be to get a game playing the dealer heads up (one on one). The more players at the table, the worse the odds for an experienced professional card counter. With more players at the table, when the count gets high, there is a much greater chance of the 10’s and Aces that you hope to get being distributed to other players. But if you can play the dealer heads up, you may even be able to influence the cards the dealer gets from time to time. And in this game, every edge, even the slightest, can eventually mean the difference between turning a long term profit or going bust.

Steve was getting desperate to turn the team’s situation around. While the other members had the day off, he had decided to take the bull by the horns and go out alone and find some single deck games where he would have a better chance of winning back some of the $250,000 stake that was now over half gone. Steve was aware that he might as well be wearing a sign that said “Card Counter” since he was playing in the wee hours of the morning and playing single deck and he would be raising and lowering his bet with the count. He might even play an extra hand when the deck was rich in aces in order to give himself a better shot at nailing a natural blackjack which is one of the big advantages a counter has. Yes, he knew that he would eventually attract some attention, but he hoped that by keeping his bet spread to 4 units, he might get away with it for awhile. And the cold hard truth was that Steve was now feeling a bit too desperate to care. Besides, this casino had been pretty liberal with known counters in the past, even allowing some to play as long as they flat bet.

Steve saw a middle aged dealer standing at her table with a single deck of cards spread in front of her. He sat down and the dealer greeted him cheerfully as she picked up the cards and began to shuffle them. Steve watched where she placed the cut card so he could ascertain how deep into the single deck of cards she intended to deal before reshuffling. She placed the cut card about halfway into the deck, about what Steve had expected even though he hoped for a little less than that. Another edge Steve wanted was to get deeper into the deck where the count would be more effective.

Steve bought in for $10,000 and placed his first bet of $500. After calling “Purple Action” over her shoulder to make sure the floor supervisor was aware of the size of Steve’s bet, the smiling dealer made idle chit chat as she dealt him a pair of 8’s and then turned over a 10 as her up card. “Oh no,” Steve thought, “not this again.” Steve dutifully split the 8’s and placed another $500 on the table. On the first 8, Steve was dealt a 4 and a 6 for a total of 18. The second 8 received an ace. “Probably two losers,” Steve mumbled.

“Well, you never know,” the perky dealer retorted. She turned over her hole card and it was a 3.

“She’s a little stiff,” Steve thought. He held his breath as the dealer pulled the next card from the top of the deck, a 2.

“Hey, it’s never easy is it?” Steve commented.

“Not usually, but you gotta have faith.” The dealer turned over the next card in the deck and for the first time in days Steve experienced a flash of genuine joy when he saw the 7.

“Good start, sir,” said the dealer as she paid Steve $1000.

“Yeah, let’s hope it keeps up.”

“I’ve got a good feeling about you tonight,” the dealer prophesied as she dealt another round.

Steve hoped and prayed she was right. Now he only had $124,00 to go to get even. It seemed like an impossible mountain to climb, but even Mount Everest had to be conquered one step and one foot hold at a time.

Steve’s thoughts were interrupted by more comments from the dealer. “I’ve been dumping all shift,” she said laughingly.

“Oh yeah? How come there weren’t any players at your table?”

“There were 3 business types here earlier, but they had some sweet meat hanging around them and it didn’t take long before they decided they would rather do something else for awhile, even though they were winning. Kind of restores your faith to know that there are still some things that are more important to men than making money.” While making these comments, the middle aged dealer (who Steve noted was wearing the name ‘Maggie’ on her breast badge) dealt Steve a natural blackjack while dealing herself a 5 and a 6. Steve was beginning to find Maggie attractive.

And indeed, as the early morning hours passed and the darkness of night lifted, Maggie’s prophecy was holding true. Steve’s luck had turned around completely and he was winning the vast majority of his hands plus he hadn’t lost a double down or split yet! Even when Maggie was tapped out and replaced by her relief dealer, a nice young man in his mid 20’s, Steve’s luck continued, although the results weren’t quite as good as when his good luck angel was dealing. Finally, at about 6:30 A.M., Steve lost 3 hands in a row, one of which was a double down. About the same time, 2 other players sat down at the table and Steve knew it was time to cash in. Maggie colored up $40,500 and Steve tipped her $100 in addition to several other lucrative tips he had bestowed upon her along the way.

Steve asked for a breakfast comp for 2 and got it, then meandered off to find a phone to call Lisa.

As things turned out, Steve thought, he probably got away clean this time. Not only Maggie, but even the Pit Boss realized that Steve was on an incredible run of luck. The Pit Boss had even gone so far as to encourage Steve to play more than one hand to take advantage of his good run of luck. Steve figured it was more he was trying to change the run of the cards than anything else, but when the count was high he did play 2 hands and was rewarded several times with a blackjack. Also, since things were going so well, Steve was able to just play at a fairly high level, only vacillating between $1000 and $2000 bets, which, for a high roller, is nothing to attract concern from the powers that be.

Lisa wasn’t too happy about being awakened so early on her day off, but after shaking off the slumber somewhat, her normal friendly flirtatious personality came back into focus and she agreed to meet Steve for breakfast. Steve felt he had to talk to someone about the whole situation that he had been keeping mostly to himself. And every time he talked to Lisa he always felt better, whether she had actually contributed anything of value to the discussion or not. And right now, just feeling better was something to be treasured.

While Steve waited for Lisa in one of the Circus Circus restaurants, his thoughts drifted back to another time, another place, and for all practical purposes, another life. Steve was an executive in a large Chicago retail firm when he first laid eyes on Lisa. She came in to his office to apply for a secretarial position. Steve remembered the feelings she aroused in him the first time he saw her, and when he actually spoke with her those feelings were instantly amplified several times over. Steve also felt guilty because he had hired her over 2 or 3 other more qualified applicants, but it was really out of his hands. He couldn’t help himself, like a heroin addict can’t help himself. One hit of Lisa and he was addicted.

Now, in looking back, Steve wondered if Lisa had come along at a good time or a bad time in his life. Steve had been recently divorced. His wife had begun cheating on him because his job had become his mistress and received all of his energy and attention. It was a very sad and hurtful time for Steve and the few dates he had enjoyed with Lisa had really had a healing effect and lifted his spirits. Unfortunately, when Steve wanted to bring some intimacy into their relationship, Lisa had declined. He would never forget her words: “Steve, you’re everything a girl could want, but you just aren’t ready. You still love your ex-wife.” Those words had been like so many knives piercing his soul. Steve had not been able to choke back the tears as he thought no one would ever love him again.

Fortunately, time does have a healing effect and he could remember those days now without experiencing the gut wrenching pain that those thoughts used to bring. Steve kind of chuckled at the irony of the fact that he eventually had to fire Lisa because even though she was a great person to be around, she was a lousy secretary and bungled practically every assignment she was given. But she was basically aware of her shortcomings and harbored no ill will toward Steve. And besides, when the opportunity to put together a blackjack team presented itself, who was the first person Steve had called? Lisa, of course. And luckily for Steve, Lisa turned out to have a real knack for the game plus she loved to gamble and seemed to fit in perfectly with the carnival atmosphere of casinos.

Steve looked up from his coffee and saw a vision. Lisa had just walked in.