I lost last week. Twice. In a row. I know this isn't an unusual blackjack phenomenon, but I haven't lost at all in such a long time that I was astonished. And the last time I lost twice in a row was last November. I got so used to winning that I forgot losing was actually a possibility. I was starting to think my hard and fast rule about leaving the casino once my money was doubled might no longer be necessary, especially since it kept driving me out of casinos before I really wanted to quit playing (and probably, I told myself, before I made as much as I could have). I play for fun, but there's no reason to leave money on the table, right? After all the winning I've been doing lately, I was feeling quite invincible. When I walked into the casino the night of Loss #1 last week, I'd decided that I would keep playing even after my money was doubled if that again happened fast.
Well, as every blackjack player knows, the minute you press, the cards usually turn against you. Evidently, even thinking about loosening your discipline is as discernible to the blackjack gods as betting a bigger stack of chips on the next hand. I watched in incredulity as my chips stash diminished instead of growing. I had to invoke my stop loss rules instead of my gain rules. That night and the next. Adding insult to injury, my birthday was last week. I suppose I should take the incredible run of big wins in early April to be the birthday present - the timing in blackjack is often off. Double down on 11 and the chances are decent that you'll get a 2 or a 4 before the 10 you wanted ends up making the dealer's hand. Hit your 12 and the 10 is practically an inevitability. And speaking of the evil 4, watch it fail to bust time after time after time when it's the dealer's up card, despite its (in my opinion, undeserved) reputation as a player-friendly card.
Anyway, it's very interesting to have a hobby that can also be a sickness. I've realized that most of the people I chat with while I'm playing believe about a third of what I say. Gamblers are liars, I guess, or at least exaggerators. Everyone's heard the story about the guy who turned $100 into $80,000 at a blackjack table. (If you stand around craps tables, you can hear it there too, appropriately amended.) No one's actually seen this guy, of course, because he's either apocryphal or the enticing creation of some casino marketing guru, but dealers and players alike will solemnly swear to have talked to someone who did see him perform this marvelous feat not three weeks ago. (As if. In a game where the odds are at absolute best about 51-52/49-48 in favor of the house, that $100 would have to be the currency equivalent of Jack's magical beanstalk beans to have turned itself into $80,000 in one session.)
But I'm actually not a liar or even, where blackjack is concerned, an exaggerator. It was very weird to recognize that people were nodding sagely and not believing it for a minute when I mentioned that I've never had to dig into my pocket beyond the original $100 I risked on 2/9/05 and the second $100 I had to pony up on 3/1/05, after the original winnings went away on 2/28. So weird, in fact, that I've quit mentioning it. But it's true. I like to play, but I figure I'd rather know immediately if what I consider a fun pastime is costing me real money. Since we moved here, I've kept track on a spreadsheet of what I risk, what I win and what I lose. Without fail, I log my results the minute I get home. I even had one of our crack financial advisers review the spreadsheet to make sure I was calculating correctly. And my net return has been positive since 3/1/05. It's been as low as 75 bucks and as high as $6,326.50, but it hasn't fallen below zero. Honestly.
Even in the face of two consecutive losses, which irritate me sorely, I think having spent $200 of my own money to play a game I like an average of once or twice a week for over two years is a pretty good use of funds. Take that, blackjack gods! (With all due respect, of course.)