How blackjack changed the course of one man’s life
By Frank Scoblete
Say “hi” to Professor Symington D. Delray, a blackjack player for several years. Professor Delray used to work for a wellknown university in New Jersey, just outside New York City, until his retirement in 2018—weeks before the pandemic shut many of us in our houses and yards, and removed the other many-of-us from our jobs.
Professor Delray retired and he became an at-home-body almost immediately. Not something he wanted. His plans for retirement never actually happened. His goal was to travel to parts of the world where he had never been before. “Well, that didn’t pan out yet.”
Let him tell his story of blackjack play. That’s something he had never counted on before his retirement.
PROFESSOR: I’m retired, yes, not exactly the way I planned. That I do ﬁnd hard to believe. I ﬁnd today’s world hard to believe, too. I worked for 30 years, teaching, writing research papers on topics I found rather dull and boring but allowed me a comfortable position at the school. You do what you have to do to make a living. I’ve got no regrets at all about my career.
My personal life? It’s been so-so, to tell the truth. The girl I was wildly in love with married some guy from Chicago (she was cheating on me!) and left me just like that. She told me she liked me but I wasn’t the man for her. She’s divorced now and I have no idea where she lives or even if she is alive. She’d be about 70 now or somewhere in there.
FRANK: When did you discover blackjack?
PROFESSOR: Yes, indeedy, you might say blackjack changed the course of my life.
FRANK: When was that?
PROFESSOR: The year was 1988. I remember what threw me into the blackjack camp. A friend and I went down to Atlantic City for a few days. It wasn’t my ﬁrst time there. I enjoyed walking the Boardwalk and sitting down to watch the ocean. I might play some slots but I wasn’t a fanatical slot player or anything. Craps wasn’t my game; the players seemed too loud for me. Maybe a game or two of roulette here and there. That was about it.
FRANK: Where did you stay that ﬁrst time down at the shore?
PROFESSOR: The Sands, right across a small street from the Claridge.
FRANK: I stayed at that casino a number of times. We may have bumped into each other back then.
PROFESSOR: It was raining the day we got there and I made a tour inside the casino for something to do. I watched some craps games, some roulette tables, and some other games, and then some blackjack games. I went from one to another.
I had never considered playing blackjack in the past but as I watched the game, I realized something. Every card that was played was out of play until after the next shuﬄe. The game’s odds changed because of that. Could this game actually be beaten because of that, too?
These were four and six deck games if I remember correctly. I wondered if I could keep track of the cards. I knew about card counting as an idea. This aspect of the game must be why you could count cards at the game. They didn’t come back into play until after the next shuﬄe. Like if all the aces came out there would be no blackjacks until after the shuﬄe.
FRANK: And then?
PROFESSOR: I bought a book and read it a couple of times in quick succession. I learned that something called basic strategy was the proper way to play the hands so I memorized it when I got back to my regular life. I made some cards and just kept testing myself until I knew it cold.
Then I went down to Atlantic City to see if I could play the game and remember basic strategy in all the hustle and bustle of a casino. It was one thing to memorize basic strategy at home but the casino might be diﬀerent.
FRANK: And what happened?
PROFESSOR: I had no trouble with the basic strategy. What I had some trouble with was a guy who fancied himself an expert at the game and he was always telling people how to play their hands. I happened to be sitting at third base when he arrived at the table and he immediately said to me that the fate of the table was in my hands.
“You better make the right decisions,” he said. “Or we all could lose.”
I would make some moves and he would go almost nuts. “You don’t hit your 12 against the dealer’s two. What’s wrong with you?” Or, “You got a blackjack. Take insurance against the dealer’s ace and you have an automatic win. Why aren’t you doing that?” Or “Don’t split your eights against a dealer’s 10 card. You have a losing hand and you are now going to lose two hands. You really should learn to play the game properly.” Or “You keep playing this way and we are all going to lose because you keep taking the dealer’s bust card.”
He obviously had no real idea of the true basic strategy. Finally, I said to him, “If you know what card is coming out next just tell all of us so we know. We’d all thank you for that, we would.”
FRANK: Did you ever become a card counter?
PROFESSOR: No. I still play basic strategy or I did when the pandemic hit. When it’s over I’ll go back. I am a casual blackjack player and I enjoy the game. Thankfully, there aren’t too many loud- mouthed experts out there.
FRANK: All the best in and out of the casinos! ´
Frank Scoblete’s website is www.frankscoblete.com. His books are available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, Kindle, e-books, libraries and bookstores.