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Glory Days in Blackjack

Gambling at The Maxim, home of the perfect blackjack game

Money was flowing in torrents everywhere you looked. It was hard to get a hotel room. Players of all experience levels and bankroll sizes figured this was a casino where they could win.

By Frank Scoblete

I remember the days of “perfect” blackjack games in Las Vegas. They had the most player-friendly rules and amazingly deep penetration into the deck. And the executives and pit people had a highly sophisticated attitude toward it all—they understood that great games attracted a ton of play, and that card counters weren’t the big “threat” that everyone else made them out to be.

My wife A.P. and I were a formidable blackjack team from 1986 until 2000. In the 1990s, when our kids were going to private high schools and then on to college, we used to make what we called “tuition runs” to the casino. That was pressure. And the moment our youngest one graduated college in 2000, A.P. said, “I quit.”

blackjack games

The best summer we ever had as players was in 1991 at the old Maxim, where they dealt a single-deck game all the way to the bottom. If the dealer ran out of cards, he just reshuffled the deck and kept dealing. The only card a player didn’t see was the burn card.

I learned a little-known technique called “end-play” at this game. When the cards ran out and the old cards were brought back into play, you did a reshuffle of the count. And I got to play with some of the great card counters of that era, the best of which was the late Paul Keen—a man every BJ authority went to in order to check their statistics and facts.

He was the only card counter I ever met who could actually follow cards through a shuffle in a six-deck game. (If you’ve never heard of him, picture this: the most famous card counter of all time, Ken Uston, used to go to Paul for advice!)

In that Maxim game you could spread your bets from $5 to $500 in one giant leap if you wished, and no casino pit person cared that players were counting cards or dramatically ratcheting up their bets when the situation called for it. During that summer we averaged over eight hours of play a day, with A.P. and I each playing two hands at a time. With those playing conditions, why not try to capitalize?

Ah, those were the games! The rules included:

• Dealer stood on soft 17
• BJ paid 3 to 2
• Double on any first two cards
• Double after splits
• Resplit twice
• Surrender on any first two cards
• Free $1 coupon good at any store or restaurant at Maxim with every blackjack of $5 or over

And there were a full range of other comps, to boot.

We started that summer as red-chip players; we ended as black- and purple-chip players, making $500 bets with impunity. A.P. had to sew our winnings in my suit from toe to collar since I was afraid to carry so much cash in a suitcase! You’ve seen those movies where the giant suitcase is filled with hundred-dollar stacks after the big bank heist? Imagine doing that legally.

I’ve never come across a game like that since the Maxim. Not even close. Even basic-strategy players had an edge at that game—and they were welcome to start at $500, a hand if they wanted to!

Four weeks after we left Vegas, the Maxim shut down that game. You might think it was because the card counters drained the casino, but that wasn’t the case. I recall the place going gangbuster business. Here are some of my recollections about those eight weeks we spent in the Maxim’s gambling heaven:

1. Only four single-deck tables were ever open at one time. These were not always populated by card counters. There were plenty of non-basic-strategy ploppies taking up those seats day and night, dumping their money into the casino’s coffers.
2. There were four double-deck games with normal penetration and traditional Vegas rules, but no surrender. These were always packed with the usual gang of suspects.
3. There were about eight six-deck games with no surrender and normal Vegas rules. These were always jammed, too.
4. The craps games (I recall there being three tables) were also filled with players. There was some heavy action there, with players making all the Crazy Crapper Bets.
5. The slot aisles were filled with the wives, husbands and friends of the table-game players.
6. There was even a small poker “room” with a table that was always filled to capacity.

In short, the Maxim was hopping! Money was flowing in torrents everywhere you looked. It was hard to get a hotel room. Players of all experience levels and bankroll sizes figured this was a casino where they could win. And if they couldn’t get a seat at a single-deck game, did those players leave? No, they went to the other tables to play—or jumped on the slots.

The Maxim was the place to be that summer. Then it ended. It went back to offering the normal Vegas games, the crowds thinned out, and the joint went bankrupt in a couple of years. It closed its doors and was then sold to the Westin chain.

But for that summer—that one, glorious summer—they had the greatest game in the world.

Gambling at The Maxim, home of the perfect blackjack game.

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