woman I don’t recognize comes to the front door. Now we normally
don’t take kindly to strangers at the Blackjack Ball, but she’s
a big handsome woman and she’s carrying a bottle of vintage Dom–the
kind us oil-patch boys from Texas never even heard of–so I question
She tells me her name’s Cassie, that she graduated from Yale with
a degree in economics a couple of years ago, but didn’t feel like
going to work right away and decided she’d make her living playing
blackjack. I tell her I bet her parents are real happy about blowing
a hundred thousand for an Ivy League education so she could play cards,
but that stories alone just don’t cut getting an invite to the
No problem. She leans over and whispers the Greek Team’s secret
invitation code. I tell her that she’s welcome and introduce her
around to everyone as one of the Greeks. I also explain that she’ll
have to be part of the "field bet," which covers all the late
entries and long shots. She tosses off some glib comment about how it’s
good enough for her just to be here. Some Princeton liberal-artsy guy
cracks something wise about Greeks bearing gifts.
For the next couple of hours, some of the best gambling brains on Earth
swap yarns while they all get fed, courtesy of Mrs. Rubin, and plastered,
courtesy of Caesars and Mirage and MGM. (If you think these guys are
good at cards, you ought to see what they can do with a comp.) After
dessert, the call goes out and the entire herd of raucous revelers stumbles
downstairs to play the game.
The bets fly as I hand out pencils and cards filled with multiple-choice
questions. The questions are as simple as knowing the only sport that
must be played right-handed (polo) and as complex as calculating the
effects–to the hundredth of a percent–of removing a lone
five from a single-deck game. The average IQ in the room–with
a liberal reduction for me–has to be over 135 and only the top
15 will survive to play the next round.
The room falls quiet as the players scribble their answers. The decibels
skyrocket again as the tests are graded and 60 of gambling’s greats
fall early. One woman guest who gets only three correct is dubbed "World’s
Most Pitiful Blackjack Player," but she takes it like a champ as
I give her a big hug and a two-inch plaque. Surprisingly, three other
women make it to the second round; that’s never happened before.
Early favorites Mickey Rosa of MIT fame., Mr. Lucky, and the Hobbit
are all still in it and look like solid wagers. I’ve bet a little
something on each of them, so I feel pretty smug.
The field bettors aren’t doing too bad either, with four dogs
still in the hunt.
The next round of 15 questions gets much harder, with such stumpers
as, "Are you the favorite if your cards total seven and the dealer
shows a five?" (You’re not) and "What is Blackjack Forum’s
URL?" (it’s RGE21.com). Every question brings a groan and
none of the final 15 thinks they’re doing too well.
Finally, it’s the moment of truth. Only the top four will get
to sit up on the stage, under the glare of hot lights and jealous colleagues,
at the blackjack table. No one gets 15 or 14 right. No one ever has.
This year, for the first time, someone nails 13 on the money. It’s
Cassie, the Greek. Whoa! She’s the first woman ever to make it
to the final table. Also, since she’s in the field, more than
half the bettors in the room have something on her. The crowd explodes.
12? No one. 11? Mickey Rosa dances to the stage, high-fiving all of
his backers. How about a 10? Oh no! It’s another field player,
the notorious Moray Eel, whom no one expected to be here tonight.