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Vegas Rules

So Levitt and I were in Las Vegas this weekend, doing some research. (Seriously.) We had a little downtime and we decided to play blackjack. It was New Year’s Eve, at Caesars Palace, about 9 p.m. We sat down at an empty table where the dealer, a nice young woman from Michigan, was very patient in teaching us the various fine points that neither of us knew and which indicated that we were both inexperienced. Keep one hand in your lap, e.g. When you want a card, just flick your cards twice on the felt. When you’re standing, tuck one card under your chip/s. And so on.

At one point, Levitt kind of gasped. He had had 21 but somehow had asked for another card. The last card was a 2. It wasn’t that he didn’t know how to play, or count; he was just distracted — talking to me, he’d later claim — and the dealer had seen him do something, or fail to do something else, that indicated he wanted another card. So here he was with 4 cards: a face card, a 4, a 7, and a 2. The dealer looked sympathetic. I vouched for Levitt, told her he wasn’t an idiot and surely wouldn’t have hit on 21 intentionally. She seemed to believe us. She said she’d call over her supervisor to see what could be done.

She called the supervisor’s name over her shoulder. I could see the supervisor, and I could see that he couldn’t hear her. Remember, this is a casino on New Year’s Eve; it was pretty noisy. She keeps calling, and I keep seeing that he’s not hearing her, but she won’t turn around to call him. That would mean turning her back on her table full of chips and, even if Levitt was dumb enough to hit on 21, he presumably was smart enough to grab a bunch of chips and run. (Or maybe, she was thinking, he’s actually dumb like a fox and used this hitting-on-21 trick all the time, to get the dealer to turn her back on the table.)

Finally I went over and got the supervisor. When he came over, the dealer explained the situation. He seemed to accept Levitt’s explanation. Then he looked at me. “Did you want the card?” he asked, meaning the 2 that Levitt drew.

“Well, now that I see it, sure I want it,” I said. I had 17; I certainly wouldn’t have hit on 17, but a 2 would give me a lovely 19.

“Here,” he said, and gave me the 2. “Happy New Year.”

Then the dealer took a card and busted.

I don’t know much about gambling, but I do know that the next time I’m in Vegas and feel compelled to play some blackjack, I’m going to Caesar’s.

And just so you don’t think that Levitt really is a complete gambling idiot: the next day, we sat down at the sports book and he grabbed a Daily Racing Form and studied it for about 10 minutes and then went up and placed a bet. He found a horse, going off at 7/2, that had never run a race. But he saw something that he liked. He bet the horse to win and win only. And then we watched the race on one of the jumbo screens. It took a good 60 seconds for his horse to settle into the gate — we thought it would be scratched — but then it got in and the gates opened and his horse led wire to wire. It was a good bit more impressive than his blackjack.