"There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience." ~ French proverb
Minerva, Chapter 18
'Shit,' Matt muttered as the dealer placed a Five of Clubs on the table to his right. The player, an Asian man in his fifties or early sixties, waved his hand to indicate that he wanted no additional cards.
The dealer, a very attractive woman in her twenties, turned her attention to Matt. His cards totaled sixteen, while she displayed a forbidding Queen of Hearts. Matt glanced at the stack of chips in front of him and felt queasy; following the professor's lead, Matt had wagered a full five ounces.
Matt glanced at the professor, who seemed quite smug. I would be too if I were sitting on a fucking twenty.
'Normally honey,' Matt said to the dealer, 'I'd let you be as rough as you want, but for right now, hit me gentle-like.'
Mason was glad to see that, notwithstanding the sophomoric flirting that so entertained the other players (if not the dealer), Matthew had properly scraped the table with his index finger.
The anticipation bubbled inside his guts as the dealer slid the card from the shoe. Before Matt could tell exactly what it was, he sensed the paint and knew he had busted.
'Oh sweetheart, you're killin me,' Matt said weakly, forcing a grin. He leaned over to the Asian man'who had to be just fucking loaded judging from the piles of chips in front of him'and whispered, in a tone loud enough for the entire table to hear, 'I guess it really isn't rape, since what red-blooded man wouldn't consent?' Matt gestured at the dealer, who had by now flipped her Eight of Diamonds and was reckoning with the bets of the players with active hands.
The Asian man's entire body jiggled with glee. Matt knew the man had never encountered someone like him before.
'It's all right Matthew, you made the correct play,' Mason said. The hand had yielded a net gain of two for his running count of the decks, and Mason, feigning absentmindedness, adjusted one of his chip stacks accordingly.
'Actually,' Matt said, ignoring the professor's move and placing out the minimum bet of one-eighth ounce of gold, 'I'm trying to win money. If I wanted to shower the lovely Jennifer with my hard-earned wealth, she'd at least need to don a summer dress.'
Jennifer Heyden made no indication that she heard the remark. The American's behavior was actually ideal from her point of view; it kept the men'who were all quite down except for the older one'at the table, and the exaggerated compliments made for above-average tips. Heyden also decided that Stacy had been absolutely right'wearing the casino blouse without a bra was an extremely profitable fashion move.
Heyden made a note to herself to give the boy a Blackjack after the next shuffle. Obvious as his remarks were, he at least understood class and would keep the table's lusting down to an acceptable level of decency.
'I understand your objectives,' Mason said, then added, 'both of them. And unless you are keeping exquisite count, which I daresay you are not, then drawing on a sixteen against the dealer's ten is the correct move.'
Matt shot the Asian man an exasperated look, as if to ask, 'Can you believe this horseshit?' He turned to Mason.
'Okay, so you're saying that, even though I had a sixteen and the top card was a ten, it was the correct move for me to hit?'
'Yes,' Mason answered immediately. He tried not to let the boy's antics distract him from the count.
'Suppose she had flipped a six herself?' Matt persisted. 'So that she would've busted if I didn't take the top card. Would you still say I should've hit?'
'Yes,' Mason answered immediately.
'Well I don't know what the hell you're talking about,' Matt decided after a moment of thought. 'And I can't believe I'm following your advice. If the lovely Jennifer and I both have sixteen, and the top card is a ten, I say the correct move is for me to stand pat on my hand. You're saying I should hit and bust?'
Mason sighed. It would be difficult to explain the concept to Matthew, who undoubtedly had never mastered the terms ex ante and ex post.
'What I am saying,' Mason said slowly, 'is that, with the information you had available at the moment of your decision, taking an additional card maximized the expected number of chips you would have at the end of the hand.'
Matt leaned back in his chair and held up his hands, palms facing the ceiling. Again he turned to the Asian man.
'I've heard plenty of clich's about ivory tower academics, but this guy's the real deal, ain't he?' Matt nudged the man with his right elbow. 'Now I know your people are good with numbers, so maybe you can explain what the fuck he just said. But I'm sticking by my guns, and saying if I've got a sixteen, and Venus here has a sixteen, and the top card is a ten, then it is simply a MISTAKE for me to hit.'
'Matthew,' Mason said, trying to suppress a smirk. He had grown quite used to this type of 'common sense' anti-intellectualism in his hard life. 'The scientific approach to Blackjack cannot concern itself with 'feelings,' or intuition, or luck. It rests on an analysis of the cards you can see at the moment of your decision, and the objective probabilities of the possible outcomes of the strategies available to you. If you simulate the game in a computer, you will find that the highest long-run payoff follows from always drawing in that situation.'
'So then why'd I bust?' Matt said, bored with the conversation. His attention had once again returned to Jennifer's nipples. He wondered if the no-bra thing was a personal decision, or an actual casino policy. Even though he'd moved to Minerva four months ago, he still hadn't adjusted to its outrageous possibilities.
'Well, that was just bad luck,' Mason said, distracted by his newly dealt eleven.
Matt sat bolt upright. This guy really IS full of shit, he realized with amazement.
* * *
'How'd we do, gentlemen?' Tara asked as the group assembled at the agreed location.
'Well, I got two phone numbers,' Matt said. 'And it only cost me fifteen ounces.'
'What about the good Doctor?' Tara asked with a smile. On the boat to the casino, she had been quite amused at Mason's critical remarks of anyone who played any game other than Blackjack, since they were quite obviously 'throwing their money away.'
'I experienced a statistically expected dip in my lifetime earnings,' Mason answered truthfully. 'But before you gloat, I would like to point out that it can be fully accounted for by the stochastic elements involved.'
'He had back luck,' Matt explained.