The Count

Ace blackjack player Stuart Ziglin has been beating Missouri casinos at their own game. Now they want to change the rules.

They disgust him. Like the fellows sharing this table with him. Get excited every time they win a hand. Losers, all of them. Wandering around like they lost something. Well, they have. Casino's the only place in the world where people plan to lose money. "I'm only gonna lose $200," they'll say. Makes no sense. So he'll say: "The point is to win money ... there is no other point." What else do they say? He's heard it so many times. "I had a good time," that's what they'll say. "I won about $800, and then, you know, I did this and I lost it back, well, I kinda broke even and we had dinner and actually I only ended up spending about $200." That's how they say it. Every time, just like that. Run-on sentences and everything. Stupid ... they didn't win anything. Don't they know that? And not one of them has a smile on his face.

Hell, he was like that, too ... once. Nothing but a loser. Won more $1,000 bills than he could squeeze into a money clip one night in Vegas. Dropped it in a week. That was more than 20 years ago. A loser. For all the games he played, not just blackjack. But especially blackjack. Blew his whole bankroll too many times to remember. One time, when he was just a kid, he dropped everything but his last 20. Sat down at the bar, had himself a drink. All he had was that $20 bill and his plane ticket home. Guy came up, said he was selling neckties. He said, "Wanna tie, kid? Five dollars a tie." Just like that. Wasn't thinking; he told the guy, "Sure, sure, I'll take a tie." Gave him his 20. Guy gives him five ties and says, "Here, kid, take five." Walked off with his 20 quicker than a sneeze, left Stuart with a plane ticket home and five ties. Too many stories; he's got too many stories.

Gambling was his life once; now blackjack is his second job. That's all it is.

David Terrill

But a second job that's making him work harder than he should tonight. Two-fifty? Ludicrous. He's been here more than five hours now. Should've left when he made his stake back. Was only $50 away. No, no, what's the point in that? The point is to win money. Intestinal fortitude, that's what it takes. Most folks don't have it. But he does. Who could put the table limit on a hand, lose it, put it on the next hand, lose it, and put it on the next hand again, if the count's right? Not many people. But he could. That's what this game takes. Intestinal fortitude. Trust the numbers. Don't fight them. Trust them. Because that's what the game is ... numbers.

Tired again. The best blackjack player in the state of Missouri, he's gone now. Back on the highway. Back to Karen. A bit later this time than the last. Four-thirty in the morning. Had to go. Casino shut down. There's 55 $100 bills in his Montana silver money clip. Mediocre night. Cycle finally went his way. Knew it would. He'll be back. Place even money on that. There's still money to be made.

Because numbers, the numbers don't ever change.

"People with a considerable amount of money that are comfortable in their lifestyles, if you ask them the question, 'Would you rather have happiness or money?' what do you think the psychological effect of that answer is on the person?" Stuart asks rhetorically. "I'll tell you. They would stop and think and say, 'I wouldn't be happy living any other way other than the way I'm living now.' So, to answer the question, I would rather have money, because the money contributes to making me happy ... that's what it means to me."

And so the best blackjack player in the state of Missouri is, well, baited.

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