My grandmother should have been in my seat.
She would have at home with the low light over the semi-circle felt-covered table. She would have been watching the cards of the other players and, in particular, what they had bet and she would have been weighing the odds of taking another card or going bust.
My father used to say his mother was born before her time. The gates to the corporate world were closed to women back then, but had women been accepted in the stratosphere of corporate finance, she would have soared.
And if playing cards were any indication of her ability to assess the odds, remain expressionless, read a bluff, and pile up the chips, she would have been the queen bee of Wall Street. Of course, that didn’t happen, but she taught me gin rummy and hearts at an early age. She loved cards, and she would have been my best mentor.
But I was on my own Tuesday, and the stakes were high – 10 grand, to be exact.
I was one of 36 players in the Twin River Casino Blackjack for Charity Tournament.
It’s an event I’ve covered for the last two years, looking on as elected officials, union leaders, and celebrities gamble – they all start off with $2,000 of chips – to benefit the charity of their choice. In the preliminaries, the 36 players are divided equally between six tables. After five rounds, the player with the greatest winnings at each table moves on to the finalist table and the opportunity to win up to $10,000 for their selected charity.
Going into the tournament, each of the charities is guaranteed $1,000 no matter how their player finishes. Those at the championship table get a minimum of $1,250, which goes up from there to the grand amount.
This year, at the invitation of Twin River, I was sitting at the table and wishing I’d had a coach.
My chips were divided into five equal piles of $400 each. My strategy was simple, maybe simplistic. I would bet $400 on each hand, and if I lost them all, I would have nothing left by the end of round one. Of course, that would mean I wouldn’t be going to the championship table.
Rep. Patricia Serpa, who was beside me, had a different strategy. She’s cautious. She was in the game for the long haul, placing the minimum $100 bet with each hand.
But Lady Luck has a way of changing one’s thinking, and as it turns out, one’s fortune.
I hit blackjack on the second hand and then again on the third. I had a mountain of chips and felt emboldened. I had the luck and the rest of the table, and the dealer didn’t.
I moved a chunk of chips beside my cards, casting aside my own $400 rule.
Pat played her $100. She won. I lost.
Now it was the fifth and final hand.
Pat moved a single chip beside her cards.
The dealer and those gathered around were surprised. This was it – why was she holding back?
This ran against her grain – it was all or nothing.
I weighed the odds. If Pat won, she might beat me if I lost. I bet the minimum. She went for the grand enchilada. I waited for the cards.
She won, and I lost. But it wasn’t over. The dealer stacked up our respective chips and declared me the winner by $50.
Now it was on to the championship table.
These guys knew what they were doing. All the players gathered around. The games began, and it seemed Lady Luck had abandoned me. The dealer was sweeping away my chips while Mike Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building Trades Council at the far end of the table, was building a Trump tower.
Then, on the third hand, things changed.
I looked at my cards – a total of 16.
“Are you going to split?’ the dealer asked.
Split? What, I wasn’t going to leave the table.
It was clear I wasn’t a frequent blackjack player.
The dealer pointed to my pair of eights and separated them. Now I was playing two hands. I stopped at 20 on the first. When I got to 20 on the second, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
Now I had a stack of chips although not like Mike’s.
Mike was the grand winner, delivering $10,000 for Foster Forward. Placing second, Sen. Mary Ellen Goodwin won $7,500 for Mary House. I won $5,000 for the Rhode Island Academic Decathlon, which was boosted by another $1,000 thanks to Sen. Michael McCaffrey, who also played.
Naturally, none of the giving would have been possible without Twin River, which has given away $180,000 in its Blackjack for Charity Tournaments.
I like to think there was more to it than Lady Luck.
Thanks, Grandma, for being there.