Q How long have you been playing in blackjack tournaments and how many have you won?
A I’ve been playing blackjack tournaments for over 15 years and have won six tournaments and been in
Ken Einiger has been playing tournament blackjack for over 15 years. In 2005, Ken won the World Series of Blackjack. He recently published the blackjack book Born to Win. Currently, Ken is involved in a project to get a television contract for the Ultimate Blackjack Tour. Ken's website is www.worldblackjackchampion.com
the finals over 20 times.
Q That’s quite an accomplishment. I also understand you once came close to winning one million dollars. What happened?
A Three years ago I went to the finals in the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Blackjack tournament. On the last hand I had a pair of fours and the dealer showed a five, so I doubled down, drew a 10 for 18, and stood. I was praying she had a 10 in the hole and then draw another 10 and bust. If that happened, I would have won a million dollars. Instead, she had a four in the hole for 9 and drew a 10 for 19, which beat my 18. I ended up finishing in third place.
Q What was your strategy for playing against other pro blackjack
and tournament players in the World Series of Blackjack?
A My strategy was to bet small in the early hands and then wait toward the end of the round to push out more chips if needed. I also made sure that none of my competitors got too far ahead of me in chip count. I didn’t care if someone had a $20,000 or $30,000 lead, because the rules allowed a $50,000 maximum bet, so I was still only one bet away from catching or passing a leader. I definitely didn’t want anyone to have a $60,000 or greater lead going into the last five hands. It was apparent in the way I played that no one had a real big lead on me, so I was able to wait and begin making my big bets with about five hands to go. No matter how good you are and what strategy you use in tournaments, you still need a lot of luck to be successful.
Q In your first round you had a shot at winding up with the most chips, but ended up in second place. What happened?
A I knew that the two players with the highest chip count at the end of the round would advance. I really wanted to finish first to avoid playing in the wild card round (the less rounds you have to play, the better). I also knew that on the last hand I would be betting before Rick Jensen, which was bad for me and good for Rick. I was dealt a pair of 10s against a dealer’s four, and I had no choice but to split them. On hand No. 1, I drew a 10 for a 20 and on hand No. 2, I drew another 10 for a second 20. I needed to win both split hands to wind up either first or second and advance. I wound up winning both hands, but Rick had doubled down and also won his hand. He won first place and I finished second, which meant I advanced to the wild card round to play other second-place table finishers. Even though I didn’t want to play in the extra wild card round, I wasn’t complaining because at least I advanced.
Q Your wild card round was, well, pretty wild. How did you escape with a victory?
A I knew the wild card round was the only chance I had left to have a shot at the semifinals. I also knew only one player would advance in this round, which made it imperative to finish first, otherwise I’d be going home.
What a round this was. If you have ever been on a roller coaster and lost your stomach, this is what it was like. At the beginning I was betting very conservative, and then everything quickly changed when Erica Shoenberg took a big lead with over a $170,000 bankroll. I had about $100,000 and knew that I had to make a move. On hand No. 17, I bet the maximum amount, $50,000. It was perfect timing because, miraculously, I was dealt a blackjack and that put me right back into the game. Then I began to slow down again, winning a couple of hands but losing some big $10,000 bets and also a $30,000 wager.
On hand No. 24 it was time to make a big move, so I shoved out $50,000 in chips. I was dealt a 9-2 (11), and I doubled down against the dealer’s two. That’s $100,000 riding on the outcome of this one hand, and a loss would have been devastating. The dealer placed my double draw card face down so no one could see what I was dealt (this is a unique rule in the WSOB). The dealer turned over a 10 under her two, and I was hoping she would bust. Her next draw card was – would you believe it – a nine which gave her 21. My heart sank, because I knew if my down card wasn’t a 10, it was all over for me. When she finally turned over the card, it was a beautiful 10 and I pushed. Wow, what a feeling to know I was still alive!
Then came the last hand. Going in, I was in the lead by $12,500 over Mickey Rosa. He was on my left, and he would be making his bet and playing decision after me, which gave him an advantage. I had $147,750 and Mickey had $135,500. I bet $40,000, thinking he would bet $50,000. Surprisingly, Mickey only bet $30,000. I was dealt a 15, Mickey was dealt a nine, and the dealer showed a picture card. I was in real bad position because I knew if I hit and busted, Mickey would surrender, beat me and advance. My only option was to surrender and force Mickey to win his hand.
[Mickey] hit his nine and got a five for 14. He hit again and got a two for 16. Mickey was in a tough position. If he stays and the dealer has a seven or higher in the hole he’d lose, so instead, he hit his 16. The dealer gave him a 10 and he busted. At that moment I knew I had won the wild card round and would be advancing to the semifinal round. Yep, that was an amazing round, but I knew it wasn’t going to get easier.
Q While in the semifinal round you had to face off against two experienced tournament players: Rick Jensen and your close friend Anthony Curtis
. It all boiled down to the outcome of the last hand. Tell us what happened.
A On the final hand Anthony had only one desperate option and that was to double down on a hard 17. He needed to pull a four to take second place and send me home. (Rick Jensen already had first place locked up.) The dealer gave Anthony an astonishing three for a 20, but then the dealer also ended up with 20, and Anthony pushed. That push was a heartbreaker for Anthony because I got second place and moved on to the finals.
Q Can you describe the exciting final hand in the championship round?
A There were four players – me, Rick Jensen, Kami Lis and the well-known blackjack authority Stanford Wong
– playing for the $250,000 first-place prize. The finals consisted of 28 hands, but the final outcome wasn’t decided until the last hand. I had bet the maximum amount - $50,000 - and was dealt an ace-8.
Kami had a hard 14 and the dealer showed a five.
The only real shot I had to win was to double down and hope that if Kami doubled as well, she would bust. Surprisingly, Kami decided to stand, and all that had to happen for me to win was for the dealer to have a big card in the hole and then draw another big card and bust.
The dealer flipped over a nine for 14. So far, so good. I stood up as she took her third card from the shoe, slowly dragged it across the felt – which seemed like forever – then flipped it over. It was a big, beautiful 10. She busted and I became the WSOB Champion for $9,000. Wow, what an unbelievable ending.
Q What went through your head when you realized you had won the last hand and the championship?
A The feeling I had winning the last hand of the World Series of Blackjack was the most unbelievable feeling that anyone can experience. I went numb and was looking for my wife in the audience. Playing against such great players, and also some friends, was fantastic. Knowing I am the WSOB Champion is an awesome feeling.
Q After winning the WSOB your wife, Kimberly, surprised you with a gift to commemorate your WSOB championship. Can you describe what that was?
A We had a party to celebrate my good fortune with my good friends and family. At the party… Kimberly surprised me with a stunning [WSOB] diamond ring as big as a Super Bowl ring, which she had specially designed.
Q At that same party, you gave a very emotional speech. Would you mind sharing with readers what you said?
A First off, I thanked my beautiful wife, Kimberly, who always goes out of her way for me, and for our families for sharing this special night with me. But just as important, I thanked my friends that were present. Even though they were invited, they didn’t have to come, but they chose to do so to be with me. Getting lucky and becoming this year’s champion was not as important to me as seeing and meeting all of my friends that were present that evening. I love them dearly, and I will never ever forget the night that they came to celebrate my good fortune.
Q As a result of your success in the WSOB and other tournaments, you’ve written a book on tournament blackjack. What does it cover and when will it be available?
A My new book Play to Win
has been published. It covers everything a player needs to know to be successful in blackjack tournaments, based on my experiences. I also have a new website, www.worldblackjackchampion.com