By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The local pro
Generally a male, age 22 to 38. This guy will tell you over and over how much he makes at tables, how many tournaments he wins, how everyone knows him. He'll explain he has a system. He might even refer to himself as a "grinder." He will also blame your lack of skill if you beat him in a hand.
Quiet kid in the corner
This young man will be wearing a hooded sweatshirt, even in the middle of summer in one of the warmest places in the nation. He has an iPod going at all times and dark sunglasses, and he wants you to think he's quietly studying you. He's actually fondly recalling a rather special masturbation session from a few weeks ago and how much cooler he is than the suckers who stayed in college.
A cubicle monkey by day (and avid sci-fi fan), Mr. Poker will be dressed from head to toe in poker-themed attire — from his ace-of-spades ring to his poker shirt to his other poker shirt on top of that to his pokerstars.com hat to his customized poker shades. He also might bring his wife with him sometimes, pay for her buy-in, and then criticize her play all night.
One of the few females at the table, Shirley is sweet and polite. She doesn't seem to mind the guys flirting with her or the lewd joke the first time she said, "All in." She's sly, though. If you call her when she's got all of her chips in the middle, you can kiss your money goodbye.
Local Rules for Blackjack
Chances are, if you've played blackjack outside of Florida, it was in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or on a boat somewhere. Well, in South Florida, the basic strategies and numbers are the same, but all the little things are different.
No dealer on duty: Several local casinos now offer blackjack, some for as little as $5 a hand. Unless you're playing at the Seminole Hard Rock, though, you won't have a dealer. The gaming laws of Florida allow only electronic blackjack in any casino not run by the Seminole tribe. So if you want to play traditional blackjack with a living, breathing dealer, there's only one place. You'll have to join the Ed Hardy crowd at the Hard Rock in Hollywood.
You must pay: Assuming you've chosen to play with a dealer, the first thing you'll learn is that you didn't bring enough cash. Most of the tables require at least $25 a bet. Many tables have $100 minimums. The cheapest table you can play will cost you $10 a hand. That's about $30 a minute. And most of the time, there's only one of those tables.
You must wait: Unless you're looking to wager hundreds of dollars every minute, you can expect to wait a long time. There is a constant mass of humanity huddled around the $10 tables, and opportunities to grab a stool are rare. Your best hope: Weasel in and apologize later.
No smoking: Unlike the classic casinos in downtown Vegas or on the Jersey Shore, these card rooms don't have that mystical carcinogenic blue haze. If you want to smoke, you'll have to leave the table. And good luck getting that spot back.
No drinking: At least not for free. One of the best parts of playing most places is the nonstop delivery of free or heavily discounted drinks. The casino wants to get you wasted and get you betting badly. Here, the casino expects you to get yourself wasted before handing over your money.
Ask for hot chocolate:
This is one of the little-known secrets of South Florida blackjack. Alcohol is expensive. Even soda and water will cost you a few bucks. But of all the things to give away in the subtropics, hot chocolate is free.
You must not play "by the book": Yes, the odds say you should hit that 16 when the dealer shows 7. But if you do and you get the card that would have busted the dealer, be prepared for a shitstorm of South Floridian insults. And heaven forbid you're "playing third base" (sitting in the last position on the left). They'll follow you to your car.
You must play "by the book": Say you decide to stay when the odds said you should hit and everyone loses as a result. Drunk bystanders will mock you. Old women will curse you. Some people will actually ask you to leave the table. Like any absurd vice wonderland, sometimes you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.
You must tolerate religious fanatics: At every crowded table, there will be at least one crazy asshole who believes every loss is the work of the Devil and every win is a reward from Jesus. Nothing takes away from the rush of a well-executed double down like some nut chalking it all up to his drunken delusions. But if you retort with anything that might offend him, you're both getting kicked out. So be tolerant, and go in peace.
----------Living Large in the Sunshine State
We've heard rumors that in far-flung lands such as Massachusetts, the locals discriminate between "old money" and "new money." In South Florida nightlife, there's no such snobbery. (Except for Manalapan and Palm Beach, but there, Bernie Madoff pretty much turned "old money" into "no money.") In fact, in the SoFla jet-set scene, they don't even do "money" at all. They do credit cards. And as long as your AmEx can handle a few more bottles of Cristal, you'll be treated like a Kennedy partying in Cape Cod. Just make sure you transfer your balance to a new card the next morning. Here's how you can live like a shah for a weekend, even if you're actually a kindergarten teacher.