Barry Meadow, horse-racing newsletter publisher and sometimes blackjack card counter, finds himself at a point in his life where he can make a sort of blackjack Odyssey, except with Nevada highways and casinos replacing the Mediterranean Sea. Given this opportunity, he decides to embark on an eight week quest to play blackjack in every casino, hotel, bar, and outhouse in the entire state of Nevada that offers it. His chronicle of this adventure is titled Blackjack Autumn.
Much like Stuart Perry’s Las Vegas Blackjack Diary, this book is written as a narrative of the author’s experiences counting cards and playing blackjack over an extended period of time. As with Perry’s work, we hear about the ups and downs, the wins and losses, the good and bad experiences, and the loneliness of being alone in a wilderness of green felt.
Of course, there are some significant differences. Perry is trying hard to obtain the maximum edge that he can, he plays at only those casinos that he has previously scouted to have the best games, and he maximizes the amount of time he devotes to his temporary vocation. His narrative emphasizes the mathematics and detail of the game itself. Meadow seems much more interested in the novelty of the experience. Unlike Perry, he doesn’t bother to scout games, and, in fact, he knows he’ll be going to a lot of places with very bad games. Further, he’ll be spending more time driving than gambling during his trip. We hear more about the time Meadow spends away from the table.
I’m not sure precisely what it is, but for some reason I got more emotionally involved in Perry’s ups and downs than I did with Meadow’s. I suppose part of the reason for this is that Perry suffered some more protracted downswings than Meadow did. Certainly, we can’t blame Meadow for this, and I’m happy for him that, by my rough estimate, he ended up quite a ways to the right on his expected distribution curve. At the same time, though, I felt Perry’s self-doubt, loneliness, and exhaustion more keenly than I felt his counterpart’s sorrow, although Meadow experienced plenty during his quest.
In my opinion, the book works best as a travel guide to the small town casinos of Nevada. The author did a great deal of research to locate some of these places, and he gives the reader a pretty good idea of the flavor of each of his stops. He provides more detail than, for example, Bourie’s excellent Casino Guide. If anyone wanted to recreate Meadow’s experience, they would be foolish not to consult Blackjack Autumn before embarking on such a journey.
As a blackjack aficionado, I found this book fascinating, although Meadow’s excessive use of pop-culture similes and metaphors got on my nerves after a while. It’s a better narrative and more compelling story than Las Vegas Blackjack Diary, even though I don’t think it packs as much emotional punch. In general, though, I think you have to be strongly motivated by the ligaz11 gambling experience to feel rewarded by either book, although Blackjack Autumn probably has more appeal for those who are not hard core gamblers. I give it a recommendation, although not monstrously enthusiastic one, for serious blackjack players, gambling aficionados, and those who may want to know what it’s like to play blackjack in Tonopah.
This narrative of one man’s quest to beat the game of blackjack in every casino in Nevada is compelling enough and novel enough to overcome some relatively minor shortcomings in the delivery. Those who enjoyed Stuart Perry’s Las Vegas Blackjack Diary will probably also enjoy this book, and, in fact, Blackjack Autumn is probably more compelling for those who are not hard-core blackjack fanatics even though it may not provide quite the same emotional impact.