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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Chat with champion Sammy Vaughn

3 March 2018

Sammy Vaughn made history when he won a lump sum of $1 million in the first ever million-dollar blackjack tournament, at the Las Vegas Hilton. I interviewed Sam after he won and thought you’d enjoy reading what he had to say after making history.

Henry: When did you play your first blackjack tournament?

Sammy: In the 1980s, craps was my primary game and I used to play the craps tournaments at the Four Queens on a regular basis. In 1989 they discontinued them but they talked me into entering their blackjack tournament. I did and finished first and won $50,000, which was a lot of money in those days. After that I was hooked on blackjack tournaments.

Henry: How did you learn to play well in blackjack tournaments in those early years?

Sammy: I learned from tournament experts who were playing mini-tournaments in Las Vegas. This included John Ressman, Mike Nargy and others. I watched and paid attention to how they bet and how they played their hands in different situations. They also patiently answered questions I had on a particular playing or betting situation.

Henry: Since winning your first blackjack tournament in 1989, how many tournaments have you played since?

Sammy: Wow, let me think. I’d say over 100 tournaments, and during the '90s I averaged making it to the finals in different tournaments about three times per year.

Henry: You made history when you became the only player to make it into the finals in two successive million-dollar tournaments and you didn’t get drawn-in in either of them. That was quite a feat, wasn’t it?

Sammy: Yes, I was quite fortunate. In the 2004 finals, I won all my rounds and in the championship round, where I was playing for the million dollars, I had the lead with three hands to go. But, unfortunately, I lost my last three hands and wound up finishing fourth. Then a few months later I won all my rounds again in the July 2004 monthly qualifier. Most of my friends thought the odds were stacked against me winning every round again in the May 2005 finals but I proved them wrong and did it again.

Henry: What was your game plan going into the finals?

Sammy: I’m a basic strategy player who bets conservatively in the early rounds because I generally lose more hands than I win. I try to read my fellow players as the round progresses and use “cause and effect” – namely, I say to myself, “If I bet this amount, what do I expect my opponent(s) will bet?” After I go through different betting and sometimes playing options in my head, I make what hopefully is the best bet and play. For example, I went through this process on hand #24 following the countdown. I was on the button in fourth place and had to bet first. I could have either bet large or small. After thinking about my options and what other players would bet, I decided to bet the minimum. It turned out this was a good play because the dealer beat me but I only lost $100 and I had plenty of bankroll left to make one last run at the leaders where I bet after them.

Henry: In the championship round, you were one of seven finalists playing only 28 hands of blackjack with the winner getting one million bucks. What do you remember most about that round?


Sammy: In hand 23, just before the countdown, I bet big and got 20. Then the dealer went and got a 21 and I thought I was done. I also remember hand 26 where I made a max bet of $2,500, got dealt a 12 and doubled down for another $2,500 and won $5,000 when the dealer broke.

Henry: Doubling down on 12 is not a normal play that blackjack players should make. Why did you do it?

Sammy: With only three hands left, I was in sixth place and behind the leader by more than a max bet. It was desperation time. I caught a lousy deuce on my double down but managed to win the hand when the dealer had 16, drew a 10, and broke. Winning that hand catapulted me from sixth to first place with only two hands left.

Henry: After that $5,000 win, you had less than a max bet lead over four opponents going into the next to the last hand. Three of them made max $2,500 bets and so did you. You were dealt a 4-5 with the dealer showing a 10 and you shoved out another $2,500 and doubled down. Why did you double?

Sammy: One of my closest opponents, who acted before me, bet $2,500 and was dealt a blackjack. In order to maintain my lead going into the last hand, I had to double down. I drew a 10 for 19 and, fortunately, the dealer broke again. So even though my opponent got a blackjack and 3 to 2 payoff, I maintained the lead because I won my double down bet.

Henry: On the final hand, you and three other players had a shot at winning the million dollars depending on how everyone bet and played their hand. Can you describe what happened?

Sammy: I was fourth to bet and my opponents who bet ahead of me all made a max bet of $2,500, so with my slim lead I had no choice but to match their bets. The player who acted first had an A-5 and the dealer showed a 7 face card. He doubled down for another $2,500 and caught a 10 for 16. The next player bet $2,500 and doubled down on his 12. He caught a 5 for 17. I was dealt a 10-8 and I stood. Fortunately for me, the dealer flipped up a 10 in the hole for a 17 and my 18 beat her and I won the million dollars.

Henry: What went through your mind the moment you realized you had won the million dollars?


Sammy: It was an indescribable moment. After all those years playing in blackjack tournaments, it was a wonderful feeling to be the champion of the Las Vegas Hilton Million Dollar Tournament.

Henry: What do you plan to do with the million bucks?

Sammy: Go back to school and get my GED and if they open a Kmart close by I can be a greeter (only kidding). Actually, I’ve already given $500,000 of my winnings to my close pal Fred Heimann and I plan on taking some trips abroad with some of the rest of my winnings.

Henry: Can you tell us about your friend Fred?

Sammy: Fred and I met in the early 1990s while playing blackjack tournaments. Our backgrounds are so similar we clicked, and we’ve been traveling together and playing as partners in blackjack tournaments ever since. He would play in a tournament one month and I would play another month, and we split any prizes that we won. That’s why I wrote him a check for half a million dollars.

Henry: Do you still plan on playing tournaments?

Sammy: Yes, I am. I not only enjoy the competition but also the social life. I’ve met many wonderful people playing in tournaments.
Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin