The third season of the highly popular GSN blackjack competition began airing on June 5th, 2006, and concluded on August 28th, 2006. There were a few changes this year, chief among them being the addition of John Fugelsang (Junk Mail and America's Funniest Home Videos) and Ben Mezrich (author of Bringing Down the House) as the new hosts. Deanna Bacon served as the dealer (replacing Diana from Season 2). There were also two rule changes which would greatly influence the outcome of the tournament:
1. Each player receives a "Burger King Power Chip" at the start of play. At any point during the game, a player can cash in this token and earn themselves a one-time opportunity to discard one card from his or her hand and replace it with the top card from the shoe. Players can also use the chip on a Double Down hand, allowing them to look at the down card and decide whether to keep it or trade it in.
2. Each shoe has two "knockout cards" added to the deck. When one of these cards appears during the course of a hand, the player with the lowest chip total at the end of the next hand is eliminated. The knockout card also causes an increase in the minimum bet. However, no player is knocked out if an elimination has already occurred prior to the KO card being drawn.
Like in Season 2, the tournament is divided into eight 5 player preliminary rounds, followed by two wild card rounds and two semi-final rounds. Then it all comes down to the final table, where one of the 40 competitors will walk away with a grand prize of $500,000.
Tommy Dyer (A father of two and has been married for 50 years. Owns a real estate company and a ranch just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Plans on donating some of his winnings to his church.)
Sheila Taylor (A grandmother of three, Sheila is a self-made millionaire. She has owned tropical stores, tattoo parlors, and ice cream shops, just to name a few. Recently remarried, Sheila moved to Biloxi, Mississippi so that she could gamble everyday.)
Ken Einiger (Defending 2005 World Series of Blackjack champion. A professional gambler, Ken has written a book on the subject and hosts a radio show.)
John Grannis (Works as a financial advisor. Married with one child. Enjoys hunting and fishing. Qualified through an AOL tournament.)
Paul "The Assassin" Haas (From Twin Cities, Minnesota, Paul is employed as a construction worker.)
Defending champion Ken Einiger makes a series of small bets early in the game, while Paul Haas does just the opposite and nearly finds himself eliminated. However, thanks to his strong play, Haas recovers and finds himself in a strong position late in the game.
In the end, it comes down to Haas and Dyer, with Tommy Dyer sitting at $100,000 to Paul Haas' $135,000. Dyer makes the max bet of $50,000, while Haas also wagers the highest possible amount. Haas gets a 13 and Dyer gets an 8, and both men choose to double down. The dealer busts, and Haas' double down card was an ace. This renders Dyer's double down card meaningless and sends Paul Haas into the next round.
Winner: Paul Haas
Anthony Lu (Born in China, but a Las Vegas native for the last 28 years. Own the largest Chinese newspaper and a training school for Chinese immigrants to become casino dealers. Also enjoys baccarat, Pai Gow, and craps.)
Kami Lis (A resident of Las Vegas and Poland, Kami is currently working on a Master's in International Business from Warsaw University. Wants to invest her prize money in Warsaw real estate and a nice sports car.)
Charlie Montoya (A pro bareback horse rider, Charlie was raised on a ranch. He lives in Mancus, Colorado and Farmington, New Mexico.)
Steve Bortle (Steve resides in Tacoma, Washington, where he works as a driver for Publisher's Direct.)
"Rock and Roll" Darrell Arnold (A native of Las Vegas, Darrell is a musician and passionate Steelers fan. In his first year of playing blackjack, he won 61 trophies. Wants to use the prize money to finance his own music CD.)
The early stages of the game are marked by conservative play, with each player making relatively small bets. A Knockout Card appears, taking down Steve Bortle (thanks to a strategic surrender by Kami Lis). Darrell Arnold uses his Power Chip in the 19th round but still finds himself eliminated.
The final hand of the game finds Anthony Lu (with $177,000), Kami Lis (with $209,000), and Charlie Montoya ($168,000) all still in contention. Each player makes the max bet of $50,000. Montoya gets a 10 and doubles down, while Lu opts to stand on a 19. Lis gets a 14, but she wisely uses her Power Chip to change her total to a 19. Charlie also uses his Power Chip to check his double down card and decides to keep it. Dealer hits a 20. Charlie Montoya reveals his double down card as another 10, giving him a total of 20 and the victory.
Winner: Charlie Montoya
Dr. Jeff Bernstein (A retired Miami police officer, Jeff now runs a Public Safety Training Business, which instructs police officers on how to deal with a crisis situation. He is often known as "Orca the Killer Whale" or "Dr. Jeff," in reference to his PhD in Psychology.)
Angie "Moneytaker" Hardy (A single mom with two daughters, Angie has only been playing for two years. But in that time, many have compared her style of play to that of WSOP champion Chris Moneymaker.)
Mano Fuentes (Lives in Sacramento, California. Works as a materials manager. Enjoys baccarat, craps, Pai Gow, and 3-Card poker, as well as blackjack.)
David Weston (Lives in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Works as a claims adjuster for State Farm Insurance. Enjoys basketball and bowling.)
Jamie Root (One of the youngest World Series of Blackjack players, Jamie has recently changed his playing style in an effort to recover from a six figure loss.)
Bernstein takes an early lead and finds himself in a comfortable position when the dreaded Knockout Card is revealed. Mano is not so lucky, and he finds himself eliminated thanks to the KO Card and his low chip count. Bernstein begins the falter as the game advances. David Weston splits his aces, but the dealer draws a 20 and puts him out of the game.
The final hand was somewhat anti-climatic, as Jeff Bernstein was sitting with $235,500 (more than enough for the win). Therefore, the hand was more for 2nd place and a spot at one of the wild card tables. Root came into the round with $45,000, while Angie had $75,250. Unfortunately for Root, he busts and allows Angie to stand and take 2nd place.
Winner: Jeff Bernstein
Henry Tran (Won the 2003 Masters of Blackjack tournament. Has a degree in Applied Science from the University of Ottawa. Works as a computer chip designer.)
Ted Coustenis (Works as a project manager, designing and installing home theaters. Earned his spot in the tournament on a wild card draw.)
Jennifer Ortega (A passionate fan of golf, Jennifer practices law in Los Angeles.)
Randy Driggers (Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Randy is the owner of a Century 21 franchise. He has played in 6 blackjack tournaments over the past decade.)
Tommy Connor (Lives in Jacksonville, Florida and works as a machinist manager. Called "TC" by his friends. Recently made the final table in a baccarat tournament.)
Ted Coustenis and Tommy Conner are eliminated fairly early, leaving the other 3 players to battle for supremacy. On the final hand, however, Jennifer Ortega only has $56,000 left, which essentially knocks her out of the running for first place. She makes the max bet of $50,000, hoping for a chance at second place, but she busts. Driggers bets only $5,000 with a chip total of $295,250. Tran (with $298,000) makes a mistake, wagering only $35,000 when he intended to bet $45,000. Both men end up with 20, and the dealer busts. Tran, despite his mistake, is the winner.
Winner: Henry Tran
"Hollywood" Dave Stann (A professional actor and gambler, Dave has also written a book on blackjack. A graduate of Kent State University, he is also a member of MENSA. Was the dealer on Celebrity Blackjack.)
John Payne (Lives in Collinsville, Michigan with his wife of 24 years. Now retired, John used to play semi-pro ball and build C-130 airplanes. In 2001, he won 6.5 million dollars on the Wheel of Fortune slot machine.)
"Mr. Workhorse" Shawn Crowder (Lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a driver for the NYC Transit System. Likes to shoot pool, fish, and root for the Dallas Cowboys.)
Tony Duong (Owns an electronics firm and several restaurants in Sugar Land, Texas. Has won over $250,000 in his 15-year blackjack career.)
Vicki Reed (From Paris, Arkansas, Vicki is a produce manager and owner of an antique shop. Wears a pair of lucky socks, embroidered with cards and dice.)
Dave Stann is in rare form, more than living up to his nickname of "Hollywood" by keeping everyone entertained. But Stann is plagued with bad breaks throughout the match. For example, on the 9th hand he received a total of four 3s and split them all. He got a 21 and doubled down twice on 11s. However, the dealer busted, and Dave's bet of $1000 didn't win him much (despite the fact that he won 4 hands in one round).
The Power Chip is used by 4 of the players with varying results. Twice, it's used to change hands into a blackjack. The other two times, players exchange a card and receive the same value card in return."Hollywood" Dave's cold streak continues and he becomes the first player eliminated. As play continues, Vicki Reed falls far behind in the chip count and is the next to be put out of the game.
The final hand comes down to Shawn Crowder ($229,500), John Payne ($330,750), and Tony Duong ($433,000). Crowder and Payne both make the maximum bet, while Duong opts for the minimum bet of $5,000. Crowder and Payne both doubled, while Duong stands on a 16. The dealer busts, so Duong wins the match and Payne takes second.
Winner: Tony Duong
"Mississippi Money Man" Ken Smith (A professional gambler and author, Ken received his degree in Computers from the University of Southern, Mississippi. He founded a software engineering business and is now retired. He has been married to his wife for 13 years. We offer a review of Ken's website, BlackjackInfo.com here.)
Val Hunter (Born in England, Val now makes her home in Niagara Falls. Has 25 years of blackjack experience and also worked as a floor supervisor at the Fallsview Resort and Casino.)
"Smiley" Elie Karam (A native of Lebanon, Elie moved to the United States in 1973. Has been married for 25 years.)
Dominick Haven (Works as a tile and natural stone contractor. Only plays blackjack and war. Lives in Southern California.)
Paul "Mad Dog" Eckstein (Has been playing blackjack since the age of 10, when his grandmother introduced him to the game. He is a producer and a writer.)
Ken Smith looks to be in trouble early after a run of bad cards, but he uses his blackjack expertise to slowly pull himself out of the hole. Throughout the match, the players generally adhere to a conservative strategy, with each looking for that crucial edge.
During the course of the game, Elie Karam and Val Hunter are eliminated, leaving the other 3 players to face off in the final hand.
Smith has $154,250 going into the final hand, with Eckstein at $137,000 and Haven at $170,250. Each player bets the maximum of $50,000. Haven stands on a 20. Smith and Eckstein both double down (Paul on an 11 and Ken on a 16). Paul forgets about his Power Chip and doesn't use it to check his down card. Paul lost his double down on a dealer 18, but Ken was able to push.
Dominick Haven wins the match and Ken Smith takes second place (and a wild card spot).
Winner: Dominick Haven
Mikki Padilla (A writer and actress from Los Angeles, Mikki is a former model for Avon. Wants to use her prize money to fund a short film.)
David Matthews (Has been banned from more than 30 casinos in four countries. Once worked as a nuclear operator in the US Navy.)
Pat Nicholas (A mother of two and grandmother of five, Pat has placed in six blackjack tournaments.)
Frank Calderon (A native of Brooklyn, New York, Frank works as a kitchen designer. Played semi-pro baseball when he was younger.)
Henry Fletcher (A former blackjack dealer, Henry grew up in Orange, Texas. He now works as a process operator in a chemical plant.)
The Power Chip was employed early, with three of the players using it after the Knockout Card was drawn. While Frank was able to turn his hand into a 20, and Pat was able to covert into a 19, David Matthews didn't fare as well. He doubled down on a 9, then used his Power Chip to peek at the down card, which turned out to be a 3. He replaced the card, but the dealer drew to 21 and defeated all three players (knocking out Matthews in the process).
Matthews was the first player eliminated, and Pat Nicholas looked as though she would soon follow. By the 15th hand, she was down to only $23,000, more than $125,000 behind the chip leader. But she didn't give up, and a series of aggressive bets paid off and allowed her to climb back towards the top.
Frank Calderon busted out before the second KO card came into play, which left Pat, Henry, and Mikki to vie for the top spot.
On the final hand, Henry had $196,000, Mikki had $185,500, and Pat had $193,000. This went down as one of the closest finals in the history of the show. Henry and Pat made aggressive bets of $50,000, while Mikki made a more conservative bet of $20,000. Henry stood on a 20, while Pat doubled down on a pair of 5s. Mikki had a 16 and decided to use her Burger King Power Chip, but it backfired and reduced her hand to a 13. Still, she managed to battle back and draw to 21. The dealer stood on a 17, and Pat's double down card gave her a total of 20.
This allowed Pat to take first place, while Henry came in second and qualified for a seat at one of the wild card tables.
Winner: Pat Nicholas
Click here for recaps of the World Series of Blackjack Season 3 Episodes 28 - 33.