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BLACKJACK ANSWER MAN

By John Grochowski

John Grochowski is a blackjack expert and a well-known and respected casino gambling columnist. His syndicated casino gambling column appears in the Chicago Sun Times, Denver Post, Casino City Times, and other newspapers and web sites. Grochowski has written six books on gambling including the "Answer Man" series of books (www.casinoanswerman.com). He offers one-minute gambling tips on radio station WSM-AM (890) and podcasts are available at http://www.wlsam.com/sectional.asp?id=38069. Send your question to Grochowski at casinoanswerman@casinoanswerman.com.

 

Q. I was at a casino when one of the card shuffle machines was malfunctioning and the floor boss made the comment, "Itís missing some Kings."

That got me thinking. Sometimes too much thinking is a dangerous thing, but in this case, if the shuffle machine is identifying individual cards, what prevents this machine from stacking cards in such a way that in an eight-deck shoe the casino would get a significant advantage? I noticed this especially at a table in the high-roller room where they would deal horrible shoes for 5-6 hours or more. Taking into account the randomness induced by the cut of the deck could there be bias built in?

 

A. I donít know that there was anything wrong at the game you were playing, but I would be really, really wary of continuing to play at a casino where I heard a supervisor say, "Itís missing some Kings." If Kings, or any other 10-value cards, are being selectively removed from play, you get fewer blackjacks, and it diminishes your chances of drawing a 10-value on double downs. Obviously, that hurts.

That doesnít mean I think the shuffler is doing the removing. Automatic shufflers arenít equipped with card recognition capabilities. They have random number generators that select designated slots to move the cards, but they donít know the value of the card being moved.

When casinos want to know the value of the cards being played - whether itís to insure correct payoffs, estimate the quality of the player for rewards purposes or to sniff out advantage players there are systems they can use to do it. All are expensive and not in common use at this point, but optical scanners as well as card-reading shoes that sense RFID chips embedded in the cards are available.

I would be more worried about casino personnel manually removing cards from the deck. This is rare, but not completely non-existent. If Iíd observed bad shoe after bad shoe, then heard a comment about Kings missing, it wouldnít prove cards were being removed, but it would tempt me to take my business elsewhere.

 

Q. I had a very odd event as I colored up on the last of several sessions. I announced "color" and placed my chips, pre-counted by me to be $550, on the table. The dealer just slid them into his rack! I was dumbfounded and told him that was my color up stack, and he immediately agreed. The pit boss asked the dealer if he knew the amount -- he said no. I said that I did and that the stack contained $500 in green and $50 in red for a total of $550. Then came the "conference." I was shocked to say the least.

To their credit, they paid me my $550 with very little delay but no one apologized for their error. I didnĻt care, I just wanted my rightful payout. Have you ever heard of such a thing happening?

A. I donít think Iíve seen that happen. Had you gotten any resistance, you could have asked if surveillance had it on camera, but since the dealer immediately admitted the mistake, the only question was the amount of payoff. Good thing you knew exactly what you had,


What I think all of us have seen lots of times is the dealer mistakenly taking away winning bets instead of paying. I saw a roulette dealer once just dig in his heels and insist that he hadnít made a mistake on a minimum red/black bet at a dollar table with quarter chips. The player had to get a pit boss to overrule him. Sheesh.

 

Q. What can you tell me about playing with coupons? My wife and I were playing blackjack together, and we each had a coupon. If you bet $5 plus the coupon, theyíd pay you $10 on a winning hand. She won on her coupon, and I lost on mine, so I guess we broke even.

We played for a couple of hours, so even if weíd both won, the extra $10 would have been a drop in the bucket. That seems hardly worth the bother.

A. You didnít break even on your coupon play. You came out $5 ahead.

Think about it. You and your wife each wagered $5, for $10 in total risk. If there had been no coupons involved, youíd have had nothing to show for your wager, and your wife would have had $10
- getting her bet back, plus $5 in winnings. Thatís a break-even experience, with $10 risked and $10 returned.

But, with the coupon in play, your wife had $15 at the end of her hand
- getting her bet back, $5 in winnings on the bet and $5 in winnings on the coupon. Between you, the risk was $10, and the return $15, for a $5 profit.

Was it worth the bother? You tell me. If you left the table with money, you left with $5 more than you would have without the coupon. And, if you lost your stake before leaving the table, the coupon at least bought you one extra bet.

Iím a big fan of coupon play for low-rollers, and have been ever since my second trip to Las Vegas. My wife and I bought a package deal that included airfare, three nights at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and $55 in match-play chips. Each chip was the equivalent of your $10-for-$5 coupon
- wager a regular $5 chip plus a $5 match-play chip, and a winner would bring $10.

We were true low rollers, and hadnít brought more than $300 to play with. A good run with the match-play brought us an extra $60
- a welcome stretch to our budget.

Any time you use such a coupon or match-play chip, you have a mathematical edge on the house. During the other hands on which a coupon is not in play, the house retains its advantage Even if youíre just playing one coupon in a longer session, at least youíre looking at a little extra bonus at no cost to yourself.

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