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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 told I could no longer play at a casino where my wife and I have played a long time. They were nice about it, and told me I could play other games or "enjoy our other amenities," but that I was too tough for them at blackjack. Still, it made me mad. I only spread $10 to $50, and play about a break-even game. When we got home, I e-mailed marketing and told them they were not only losing my play, but my wifeís penny slot play, too. Itís her play that takes us to an upper tier on a club program, not mine. Does this make any sense?

A. This isnít the first time Iíve heard of a casino shooting itself in the foot by losing the play of a slot-playing spouse by banning a counter. In my view, itís counterproductive to eject a low-limit counter with a small spread like $10-$50. Youíd think the operator would rather have that player going home and telling friends how he beat the casino out of 25 bucks rather than have others watch the process of having the player walked from the table.

Coupled with the effect of losing a slot player, itís a head scratcher. You didnít say how much your wife was wagering, but since you say youíre a break-even player, we know she was contributing more to the bottom line than you were taking away. Wagering one penny per line on 25-line games, for 25 cents a spin, a relaxed pace of 400 plays per hour would mean $100 an hour in wagers. With pennies, depending on individual casino and jurisdiction, paying 85 to 90 percent, evening a one-cent-per-line bettor loses $10 to $15 an hour.

Those who bet 2 cents per line multiply that to $20 to $30 an hour, and the potential is there for much more with big players who bet as much as $3 to $5 a spin on penny games. It doesnít seem worthwhile for a casino to lose that business along with a break-even blackjack player, but what do I know?


Q. I was talking with an executive host Iíve known a long time, and he told me the execs were weighing whether to go with RFID chips and a card-reading shoe. He also said it wasnít all about sniffing out card counters. What other purpose could there be?

A. Iíve spoken with casino operators and with gaming equipment manufacturers several times about RFID technology, and they usually lead the conversation with "game security."

If gaming chips are embedded with RFID chips, with different frequencies for different denominations, then surveillance should be able to detect and correct mistaken payoffs without delay. It also would become more difficult to counterfeit casino chips if the counterfeiter must also embed RFID chips at the proper frequency.

The RFID chips also enable the casino to get an exact count of every wager. For generations, comps have been awarded based on time of play and an estimate by floor personnel of average bet size. If a casino uses RFID chips coupled with software to tally all your wagers, it can award comps based on actual dollars risked instead of an estimate.

That in itself makes RFID technology tough on one kind of advantage player: the comp hustlers, the players who use the methods Max Rubin detailed in his book "Comp City" to make average bet size seem larger than it is. If you buy in for $500, make an opening bet of $50 while the pit supervisor watches, then drop down to $25 when he turns his back to go about other duties, youíre not going to get credit for an average bet of $50. Youíre going to be credited with what you actually wagered.

It also goes without saying that if the casino can track every wager, it can analyze betting patterns, too - so the manufacturers rarely say it to anyone looking at their products who is not a potential casino client. Used to their potential, RFID chips can alert surveillance to watch to see if the wagers are being raised and lowered with the count. Coupled with a card-reading shoe, which with the proper analytical software could give surveillance an accurate count at any time as well as a look at a customerís playing strategy, RFID chips can be part of a package for tracing card counters.

RFID chips and card-reading shoes are not cheap, and most casinos are making do without them. And for those willing to spend the money, your executive host was not lying. There are uses for RFID chips other than spotting advantage players. That doesnít mean zeroing in on advantage players isnít a prime reason for their use.


Q. My casino has a Diamond Days promotion, and the blackjack segment includes 2-1 blackjack payoffs if both cards are diamonds. How often does that happen?

A. Per deck, there are 64 possible blackjack combinations. Each Ace can link up with any of the 16 10-value cards in the deck to make a two-card 21. Of those 64 combinations, four will be all-diamond blackjacks the Ace of diamonds with the King, Queen, Jack or 10 of the same suit.

So one in 16 blackjacks will be all diamonds and bring you that 2-1 payoff. Itís not a game changer, but itís a nice little bonus - especially given that itís just a bonus youíre awarded that doesnít require any adjustment to strategy. The extra payoff knocks about 0.14 percent off the overall house edge.

Iíve seen similar promotions come up from time to time. I once played in a casino that had a "Black Jacks" promotion that paid 2-1 on either an Ace of spades paired with a Jack of spades, or an Ace of clubs paired with a Jack of clubs. That accounts for only two of our 64 possible two-card 21s per deck, so the bonus combos occurred only half as often as all-diamond blackjacks.

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