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by Riverboat Flyer

Riverboat Flyer is a low-stakes blackjack player. He plays the southern Ohio riverboats along with frequent trips to Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Tunica, and occasionally Lake Tahoe. He has been counting cards for over ten years, using the Hi-Op, High Low and currently the half-count system.

Casinos visited in this two-part report include:

Tunica: Gold Strike, Fitz, Tunica Roadhouse, Horseshoe, Hollywood, and Resorts

Biloxi: Beau Rivage, Hard Rock, Palace, Boomtown, Treasure Bay, and IP

Editorís Note: I recommend at least a 1 to 8-10 aggressive betting spread for card counters playing a six-deck game and at least a 1 to 4-5 spread in a double-deck game in order to get a healthy advantage. Some low-stakes counters, including Riverboat Flyer, prefer a more conservative betting spread. This decreases the bankroll swings but at the expense of a lower edge over the house.

I had been to Biloxi about a month ago and really liked the town and its blackjack games. Therefore, it was time for a return trip. Accompanying me was my wife, who is a slots player and always up for a casino trip. This was an eight-day trip, starting in Tunica and ending in Biloxi.

After driving most of the day, we arrived at the Gold Strike, in Tunica. I sat down at a six-deck game and bought in for $500. In about 10 minutes, I was down 20 units. All the shoe games in Tunica have similar rules: double after split, re-split aces, and double on any two cards. The penetration was 1 to 1.6 decks, depending on the dealer. I tried another table and got better cards. The table stayed full and the count did not vary much. Spreading 2 to 5 units, I managed to win 21 units for a net one-unit win. I called it a night, anxious to get an early start in the morning.

Day 2

Our second day began with another session at a six-deck game. I was up and down at first, when a high count came along. Spreading from 1 to 5 units, I managed a 20-unit win. On the way to the breakfast buffet, my wife noticed a sign-up table for a blackjack tournament. I asked about the tournament and the entry fee. I was informed that this was an invitation-only event. I explained that I misplaced my invitation and needed to sign up. They ran my players card and informed me that the reason I couldnít find my invitation was because I never received one.

After breakfast, I went over to the casino host office and talked my way into the tournament. I had not played in a blackjack tournament in about nine months. On top of that, I had not brought along my primary tournament-reference guide, Stanford Wongís, "Casino Tournament Strategy." Oh well, it was a free tournament. I figured had a possible $25,000 to win and nothing to lose.

I headed over to the Horseshoe casino to check their blackjack games. They had single-, double-, and eight-deck games open. Surprisingly, the single-deck games, with a $25 minimum, were paying 3 to 2 for naturals. Penetration was around 0.4 deck, you could re-split aces, and there was no mid-deal entry. All of the open games in the high limit pit were single deck. The double-deck games were $15, no mid-deal entry, and re-split aces. Penetration was about 0.8 decks overall. I spotted a dealer cutting down to half a deck and sat down. I played for an hour and won 15 units, spreading 3 to 8 units. A woman at first base looked like she had been playing all night. She could hardly stay awake, yet still managed to get good cards and make the right hits. Her bets were up and down like a yo-yo. She was not counting since she was increasing her bet fourfold in negative counts. She was toking every hand and the dealers loved her. When she spilled a full bottle of beer on their Shuffle Master shuffling machine, the floor person just mopped it up as if it was no big deal. The game went on and somehow the cards in the machine remained dry. The penetration on the eight deck games was around 1.4 decks. All the games hit soft 17.

I then headed over to the Tunica Roadhouse casino. The blackjack offerings were pitiful there. They had single-deck games with 6 to 5 natural payoffs, continuous shuffle machine games, and some standard eight-deck games.

At empty tables, the dealer would practically beg you to sit down. At noon on a Saturday, there were a total of 16 players on all their open blackjack tables.

Back at the Gold Strike, I tried a $5, six-deck game. I had one hour before my tournament session started. I lost a couple of three-unit double downs right away. The session ended, down 25 units, spreading 1 to 5 units.

The tournament session looked promising. There were four players at a table, and two would advance to the next round. I liked my chances to advance. I started with minimum bets, while my opponents were betting big and taking every double and split they could. The lone female player was extremely aggressive. She lost initially and by the fifth hand was all in. She won that hand and wound up going all in three more times. She did not bust out until the last hand. I had a good run of cards and was the chip leader when they stopped to count the chips at the 20th hand. With five hands to go, I bet the table minimum and watched the other three players desperately fight for second place. I advanced and Round 2 would be tomorrow.

After dinner, I once again tried the Gold Strikeís $10, six-deck game. My first session lasted only 30 minutes. The dealers at two tables kept pulling three- and four-card 20s and 21s. After pushing on two double down 21s, and losing on two 20s, I quit, down 15 units. If felt like I would never win a hand. After a break, I back counted another shoe game and entered on a plus one count. Betting two units, I doubled a 10 into a 20, and lost to a three-card 21. Despite penetration down to one deck, I suffered another losing session, down 15 units.

Day 3

I started day three at...

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