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by Paul Wilson

BJI contributing writer Paul Wilson is a quasi-Renaissance man and graduate of Millsaps College. Some of his interests and hobbies include finance, consulting, travel, photography, and rock music. He's an avid baseball fan. Paul has done freelance writing and editing for gaming publications and takes blackjack, video poker, and sports betting very seriously. As we learned in the November issue, he also might have a "thing" for Wonder Woman.

In this month's column, I've been asked to provide some tips and locations of good casino playing options in Las Vegas for low-stakes blackjack card counters. On its face, that sounds simple. I could take the easy way out and just rattle off three or four casino names and stop, but that would be a disservice on my part. In the space below, I'm going to provide some input on what I look for and what you should too. Then I'll list a few of my favorites and briefly discuss the games. I'll focus on double-deck games with these recommendations because that's what I play. At some point later this year, maybe I'll do the same thing with six-deck shoe games. I only played six-deck shoes two or three times in 2014.

Rules Matter

The first thing you should look for in a blackjack game is the playing rules offered on that table. If you play at multiple casinos or read some of the excellent casino reviews by Stu D. Hoss and KC Brooks in Blackjack Insider each month, you should know that all blackjack games are not created equal in the current marketplace. Play games that allow you to double down on any first two cards (DOA). This allows flexibility and allows you to be aggressive, especially in high plus counts when you have a greater chance of drawing a ten-count card and the dealer has a greater chance of exceeding 21, or busting. You should also play games that allow you to double-down after splits (DAS). You want to get more chips in action when you have the advantage.

Do play blackjack where the house rules allow you to split Aces, ideally up to four hands. This one isn't easy to find in double-deck games, but there are some casinos that allow it. Also, try to play games where the dealer stands on soft 17. This is almost impossible on lower- and medium- stakes games. I don't know any games in Las Vegas that don't hit soft 17 below $100 limits, but put it in your bag of tricks in case you ever have that option.

Do I even need to mention that you should only play on tables that pay 3:2 on player blackjacks? Avoid the 6:5 rip-offs, err payoffs.

Penetration Matters

No, no, no! Not that kind of penetration. This isn't a seminar from the Adult Entertainment Expo/Adult Video News Awards Show, aka "the porn convention" that was in Las Vegas in January. Penetration in blackjack refers to where the cut-card is placed after the dealer shuffles and before he or she deals the first hand. Deeper penetration means more cards will be dealt before the next shuffle. Shallow penetration means fewer cards will be dealt. As a card counter, it's to your advantage to see more cards. The true count and running count calculations are more useful the deeper into a shuffle one goes. Penetration varies greatly, but admittedly is not nearly as good as it used to be in Las Vegas.

Stay Cool; Avoid the Heat

By this I mean you want to be able to play "under the radar." Even as a smaller stakes player, you don't need your play scrutinized. You want to be able to spread your bets within reason, without drawing attention to yourself. But if you make a habit of raising your bet from $5 or $10 up to $30 or $40 every time the count goes to +5 or greater, you're going to get noticed if the pit boss is paying attention. Chip up gradually and be cool about your bet sizing. Your chances of being asked to leave or slim to none on a $5 or $10 minimum table, but how the pit personnel rate your play may affect what goes into the computer at the end of your session. This may affect your future mail offers or even prompt a denial on something as simple as a comp request for dinner at the coffee shop. You want to be eligible for comps and casino mail offers. You aren't doing anything wrong, so make sure you get what your play should entitle you to receive. Paying full fare for rooms and meals on a casino trip makes it that much more difficult to build your bankroll and justify the logistics' expenses of future casino trips.

Being overly aggressive in your bet-sizing in positive counts while being watched also can draw supervisor-ordered shuffles when the count gets high regardless of where the cut-card is placed. This will force you to play in even and negative counts; or, ideally for you and the house, to end your session. I haven't seen that in a long-time, but I have seen it.

Where Should I Play in Las Vegas?

In this section, I've picked three properties spread from one end of the Las Vegas Valley to the other...

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