ADVANCED ADVANTAGE PLAY PART 2: WHY CASINOS SHOULD WORRY MORE ABOUT "LUCKY IDIOTS" THAN CARD COUNTERS
by Mark Gruetze
Mark Gruetze writes the biweekly "Player's Advantage" gambling column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in Pennsylvania. His columns are online athttp://triblive.com/aande/gambling. He has been a skilled recreational player for more than 30 years, focusing on blackjack, video poker, and poker. E-Mail questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Part 1 appeared in the June issue of BJI.
Some of the lucky idiots who post big wins at casino table games are not exactly lucky and definitely are not idiots.
People who post big scores despite unorthodox plays might be Advanced Advantage Players who can make far more from casinos than conventional card counters, says Eliot Jacobson, operator of apheat.net and author of "Advanced Advantage Play: Beating and Safeguarding Modern Casino Games, Side Bets and Promotions."
Jacobson presented an April 28 webinar, sponsored by CDC Gaming Seminars and directed at casino game-protection executives, on advantage plays such as hole carding, Ace sequencing, edge sorting and card steering. (Disclosure: I am a contributing writer for CDC Gaming Reports). Part One of my report, published in June's Blackjack Insider, looked at the differences between Advanced Advantage Play and card counting. This installment details popular Advantage Play techniques. Except for a specific type of hole-carding, the maneuvers are considered legal in the United States.
Players who use hole-carding look for a dealer who inadvertently flashes the down card, even for a millisecond. The spotter signals the hole card value to the Big Player, who then adjusts his play as needed. For example, the dealer's up-card might be a 10, but the spotter at third base saw that the down-card is a four, giving the dealer a total of 14. If the Big Player has a two-card total of 12 through 16, he'll stand rather than taking a hit as basic strategy advises when the dealer shows a 10. The "lucky idiot" wins a big bet when the dealer busts.
Jacobson says the spotter can give the signal through chip placement, a verbal cue or by touching or scratching the chin, ear or other parts of the body. Sometimes, words used in conversations with "civilian" players can tip the Big Player.
In some cases, a team might take every seat at the table and use subtle moves that make it difficult for a dealer to keep the hole card hidden. For example, all the players might push their bets as far forward as possible, giving the dealer less room to maneuver. Having to lift the hole card over the standard peeking device in front of the dealer might be enough to expose it to the spotter. Dealers with long fingernails might be vulnerable to flashing the hole card.
Shoe games can be susceptible to hole carding. Jacobson cautioned casino executives against dealing a blackjack shoe game on a pitch layout. A pitch layout has additional room behind the players' betting circles, leaving less room for the dealer to maneuver. At a seven-seat table, the dealer might have to move the shoe out of its normal position to deal to first base. All those factors contribute cramp the dealer's space and make flashing the hole card more likely.
Hole-carders can target many games besides blackjack. Even casinos that charge a per-hand ante, which increases their built-in advantage, are vulnerable to hole-card play, he warned. Advantage Players often target such casinos because of lax game protection. "The house is not as concerned with advantage play because they think they have such a huge edge because of the ante," Jacobson said.
One type of hole carding, called spooking, is illegal, he said. In spooking, the spotter is not at the table and sees the hole card from behind the dealer. Jacobson said Nevada courts have ruled that relaying information from off the table is cheating. However, courts also have ruled that information available to someone at the table may legally be signaled or relayed to anybody else at the table.
Pro poker player Phil Ivey brought this technique into the public eye by acknowledging in a lawsuit that he used it to win more than $12 million at baccarat in a British casino, but it's been around much longer. Stanford Wong wrote about it in "Blackjack Secrets," and Jacobson said anecdotal references date to the 1890s.
Edge sorters take advantage of design flaws, or asymmetries, on the backs of cards. For example, lines of circles might end with a full circle on one edge and a half-circle on the opposite edge. By turning the cards so Aces and faces have the full circles on the top edge and low cards have the full circles are on the bottom edge, sorters can tell what type will be dealt next. Knowing the first card to be dealt is an Ace or 10-value card gives a blackjack player a 21 percent advantage, Jacobson said.
Like counting, the process of edge sorting is simpler than it sounds. Once you know what to look for, identifying the asymmetries is easy. The hard part is getting - and keeping - the cards aligned for the player to identify. Jacobson, who testified on Ivey's behalf, said the poker player talked the baccarat dealer into turning strong cards one way and weak cards the other.
In blackjack, edge sorters target pitch games. Sorters must contend with dealers who spin cards toward the player and with not being able to align cards dealt as a result of hitting, splitting and doubling.
Jacobson said edge sorters look for these factors:
He said casinos can kill any threat of edge sorting by making sure the dealer turns half the deck during each shuffle.
In blackjack, an edge-sorting team typically occupies each seat at the table. That keeps "civilians" from inadvertently messing up the sorters' work. Edge sorting can tip the player at first base as to whether his first card is an Ace or face, which lets him adjust his bet accordingly, Jacobson said. Sorting also can indicate the value of the dealer's hole card and help players deviate from basic strategy because they have an idea of what card they might get when hitting. Three Card Poker is the second most targeted game for edge-sorting.
Ace Sequencing and Card Steering
These are techniques used to identify the location of cards after a shuffle.
Ace sequencing involves memorizing two or three cards that are put into the discard tray on top of one or more Aces. Especially with a hand shuffle, those "key cards" are likely to remain near the ace, and the sequencer can bet more after the key cards come out.
Say the Seven of Clubs was atop the Ace of Diamonds in the discard tray. A perfect riffle during the shuffle inserts one card between them, Jacobson said. Another perfect riffle inserts a second card between them. Few shuffles have more than three riffles because of the time involved.
Even though the dealer's riffles are unlikely to be perfect, a player who knows the general location of the Ace of Diamonds in the deck will know it will come out soon after the Seven of Clubs.
Card steering is a team play technique with minimum-bet players at first and third and the Big Player sitting in the middle and spreading from one to three hands. The team will identify the general location of several cards in the deck and steer high value cards to the Big Player and small cards to the dealer. Players at first and third might sit out hands or adjust their playing strategy in attempting to direct the cards to the proper hands. "These edges are astronomical," Jacobson said.
Knowing you will get an Ace on your first card is a 43 percent edge in a 6-to-5 blackjack game and more than 50 percent in a standard game. In contrast, skilled card counters manage only a 1 percent edge.
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