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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, Jan. 2004, #48

The Sugar BowlÖÖ.the REAL National Championship Game

by CC Rider

CC Rider lives in the Deep South and plays blackjack mostly in the casinos in Mississippi and Louisiana and some in Las Vegas. He has been studying and playing blackjack for 10 years, averages 40-80 playing sessions annually, and has managed to make playing blackjack a lucrative sideline. He uses the high low counting system with an ace side count.

Editors Note: CC Rider is a diehard LSU fan. In the first part of his article he presents his arguments why the LSU football team should have been crowned national champs after their convincing win over Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. In the second part he focuses on blackjack playing conditions in the New Orleans area casinos.

Okay, Iíll be upfront and honest. I am an LSU alumnus. I have been an LSU fan for over 40 years and have spent countless thousands attending athletic events and tailgating there and in various sundry placesÖ.South Bend, Atlanta, College Station, Los Angeles, and, yes, even Starkville. Iíd consider myself a true fan, and have sat through several losing seasons.

This season just seemed, well, different. After having lost our starting QB all of last year with no Division 1A caliber replacement and still being 40 seconds away from reaching the SEC title game, this year seemed to be full of promise. But remember: LSU fans are like Red Sox and Cubs fans. There seems to always be SOMETHING that keeps the Tigers from doing it in football. Bill Buckner, Steve Bateman, SOMETHING! Five National Baseball championships were nice and all, but it has been 45 years since a National Football championship.

First the recruiting pundits said in March that the LSU recruiting class was ranked #1 in the nation. Then Matt Mauck was pronounced fully recovered from his 2002 season ending ankle injury. Then the spring game was so incredibly dull, because neither team could move the ball against the defense. I listened to sports reporters cede the national championship to, first Auburn, then Texas, Miami, Oklahoma, Ohio State, or USC. Certainly no one gave LSU any chance for the big prize.

My first glimpse of greatness came during the Georgia game. Georgia, Ladies and Gentlemen, is GOOD. They are well coached, have great players (watch the NFL draft if you donít believe me), a fine QB, and a quality program. In one of the best games I have ever witnessed, LSU pulled out a 17-10 victory in the last few minutes. The offense moved the ball when they had to, but were not overly impressive.

But the defense.

Ahhh, the defense. Except for a perfectly executed, thing-of-beauty 93 yard screen pass that went for a touchdown, Georgia managed but 3 points the entire game. A 35 yard touchdown pass to answer that play allowed the Tigers to survive. I had some dear friends from Atlanta as my guests at the game who went home disappointed at the outcome, but not at the game. We both simultaneously suggested that this would not be the last time the two teams would meet in 2003. We were very right.

The Florida game seemed, if anything to reinforce Nick Sabanís philosophy about preparation and execution. If you play an excellent team, have 99 yards of penalties, turn over the ball three times more than your opponent, you will be in for a long night. A 19-7 loss to the Gators was quite satisfying to all Florida Gator fans save the operators of www.fireronzook.com.

But was there to be a silver lining in this loss? In retrospect, one would have to consider this to be the turning point of the season. From this game forward, the defense gave up, respectively, 254 yards, 193 yards, 321 yards, 219 yards, 227 yards, 301 yards, and 249 yards prior to the Sugar Bowl. These teams managed to score 7, 7, 10, 3, 14, 24 and 13 points. This defensive exhibition resulted in the Tigers claiming the #1 scoring defense and the #3 total defense in the nation, going into the New Year.

And the team that scored the 13 points and gained 249 yards? Why those same Georgia Bulldogs, in the SEC Championship game, soundly defeated by a score of 34-13.

Following the unbelievable sequence of events leading to the BCS announcing the combatants for the National Championship game, it became apparent that the AP sportswriters would "declare" USC their National Champion, providing they prevail over Michigan, a pretty good #4 rated team who lost to Iowa and Oregon (Yes, Oregon). Given the unlikelihood that Michigan would beat USC, it became apparent that LSU would have to win convincingly in the Sugar Bowl to convince ANYONE that they deserved the National Championship.

But the Tigers had to beat not Michigan, but Oklahoma, the team the analysts had anointed as the team of the year only one day earlier. The team with the following national statistics:

Total Points 1st

Total Offense 11th

Average yards gained 461 yards per game

Points allowed 3rd

Total Defense 1st

Passing Defense 1st

Winner, Heisman Trophy, Jason White

Winner, Outland Trophy, Tommie Harris

Winner, Nagurski Award, Derrick Strait

Winner, Thorpe Award, Derrick Strait

Winner, Bednarik Award, Teddy Lehman

I would say this would be a pretty stern task. I would also say that if the Tigers win convincingly, say by seven or more points and outgain the Sooners two to one, and hold them to 154 yards total offense, then LSU would certainly win the Coaches poll by acclamation and would sway enough AP voters previously smitten by the hype capital of the world, Los Angeles, to vote the Tigers #1.

I would also be naïve.

In reality, the game was a domination by LSUís defense, with a creditable performance by the offense against the previously top-ranked defense in the nation. Only a blocked punt and an LSU fumble at the goal line made the game close. You got the idea that if Oklahoma needed to drive the length of the field to win the game, there was no way in hell that was going to happen. But give them credit. OU is a great team and will be back next year and for many years following.

USC also has had a great year and have some outstanding athletes and some great coaches. In my opinion, Mike Williams is the best college football player in the nation. Certainly a debate can be made as to whether LSU or USC should be the National Champion. I will list some comparisons and let you decide.

Going into the bowl games, Iíll compare some statistics involving USC, LSU, and OU.

Schedule strength: 1. OU 11th

2. LSU 29th

3. USC 37th

Games against teams with 5 or more losses:

1. LSU 7

2. OU 8

3. USC 11(!)

Games against the BCS top 25:

1. LSU 4 Georgia(twice), Ole Miss, Florida

2. OU 3 Texas, Oklahoma St., Kansas State

3. USC 1 Washington State

Wins against top 25: 1. LSU 3

2. OU 2

3. USC 1

Points allowed: 1. LSU 140

2. OU 193

3. USC 225

Points scored: 1. OU 587

2. USC 506

3. LSU 454

Total offense: 1. OU 461 yds/game

2. USC 450

3. LSU 426

 

Going into the Bowls, each team lost one game. Letís break down the details of that loss:

USC The California Golden Bears entertained the USC Trojans on September 27, 2003. The 2-3 Golden Bears beat the Trojans in 3 overtimes, on their way to posting an 8-6 record. The Golden Bears, coming off of a resounding 31-24 win over eventual 1-11 Illinois, outgained USC 469-376 and held the vaunted USC offense to 3 of 12 conversions on third down. The Bears victory certainly helped ease the pain of losses to Colorado State and Utah prior to the Illinois game. California finished the season unranked in the AP poll, getting two fewer votes than the University of Connecticut, who got two.

Ron Turner, the Illinois head coach, was so impressed by the California Golden Bears that he was one of the three coaches who maintained his vote in the final Coachesí poll to vote USC #1. (Can you guess the other two?) In two years, Mr. Turner has gone from being 10-1, winning the Big Ten and playing LSU in the Sugar Bowl (losing 47-34) to being 1-11. He may be preparing for an assistant job with Pete Carroll in the near future.

OU After breezing through the first twelve games of their schedule, having only been challenged by eventual 4-9 Alabama, the Sooners laid a bomb on the Arrowhead Stadium field in the Big 12 Championship game against the Kansas State Wildcats, losing 35-7. Giving up 519 yards in total offense to the Ďcats, the previously top-ranked and thought-to-be-invincible Sooners looked very beatable. The Wildcats gained 292 yards rushing while holding the Sooners to 83 yards. Not even a 29 for 54 passing performance by Heisman Trophy winner Jason White was able to rescue the Sooners from this resounding defeat. Kansas State finished the season 11-4, losing to Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The BCS experts had already surmised that OU could lose to K-State and still remain the #1 ranked team in the BCS final standings. They certainly were correct. However, the AP and Coaches poll mantra that late losses hurt more than early ones actually sealed the fate for the Trojans to be left out of the National Championship game. (More on this later) OU would drop to #3 in both polls, allowing LSU, ranked #2 in both polls to muster enough points under the BCS formula to pass USC by 0.16 points and be invited to New Orleans. Had OU only dropped to #2, LSU would have been the odd man out. So, the same "system" that ranked USC #1 was the system that kept them from being #2 in the BCS rankings and actually playing for the National Championship. How ironic.

LSU Two weeks after USCís loss to Cal, the resurgent Florida Gators came in to Tiger Stadium and put a 19-7 whooping on the Tigers. Outgaining the Tigers 310-287 and getting three turnovers to the Tigersí one, the Gators took control of the game early in the second half. LSU was haunted by 13 penalties for 99 yards, all of which seemed to offset something good for the Tigers. This was another tough stop in the 2003 schedule for the Gators, who may have had the toughest schedule of any team in recent memory. The Gators finished 8-5, losing to eventual #8 ranked Iowa in the Outback Bowl. UF played the APís final #2,7,8,10,11,13,15, beating #2 LSU and #7 Georgia. Thatís no typo, folks, the Gators played 7 of the top 15 teams ranked in the AP top 25! They finished ranked 24th in the final AP poll, a tribute to their schedule.

Now all of the above facts may do little to convince USC fans and sportswriters who the true National Champion is. After all, in perusing the websites and chat rooms, I have heard these convincing arguments as to why USC is the REAL National Champion:

  1. "Weíre just so much better."
  2. "We have the tradition; weíve won more National Championships and have more Heisman Trophy winners."
  3. "We were ranked #1 in both polls and got screwed by the BCS."
  4. "LSU played a 1-AA school and UL-Monroe and Louisiana Tech!"
  5. "Weíre just so much better." (Iím sorry; this one just keeps coming up!)

Letís take them one by one:

  1. and 5. No comment. Thorazine treats this.
  2. True
  3. The BCS is a previously agreed upon SYSTEM which identifies, in just a circumstance as this, who the #1 and #2 teams are and pits them together in the pre-determined National Championship game at a pre-determined site. It is a compilation of countless myriad factors that identifies the two teams deserving to play for the National Championship. The one thing that it specifically ignores in its computation is the TIMING of the loss of the team. This is one factor that has always played a major role in the AP and Coaches poll. That is to say, who lost last will be penalized more than the team that lost first. USC lost two weeks before LSU lost. Does anyone actually believe that if USC had beaten Cal, but lost to Oregon State or Washington or Stanford they would be ranked above LSU in any poll except the New York Times poll? (By the way, the New York Times poll is the ONLY computer poll that had USC ranked ahead of LSU in their final poll. They also had Maryland ranked #3 and Oklahoma ranked #14. The AP had Maryland ranked #17 and Oklahoma #3.) I think itís fair to say that the primary reason why USC is ranked above LSU in the AP poll is that they lost first and were ranked ahead of LSU every week from October 1 through the end. When a team keeps winning, it is nearly impossible to be leapfrogged, even if the team below you is beating up on ranked teams and plays a tougher schedule.
  4. The BCS rankings take into consideration seven computer rankings, throwing out the one least favorable to the team considered. LSU finished ranked #1 in EVERY BCS computer ranking other than the NY Times.

    And a word about Georgia. Georgia finished 11-3, ranked #7 in the final AP poll. One thing that I never hear mentioned is this: LSU played and beat Georgia twice. If Georgia had beaten LSU twice, it would be Georgia plying for the National Championship. Any teams like this on USCís schedule?

  5. True. LSU has done its best to play non-conference games against in-state schools, a laudable practice that has reaped some political dividends and helps provide a sweet payday for state schools. This year, unfortunately, LSU scheduled two and nearly paid the price. The inordinate penalty that LSU paid by playing these two teams nearly offset the fact that they also played five games against top-25 ranked teams. Look for this practice to be reviewed. I will bet however, that no one in East Lansing, Michigan thought that Louisiana Tech was a patsy when the Bulldogs from Ruston made the trip up there and beat the Spartans on September 13th.

The game against Western Illinois, the #1 ranked Division 1-AA team in the nation when they played LSU, was a substitute game for Marshall, who backed out of the game with LSU during that same time slot. Had Marshall shown up, the strength of schedule factor would have weighed more heavily in LSUís favor, assuming an LSU victory, a near certainty. Marshall did beat Kansas State earlier this year, the eventual Big 12 Champ. Look for big time changes in LSUís future contracts with visiting teams, providing for major monetary penalties if the school backs out.

So, you see, I have laid out my reasons why the National Championship is only "shared" if you are a member of the Associated Press or a USC Trojan fan. Email me with your reasons if you feel differently.

Blackjack Begins Here

Sorry for the diatribe. Now on to Blackjack conditions, starting with the conditions in Biloxi and Gulfport and moving on to New Orleans. As you can imagine, the playing conditions in New Orleans were extremely crowded during the Sugar Bowl weekend.

The mood in the downtown area of New Orleans was absolutely unlike any other event I have seen there, including Mardi Gras.

The Oklahoma faithful were there in droves and there was a surprising presence in Biloxi. I have my own feelings about why, and will detail it later. I expected to see a less than crowded Gulf Coast and was pretty surprised to see lots and lots of both LSU and OU fans at the Beau Rivage and the Grand. When I asked the OU fans why they were here, I got several answers:

  1. "They comped me here, and Iíll just drive in for the game."
  2. "Iím not getting involved in that mess in New Orleans until Sunday night."
  3. "Why not? The games here are better, the tables are less crowded and the host here set me up. Harrahís had no rooms available!"
  4. "My wife loves this place. She tolerates the football game, but loves to come here."

The consensus was that the Beau Rivage and even the Grand and some less ostentatious gambling destinations in Biloxi give you a better bang for your buck than Harrahís.

I couldnít agree more.

The Games

Beau Rivage It seems they are testing the 6:5 single deck here. I only saw one table and it was half full at night, a rarity this weekend. The rest of the games were good but very crowded. I saw no $25 DD games there on Saturday night, and only about three or four $50 games. All the rest were $100, $300, $500 minimums. The DD looked to be fairly well cut at about 60-64 cards out before the shuffle card. With S17 and double after split, this game was playable. Stayed 45 minutes, up 15 units. The 6D was absolutely heat-free. I had heard a rumor that the Beau went to H17 on their 6D shoe, but I didnít see this Saturday night. The games were S17, DAS, RSA, LS and about a deck and a half cut. Playable game as well. Stayed 2 hours, up 19 units.

Biloxi Grand In general, the games here are not as attractive for both Basic Strategy Players and Advantage Players. They do not allow surrender on the shoes, and the DD games are fewer and closely watched. Penetration appears to be about a deck here, again costing the casino money. Pen on the 6D game looks to be about a deck and a half, but is dealer dependent. Stayed one hour, down 2 units.

Palace Iím not sure why I like this place, but I do. The room comp didnít hurt, but the game here, if you can get decent penetration, is excellent. Not too many DD S17, DAS, RSA games around these days, but this is one. The games are closely watched, unless it was Sugar Bowl Saturday and crowded, which it was when I was there. The PCs had their hands full trying to keep their ratings cards straight. No surveillance calls that I was aware of, either. Perfect basic strategy here at the DD game yields the house a 0.14% advantage, definitely worthwhile playing, and even better than the Beau Rivage.

CCís advice: Reward these casinos with your play. If you are a casual Basic Strategy player, betting $10/hand at DD, you can expect to lose about $1 an hour at this game.

Play the draconian SD 6:5 BJ payoff game and youíll lose about $9 an hour. Which one would you rather play?

Stayed 90 minutes, up 9 units. Meal and room comp.

I then made the drive back to New Orleans on Sunday morning. The city was abuzz, more so than Friday and Saturday morning. I immediately went to Harrahís and found it to be very crowded for an early afternoon. I met my buddy there who was in Harrahís the night before and he described the conditions Saturday night as follows:

Ö..Every seat in every table was filled, with people waiting behind the tables for players to tap out. No table in the house with less than a $25 minimum. All Salon Privee tables full, with $100 minimums. Absolutely no heat; PCs couldnít keep up with the ins and outs, so he played for six hours at a $50 minimum table and wasnít asked for his card.

The games at Harrahís though are marginal, which explains why there were so many people in Biloxi for the weekend:

6D: Only 4 or 5 tables of 6D shoes in the whole place. The rest of the shoes are 8D, but the penetration on the 8D is less than 2 decks, and about 1.5 at 6D. The only 6D shoes I saw were in the Salon Privee. Seemingly heat-free. Stayed 3 hours, down 12 units.

DD: I have been told that DD exists here. I have yet to find it. It may be a now-and-then thing, but there was no DD that I could find this weekend. My buddy didnít see it either.

CSMs: Just say no!

Other New Orleans area casinos:

There are three other casinos in the area: Ballyís, Boomtown, and Treasure Chest. All three of these are riverboat/barge type facilities that are much smaller than Harrahís and located in the suburbs. The games generally are a little better than Harrahís, and with lower minimums, but you need a car to get to any of them. Taxi fare will run you $25-$40 each way easily to get to any of them from downtown New Orleans.

Comp policy is unclear; no hotels associated with them, but Iím sure they have affiliated hotels with casino rates if you ask. Meal comps are easy at all sites.

Ballyís. This is the smallest of the three boats and is in New Orleans East, on Lake Pontchartrain. About 15 tables of 6D, S17, DAS, LS (but they donít tell you about the surrender, you have to know). Penetration is VERY dealer dependent, and dealer mistakes are common. They deal a DD game from a shoe with a SC, and it is S17, DAS. Penetration seems to be around halfway through the two decks, and is less dealer dependent than the 6D. A decent game, but better elsewhere. Did not play.

Boomtown. This place is on the Westbank of the Mississippi River, in Harvey. They have a SD game which is S17, DAS, making it positive EV off the top. It is frequently not open, so ask. DD is decent with S17, DAS, but only about 1 deck penetration. Most of the rest of the games are 6D shoes, S17, DAS, with about 1.5 decks pen, but dealer dependent. The Pinnacle Room upstairs is a high-end, uncrowded area with food and nicer beverage service. They will watch these games a little closer than the ones downstairs. Played 2 hours, down 17 units

Treasure Chest. Arguably the best DD game in New Orleans, if the penetration would improve. Located in Kenner near the airport and on Lake Pontchartrain, S17, DAS, RSA make this a playable game. Again, it is dealt from a shoe. It seems that this is mandated by law, but the SD game at Boomtown is pitched, so go figure. Only about three DD tables here, and usually crowded. The rest of the tables (30) are 6D, S17, DAS with mediocre penetration between 1.5 and 2 decks.

Well, I hope the first part of this article wasnít too far off the subject for the real BJ purists. When I arrived in New Orleans Friday, the mood just consumed me and I got into a football frame of mind. The victory over those Sooners was "Sweet as Sugah, Darliní."

I have to compliment the Sooner fans who handled themselves well, despite their disappointment.

And for all those USC fans who obviously have a different perspective, thatís what the purpose of the article was, to generate thought and opinions. If youíd like to send me your thoughts, email them to me (keep it clean) at CCRiderBJ@aol.com. Iíll copy Henry Tamburin so he can get some feedback.

Until next time, good luck, good cards, good pen, and may every double down be followed by a dealer bust. Geauxxxxx Tigers!!!

CC Rider

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