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Blackjack Insider Newsletter, March 2004, #50

LAS VEGAS BLACKJACK REPORT

By LV Tournament Pro

Tournament Pro is the pseudonym for a skilled advantage blackjack player and an experienced tournament player who has won over $375K playing in blackjack tournaments.

Hi, LV Tournament Pro here. I trust you enjoyed reading my report in BJI issue #49 that described the blackjack playing conditions in some of the localís casinos located in the Northwest side of Las Vegas. This month Iíll focus on blackjack conditions in several casinos located on the south end of the strip that cater to tourists (note: the conditions were those that I observed and played against on the weekend of March 13-14).

My first stop was Mandalay Bay, which is in my opinion, one of the top three hotels in Las Vegas as far as amenities and service. Their blackjack game is also not bad as long as you do some scouting before you plop yourself and your hard earned money down at the table.

The casino has 73 blackjack tables but not all the games are the same. Let me start with the good games that I observed which include 43 six deck shoes games with a penetration of 70-75% and the following rules: dealer stands on all 17ís, double after pair splitting allowed, aces can be resplit up to 4 hands and you can late surrender.

Folks, you are not going to find a better shoe game in town (you may find a similar game in several other casinos, but not better). When you factor in the world-class service and atmosphere, why look any further for a good shoe game? The betting ranges on these games were from $10-2,000 to $25-2,000 and in the High Limit pit from $500-10,000.

It appeared to me that you could move your chips (especially black and green) pretty good in the main casino without too much heat. As far as my results, I didnít do as well as I wanted. Thatís because I usually donít play shoe games that often because I have so many double and single games to choose from. But playing shoe games is where the majority of counters wind up. When you are first making your "bones" as a beginning counter, playing against single and double deck games is the place to be. Once you gain experience and a larger bankroll you may decide to increase your betting level above red chips. Unlike betting only reds where itís fairly easy to play and count undetected, when you start betting greens youíve got to be more cognizant of being detected. I still have a few places that I can play single and double deck games, so I do. But the shoe games are definitely in my near future.

I took a seat in a 6-deck shoe game with a plan of spreading 1 to 8 units. Most counters will tell you to beat a shoe game you need to have a bet spread of at least 1 to 8 or 1 to 10 units. I chose the smaller spread considering the good rules and conditions and my lack of playing time on shoes. I will tell you that it was a pleasure to put $80 in the circle and not hear the dealer yell "checks play" to any suit that will listen (in contrast, play single and double deck games, put 50 to 75 bucks in the betting circle, and watch the dealer yell "checks play"). My results on the shoe were not positive. I played for about an hour and lost $210, which was not a good start (if you are new to counting, understand that you that you canít win every time you sit down to play).

The other blackjack games being offered at Mandalay Bay were 10 tables of 8-decks with a penetration of approx. 70% with dealerís hitting soft 17ís. So if you want a little flavor of what itís like to play blackjack in Atlantic City, take a seat in this pit of 8 deck games.

I thought to myself, "Why play 8 decks when there are 6 deck games with better rules?" This is a no brainer yet the 8 deck games were busy. This beats the stuffingís out of me. There is also 15 tables of 5 deck games dealt from a Continuous Shuffling Machine (CSM) for the players who just donít like the down time of a dealerís shuffle. There are also 5 double deck games with a betting range of $100-5,000 offering late surrender, resplitting aces up to 4 times, and 60-65% penetration. Iíve seen the betting limits lower but this was "fight weekend" and limits are always higher. The High Limit pit offered six 6-deck games with betting limits of $500-$10,000. Even higher betting limits are available upon request

I left Mandalay Bay with a $210 loss and took the tram to Luxor. Leaving your car behind on any weekend is always a good thing, but on a fight weekend it is a must. So the free tram ride over to the Luxor was just the right touch. The Luxor is also owned by the same parent company that owns Mandalay Bay. The company is called Mandalay Bay Group ("Circus Circus" for you old timers). I always thought that a casino named Circus Circus would be a great place to get married. If it didnít work out you could always say "how serious do you think I was about this marriage if I did it at Circus Circus?"

Anyway, lets get back to blackjack, where the rules are much different at Luxor. They have 63 Blackjack tables mostly 8 deck games, dealerís hit soft 17s with a 70% penetration and betting limits of $5-1000. I also observed 4 double deck games with a 60-65% penetration but unlike Mandalay Bay they do not offer surrender on their Double Deck game but you can resplit aces up to 4 times. Hereís a plus (I like that word when playing blackjack): the game is dealt face up so if you are sitting at 3rd base when itís time to play your hand there are no secrets except for the dealerís hole card (your count will be exact). So this is where I attempted to recover the money I lost at Mandalay Bay.

The double deck game had a betting range of $25-2,000 (again on non-fight weekends I have seen the limits lower). I took a seat and played for 45 minutes spreading 1 to 5 units, a small spread but one my bankroll can afford. I managed to recover $75 of my $210 losses. Like I said you canít always show a profit in every session, but over the long run you will. Their 6 deck games had a betting range of $25-2,000 & $50-3,000, dealer stands on all 17s and late surrender. In the high limit pit they had one double deck with betting limits of $100-3,000 and three 6-deck shoe games at $100-5,000.

So it was back on the tram to the end of the line, which is Tropicana Ave. A short walk across the bridge to NY NY where I wonít be able to give you any live play results as I have been asked not to play there anymore. This was after a night of being stuck $6,000 on their double deck game, then winning it all back but had to really expose my play in the process and pump up my spread. As long as I was losing they let me play but as soon as I finally turned a profit they shut the lights on me. I thought this was a gambling establishment. I guess the Casino Manager, Rick Fieldís bonus was coming up and he didnít want to jeopardize that.

As far as playing conditions go at NY NY they have 15 single deck games paying an UGLY 6 to 5 payout on blackjack with no mid deck entry and no even money if you have blackjack. So if you get dealt a blackjack with a dealer having an ace up and you take insurance and the dealer does not have blackjack, youíll get paid less than even money. You do the math - you bet $5 and you are suppose to get paid an UGLY 6 dollars to start with but now you have to put up $2.50 for insurance, so you essentially invest $7.50 to win $6 (and you had blackjack). Now thatís insane. Folks, listen to me and stop playing this 6:5 game because you canít beat it. Go play keno Ė youíll have a better shot (only kidding about keno being better a bet but you have to stop playing those 6 to 5 single deck games.

The rest of the casino has 29 6-deck shoe games with a betting range of $10-1,000 to $25-2,000 and in the High Limit pit $100-5,000. There are also 3 double deck games with a betting range of $25-2,000 and 65 % penetration (but no surrender). Their shoe games offer surrender but the dealers hit soft 17s and they allow a mid deck entry with a $200 max bet.

So it was off to my last stop, the MGM Grand. This place is just too big for me. If you have to look for someone here, good luck and good hunting to you. They have 77 tables all 6 decks with a 70-75% penetration, late surrender, and dealers stand on all 17s. They also have 6 single deck games with betting limits of $25-2000 but again paying 6 to 5 on blackjacks and no even money. The betting ranges on the shoes were from $10-1,000 to $100-10,000. The tables were crowded and the casino was busy. Las Vegas is alive and well, fully recovering from 9/11 jitters.

Based on my observations, if you are coming to town and you happen to be on the south end of the strip, Mandalay Bay is my pick to play and stay. So until next time keep them aces coming with a little paint on them.

Good Luck

LV Tournament Pro

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