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By John Grochowski


John Grochowski writes a weekly column that is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites throughout the United States. You can find archives of his columns at the Detroit News site, , and at John's books are available through his own site, He also hosts a Casino Answer Man talk show Saturday nights on WCKG-FM in Chicago, streaming online at .

Editors Note: The G2E (Global Gaming Conference) is the world’s largest gaming event for gaming professionals. Over 700 exhibitors showcase their new products for the casino industry. The G2E is held each November in Las Vegas.

A sure sign that the casino industry is taking comp wizardry --- not to mention card counting --- seriously: the manufacturing giants of the industry are banding together, melding their technological solutions.

Along with the usual collection of blackjack spinoffs and side bets designed to take your money a little faster than basic blackjack, the annual Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center was notable to blackjack players for the display of the IGT Advantage Table Manager System.

IGT, the world’s largest slot manufacturer, had previously introduced its Table Touch system for table games management. The new name reflects an alliance with two other forces in the industry. Table Manager incorporates Progressive Gaming International’s e radio frequency identification Chip Manager and Shuffle Master’s Table iD Game Manager for card recognition.

As a player, it always surprises me that casinos are willing to bear the expense for such systems, just as it surprises me when they bother to run a low-limit card counter spreading from $5 to $15 off the tables. But nevertheless, the investment goes on in ever more sophisticated table tracking. Of course, Table Manager is about more than "comps based on actual bets," as literature from IGT, Shuffle Master and PGI put it. Tracking chips in trays, fills, credits, markets --- all the normal pencil and paper functions of the pit crew are tracked and displayed on a computer screen in real time.

Of note for those who like to play anonymously: IGT says floor supervisors can track play of anonymous guests under a "refused name" rating. Physical attributes can be entered and matched with other anonymous players.

On the game side, there were a handful of new side bets and blackjack-based games. Progressive Gaming, owner of Caribbean Stud and other games with progressive jackpots, showed a blackjack side bet with a craps twist. It’s called Field Gold 21, and the winners are the totals that would be winners in the field if you were throwing the dice --- 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11 or 12. Aces are always counted as 1 for purposes of the side bet. Payoffs start at even money for a two-card 11 or 12 --- and those who make the bets will be grateful for the odd winner 12 --- and rise to 25-1 on a suited Ace-Jack. The price is high, though, with a house edge of 5.66 percent in a six-deck game.

Another PGI side bet is called Blackjack Bullets. It pays off on Aces --- the more Aces dealt in a row, the bigger the bonus. A single Ace on either of the first two cards pays 3-1, with payoffs climbing to 15-1 on two unsuited Aces, 75-1 on two suited Aces, and so on, up to a 12,500-1 bonanza on four consecutive Aces of the same color.

Galaxy Gaming, which distributes the widespread Lucky Ladies side bet, has another blackjack side bet in Super Pairs Diamond Bonus. It is the pairs that are super in this game --- if you make the side bet, you win any time your first two cards pair up. Pay tables differ according to the number of decks in play, but in a common six-deck game, you’d get a 10-1 payoff on any pair and 15-1 on a suited pair. Players who wager at least $5 are eligible for the Diamond Bonus, and a 30-1 payoff if their pair is in diamonds.

Smaller game developers were at the show, too, with Jeff Cohen, Cindy Kappenman and Paul Flowers displaying their game Players Choice Blackjack. This is one for everyone who thinks they’d be better off betting on the dealer’s hand. In front of each player are two diamonds, marked "P" for player and "D" for dealer. Bet on player, and you play just like regular blackjack. Bet on dealer, and you’re betting the dealer hand wins. The player hand then must be played according to set rules, with no double downs or pair splits, hitting on soft 17 and under and standing on hard 17 and over. With rules restricting player options, a bet on "D" carries a house edge of 4.09 percent.

U.S. Playing Card, one of the leading suppliers of casino playing cards, is in the game development business, too, and this year showed Slingo Bonus Bet 21. This is blackjack side bets gone wild --- the player has an option to place up to 10 bonus bets, based on the value of the player’s first two cards. The player can wager that the first two cards will be a pair, paying 12-1, and can wager on two cards totals, with payoffs on 12-1 on 17, 14-1 on 18, 15-1 on 19, 8-1 on 20 or 19-1 on 21. The other options are combinations --- you can wager your total will be either 17 or 18, and either will bring a 6-1 payoff. Payoffs are also 6-1 on the 18-19 combo, 5-1 on 20-21 or 2-1 on 17-21.

Finally, I ran into Frank Mugnolo, who devised the Casino Surrender option that was shown at G2E 2005 and which some casinos have added to their blackjack tables. Whenever the player has a two-card 20, the dealer’s up card is a 10-value and the dealer does not have a blackjack, Casino Surrender gives the player the option of choosing a payoff of half his or her bet instead of playing out the hand. When I detailed this one lat year, I pointed to Michael Shackelford’s analysis on that your average win on a $10 bet when you start with a 20 ranges from $5.83 (two 10 values on a single-deck game) to $5.55 (Ace-9 on an eight-deck game). If you surrender your 20, you settle for $5 every time.

Mugnolo wanted to point out a specific instance where Casino Surrender can work to your advantage. What if you’re in tournament play, and a win of half your bet will clinch for you, or clinch advancing to the next round? Is Casino Surrender worthwhile then? Sure it is, and it’s also worthwhile on regular blackjack if you’re counting cards and have a Hi-Lo true count of plus 4 or better.

Every player option added to the basic game is good for the player, if the player knows how to use it, and when to stay away from it. Side bets, on the other hand, including those introduced this year at G2E, are mostly good to avoid.

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