WHY PENETRATION MATTERS
By The GameMaster
Every month, I'll be posting an article which will, I hope, make you a better Blackjack player. Naturally, the question follows: Just who am I to say I can make you a better player? My background in Blackjack began in Atlantic City in 1978 where I learned, by attending a four-session school, how to count cards. That led to considerable involvement with Blackjack teams and travel to a lot of places to take the casinos' money. After the liberal rules in Atlantic City were dumped by the casinos, my Blackjack-playing days went dormant for some time. I'd do the occasional trip to Reno or Las Vegas, but it wasn't until casino gaming came to Missouri in 1994 that I got back into Blackjack with both feet. Now I live close to 5 casinos, can play as much as I want and can tell you - with first-hand experience - how to win at Blackjack. My Website iswww.gamemasteronline.com
As you undoubtedly know, the basic premise behind card counting is that it allows you to make small bets when the casino has an edge over you and further allows you to make big bets when you have an edge over the casino. Regardless of what type of counting system you use (assuming itís a legitimate method of determining the advantage/disadvantage of a deck or decks); it provides a method of calculating just how big your edge is. For example, I teach the Hi/Lo system, which indicates an increase of one-half of one percent in your advantage for every increase of 1 in the True Count (TC). So, if the casinoís rules give them a 0.50% edge "off the top" of a freshly-shuffled shoe, then at a TC of 3 your edge would be about 1%. Other systems may yield a different number here, but they all offer the ability to know just what your edge is at different counts.
The casino industry has basically done away with "real" single-deck Blackjack games (the 6:5 rip-off games out there arenít "real" in my not-so-humble opinion), because the count in a single-deck game is very volatile; just seeing two more small cards (+1) than big cards (-1) on the first hand creates a TC of over 2 for the next hand. Casinos do not like to deal games where the player can easily gain an advantage, especially when they have only a small edge off the top, so they went to multi-deck games where their starting edge is bigger and the count is less volatile. For example, if you have a running count of +3 (which happens when you see three more little cards than big cards) on the first hand of a 6-deck shoe, the TC is only about one-half and that only partly overcomes the casinoís edge. Of course, in a multi-deck game the count can continue to increase hand after hand, so that mitigates the lower volatility somewhat, but what holds true for plus counts holds true for minus counts. In a single-deck game, a minus count is soon shuffled away because the dealerís running out of cards, but in a 6-deck game the minus count can continue until itís time to shuffle.
Okay, so the casino industry increased their basic edge by adding more decks to the game, which also reduced the count volatility - but never one to leave anything to chance Ė they deal out only a percentage of the cards in the shoe; perhaps 75% or less. This is what we counters call "penetration" and, as youíll soon see, that factor alone can make a difference in whether or not you will ever make a profit at the game of Blackjack. The reason penetration matters is really very simple: If the penetration is not deep, no sooner does the count start going your way and boom! Ė out comes the shuffle card. By limiting the penetration, casinos also limit the volatility of the shoe.
Fortunately, we can measure the effect penetration has on a counterís long-term advantage. Obviously, the deeper, the better but whatís "deep?"
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