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Deal Me In


Video blackjack machines thwart counters

Dear Mark: In last week’s column you mentioned that it was impossible to count cards on a continuous shuffle machine. Can you instead count cards on a video blackjack machine since, one) single-deck games are a preferred choice to count cards on, and two) there is no one standing over you to bother your play or ask you to leave the game? Jim G. 


You are on to something, Jim, that of controlling your game environment without the hassle of some pit bull running you off the game; but it’s still not going to work.

You biggest obstacle, Jim, is that the rules of the video blackjack machine in the casino where you most likely play have one little deviation that will turn a winning session into a losing one: what you get paid for a blackjack.

Those one-player video blackjack games, which have been around forever, typically pay even money instead of 3:2 on blackjacks. Then, they are usually dealt from a single electronic deck, which also works against you because that single deck is shuffled after every hand rather than playing to a virtual cut card, and then reshuffling.

So how much is being paid even-money for a blackjack going to cost you? Because you can expect a blackjack every 21 hands in live play, the loss of that bonus will cost you an additional 2.3 percent. Considering that a live blackjack game has a house advantage of less than .5 percent to the knowledgeable player, this one rule change alone is far too costly, even for the best-of-the-best card counter.

Beware, Jim, some video blackjack machines round down on payoffs -- any theoretical payoff that totals some number of dollars and cents is rounded down to just the dollar amount by dropping the cents in the win – thereby reducing your return. If you do happen to locate a machine that does pay the bonus for a blackjack, make sure your bets are in even amounts so that you can get the maximum value of a blackjack (a payoff of $3 for every $2 wagered). With a $1 bet and rounding down, the theoretical payout of $1.50 for a blackjack would be reduced to just $1! Here, you should always bet in two-unit increments. And, Jim, and even though this game may allow you to pocket the BJ bonus, it still won’t help you with counting cards because the deck is shuffled after every hand.

When playing under these conditions, what video blackjack will do for the Average Joe, Jim, is make for an excellent, low cost, practice session partner where you can work on basic strategy. 

Although I haven’t seen this game in years, make that a decade, there once were machines that operated using multiple decks, shuffled when 50 percent of the cards have been played through, had very favorable rules, and paid a full-pay blackjack if played with correct coin increments. Unfortunately, yesteryear doesn’t make you money today. 

Now if such a machine still existed, I might give up my leisure pursuit of sitting on one stool behind a drum set and swap it out for another playing video snapper. My wife would sure appreciate it. She’d have those drums on Craigslist by sundown. 


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Almost all life depends on probabilities.” – Francois Voltaire, Essays: Probabilities (1756)


The quicker you go, the behinder you get

Dear Mark: If a card counter has an advantage over the casino, wouldn’t it be to their advantage to have more hands per hour via a continuous shuffler? Travis C.  


You’ve read it here before, Travis, and you’ll read it again. Speed kills in a casino environment. Involving what is called "incremental game speed," the more 99.9% of players are exposed to the built-in house advantage on any game the casino offers, haste will lay waste to their bankroll. 

Most certainly, Travis, an automatic shuffler does speed up a blackjack game, and with a continuous shuffler, even more so. However, reasoning the more hands per hour against a continuous shuffler will automatically allow the house edge to favor the counter is erroneous because continuous shufflers operate by hand by hand randomness, making counting cards unmanageable. 

Even if you are not a card counter, Travis, continuous shufflers work against you because there are no breaks to change decks and cut the cards, meaning the hands come at a much faster pace than those using non-continuous machine shufflers.

If all other rules are equal, the best games for basic strategy players and the Average Joe alike are single and double-deck hand-shuffled games, followed by six or eight deck hand-shuffled shoes. These will yield the fewest hands per hour. 

Up next are regular machine-shuffled games where the cards are taken out of the machine and put into a shoe, and the worst games for players are those that use continuous shufflers. 

True, card counters do want a faster-paced game with more hands per hour, especially when they have an edge on the casino. So, yes, they do prefer regular machine-shuffled or hand-shuffled games, but you will never see them on a continuous shuffler.


Dear Mark: Is using a Player’s Card worth it? I don’t seem to win any additional money whether I use one or not. Nancy C.  


Are you asking, Nancy, are you going to win more if you use one? Of course not! That’s not what they are for.  

The benefit from using a Player's Card is for the slot player to have their play recognized and to earn cash back and comps.

The math of comps is that the casino will return a certain percentage of their expected win in rewards for play. Your expected loss will always be more than the comps are worth.

Besides, Nancy, using a reward’s card doesn't cost you anything -- sort of. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t say it doesn't cost you anything. You are expected to circulate your hard-earned cash through a one-armed bandit to get those goodies. 


Dear Mark: Every time the dealers have an Ace showing, they seem to always get a blackjack. What are the odds of a dealer getting a blackjack with an Ace exposed? Jerry C.


Using a six-deck shoe as an example, there are 16 X 6 = 96 10-point cards (10, Jack, Queen, King) cards in the deck. Eliminating the Ace showing, there are 52 X 6 – 1 = 311 possible cards under the Ace. Thus, the odds of a blackjack appearing are 96/311 = 30.86%. I’d say, Jerry, that’s a tad bit less than “always.”


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: Care and diligence bring good luck. ­– Thomas Fuller Gnomologia (1732)