Friday, December 19, 2008

Where I Play Blackjack In Vegas...and Why

Earlier blackjack posts here referred to the importance of player-favorable rule sets and use of accurate basic strategy play
as two means to lower the house advantage and increase player expectation. Blackjack (BJ) routinely offers the lowest house
advantage over players as compared to all other games (including craps) provided we know perfect basic strategies for a given game and insist on locating those games that offer the best rules. Over time, these can make a huge difference in enjoyment and potential wins/ minimized losses. BJ also offers one of the best venues to accrue comps for those interested in playing the comp game; there are many ways to positively augment accrued comps at the BJ tables (we'll highlight these in future posts). The MINIMUM rule sets/conditions (ultimately rendering a house edge between 0.25 and 0.42% off-the-top) at a given BJ table ( 6-deck shoe games with no continuous shuffling machines [CSM's} in use) that I look for are :

Standard game I play= 6 Deck Shoes / 5 -25 dollar minimum bet tables / 1 - 12 bet spread variation( x minimums)/ no CSM's

DAS (doubling allowed after splitting pairs) ; adds + 0.14% to player expectation / expected value (EV)

S17 (dealer stands on his soft seventeen, eg A,6 hands); adds + 0.20% to EV versus H17 (dealer hits soft seventeen)

3:2 payouts on naturals (blackjacks); worth + 2.5% EV ; it's idiocy to play those with even money or 6:5 payouts on blackjacks

LS (late surrender offered; allows player to surrender hand with certain 2-card totals vs specific dealer up card AFTER dealer
checks hole card for blackjack; adds + 0.075% )

If a given locale does not offer the above on it's 6-deck shoe games, I simply refuse to play unless there is a special set of
rules / promotion that drives the house edge down. Where are these games USUALLY located (you have to refer to BJ sources and then scout the actual conditions while there) ? I've often found these games at the following casinos (keep in mind that you might have to bet 15 or 25 dollar minimums to collectively locate all these rules and conditions at a given game).

MGM Grand (Strip)
Mandalay Bay (Strip)
Monte Carlo (Strip)
New York, New York ( Strip)
Tropicana (Strip)
Red Rock (Off Strip)

Notice there aren't any Harrah's properties on the list? Be aware that the above 6-deck games are easier to find during the day
on weekdays than on more crowded weekends. If conditions are crowded for most any reason, the better games will be harder
to find initially and more difficult to find a seat at. Additionally, traditionally the casinos increase table minimums as demand increases and in evening shifts. There are other additive rules that some casinos offer that lowers house advantage and thus increases the accurate basic strategy player's expectation:

RSA resplitting of aces after initial split; adds + 0.06% EV; variations are rsa3 (resplit only once to make three hands)

D3 player may double down on first 3 cards; adds + 0.23% EV

Two casinos that consistently offer the above are:


*note that rules at these usually involve H17 (dealer hits soft seventeen ); the cumulative advantage of these two additional
rule allowances offset the H17 disadvantage; off-the-top house edge at these games is approximately .25% (perfect basic
strategy used). Good games here; off-strip locales with none of the glitz and glamour, low minimums

Other rules that further reduce the house edge but are seldom (if ever) found in Vegas casinos are:

DSA doubling after ace splits; adds +0.10% EV

21s suited blackjack pays 2:1 ; adds + 0..56% EV

BJ2:1 natural player blackjacks pay 2:1 ; adds + 2.28%

6 player's unbusted 6-card hand (automatic winner even against dealer blackjack); adds+0.10%

ES early surrender; game allows surrender of hand and half your bet BEFORE dealer checks for natural; adds+ 0.63%); e-mail
me if you find such a game in Vegas; beyond rare

There are some decent 2-deck games in Vegas; simply playing a two-deck game versus 6 decks adds 0.25% to your expectation. Thus, you theoretically could sacrifice some of the other rules as a tradeoff to arrive within a reasonable house edge range. The house edge with S17,DAS, and RSA = 0.19%. S17 ,DAS -only games can be found at Luxor and Mirage if
you can tolerate the 25$ minimum bets. The following off-strip casinos offer H17,DS,and RSA games for 2-10 $ minimums
and a house edge of .35% :

Arizona Charlie's East
Station casinos (Boulder, Texas, Santa Fe, Palace, and Sunset Stations)
Green Valley Ranch
Red Rock
Silver Nugget
Wild, Wild West

I'd expect the casinos to consider if not slowly begin to offer more player-favorable rules at their BJ games in light of the present economy; they need patrons. Promotional games with short-term rule improvements should occur more often in these tough times..possibly. We'll see.


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Mostly Useless (and approximate) Las Vegas Facts

1. Number of Las Vegas citizens   500,000
2. Number of Clark County residents   1,500,000
3. Year first casino licensed   1931
4. Number of slot machines in Vegas   200,000
5. Number of annual Vegas visitors   40,000,000 (and dropping)
6. Number of licensed gambling entities   1700
7. Hours per day average visitor gambles   4
8. Annual state gaming revenue   9 billion (and dropping)
9. Average gambling budget per trip   560  (and dropping)
10. Mean price per acre in valley   161,000.00
11. Price per acre on the Strip   11,000,000.00
12. Number of  hotel rooms   137,000 +
13. Number of pillowcases washed at MGM daily   15,000
14. Number of doors at MGM  18,000 
15. Annual no. toilet paper rolls used at Bally's   1 million
16. Lucky The Clown marquee sign at Circus Circus has
      1232 fluorescent bulbs, 14,498 incandescent bulbs, and
      3/4 mile of neon tubing light  (no wonder they're replacing
17. In good times, Excalibur goes through over 44,000 
      Cornish game hens, 15 thousand pounds of hamburger
      meat, and 4200 pounds of prime rib monthly
18. Caesar's Palace has used 2 million plus maraschino 
      cherries, 11 thousand ounces of caviar, 2 million ounces
      of tomato juice, and close to 600 thousand ounces of
      vodka yearly (bloody mary winner?)
19. Mandalay Bay has 5,300 palm trees and their wave pool
      has a capacity of 1,640,270 gallons of water
20. Average nightly room rate  119.00 (and dropping)
21. Average number of Vegas weddings per day   300+
22. Number of golf courses  37
23. Miles of neon tubing on the Strip and Downtown  15,000
24. State's nationwide rank in gold production  1st
25. Cost of Nevada marriage license   35.00
26. Average cost of filing for divorce  450.00
27. Average length of stay for visitors    3.7 days
28. Number of hosted conventions annually  3750
29. The electric bill to operate the Luxor pyramid beam is
      approximately 55.00 per hour.
30. Las Vegas has 17 of the world's 20 largest hotels   


Just a cautionary tip when in Vegas.. there are active
pickpockets all over town. I experienced this first-hand
and came within 10 seconds of losing my cash stash last July
while visiting one of those upper end joints on the strip.

I was gambling significantly at a video poker machine, unabashedly slipping C-notes in them. Somebody had been
observing my wagering behavior. I was happily winning at the time and my cautionary tendencies regarding my bankroll
money went south and out the window.

A lady approached me from behind as I played and was all aglow with my run of good luck. She initiated a conversation about nothing and anything . I was concentrating on proper VP strategy and responding to her comments with a lot of "yeah-yeahs". I was fortunate enough to get ahead on the machine again and I cashed out. I had a satchel (I normally never gamble under those conditions) with me that had assorted trip stuff in it. The satchel presence and the relatively high denomination coin-in amount collectively screamed " please rob me!" I placed my wallet in the satchel along with the machine cash-out tickets and proceeded to reconnect with my family and head to our room.

I had developed a sense of cautionary unease as I mulled over the contact with the effusively talkative woman at the VP machine. My senses told me that something about that encounter was skewed, although at the time I didn't know what it was and I wasn't bleeding profusely..yet. My group then proceeded to meander through a very crowded slot machine aisle and some other 6th, 7th, or 8th sense that vaguely detected an impersonal yet succinct encroachment into my personal space kicked in. Instinctively, I immediately dug into the satchel to locate my wallet and it was gone. I then immediately turned around and backtracked about ten feet (a matter of maybe 3 seconds, tops) as my endogenous adrenaline kicked in. I'm not sure that my hair wasn't on fire briefly.

I then spotted my wallet (and life) in a woman's hand who was playing a slot machine. I walked straight at her and demanded it post-haste in a tone that screamed seriousness. I immediately grabbed the wallet and called for security. The woman claimed she picked it up off the floor and so did the man (her accomplice) behind her, both vowing that they were planning to remit it to the security desk. My svelte ass they were.

This team of thieves including the woman who was all goony-googoo at the VP machine were pros. I have to claim part of the blame for the openly careless manner I had displayed with my money. They were held by security and the eye-in-the-sky tapes were to be reviewed.

The good thing is I didn't lose a cent because my peripheral senses kicked in immediately and they didn't have time to bury the evidence ( perhaps they weren't the best of pros?). Take heed folks..these people are everywhere in Vegas. Know where your cash is at all times; take precautions to protect it, don't flaunt it around carelessly as I did, and if you sense something is awry while gambling trust your instincts.

Distractions from one member of a team of thieves is a common MO. Store your gambling session monies in a front pants pocket or in one of those god-awful front-loaded fanny packs (pride be damned). The lesson I learned here after several years of Vegas gambling experiences turned out to be one of the most valuable for me personally.