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Gaming Guru

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Ask the GameMaster: Bet Sizes, Splitting Pairs and Card-shuffling Machines

14 February 2003

I've noticed in a lot of your articles and columns that each betting sequence starts at the table's minimum. In blackjack for instance the first bet is $5, correct? Then what? $5 again or $10? I then understand a natural progression of raising the bet and pulling back a profit. The first bet at a table whether blackjack or outsides on roulette should be more than the table minimum, $10 at $5 tables, $15 at 10's and so on. This way if you do win the first bet then you drop your bet down to the minimum. If you lose the next bet you're still showing a profit. Not bad for winning one and losing one. What are your thoughts?

The betting at Blackjack is based only on the count of the cards. Since the casino usually has an advantage on the first hand, we typically bet the table minimum. There is no betting method that will overcome casino's edge at most games for very long, so I don't support such 'schemes'. If the casino has an edge, you should bet the minimum at all times, because all a progression will do for you is raise the average size of your bet and you'll lose more quickly. Unfortunately, there's no way to get a permanent advantage over any casino game other than Blackjack, some slot machines (with a 'banking' feature) and some video poker games. But, hey.... three games that can be beaten aren't so bad.

I just found your website today as I am last-minute preparing myself for my trip to Vegas this weekend. It is great! Keep up the good work. I am reading over your Basic Strategy lesson and the matrix says on a pair of 3s or 2s, you should split against a 7. I have been thinking about this one for a while and can't seem to understand why it would be advantageous to do so. It would seem to me that it is much easier to lose 2 hands against a 7 this way. Please explain the strategy behind this bet.

Glad you like the site; keep coming back. As for the splitting of 2s and 3s against a 7, remember that your other choice is to hit a 4 or 6 (the hands you'll have if you don't split). Plus, this rule applies particularly where double after split is allowed. Hitting a 4, consisting of two 2s, has an expected value (E.V.) of -.089, whereas splitting the pair has an E.V. of -.054 (as a percentage of the initial bet) if DAS isn't allowed and -.006 if DAS is allowed. As for the 3s, hitting a 6 against a 7 has an E.V. of -.154, whereas splitting is -.115 without DAS and -.056 with. You can see that both hands are losers, regardless how you play them, but you lose less by splitting. Don't spend a lot of time worrying about this, though. In 100,000 hands of play, you'll get 2s or 3s against a 7 only 86 times!

As my boyfriend was turning $10 into a couple hundred, the roulette dealer paid him on his 32 when the wheel actually hit 23. He left the money on the table but didn't say anything. He finally picked it up after she paid everyone else, and after she removed the marker from the table. At that time the Pit Boss came up and got a new ball. She felt it real good and spun it herself! It hit double zero and my boyfriend lost about $30. Then some guy came out of nowhere and started talking to him and giving him nonsense advice. We got out of there right away. Was this a set up? And exactly under what circumstances does the Pit Boss do this? Please reply; we're due back in Vegas this weekend. Thank you for your time!

No, I don't think it was a setup or anything like that. The casino's edge in roulette is sooo big (5.26%) that they don't have to manipulate anything. It is unusual for them to change the ball, but I think the 'pit critter' showed up because she felt that there was something wrong. If you're in a casino long enough, you can see by peoples' reactions that something isn't normal, and indeed, it wasn't; the dealer had improperly paid a hand. However, the double zero was, no doubt, a coincidence. As for the 'visitor', there are tons of people running around out there who think roulette can be beaten. They are wrong.

First of all I would like to thank you for putting together a website worth viewing. It is very informative. I want to be the best blackjack player possible. I have been to Vegas once and Biloxi twice. I did fairly well in Vegas using the basic strategy. I used the basic strategy in Biloxi and got swept off as if the cards were rigged or something. In Biloxi I went from casino to casino trying to find a winning roll but got the shaft every time. The casino rules of the game seemed to be parallel to Vegas but I just couldn't win using basic strategy. I'm going to Vegas in Sept and I have a few questions if you would be gracious enough to answer.

Remember that Basic Strategy alone will not give you an edge over the casinos; you have to combine that with counting.

1) Using the Hi/Lo strategy, do you place a count on the face cards? If so, then what?

Face cards count as -1. I'm not sure I understand the second question. Have you read my lessons on the Blackjack Page of my site?

2) What is the single best way to prepare myself for the trip? Videos, books?

Neither. Practice as I've described in my lessons.

Is there one video that will tremendously help my game?

No. There is no easy way to do this; it takes a lot of repetition at home.

3) Is there a difference (besides house rules) in playing in Vegas, Atlantic City, and Biloxi or on some cruise ship?

Sure, there are differences, but the card counting principles all apply.

You gave me some good advice before on learning Deuces Wild, and I have another question. If I wanted to learn how to play blackjack, how should I go about it? Should I get a book, such as Knock-Out Blackjack (which I have seen hyped quite a bit), or should I proceed simply by learning the strategies as outlined in your articles? I want to make the best use of my time, and I know you are the man! I'd appreciate any input you could provide.

I recommend you do my lessons first, because they're free. The method I teach is more difficult to learn than the "KO" system, but it's also more powerful. Give it a try before you spend any $$$.

I'm wondering if it is possible to do card counting when the casino uses an automatic card-shuffling machine? As I know it, this machine randomly shuffles the card and, with six decks I guess it's quite impossible to count the cards. Then the entire card counting technique does not apply then. Where do we get our advantage?

A shuffling machine does not diminish the value of card counting, unless it's a 'continuous' shuffler where the cards that have been played are added back into the pack of remaining cards. If the shuffler is used just to mix the 6 decks together and then they are placed in a shoe and dealt in the usual style, counting cards still works. Since the Hi/Lo counting method requires only some simple addition and subtraction, it's possible to count six HUNDRED decks of cards, let alone just six. The counter's advantage in a multi-deck game comes primarily from betting different amounts as the composition of the remaining cards changes, less when the casino has an edge and more when the player has an edge. For more information, go to the "The Blackjack Page: Story Archive" of my site.

What is the real purpose of card counting? I can understand on the betting procedure of when to double, split, stay, etc., but I am new at this and am willing to learn more and to bring my play of BJ to a better level; what am I looking for when, say, the card count is M2 or say +3 when counting cards?? This is new to me so please understand that you have a beginner here :) I live in Missouri and the boats in K.C. have multiple decks.

The object of card counting is twofold: 1) to tell you when to bet more and 2) to tell you when to modify Basic Strategy.

A count of M2 tells you that the deck is in the casino's favor, so you should bet the minimum, but as the count goes up, you'll bet more. All you need to know can be found on the Blackjack Page of my site. Just follow the Blackjack lessons in there and all this will become clear to you.

Hot Tip of the Month: Ever play the "Super Sevens" option at Blackjack? The house's edge varies with the payout, but in most cases it's over 10% of your $1 side bet. Think the house needs an extra dime from you on each round? They expect to make less than that from your $5 bet on the hand!

-the GameMaster2