Expert Strategy in casino games is ultimate enemy

Nov 6, 2012 3:00 AM

Expert Strategy is developed for casino games that take into account long term probabilities. Anything can happen on any given hand.

I consider myself to be a very good blackjack player. I wouldn’t call myself a counter, but I do pay attention to the way the cards are flowing. About 15 years ago, I was playing at the Barbary Coast (now Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall) late at night.

At the same table was a couple that had clearly had a few too many drinks. After about an hour, I walked away even. The couple was doing about the same. The only difference was they were getting an abundance of blackjacks and 20’s, while I was slugging it out with my 14’s, 15’s and 16’s.

I managed to hold my own, but all I kept thinking was that if I had the hands that couple was being dealt, I’d be up a fortune. When they weren’t getting 20’s, they were hitting everything – pretty much until they busted.

I’m very certain if we each had been able to play for days in the same condition we were that night, I would eventually prevail. Well, that is to say, I’d only lose a little, while they’d lose their retirement fund. Drunk is never a good way to gamble, but in a one hour session anything can happen.

One of my father’s favorite expressions was that even a blind pig could find an acorn once in a while. In a casino, that translates to even the worst players can sometimes win. The real problem in this is it has a tendency to convince these players and some others watching to abandon proper strategy. Casinos must salivate when they see this happen.

Expert Strategy is the ultimate enemy of the casino. They know there are ups and downs over a few hours. They also know over the long run the amount of money they get to keep is based solely on the strategy players use.

If every player were to use proper strategy when playing blackjack, the amount of money the casino makes would drop considerably. This is a game with a 0.5% house edge, yet the hold (the amount the casino wins as a percentage of the amount of money that drops into the little box) is about 12%. This is incredible.

If I play a $5 table at 40 hands per hour, I should lose $1 per hour if I play properly. If I buy in for $100, I would have to play for 12 hours for the casino to get this type of hold. Yet, the average time a player plays is probably no more than 3-4 hours.

The only reasonable response to this is most players don’t play blackjack at 99.5%. They probably play at 97%. This may not sound like a lot, but flip it around and it means the house advantage increases 500% from 0.5% to 3%!

Last week, I cited an example where a player has a Low Pair and a 4-Card Flush. So, imagine being dealt 3 diamonds, 3 club, 7 diamonds, 8 diamonds, King diamonds. The proper way to play this hand is to hold the 4-Card Flush. The player will have nine chances to pick up the Flush (nine remaining diamonds) and three for a High Pair (Kings).

Assuming a Full-Pay machine, this means an expected value of 1.21. Now you may do the right thing and play this hand as a 4-Card Flush. The card you may draw might be the 3 hearts. This will happen. In fact, with 47 possible cards and two other 3’s in the deck, it will occur just over 4% of the time – or 1 in 23.5 hands.

If this happens and you let it affect what you do the next time this hand comes up, you’ve fallen into the trap. I’m sure when this happens there are some of you who will start thinking if only you’d kept the pair of 3’s, maybe you would have been dealt two more 3’s. This too will occur, but even less frequently.

Conversely, the player can play the Low Pair. Its expected value is only 0.82 making this a very poor play. The draw might bring three more diamonds, which assuredly means the player would’ve drawn the Flush (well, technically this would depend on exactly how draw cards are actually drawn, but we’ll leave that for another day).

Maybe he will draw two more 3’s or a pair of 7’s for Two Pair. The possibilities are numerous. In the long run, the net return to the player will be only 0.82 instead of 1.21 by playing it the right way.

What happens on a single case of this hand is meaningless. What happens even over an hour is meaningless. Over several hours and several days and several weeks, the actual results will slowly come in line with the expected results. This is as sure as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West.

Don’t let finding one acorn turn you against Expert Strategy. There will be far more acorns along your path if you stay on it.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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