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Best of John Grochowski

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A shuffle through the gaming mailbag

5 January 2012

Q. We're planning a bachelor party, and some guys want to play blackjack, but nobody wants to bet big money. We're narrowed down to two places that will let us play $5 a hand. One will cost us $20 an hour per person for the reservation, then the game is six decks, dealer stands on all 17s, double after split, resplit to four hands. The other has no reservation fee, but dealer hits soft 17, AND blackjacks pay 6-5. Double and splitting rules are the same. I know you're going to say to run from both games, but that's not an option.

A. You're right, I'd tell you to run from either game. All this sounds like a good opportunity to take over a craps table.

Without even considering the house edge on the base game, spotting the house $20 an hour per player is exorbitant, so let's look at the other game first. It's an awful game, as we'd expect from the 6-5 payoffs on blackjack. The house edge against a basic strategy player is about 1.98%.

So let's say you fill a seven-player table with bachelor party revelers, and play about 50 hands an hour at $5 a hand. You each risk $250. In an average session, playing basic strategy, each would lose $4.95. Now, maybe — or should I say probably — not all seven players know basic strategy. And given that it's a bachelor party, there might be some impaired judgment going on. So let's say you all play a little worse than the average player for the night, and kick the house edge all the way up to 4%. Now the average loss per player soars to $10 an hour.

You see where this is going. Even at a table with bad rules filled with judgment-impaired partiers, your average loss doesn't approach the $20 a hour you'd be paying for the privilege of playing $5 blackjack at the other place.

Aside from the $20 an hour, the other place has a much better game, with a house edge against a basic strategy player of about 0.4%. Average losses for a $5 player at a bachelor-party pace of 50 hands an hour come to about a buck an hour. That raises the question of how much you'd have to bet per hand to clear yourselves a table without paying the reservation fee. Could you get it done for $15 a hand? (Average loss, $3 an hour for a basic strategy player, or $18.75 for a subpar player facing a 2.5% edge).

I wouldn't choose either of these games, but I've been to a few bachelor parties in my day, and I know the decision isn't going to rest on cold, hard percentages. But if backed into the corner and forced to make a choice between two options I really dislike, I'd hold my nose and pick the one that didn't cost everyone $20 an hour upfront.

Q. Can baccarat be counted?

A. Baccarat certainly has elements of a game that can be counted. The odds change as cards are dealt and removed from play. But it turns out that while baccarat can be counted, it can't be done for profit in any practical way.

The late Peter Griffin tacked the problem and reported the results of his study in The Theory of Blackjack. Griffin wrote that a player who doesn't bet unless he has an advantage can squeeze an edge of about 0.7% of his maximum bets on banker and player. However, that player might play only about three hands per eight hours.

For bets on ties, it's theoretically possible to count down to a 24% edge with six cards remaining in an eight-deck shoe, provided all the cards are dealt out.

In the real world, nobody deals out all the cards, and with one-half deck cut out of play, the bettor's potential edge on the last hand shrinks to just .08%. That's seven-and-a-half decks of watching, waiting for the right time for an edge of eight-hundredths of a percent on a single bet.

That's too much watching for too little profit to make baccarat a realistic counter play.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski