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Best of John Grochowski

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Blackjack and comps

14 December 2014

QUESTION: A blackjack expert wrote a blog a couple years ago in which he said a perfect basic strategy player had an edge by playing for comps. He wrote that the casino figures an edge of two percent against a typical player. But an expert at basic strategy faces a much lower casino edge-even in the bad six-deck, dealer hits soft 17, no surrender games that are ubiquitous.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you played for comps? Can a red-chip player get comps? Is tipping necessary? Tipping might eliminate any "edge" that you might be able to obtain.

ANSWER: Comps can make a great deal of the distance between the house edge and the break-even point, but whether they can turn the game into profitable range depends on the individual casino’s playing conditions and comp rates.

In a six-deck game in which blackjacks pay 3-2, the dealer hits soft 17, you are permitted to double down on any first two cards, including after splitting pairs, you are allowed to split pairs up to three times for a total of four hands, and no surrender is offered, basic strategy can cut the house edge to about 0.6 percent. Perhaps the house assumes an edge of 2 percent against an average player, as your friend suggested, but some casinos today are assuming edges of only 1 percent or 1.5 percent.

Given those circumstances, you still need to find a casino that’s generous enough with the comps to offset the 0.6 percent edge against a basic strategy player. The old rule of thumb for comps used to be that depending on marketing strategy, the house would return 10 percent to 40 percent of theoretical losses to players in the form of comps. Comp budgets have been tightened considerably in the last decade, and many more casinos lean toward 10 percent than 40 percent.

If the house bases its theoretical win on the 2 percent it gets vs. an average player, then it returns 0.2 percent of wagers in comps — not enough to make 0.6 percent edge against a basic strategy player.

There are ways to boost your comp rate, and in some cases it might put you in positive expectation territory. In Max Rubin’s book “Comp City,” he described a way to boost your comps by making your average bet look larger than it really was. Comp players would make their first few bets after buying in their largest. The pit supervisor would be paying attention to the new player and noting bet size. Then, after the supervisor was no longer watching, the player decreased his bets.

If a $5 red chip bettor like yourself is being rated as a $15 player because of a few early bets, then perhaps you can make up all of the house edge, and more. However, if the supervisor has time to take more frequent looks, or if he consults the dealer on bet size after the player leaves, or if the casino tracks bets in a different way, the house can get a more accurate reading on how much you’re betting.

Tipping dealers might help a little, if you're varying your bet size. If your red-chip play involves bets ranging from $5 to $20 and you average bet is about $10, then a happy dealer might remember the average as being closer to $15. If the pit supervisor takes average bet info from the dealer, that will give a little boost to your comps per hour.

Understand that it’s rare for a casino to comp enough to offset the entire house edge against a basic strategy player as long as the house has an accurate read on your bet size.


QUESTION: My friend says she never bets 17 in roulette because it’s the number everybody plays. She thinks it’s a house number. Is there anything to that?

ANSWER: I have no hard data on whether 17 is rolled more than other numbers. It’s been said it draws frequent play because of its position near the center of the layout – in the middle of the sixth of 12 rows – and because James Bond bet on 17 in “Diamonds Are Forever,” but I know of no one who has actually tracked the frequency of bets on the number.

However, what others bet make no difference to you as a player. The wheel lands on 17 just as often as on any other numbers. On a double-zero wheel, there is a 1 in 38 chance of any spin coming up 17, just as there’s a 1 in 38 chance of the ball landing on 13, 25, 00 or any other number.
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:

> 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