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Best of John Grochowski

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New Wrinkles at the Tables

22 November 2005

The major slot machine manufacturers command a lion's share of the display floor at the annual Global Gaming Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center. But there's plenty to interest table players, too.

At the Bally Gaming and Systems booth, I took notice of several blackjack tables, so I stepped up and asked for a demonstration of Bally's MPLite system, designed to recognize chips. The "MP" stands for Mindplay, although Bally no longer uses the full MindPlay name. A baccarat version of the system, MPBacc, has been used successfully in Macau to curtail cheating in big money games.

The dealer urged me to put out a bet. "Mix it up," she said. "Just put a stack of chips out there, in any order."

I did. Black, purple, red, white --- about 15 chips, in no particular order. The dealer showed me the screen with a representation of the table and a number next to each bet.

"It says you bet $679. Let's see."

She spread the chips out, sorted by denomination and tallied: $679.

Embedded chips?

"No, an optical scanner. Embedded chips cost $2.50 each. These only cost 70 cents."

In front of the dealer, there was a slightly raised dark gray, metallic-looking arc, with an opening all around the front. That's where the scanner sits. In MPLite, it scans only the chips. In the more expensive MP21, it scans chips and cards alike. MPLite is the more popular system among operators, I was told.

I changed tables and took a look at MP21. The look of the scanner isn't at all intrusive. It plays as a normal blackjack system. But it reads your cards just as well as it reads your chips, without needing to embed the cards with tracers.

Aside from systems to track your play, there were few new developments in blackjack this year. The lion's share of new table games still are trying to capitalize on the Texas Hold'em boom. Still, a few blackjack wrinkles caught the eye:

No Bust Digital Blackjack: If you play in California, you may already have seen this one. Distributed by DigiDeal, it's played with cards dealt on a video screen in front of each player instead of with a deck of paper cards.

In blackjack, the house gets its edge from the fact players have the opportunity to bust first. If the player goes over 21, he loses, even if the dealer (or player/dealer in player-banked games) subsequently busts too. "No Bust" means just what it says --- if you go over 21, you don't bust. Your 22 still can't win, but you could get a push if your hand winds up closer to 21 than the dealer's. If the dealer hand is closer to 21, or if the dealer and player hands tie, the dealer hand wins.

The game gives a little in potential pushes, but it takes something away, too. Blackjacks pay only even money.

Bet the Set 21: ShuffleMaster's latest collection of new wrinkles for the tables includes this blackjack side bet. You're wagering that your first two cards will be a pair. Simple enough, right? Three different pay tables are available. For single-deck games, any pair pays 15-1. In two-deck game, pairs pay 10-1 and suited pairs pay 25-1, or in four, six, or eight-deck games, pairs pay 10-1 and suited pairs pay 15-1.

I don't yet have a full mathematical workup on this one, but we can walk through the single-deck game to see what kind of house edge we're looking at. There are 1,326 possible two-card combinations in a single deck, and 78 of them are pairs. We'll get a pair an average of once per 17 hands. Let's say we're wagering $1 on Bet the Set. In an average 17 hands, we'll risk $17. We'll win one bet for $15, plus keep the $1 wager on the winner, so we'll have a total of $16 left. The house edge is the $1 we lose divided by the $17 we risk, multiplied by 100 to convert to percent. That's a house edge of 5.9 percent.

Casino Surrender: Distributed by Casino Gaming, LLC, this is neither a new blackjack game nor a side bet. Instead, it's an option within the game of blackjack designed to eliminate the frustration of losing or pushing when you have 20. You can already find this option at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Ind.

With Casino Surrender, whenever the player has a two-card 20, the dealer's up card is a 10-value and the dealer does not have a blackjack, the player may choose a payoff of half his or her bet instead of playing out the hand.

Some players will choose the sure thing of taking a 50 percent payoff on 20s, but, of course, there's a price tag on this sure thing. Michael Shackleford has posted an analysis on www.wizardofodds.com, and your average win on a $10 bet when you start with a 20 ranges from $5.83 (two 10 values on a single-deck game) to $5.55 (Ace-9 on an eight-deck game). If you surrender your 20, you settle for $5.00 every time.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago, streaming online at www.wbbm780.com

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