When I first started writing about casinos and casino games, I used to have people pitching systems to me all the time.
“You’ll want to talk to me,” one fellow’s phone message started. “I’m the only one who knows how to beat craps.”
He phoned me off and on for three years, and finally sent me a detailed computer simulation. Let’s just say it didn’t live up to the hype.
Another touted a roulette system. When I pointed out the mathematical flaws, he insisted the system works in the real world. And when I refused to review his product, he wrote letters to my bosses at three levels of the newspaper hierarchy complaining about my obstructionist attitude in refusing to give my readers this very important information.
I don’t get as many systems pitches nowadays, a couple of decades after I started writing about gambling. So it seemed like old times in early November when a middle-aged gentleman spotted me in a casino. He’d attended a park district seminar I’d given some years ago, and now he had something for me.
“What would you say if I could show you how to beat modern blackjack?” he said.
I told him I’d probably be looking at a wrinkle in counting cards. The game has changed, with tougher rules in most casinos, but getting an edge still comes down to knowing the proportions of high cards to low cards remaining to be played, and adjusting bet size accordingly.
“What about when they only pay 6-5 on blackjacks?” he asked. “Will your card counting help you then?”
An advantage player would avoid such games, I told him. So should average players. The extra 1.4 percent the 6-5 rule tacks onto the house edge makes the game too tough to beat for advantage players and makes the losses mount too fast for the rest of us.
“I can beat that game,” he said confidently, with a heavy emphasis on the “I.” “It’s so simple, I’m surprised this isn’t already the talk of the blackjack forums. And I’m going to give it to you.”
I had time, so I told him I’d listen.
“OK, good,” he said. “Listening is the first step to learning. Blackjacks come up once per 21 hands, right?”
Right, I told him. I had a good idea where this was going, and it was nowhere productive.
“Right. So I sit down at a $10 table and make minimum bets. I don’t know where we are in the deck, so I make minimum bets. I keep doing that until I get my first blackjack. Then I start the count.”
I played along. “You said this wasn’t about counting,” I said.
“Not counting cards,” he replied. “Hands between blackjacks. I figure once I get one, the deck is trending away from blackjacks. So for the next 11 hands, I keep my bets to $10. That takes me to past the midpoint of the average hands between blackjacks. Now I figure the deck is trending toward blackjacks instead of away, and I raise my bet to $25.
“So I’m betting the most money when the deck is trending toward blackjacks, and the least when it’s trending away.”
I asked what happened if he was dealt a blackjack within the 11 hands with minimum bets.
“That resets the count,” he said. “Then I’m at $10 for the next 11.”
What if another player gets a blackjack?
“I ignore it. I figure the 1 in 21 applies to everybody. Everybody gets their own count.”
I thanked him for the explanation, and turned toward a bank of video poker machines.
“You’re not going to use it, are you?” he asked.
No, I told him. One blackjack per 21 hands is a statistical average, but you can get blackjacks two hands in a row, or not at all for 100 hands. Further, the frequency of blackjacks is affected by the composition of the deck. When there’s a higher concentration of Aces and 10 values in the remaining deck, blackjacks are dealt more often than once per 21 hands. If you’re making small bets in a rich count, you’re costing yourself money. You’re also costing yourself money if you’re making large bets in a period of depleted Aces and 10s just because you haven’t had a blackjack in a while.
“Well, I like it,” he said. “I’ll keep on using it, if you don’t mind.”
I don’t mind at all. People can do what they like with their own money, and I’ve seen far worse systems than this. It doesn’t do anything to overcome the house edge, but it doesn’t add to it, either. The system doesn’t point you toward the best time to raise or lower your bets, but neither do other non-card counting systems such as betting progressions.
As systems go, I’d rate this one as mostly harmless. It doesn’t do what its inventor claims, but in the world of betting systems, that’s par for the course.
Look for John Grochowski at www.casinoanswerman.com, on Facebook (http://tinyurl.com/7lzdt44) and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).
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