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Statistician’s tips on increasing your odds at blackjack in Las Vegas

May 7th, 2017 · Blackjack News

Michael Shackleford is a gambling aficionado and a mathematician. As the owner of  The Wizard of Odds website, the former actuary and adjunct professor of casino math at the UNLV has spent countless hours calculating the odds and figuring out strategies for most of the games in casinos in Las Vegas and around the country.

Shackleford says the biggest misconception people have about blackjack occurs when every player at a table loses. More often than not, they’ll blame the player on third base — the last person to make a decision at the table — for their loss.

“The fact of it is, no matter how the last player to act plays their hand, it is just as likely to help as to hurt the table,” Shackleford said. “People have a selective memory and only remember the things that fit the paradigm that they believe in. If the dealer pulls a 21, they like to point at someone to blame for it and I think that’s the psychology of why this myth exists.”

So, don’t make the last player the excuse for your loss and pay attention to Shackleford’s five tips for doing better at blackjack (on his website he offers strategies for many blackjack variants).

Never play 6-5 blackjack. Always insist on the full 3-2 on a winning blackjack. The cost of playing 6-5 blackjack is an increase in the house edge of 1.4 percent, all other things being equal.

Traditionally, Vegas blackjack games offered 3-2 payouts for blackjacks, when a winning bet of $10 pays $15. Several years ago, however, casinos started offering 6-5 payouts, when a winning $10 returns $12.

Shackleford said most of the time it will say right on the felt of the table if it’s a 6-5 or 3-2 game or there might be a sign stating the rules. If that fails, ask the dealer.

Never take insurance. This includes taking “even money” with a blackjack against a dealer ace. The house edge of insurance is 7.4 percent.

The insurance and even-money bets are side bets that appear to help the player reduce possible losses. Shackleford says all blackjack tables all offer the insurance bet but games that pay 6-5 don’t offer the even-money bet.

Surrender 16 against a 10, if allowed. Most players don’t seem to even know about the surrender rule. The most valuable time to invoke it is with a total of 16 against a dealer’s 10.

According to Shackleford’s website, there are two kinds of surrender rules, early and late. In early surrender a player can forfeit a hand and cut their bet in half before the dealer checks for blackjack. In late surrender, the player can surrender a hand and halve a bet after the dealer checks for blackjack.

Look for a sign stating the rules, or ask the dealer.

Don’t forget the soft doubles. A good rule of thumb is to double soft 13 to 18 against a medium dealer card of 4 to 6.

Doubling down means doubling your initial bet after you’ve received your two cards. In this case, a soft 13-18 means your two cards add up to somewhere between 13 and 18 and one of the cards is an ace. If that’s your hand, and the dealer has one card from 4 to 6, Shackleford says double your bet.

But of course there are exceptions. For example, the player should not double soft 13 or 14 against a 4. There are also some soft doubles this rule of thumb doesn’t cover.

Never make side bets. They are all sucker bets, with a house edge up to 20 percent.

Side bets are increasingly popular on many casino table games, including blackjack. Shackleford’s advice is to avoid them all. “I’ve analyzed hundreds of them,” he said. “And I would classify all of them as sucker bets.”

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Russians Engineer a Brilliant Slot Machine Cheat—And Casinos Have No Fix

February 24th, 2017 · Blackjack News


IN EARLY JUNE 2014, accountants at the Lumiere Place Casino in St. Louis noticed that several of their slot machines had—just for a couple of days—gone haywire. The government-approved software that powers such machines gives the house a fixed mathematical edge, so that casinos can be certain of how much they’ll earn over the long haul—say, 7.129 cents for every dollar played. But on June 2 and 3, a number of Lumiere’s machines had spit out far more money than they’d consumed, despite not awarding any major jackpots, an aberration known in industry parlance as a negative hold. Since code isn’t prone to sudden fits of madness, the only plausible explanation was that someone was cheating.

Casino security pulled up the surveillance tapes and eventually spotted the culprit, a black-haired man in his thirties who wore a Polo zip-up and carried a square brown purse. Unlike most slots cheats, he didn’t appear to tinker with any of the machines he targeted, all of which were older models manufactured by Aristocrat Leisure of Australia. Instead he’d simply play, pushing the buttons on a game like Star Drifter or Pelican Pete while furtively holding his iPhone close to the screen.

He’d walk away after a few minutes, then return a bit later to give the game a second chance. That’s when he’d get lucky. The man would parlay a $20 to $60 investment into as much as $1,300 before cashing out and moving on to another machine, where he’d start the cycle anew. Over the course of two days, his winnings tallied just over $21,000. The only odd thing about his behavior during his streaks was the way he’d hover his finger above the Spin button for long stretches before finally jabbing it in haste; typical slots players don’t pause between spins like that.

On June 9, Lumiere Place shared its findings with the Missouri Gaming Commission, which in turn issued a statewide alert. Several casinos soon discovered that they had been cheated the same way, though often by different men than the one who’d bilked Lumiere Place. In each instance, the perpetrator held a cell phone close to an Aristocrat Mark VI model slot machine shortly before a run of good fortune.

By examining rental-car records, Missouri authorities identified the Lumiere Place scammer as Murat Bliev, a 37-year-old Russian national. Bliev had flown back to Moscow on June 6, but the St. Petersburg–based organization he worked for, which employs dozens of operatives to manipulate slot machines around the world, quickly sent him back to the United States to join another cheating crew. The decision to redeploy Bliev to the US would prove to be a rare misstep for a venture that’s quietly making millions by cracking some of the gaming industry’s most treasured algorithms.

To see the full story, click here

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When high rollers get screwed over by Vegas Casinos, They call this guy

December 20th, 2016 · Blackjack News


There’s a breed of professional gambler known as advantage players. They employ perfectly legal methods — counting cards, tracking shuffles, peeking at the hole cards of sloppy dealers, etc. — to extract piles of money from casinos. And even though they’re breaking no laws, casino bosses despise them. Sometimes they treat these advantage players — also known as APs — like cheaters. Security guards handcuff them, not-so-veiled threats are made, their chips are refused. Occasionally the APs will even get thrown in jail.

And then they call Bob Nersesian.

Based in Las Vegas, operating out of a house converted to an office, situated in the shadows of shimmering Strip casinos, Nersesian, 59, is the go-to guy for advantage players who think they have been wronged. He’s taken large casino companies to court, stood up to cops and overly zealous security guards, pressed executives to cash-out winners. While he has no interest in representing cheaters, Nersesian, author of a recently published book entitled The Law for Gamblers: A Legal Guide to the Casino Environment, stands up for brainy and talented players who bring down the house and sometimes burn it to the ground.

On a sunny afternoon in September, Nersesian took time out from defending his big-betting clients to tell us what happens when gamblers win too big and casinos get out of line. Here he is, in his own words.


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To reverse fortune of table games, stop squeezing the players, experts say

November 30th, 2016 · Blackjack News

In the early ’80s, a battle was fought and lost in the casinos of Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The result, said two experts at the Cutting Edge Table games conference being held at the Flamingo Las Vegas this week, was that slot machines won the high ground on the casino floor.

“1984. What does that year mean to us?” Michael A. Meczka, president of Meczka Marketing Research Consulting, said during a session titled “We Have Met the Enemy: It is Us!” “In 1984, across Nevada and Atlantic City, it was the year when slot revenue began to exceed table revenue.”

Corporate ownership may be more to blame for the decline of table games — and also diminishing gambling revenue in Las Vegas — than any generational shift if the arguments of Meczka and other speakers on Tuesday, the second day of the conference, hold any weight.

“The reality of life is slots have overpowered table games and if we’re going to get any regeneration of players we’re going to have to figure out ways better than we have now to improve the table game experience,” he said.

Meczka said the early ’80s were pivotal because that was when corporations began investing in the gaming industry.

“In 1984, the number of publicly traded companies that were gaming oriented was less than 10,” Meczka said. “Today, it’s over 100. I’ve been in multiple meetings where the first order of business is not how to take care of the customer or what does the customer want. But it’s ‘what is the value of the stock’ and ‘how can we increase the value of stock.’ Somewhere along the line we lost the concept of customer service for the gaming patron.”

Rediscovering that concept could reverse the fortunes of table games in a way that marketing to millennials probably won’t, Meczka and other conference speakers said.

“Everyone’s talking about millennials,” said keynote speaker Brian Decorah, president and CEO of the Firekeepers hotel-casino in Battle Creek, Mich. “But, when we look at it, our slot players are 62 and they have always been 62. Our table games players are 42. They have always been 42. We have not seen that change.”

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NHL Hires Gambling Watchdog Ahead of Vegas Move

September 5th, 2016 · Blackjack News

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