Just recently, I held a Table Games Tactics seminar in Las Vegas. The first day of the two-day seminar covered the finer points of card counting, and advantage play. The morning of day two is always set aside to review the points of the previous day. I realized that the amount of information I had provided the participants on advantage play was a little overwhelming. I needed to touch on the important "takeaways" that next morning to insure everyone understood what situations and techniques are most likely to occur at their casinos. The following topics are the points that I hit on that next morning. Each topic is followed by a brief description of the advantage play, and then a list of what I told the participants to look out for. Note: Our industry is so focused on card counting that sometimes we fail to notice the non-counting advantage play. The player return of the following advantage play technique's "crush" the return experienced by the professional level card counter.
Getting the dealer's hole-card
Still the number one threat to the casino is dealers who unintentionally expose hole-cards in blackjack and in the alternative games. Most casino executives and surveillance operators understand that the hand pitch game of blackjack is vulnerable to gaining hole-card information, but for some reason they forget all about the shoe games. Please don't fall into the category of being complacent about hole-carding the shoe. Many advantage players purposely search for shoe dealers who "hop" the left corner of the chip tray when delivering themselves a hole-card. If the hole-card is lifted off the table, even slightly, there is a chance it can be read from the third base side of the table.
In the alternative games, dealers are still having trouble getting the dealer's cards from the shuffling machine to the table top without flashing the value of the bottom card. The placement into the table of the Shuffle Master i-Deal machine was supposed to eliminate accidental exposure of the bottom card, but all it did was reduce the problem. Three Card Poker is still the big culprit, but Ultimate Texas Hold'em and Mississippi Stud are right at the top of the advantage player's list as well.
What to look for in Blackjack:
- One or more players usually flat betting a substantial amount of money, but deviating greatly from basic strategy.
- Before writing the player(s) off as bad basic strategy player(s), see if the hand strategy is based on the combination of the dealer's up-card and hole-card.
- Don't ignore your shoe games. Sometimes the dealer will expose the hole-card because he/she lifts it over the corner of the chip tray, or hole-card peeking device (Safejack product). This is common in sit down games.
- Watch for players who wager the limit, and are usually not casino regulars
- In TCP, watch for players who will stay in on hands of less than a pair, and wager the pairs plus on a limited basis only.
- On other alternative games that are designed to emulate card room poker, watch for unusual strategy plays with limited wagering on option bonus hands.
Ace Card Tracking using sequential shuffling techniques
Sequential shuffle tracking utilizes weaknesses in the "riffle" shuffle. The riffle shuffle, which is the mainstay of the casino shuffle, mixes the cards by lacing one on top of the other. This process does not change to order or sequence of the cards. Shuffles that do not utilize four or more riffles in a shuffle sequence, or do not employ a card strip, can be attacked. Machine shuffled games and manual shuffles (single, double, and shoes) that include a "strip" towards the end of the shuffle, generally cannot be attacked using a sequential tracking technique.
Ace tracking occurs when an advantage player observes a sequence of two to three exposed cards prior to an ace during the card pick-up process. He memorizes these "key" cards prior to the "target" ace card. After the cards are shuffled and re-dealt, the advantage player waits for the reappearance of the "key" cards. He uses this information to determine when the ace will appear, and through the number of bets placed on the table, can steer the ace into his hand. In doing so, the advantage player will receive a 52% edge on the hand receiving the ace.
What to look for in blackjack:
- A customer who plays head up against the dealer while wagering table minimum with an occasional limit wager on one to multiple hands.
- The player will ask for a head up game. This is done so he/she can control the placement arrival of the tracked ace.
- Look for a correlation between the spread to limit wager(s) and the appearance of an ace. A common spread would be wagering $25 on a single hand through the shoe, but wagering $1,000 in a round while spreading to two or three hands on one or two occasions during the shoe.
Location Play in blackjack and baccarat
Any time the dealer exposes a card that could come into play; they open a door to location play. For example, if I see that the bottom card of a double deck game is an ace, I can steer it into my hand when cutting the cards. If I see that an ace is "X" number of cards from the top of the shoe or deck, I can steer it into my hand through the number of hands I play against the dealer (head-up) prior to the "key" card's appearance. If I'm allowed to insert and remove the cut card from the deck during the cutting process, I have the ability to look for key cards such as tens and aces. If I see the back card of the baccarat shoe, and the casino uses the ribbon spread to insert the shuffle point cut card, I know exactly when that spied card will reappear, and can bet the hand accordingly.
What to look for in blackjack:
- If team play is employed, the higher limit player will sit in the middle of the table and wager on two to three hands. Minimum limit players will sit on first base and third base side.
- If the steer is done with the cut, look for players cutting the cards near the ends of the deck. In some cases they will attempt to violate house procedures by cutting inside the accepted limit.
- Watch for a player who plays head-up with the dealer, and uses a bet spread that goes from table minimum to limit. This player may spread to multiple hands when wagering maximum limit.
- Watch for an unusual correlation of high limit wagers and the appearance of an ace (or sometimes ten value card).
- Be on the lookout for a player who places the cut card into the deck several times before finally inserting the card.
Note: As an experiment, take a single deck of cards, insert an ace approximately 10 to 15 cards from the top of the deck. Simulate play by dealing either one or two player hands with the dealer. Try to determine when the ace will appear and wager the hand accordingly. If you have seen a the number of cards used without seeing the ace, assume it will appear in the next round, and spread several hands in an attempt to catch the ace. Remember, if I know an ace will fall into a specific hand, the player advantage on that hand is 52%.
What to look for in baccarat:
- When using the ribbon spread, watch for high limit wagers place by players near the very end of the shoe. In some instance, casino executives have wrongly diagnosed this situation as a card counting player when it's actually a location play.
- Watch to see if a customer positions his/herself so they can see the back card of the baccarat deck during the ribbon spread.
- Watch to see if a customer appears to be focusing in on the cards used in the ribbon spread.
- For more information on baccarat location play, go to: http://www.worldgameprotection.com/the-catwalk/casino-ology/BOSVIEW/The-Baccarat-Procedure-That-Advantage-Players-Love/
Using sorts in baccarat
Recently, a number of Asian groups have socially engineered casino management into altering the house procedure for dealing mini baccarat. The group will approach an executive host or marketing manager and request the cards be dealt the "Macau" way. This technique requires that the casino uses cards that have problems with their edge cut patterns. The players manipulate the dealer into turning the cards in a desired manner which sorts the cut patterns into two groups (9 thru 6 & 5 thru 0). The sorting of these cut patterns creates a situation similar to playing marked cards. To enhance their advantage, the players convince management to allow them to place wagers after the cards are dealt from the shoe, but face down and unexposed on the layout. Allowing the players to sort the cut patterns, and in a later shoes, wager while the sorted card backs are exposed, gives the players an approximate 21% advantage.
What to look for in baccarat:
- Watch out for customers who will only play if you change certain aspects of your dealing procedure in order to get their high limit play.
- Do not deviate from your standard procedure under any conditions.
- Never allow customer to place wagers once the cards have be drawn from the baccarat dealing shoe.
- For more information on baccarat location play, go to: http://www.worldgameprotection.com/the-catwalk/ptz/BOSVIEW/When-it-Comes-to-High-Rollers-Watch-Your-Backs/