Gaming in Las Vegas

(First in a series.)

Blackjack    Video Poker    Craps    Roulette


Black Jack -

Blackjack is a "live" or "table" game played in Las Vegas, and many casinos throughout the world. In Las Vegas, the player will find some of the most "liberal", or player friendly rules of any blackjack games in the world.

This guide is designed for the beginning or occasional blackjack player. It is a "quick and dirty" set of pointers to be used to enable the player to maximize his/her playing time and enjoyment, while decreasing the house edge to the minimum.

The easiest way for the novice to accomplish this is through the use of what is called Basic Strategy. Basic Strategy is set of rules which govern the players response to a given dealers situation. It does this in the absence of information regarding the status of the deck (i.e. counting), is perfectly "legal", and takes virtually no practice (you can play with your "cheat sheet" right in front of you).

You can find a card which provides a table of proper plays for basic strategy.   You can set it right in front of you when you play.  If you don't have it memorized, use the card until you do.

How do you play basic strategy blackjack? I won’t go into all the details here. There are many fine books on the subject of Black Jack. There are also many books on the topic of black Jack "systems", including counting. You may have heard that it is possible to use "card counting" in Black Jack to actually turn the odds to the player’s favor. This is true, but it is much easier said than done. Some points to consider when considering counting systems for the beginning/occasional Black Jack player:

Counting cards takes practice.

Counting cards is not stealthy, the Pit Boss will catch on (after all that’s his job).

The theoretical gains are small, and to be actually realized take a considerable amount of time, and a fairly large bankroll to be able to take advantage of opportunities in the mix of the deck.

The casino can "ask" you to leave at any time. The casinos don’t like people trying to take away ‘their’ edge.

Points to Remember -

Check the table rules.

Remember the difference between a "lucky" table and an "unlucky" table are the rules. You don’t even have to be psychic to find out which are the better paying tables - the rules are posted on a card next to the dealers elbow. Also posted is the table minimum. Hint:

The Color of the minimum bet card corresponds the color of the value of the minimum bet chip. Red card, red chip - five dollar minimum bet.

An example of a difference is the rule: "Dealer Must Hit Soft Seventeen". The word "must" in the rule makes it sound like the dealer is being forced into something. On the contrary, the dealer should hit soft seventeen (an ace and a six) nearly all the time (so should you). This rule is advantageous to the house. A much better rule is: Dealer must stand on all seventeens". If you have a choice of where you play (and in Las Vegas you do), then you should look for the table (casino) with the "good’ rules.

Learn how to Play!

Black Jack is a game that many people think they know how to play. Yet, on those rare occasions where I actually sit down at a table to play I often see the following:

People who don’t know what to do in a given situation - they go "hmmm, uhhhhh, nnnngggg, should I?……", in other words, they are not playing with any kind of system. The response to a given combination of players hand versus dealers up card should be automatic! There is no thinking it over, if you are using basic strategy (the best way to minimize the house edge without resorting to counting).

So always have a system, if nothing else use the basic strategy.

Manage your money.

If you’re playing at a five dollar table, and five dollars is your standard "betting unit", then that’s what you bet. Don’t try and play "catch-up". Increasing your bet (without any additional information) is folly. Increasing/decreasing your bet does not affect the house percentage. Increasing your bet, when you have more information (i.e. double down, and split) is the SMART play. It’s smart because you are increasing your bet when the odds are in your favor! Randomly varying bet size based upon "hunches" and feelings has no effect on the overall outcome, since by definition it’s application is random (varying bet sizes according to some "system" is called "money management", many "money management" systems are available (sold) for Black Jack, NONE of them work, since they cannot overcome the house edge in the long run)

Many times I have played numerous enjoyable hours using basic strategy, and careful betting.

Drinking and "Hitting".

You can drink for "free" while playing Black Jack, but is it really free when you lose twenty bucks for that beer? Personally, I find that consuming only soft drinks (coffee, iced tea, water, etc. ), definitely preserves my playing ability. In fact, in about fifty percent of my (sober) playing sessions I will catch dealer mistakes. Drinking alcoholic beverages can be fun while playing Black Jack, but I do so with the knowledge that it dulls the senses. I will be less likely to catch errors in the game, and more likely to commit errors in play. Therefor, it will probably cost me money! Choose your poison!

If you save the "serious" drinking for after the tables, you will discover that in ‘Vegas, twenty bucks goes a LONG way at the bar. So, what you "save" at the Black Jack table (through alert and proper play), can finance your "bender" at the bar! You CAN have your cake and eat it too! Just not at the same time!

Double on Twelve! (Just Kidding! Actually this is fun to do sometimes since in many casinos the dealer is required to announce this action to the Pit Boss).

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Video Poker -

Video Poker machines are found nearly everywhere in Las Vegas. From the moment a visitor gets off their plane at McCarran Airport until the moment they leave, chances are video poker will be close at hand.

Video Poker can be found in every casino, of course. Nearly every bar or cocktail lounge in town has them built into the bar tops. Grocery stores have them - along with full-time twenty-four-hour-a-day dedicated change attendants. 7-11s and even gas stations, too.

It’s been called the "Crack Cocaine" of gambling due to its supposed addictive nature. If one learns the true odds of this game, and remembers them when they are contemplating play, addiction is not likely. Those who believe that the Royal Flush is just another roll of quarters away are in for trouble.

Under Nevada law all video poker machines have one fifty-two card deck (exception being some JokerPoker type machines). Since ALL machines "hit" with the same probability, the only way for the house to vary its "edge" is to vary the payout schedule. For example: one coin paid for each coin bet when the player has a pair of jacks or better, two coins paid for each coin bet for two pairs, three coins for three-of-a-kind, etc. A machine which pays out five coins for a flush and eight coins for a full-house is known in video poker jargon as a "5-8" machine. "5-8"s are common, and depending on the level of the "progressive", can have a fairly low house "edge" (theoretically "zero" when the progressive meter is high enough). If a "5-8" is good, then it follows that a "6-9" is better, and that a "7-9" or a "6-10" is much better. It also follows that a "5-7" or a "4-6" are crummier. You guess which ones are easier to find!


Points to Remember -

Check the payout schedule of the machine.

Remember the difference between a "lucky" machine and an "unlucky" machine is the payout schedule. You don’t even have to be psychic to find out which are the better paying machines - the schedule is printed right on the front of the machine. Sometimes you will find near-identical machines side-by-side, with the only difference being the payout schedule.

Learn how to Play!

Video Poker is NOT the same game as Saturday night in the garage poker. There are some plays which are not obvious, and some players repeatedly make these. By making just a few mistakes, repeatedly, the edge is pushed up from around 1% to 10%! You just won’t last long with that kind of beating taking place.

Always play max coins

If you’re playing a quarters machine, then bet five quarters. If you don’t - then you are ineligible for the big money jackpot or progressive which pays if you hit the royal flush. By not playing the max coins you effectively raise the houses overall edge against you. Therefor if you don’t want to play max on a quarters machine, go play the nickel machines!

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Craps -

Craps is a game which seems incredibly complicated to learn and play. It's not. In fact craps offers both a reasonable house edge (somewhere around 1.4% with proper play), and a 'group' experience.  When the dice are rollin' right, and a shooter's makin' his points, the whole casino can hear the noise from the craps table.  Craps can be fun, fast, and exciting.  It can be easily learned from books found in libraries or casino gift shops.

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Roulette -

Roulette has never seemed to be a good bet to me.  With a house "edge" of 5.3% (for a double zero game), it has much worse odds than Black Jack, Video Poker, or Craps.  If you must play, remember that there is no such thing as a 'roulette system', no matter how you place your bets, the house edge is the same (5.3%).

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