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Sorry Charlie, no CSM for you

28 September 2007

Dear Mark: Recently, I was playing blackjack on a cruise boat. The table had a constant shuffle machine with either 6 or 8 decks, although I can't be certain. What effect, if any, does this have on the house advantage on a basic strategy player? Charlie L.

With a typical shoe game, any time the number of decks in play is increased, the casino's edge goes up slightly. For example, compared to a single deck, a two-deck game handicaps your play by 0.35%, four decks, 0.48%, six decks, 0.54% and eight decks 0.58%. It is always to your advantage to play on a game that offers the fewest decks.

As for the effect of the continuous shuffle machine (CSM), it actually lowers the house edge because there is no "cut card effect," besides which you get an honest random shuffle, enabling you to play with a fresh shoe every hand. For non-card-counters, on a CMS one deck ups your advantage +1.13%, two decks, + 0.63%, four decks, ++0.34%, six decks, +0.20%, and eight decks, +0.14%.

So you would think I would advise your playing on them. Not so fast, my friend, curves ahead. The reduced house edge and increased speed of the game cancel each other out, and then some. "Let me explain," quoth he, plucking aces out of thin air.

With a constant shuffle machine, dealers do not waste time manually shuffling. From the casino's perspective, shuffling is time, and time is money. The more hands you are dealt per hour, the deeper the built-in casino advantage drills into your bankroll.

From a player's perspective – your perspective, Charlie – speed kills in a casino environment. The longer you are exposed to the house advantage, the happier havoc it will wreak on your bankroll. Trust me, one bad beat on a continuous shuffle machine and you'll swear off of them for life.

Here's my overall recommendation, Charlie. Continue to play each hand correctly by using perfect basic strategy, at the lowest table limit you can find, with the fewest decks possible. These conditions force the dealer to shuffle more, which, with smart play, keeps your exposure to the casino's edge at a minimum.

Dear Mark: I see a lot of slot players who like to play two machines simultaneously, reaching back and forth between the two machines. What are your thoughts on this method of playing slots? Connie D.

Some people just can't lose money fast enough.

Dear Mark: Lately I started playing at higher limits in poker with some moderate success at the beginning. And then ___, well, you could probably fill in the blank far better than me. The problem I find now is that it is tough to go back and play for less money. Is this behavior ordinary among players who move up to higher limits? Tommy S.

Upping your betting limits in poker invokes a big-screen television analogy. Once you've got a 60-incher parked in the living room, a small-screen telly just isn't gonna cut it.

Your problem is that once you get accustomed to higher limits, you tend to not want to retreat to your previous limit, especially when the bigger game turns ugly.

The solution is to play only on a game that you are comfortable with, and that respects the size of your bankroll. Sure, Tommy, you may want to move up a limit or two to take advantage of profitable opportunities when you've got some bucks behind you, but while you're building your war chest, you must to be able to move back down when those circumstances change.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "In poker, you should be rewarded for good decisions and penalized for bad ones. That's the essence of the game." --Mike Sexton, Shuffle Up and Deal

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.