Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Card Counting: Advanced.

If you have ever taken in a course in probability, you know that having a 1% advantage is not a lot if you have a small sample size. It's statistically possible for you to flip a coin and lose the flip 100 times in a row. If you replace "losing a coin flip" with "losing a $100 blackjack hand" you can see why this might suck.

Quick vocab lesson for some card counter lingo:
  • Shoe - This is the remaining cards. It's name originates from the device that the dealer uses to pull cards from after shuffling.
  • The Count / Running Count - The integer that represents how many high cards in proportion to low cards exist in the remaining decks. How to calculate this was mentioned in Card Counting: Basics.
  • The True Count - The Running Count divided by the number of remaining decks in a shoe.
  • Penetration - How deep the divider card is put into the Shoe. The divider card tells the dealer when to shuffle.
  • CSM - Continuous Shuffle Machine. A machine that shuffles the cards between every hand. This makes impossible to count cards.
In Card Counting: Basics we learned how to calculate the running count. By incorporating the number of decks remaining we can determine the true count. A good way to identify how many cards are left is by looking at the dealers discard pile (which usually is in the corner of the blackjack table. 

How much do we actually increase our betting based on this true count number? Depending on how aggressive you want to be there are several ratios you can increase your betting by - 1:8, 1:10, and 1:12. For this entry and example I'll be using a 1:10 spread of betting. Remember that these are ratios so 1:10 could mean betting $100:$1000 or $5:$50. For the majority of play you'll be betting the minimum and waiting for the true count to increase past 2. Betting progresses as follows, 1:2:5:10 where the true count is <2:+2:+3:+4 respectively. Example for a 25 minimum game would have your betting at $25:$50:$125:$250. Suggested bankroll for a given session is 15 times your maximum bet to account for variance. Although blackjack is a very up and down game, you can go on streaks of losing even during favorable counts.

So as the true count increases your edge on the house increases. But what about gaining advantages before the cards are even dealt? There are some rules and details about blackjack that can effect your probability as much as the count does. Do they allow you to double down after splitting? Do they allow re-splitting Aces? What do they pay on Blackjack (6:5 or 3:2)? Surrender available? It's generally true that if they offer something - it's favorable for the players (except for insurance).

Note that throughout both of my card counting entries so far I have not talked about how you actually play Blackjack, That's because I play "by the book" regardless of the count. I always hit or surrender 16 against a 10, I always hit 12 against a 2 and a 3. Some optimal lines of play include changing the way you play when the count reaches a certain point, but I have always played by the book no matter what on every single hand regardless of bet size. This makes the part of actually playing the game rather mechanical and allows me to focus on the count instead.

How are casinos counteracting card counters? The first thing they'll do in penetrate the decks very poorly. That is, they'll leave a large amount of the cards undealt. This prevents the True Count from getting too high, or if it does it's only high for a few hands and the shoe is over. Card counters can also be kicked out of a casino or more commonly they can be "Flat Bet" which means the player is no longer allowed to adjust their betting (nullifying the edge you have on the house).

In my next (and last) entry about card counting I'll go into things beyond the game and dig a little deeper into the world of advantage gaming.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX

A day after the Super Bowl and what some are calling "the worst play-call in Super Bowl history." I want to argue that the call at face value was not that bad. The situation is 2nd and goal on the 1 yard line with 20 seconds left. You have 1 timeout.

The most attractive and high percentage play in your playbook is a run. You have the arguably the best running back in the league, he has a nick-name of "Beast Mode", etc. So calling run-run-run is the optimal play calling in my opinion. In this world you force the Patriots to make one of the best goal-line stands in NFL Super Bowl history. For the record, I think running the ball 3 times is the correct choice.

But for arguments sake let's say Marshawn gets stuffed on his 1st run. This leaves a scenario where you are telegraphing your 3rd down play. You either 1) rush to the line for another play or 2) you call a timeout. When you rush to the line for another play, you are telegraphing run (because you're saving your timeout). When you call a timeout you are telegraphing your next play to be a pass (because you're out of timeouts and an incomplete pass would stop the clock and give you another play). So in either case, the defense knows what you're doing on your 3rd down play which is why passing it on 2nd down makes sense. This leaves you with a stopped clock (in the case of an incomplete pass) and with a timeout left and your full playbook at your disposal with your two remaining plays.

I think the way it played out it highlights Belichick's ballsyness to not call a timeout when Seattle lined up for their play on 2nd down. Seattle most likely thought they'd force New England to call a timeout by moving to the line. Love him or hate him, Bill Belichick will go down as maybe the greatest NFL coach of all time along with Brady being one of the best QB's of all time.

Now for the real winner of the Super Bowl.

This shark was AWESOME. I want this costume so bad. He (or she) was the highlight of this years Super Bowl for me.

After watching the halftime show it really got me wondering what year it is though... In just this last year: Cowboys won a playoff game. Missy Elliot and Lenny Kravitz got huge cheers at half-time. A Ninja Turtles movie just came out and a Star Wars movie is coming out. Gas prices are low. The next presidential race might be Bush/Clinton. Am I in high school again?