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Best of Walter Thomason

Gaming Guru

 

Cyberspace Blackjack

11 December 1999

I enjoy the game of blackjack, but can't play as often as I wish because land-based casino gaming is illegal in my home state of Florida. The majority of my fellow citizens have decided that the Lotto, with an approximate 50% payout, and pari-mutuels, with an approximate 75% payout, are less sinful forms of gambling than blackjack (real sharp group of voters), and state officials are very protective of the tax revenues provided by these "house-friendly" forms of gaming.

Without leaving the state, my only option is to play blackjack aboard casino gaming ships, which depart from local ports on six hour "cruises to nowhere" outside U. S. territorial waters. My time for recreation is limited due to family and business responsibilities, so I decided to check out blackjack on the internet in hopes that this would satisfy my desire to play for short periods of time, at my convenience, in the comfort of my home.

Granted, there's considerable evidence that it's illegal for me to participate in off-shore casino gaming, but I have a problem seeing the difference in cruising three miles off shore to gamble -- which is legal -- compared to playing blackjack against a gambling facility based in Antigua. I'm not sure where Antigua is located, but I'm sure it's a least three miles outside of U. S. territorial waters!

Based on this admittedly dubious rationalization, I began researching off-shore internet casinos. I eventually selected one that was advertised and recommended by Casino Player magazine as "one of the oldest in the business." Working on the principle that longevity equals integrity, I contacted this casino gaming company (who shall remain nameless,) obtained their CD Rom, and downloaded their program into my computer -- a relatively simple process.

My next step to "live action" gambling should have been to contact the company and establish a bankroll so that I could play for real money -- a process similar to that of buying chips from a dealer in a live game. But after starting the computer program I realized that the casino offered a "Practice Mode" which would allow me to try out the game without financial risk. In order to familiarize myself with the game without putting real cash in the bettor's box, I decided to attempt to play 1,000 hands of blackjack using the $500 "play money" bank provided by the casino, and to record the win/loss results of every hand played.

I discovered the following:

  • The game rules are "Atlantic City style": Multiple-deck, dealer hits soft 17, split any pair (but can't resplit), double-down after split, double-down on any two cards, blackjack pays three to two.
  • Two gaming conditions caused me to eliminate two potentially successful playing strategies: A card counting system can't work because the dealer deals from a "perpetual" deck; he/she never shuffles, but just deals continuously. Seems that the cards are reshuffled after every hand. A Martingale system can't work in the long run because the maximum bet is $100.
  • I refer to the dealer as "he/she" because all we see on the screen is the dealer's arms and hands, which appear to be those of a man. But the dealer's voice is definitely female! Strange...
  • His/her speech is limited to four statements: "Bets please," "Insurance is available" (when he/she shows an ace,) "Player wins," and "Dealer wins.' -- That's it! No prompting to split or double-down, no sympathy when the player loses or congratulatory remarks when the player wins. He/she is definitely not much of a conversationalist!

Having learned the game rules and conditions through practice, since they aren't provided in advance by the casino, I decided to use a "positive progressive" betting system: Start with an initial wager of $5, and increase it by $2 after each consecutive win, up to a maximum bet of $15. I would revert to the initial bet of $5 after losing a hand. In other words, $5 (win), $7 (win), $9 (lose), $5, etc. I used the appropriate Basic Strategy for multiple-deck games, and wrote down the win/loss result for each hand. The casino kept a running accounting of my bankroll.

The results of 1,000 hands of play are as follows:
Total Number of Initial Hands Dealt: 1,000
Total Number of Bets Made: 1,123 (Due to splits and double-downs.)
Total Number of Bets Won by Player: 494 (43%)
Total Number of Bets Won by Dealer: 553 (50%)
Total Number of Pushes: 76 (7%)
Number of Times the Player Won 4 or more Consecutive Bets: 30 (41%)
Number of Times the Player Lost 4 or More Consecutive Bets: 43 (59%)
Total Number of Winning Bets in "Runs" of 4 or More: 140 (39%)
Total Number of Losing Bets in "Runs" of 4 or More: 224 (62%)
Total Amount of Money Lost: $486 (I had $14 left from my $500 bank!)

Conclusions:

I know it's not fair to use short-term results (1,000 hands) as an indicator of long-term probability (millions of hands,) but I'll do so anyway! I compared the preceding results with the results of research conducted for my new book, Twenty-First Century Blackjack -- A new Strategy for a New Millennium (Bonus Books, 1999) and to long-term probability studies conducted by other casino gaming experts. I found several disturbing dissimilarities.

Briefly stated, I should have won about 45% of the hands -- not 43%; I should have had almost as many consecutive winning hands (near 50%) as the dealer -- not 41%; I should have had almost as many consecutive losing hands (near 50%) as the dealer -- not 61%.

Were the results of this 1,000 hands of play simply a "negative short-term fluctuation," or were the results caused by the composition of the cards contained in the "infinite" deck(s) being used? Removing a few face cards from the decks would cause the results illustrated above to consistently reoccur. Since we never see a complete deck, there's no way to determine what caused this abnormal win/loss ratio.

Also, the game rules offered by the cyberspace casino are not beneficial to the player; I lose about one-half percent of advantage when compared to the rules offered by casino gaming ships in the South Florida area and by other gaming jurisdictions throughout the United States.

Two questions which you might choose to ask me are, "Did you lose because you used a progressive betting system?" and "Would you have lost less if you had just bet $5 each time?"

To answer these questions, I compared a $5 "flat" bettor to my progressive betting method, using the same 1,000 hand sample. The progressive bettor lost $486 in 1,000 hands of play, but the flat bettor would have lost $682.50. In fact, the flat bettor would have exhausted his $500 bankroll prior to completing 1,000 hands of play.

Based on all of the above -- the legal implications, the game rules and conditions, and the results of short-term play -- I've decided not to risk my money playing cyberspace blackjack, and suggest that you try my research methodology prior to risking your money in this fashion.

Footnote: After completing the 1,000 hands of play, I attempted to lose the $14 left in my bank in order to see if the casino program would "recycle" and give me a new $500 bank. I bet $14 and won the hand, then bet $28 and won the hand, then bet $56 and won the hand, then bet $100 (the table limit) and won again! I quit play after winning 8 of 9 hands, and my ending bank was $512! What does this prove? I don't know, but I get headaches thinking about it...


For more information about blackjack, we recommend:

Twenty-First Century Blackjack: New Strategies for a New Millennium by Walter Thomason
The Ultimate Blackjack Book by Walter Thomason
Best Blackjack by Frank Scoblete
The Morons of Blackjack and Other Monsters! by Frank Scoblete
Winning Strategies at Blackjack! Video tape hosted by Academy Award Winner James Coburn, Written by Frank Scoblete
Walter Thomason
Walter Thomason is the best-selling author of Blackjack for the Clueless and the editor of The Experts’ Guide to Casino Games and The Ultimate Blackjack Book.

A long-time casino gaming enthusiast, he is a frequent contributor to
The New Chance and Circumstance, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Heartland Casino News.

His new book is
21st Century Blackjack: A New Strategy for a New Millenium. He can be reached
at PO Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33355.

Books by Walter Thomason:

> More Books By Walter Thomason

Walter Thomason
Walter Thomason is the best-selling author of Blackjack for the Clueless and the editor of The Experts’ Guide to Casino Games and The Ultimate Blackjack Book.

A long-time casino gaming enthusiast, he is a frequent contributor to
The New Chance and Circumstance, Midwest Gaming & Travel, and Heartland Casino News.

His new book is
21st Century Blackjack: A New Strategy for a New Millenium. He can be reached
at PO Box 550068, Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33355.

Books by Walter Thomason:

> More Books By Walter Thomason