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Those Woeful One-Deckers

26 July 1999

Q: Why are some Las Vegas casinos so paranoid about dealing their single-deck games? Some casinos routinely deal out more than half the cards, but there are others where you're lucky to see more than a third of them. I used to play in Reno, where the dealers just deal the cards until they don't have enough for the next round. In Las Vegas, the dealers say they can't deal them out because of the card counters. I'm not a card counter, but this seems pretty weird to me. Don't they have card counters in Reno? If the single-deck games are so easy to beat, why don't all the card counters just move to Reno?

A: Compared to the shoe games, single-deck games are substantially easier for card counters to beat. In Northern Nevada, the casinos do not worry as much because there are fewer professional players and most Reno casinos offer a less advantageous set of rules. Most commonly, the dealers hit soft 17 and doubling down is restricted to two-card totals of 10 or 11.

These rules, which card counters refer to as "standard Reno rules," give the house about an extra ½% advantage over the players. In Reno, one is also less likely to find some of the non-standard advantageous rules that many Las Vegas casinos offer — such as allowing doubling after splits, surrender, and re-splitting aces.

For the house to have a half-percent advantage off the top, as opposed to no advantage, gives the Reno casinos a feeling that they have a little more "breathing room" with deck penetration.

For proficient card counters, single-deck games would, in fact, be extremely easy to beat if they could just use a small betting spread. With a decent set of rules, a 2-unit spread is often all you need, and a 4-unit spread is very strong.

Professional players, who can utilize dozens of playing strategy adjustments based on the count, can beat some single-deck games with no bet variation whatsoever, or by simply spreading sideways to two hands when the count goes up, assuming the casino will deal out a decent amount of the deck (65+%).

In any case, these are the reasons why the casinos in Las Vegas are "so paranoid" about dealing their single-deck games. If you ask me if I agree with this policy — from the game protection standpoint — I would have to say no. I understand the casinos' thinking on this policy, but I also think the policy costs them more money than it saves them.

In Las Vegas, a typical single-deck table gets about half the number of hands per hour as a typical single-deck table in Northern Nevada. Most of the one-deck tables in Reno have seven spots. Many in Las Vegas have six, or even five, spots. In Reno, with a full table there are virtually always two rounds between shuffles — i.e., 14 player hands between shuffles. In Las Vegas, with a full table, many casinos commonly deal one round — 5 or 6 player hands between shuffles.

So, single-deck dealers in Las Vegas spend twice as much time shuffling the cards as they do in Reno, and the players play only about half as many hands per hour. So, one-deck games make a lot more money in Reno than they do in Las Vegas. It is true that there are more card counters in Las Vegas than in Reno, but it is inconceivable that the relatively small percentage of card counters to non-counters in Las Vegas could ever take enough money off the tables to justify a casino-wide policy of cutting their own profits by 50%. In fact, most professional card counters — whether in Las Vegas or Reno — steer clear of the one-deck games completely. Just as it is easier for counters to beat the one-deck games, it's also easier for the casinos to identify count strategies at these games. Typical shoe betting and camouflage techniques simply don't work in one-deck games.

For card counters who are just learning to count, I would definitely advise starting out on the one-deck tables, if they are available in your area. Because these games are so volatile, they offer excellent opportunities for practice. One nice feature is that the frequent shuffles allow you to drop your count and start over every few minutes. Likewise, if you lose your count, you don't have to wait forever to start over from the top.

Of course, if they're only dealing one round between shuffles, you're wasting your time. Also, making "true count" adjustments is very different in one-deck games as opposed to shoe games. For beginning counters, one-deck games are excellent training games because you don't really have to worry so much about true count. "Yow! The running count is +10!" is about all you need to know in a one-deck game before you attempt getting away with putting your maximum bet out on the table, taking insurance, spreading to multiple hands, etc. Even if you know no index numbers for strategy plays, situations like these — which occur semi-frequently — can give you an edge.

This is precisely what the casinos are afraid of; the game is just too easy to beat, so they don't deal it. Frankly, I think the Las Vegas casinos would make a lot more money on their one-deck games if they just switched to Reno rules and dealt out the cards.

Copyright © 1999 by Arnold "The Bishop" Snyder

Arnold Snyder
Arnold "The Bishop" Snyder is the author of "Blackbelt in Blackjack" and the editor and publisher of the Blackjack Forum.

Arnold Snyder Websites:

Books by Arnold Snyder:

Blackbelt in Blackjack
Arnold Snyder
Arnold "The Bishop" Snyder is the author of "Blackbelt in Blackjack" and the editor and publisher of the Blackjack Forum.

Arnold Snyder Websites:

Books by Arnold Snyder:

Blackbelt in Blackjack