A shuffle through the Gaming mailbag:

Q. My buddy and I were talking blackjack, and he said in this day and age counting cards is useless. He said player tracking is all computerized now, and they can spot an advantage player's patterns right away. Is that right? Can they spot that in real time? Do they?

A. Software does exist to analyze your play in real time. I saw a version being demonstrated a couple of years ago at Global Gaming Expo by Douglas Florence of The Florence Group. Florence spent five years as director of security at the Mirage and also has headed security operations at the Hard Rock and M Resort, as well as working for several security systems providers.

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Many casinos are not yet using such software. The potential gains in curtailing advantage play have to be weighed against the costs of such systems. Even at properties that do spend the money to have the systems installed, it’s not going to instantly mark you as an advantage player. It will alert security more quickly than a human observer could that you’re a player to be watched.

As more casinos adopt analytical software, it’s going to become more important than ever for advantage players to hit and run with short sessions before moving on.

Q. What would you say is the best game to play? I’ve always thought it was blackjack, but I have two new brothers-in-law — I just got married earlier this year — and one insists it’s craps and the other doesn’t play anything but video poker.

So tell me, is there a best game?

A. It depends on what you mean by “best game.” Even if we narrow the definition to “game with the lowest house edge,” there are a ton of “what ifs.” A blackjack basic strategy player can get the house edge down to a half percent or so, with a swing of a few tenths either way depending on house rules at the casino or website. But if you don’t know basic strategy, the house is higher, in the vicinity of 2 percent against an average player and even more against a really bad player.

Similarly, a video poker player who sticks to 9-6 Double Double Bonus Poker, where full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, can expect a 98.98 percent return with expert play, the equivalent of a 1.02 percent house edge. But against average players, the house edge runs between 2 and 4 percent, depending on the caliber of their play. The payback drops even more on Double Double Bonus games with lower full house-flush returns.

In craps, a player who sticks to pass and come bets faces a house edge of 1.41 percent, and you can get well below 1 percent with free odds. But if you bet on any 7, the house edge is an astronomical 16.67 percent.

Just on a house edge basis, the best game of these three depends on house rules, pay tables and your skill level.

But really, the best game depends on the tastes of the individual. If you don’t like to play blackjack, it’s not the best game for you despite its low house edge. If the games you really like to play are slots, then slots are the best game for you, as long as you recognize they’re high house-edge games and make sure you set limits on just how much of your bankroll you’re willing to risk.

Gambling author and columnist John Grochowski’s weekly newspaper column began at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now syndicated nationally. He also regularly makes TV and radio appearances about gambling. His column appears weekly. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook (tinyurl.com/7lzdt44); Twitter (@GrochowskiJ) and at casinoanswerman.com. Casino Answer Man runs every week.


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