If you would like to subscribe to receive this newsletter via email, please use the subscription form in the sidebar on the left.

You can unsubscribe at any time and your email address won't be used for any other purpose, and it won't be shared with anyone else. For more details, see our No-Nonsense Privacy Policy. I hate spam as much as you do!


BlackjackInfo News: Issue 25 - October 20, 2004

This Issue includes:

GSN is looking for players for the World Series of Blackjack

The second season of GSN's World Series of Blackjack is going to be filmed in Las Vegas during the month of November, and you could be a part of it. They're currently interviewing potential players, and they're still looking for more candidates.

Straight from GSN:

Play with the best blackjack players in the world!

GSN's World Series of Blackjack is seeking big time tournament players for its second season. If you think you have what it takes, send us an email with your name and contact information. Email to (email no longer valid).

(Filming in November 2004 in Las Vegas at a location to be announced.)

What are you waiting for?

A behind-the-scenes look at casino surveillance

I had a unique opportunity this month in Las Vegas. I attended the Global Gaming Expo which is a huge tradeshow for the casino industry. As part of that event, one of the casinos on the Strip offered a behind-the-scenes tour of their surveillance department for $25. I took the tour, and it was a fascinating couple of hours.

I'm sure most of you have seen some of the TV shows on the Travel Channel or Discovery Channel that go inside the surveillance room and discuss how the process works. It was a real treat to be able to take a first-hand look at the equipment and personnel in action.

After a short bus ride from the Convention Center, our group of 20 or 30 participants lined up inside the casino. After all the appropriate arrangements were made, we were led through a set of double doors into the "back of the house", through hallways that look a lot different from the glitzy and polished customer side of the casino.

After a walk deep into the building, up an elevator, and around a corner, we reached the main surveillance room. The most obvious feature of the room is an entire wall of video monitors, focused in on various parts of the casino property. There's a lot of video equipment in the room, including row after row of VCRs quietly taping the video feeds.

There are a total of 2500 cameras on this property, and every single video feed goes onto tape. That's a lot of tapes and a lot of rewinding during the 3-times-a-day tape change. The tapes are saved for 11 to 12 days, which means there's a huge library of video tapes constantly being rotated in and out of service. Not every camera gets its own tape, as some of the tapes are recording screens split into quarters, or even more. But every image is saved somewhere. It's quite an operation.

Now that was interesting, but it's really nothing I hadn't seen already on TV. More interesting to me was watching the staff doing their everyday work. On a whiteboard beside the door, I saw a few notes about each shift of the day, referring to specific players and events. For example, I saw a notation from Swing Shift about a player at a specific blackjack table. The note said "R/N: Moving Bets from $5 to $200". The 'R/N' means the patron Refused Name. That's how they designate a player who chooses not to provide a players card. Already that's a red flag for a player who's willing to risk up to $200 a hand. The concern about a bet spread from $5 to $200 is obviously a reference to a potential card counter.

While we were in the room, the phone rang from the casino floor, and one of the surveillance operators answered. As the head of surveillance was speaking about a variety of details, my attention zeroed in on the actual work going on instead. It was apparent the conversation was about a specific player at a blackjack table. The operator zoomed in with a camera to get a clear shot of the table, where a player in a baseball cap was betting up to several hundred dollars per hand.

The operator referred back and forth between the video feed and computer software from Griffin Investigations, a company that specializes in providing casinos information about cheaters, and also card counters. He also pulled up a screen from the Surveillance Information Network, or SIN. Apparently unable to find a match, he went on to log the details of this player into an internal database. A few minutes later, our player was back at it, this time making a $600 "Money Plays" bet, which he lost. Upon losing, he left the table and the casino.

The surveillance operator went back to the log, and made notes: "Initiated observation after player was in $2100. Unable to capture acceptable facial image. Observed player making one $600 cash plays bet. Upon losing, the player left the table and the casino. Player left as $3100 loser."

All in all, it was a fascinating look into the inner workings of the "eye in the sky". I have to wonder how many countless times I've been on the other end of that camera lens. I'll definitely hesitate next time before dropping a stack of bills on the table and saying "Money plays".

BlackjackInfo now has a blog

What is a blog? It's short for WebLog, and it's a convenient way for websites to quickly publish frequent updates to a site. Normally, when I see an interesting news item about blackjack, I try to remember to use it when I produce the next issue of this newsletter. But often, it's tough to find time to produce an issue and by the time I get around to it, the information is no longer relevant or I've forgotten it.

Now I'll be able to immediately post interesting items to Ken Smith's Blackjack Blog where visitors can see it immediately. And, if you use newsreader software, you can subscribe to the site feed and be automatically notified when a new post appears on the Blog.

Check it out when you get a chance. Yesterday's post was about an interesting lawsuit filed in Nevada about a casino using a device to count cards and have the dealer shuffle away player-favorable decks.

Pharaoh's single deck still available, but with countermeasures

For years now, Pharaoh's Casino has offered a single-deck game at their online casino which actually has a small advantage for a basic strategy player. And, for years, I've been asked how they can afford to offer that game. The answer is not that surprising, since few players bother to learn correct basic strategy for the game, and the edge for perfect play is a fairly small 0.11%.

Well, it appears that they finally decided they had lost enough money on the game as it was offered, so they've made some changes. The game is still there, but they've introduced three countermeasures to restrict the profit potential.

  • First, they eliminated the ability to earn comp points while playing the single deck. In fact, when you enter the game, it points out that single deck does not earn comps while their six-deck game does.
  • Then they changed the betting limits to $1 to $20. With a $20 max bet, their exposure is minimal.
  • Last of all, they've slowed the game down quite a bit. It deals slower than the six-deck game, which is another way of reducing the profit potential of a smart player.

So, the game still exists, but you won't be making much money playing it. It's still a great place to practice, playing a game with a long-term player advantage. Of course, with such a small edge, you'll still likely win if you're lucky and lose if you're not.

On a positive note, they've added some new progressive games, including video poker. Although the paytable is short-pay, it may be profitable occasionally. I'll be adding it to the video poker list at SlotCharts.com soon.

An online tournament just like land-based

I feel like a broken record, talking again about the blackjack tournaments offered at Global Player. But they deserve mention yet again.

This Sunday, October 24th, they're having a blackjack tournament that is just like a typical land-based casino tournament. It's a "table-advance" format from start to finish. That means you play a set number of hands at a real-time multi-player table. Whichever player has the most chips at the end advances into the next round. There's $2500 in cash prizes up for grabs, and it's guaranteed to be an overlay since the entry fee is $30 and there's a limit of 60 players.

This format is what makes tournament blackjack so interesting to me. The opportunities for skillful strategy play make the game exciting and competitive.

It's been a long wait, but finally elimination-style tournaments are a reality on the Internet. If you play this weekend, look for me as 'Ken21'. You can also download the software and watch the real-time games as a spectator for free. Read more at their site.

Searchable schedule of blackjack tournaments a big hit

The new blackjack tournament schedule at BlackjackTournaments.com has been getting rave reviews. It's a great free resource, so if you haven't tried it yet, come check it out.

To give you an idea of how extensive the listings are, there are over 1300 tournaments listed in the US and Canada in the upcoming months of November and December.

That's it for now. Best of luck, online and off! -Ken-

Blackjack Apprenticeship