• The Cost of Cover Plays

    by Nicholas G. Colon

    The first step an Advantage Player takes when they decide to attack a casino game, whether its blackjack, three card poker, craps, or any other game that resides in a casino, for profit is to determine the optimal play strategy for that particular game. Michael Shackleford has done an outstanding job in breaking down the minimal amount of dollars a player can lose (or the casino can win) over the long term by determining what the optimal play strategy is for almost every game there is. And in some instances variations of game, like the soft 17 version of blackjack. Essentially this means that the every game where a player decision is required to proceed, that decision has already been derived so that the player can maximize their win. The next step involves devising a strategy to gain a positive expectation from that game. Sometimes it is necessary to alter the optimal strategy to a slightly less optimal strategy so that the astute player can prolong their playing longevity to garnish more profit from a casino.

    This article will evaluate various 'cover-plays', and give the practitioner, casual or professional, a methodology on how to determine the reduced optimal edge given the employed tactics.

    In blackjack the most effective cover play is 'to bet big off the top of the shoe.'  This is because the objective of a card counter is maintain a low wager when the composition of the cards in the shoe are neutral or unfavorable (lots of low cards remaining), and bet a large amount when there is a preponderance of high cards remaining in the shoe; betting a non-minimum bet when the deck is neutral, as it is before any cards a played at the beginning of the shoe, is contrary to what the pit, dealers and surveillance expects.

    The cost for this is relatively small, and is equal to the initial casino advantage for the game given the particular set of rules. The two most popular blackjack games in Las Vegas are the 6 deck games with the following rules. The first is where the player is able to split pairs as often as they like, double after any two cards, late surrender, able to take insurance when the dealer is showing an Ace and where the dealer must stand on a SOFT 17. Here the player has an approximate 0.26% disadvantage against the house. This means that for every 100 dollar wagered at the top of the shoe, the player loses 26 cents, over the long term. The second is where the player is able to split pairs as often as they like, double after any two cards, late surrender, able to take insurance when the dealer is showing an Ace and where the dealer must HIT on a soft 17. Here the player has an approximate 0.53% disadvantage against the house. This means that for every 100 dollar wagered at the top of the shoe, the player loses 53 cents, over the long term.

    Increasing your bet at the start of the shoe is not the only tactic that disguises a players' advantage from the eye in the sky. Each basic strategy play has an associated value with it. This value positive or negative determines what percentage of the bet the player will win over time. The chart below shows the associated value of each basic strategy play.

    Players Hand

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    Ace

    5

    -0.1282

    -0.0953

    -0.0615

    -0.024

    -0.0012

    -0.1194

    -0.1881

    -0.2666

    -0.3134

    -0.2786

    6

    -0.1408

    -0.1073

    -0.0729

    -0.0349

    -0.013

    -0.1519

    -0.2172

    -0.2926

    -0.3377

    -0.3041

    7

    -0.1092

    -0.0766

    -0.043

    -0.0073

    0.0292

    -0.0688

    -0.2106

    -0.2854

    -0.3191

    -0.3101

    8

    -0.0218

    0.008

    0.0388

    0.0708

    0.115

    0.0822

    -0.0599

    -0.2102

    -0.2494

    -0.197

    9

    0.0744

    0.1208

    0.1819

    0.2431

    0.3171

    0.1719

    0.0984

    -0.0522

    -0.153

    -0.0657

    10

    0.3589

    0.4093

    0.4609

    0.5125

    0.5756

    0.3924

    0.2866

    0.1443

    0.0253

    0.0814

    11

    0.4706

    0.5178

    0.566

    0.6147

    0.6674

    0.4629

    0.3507

    0.2278

    0.1797

    0.143

    12

    -0.2534

    -0.2337

    -0.2111

    -0.1672

    -0.1537

    -0.2128

    -0.2716

    -0.34

    -0.381

    -0.3505

    13

    -0.2928

    -0.2523

    -0.2111

    -0.1672

    -0.1537

    -0.2691

    -0.3236

    -0.3872

    -0.4253

    -0.3969

    14

    -0.2928

    -0.2523

    -0.2111

    -0.1672

    -0.1537

    -0.3213

    -0.3719

    -0.4309

    -0.4663

    -0.44

    15

    -0.2928

    -0.2523

    -0.2111

    -0.1672

    -0.1537

    -0.3698

    -0.4168

    -0.4716

    -0.5044

    -0.48

    16

    -0.2928

    -0.2523

    -0.2111

    -0.1672

    -0.1537

    -0.4148

    -0.4584

    -0.5093

    -0.5398

    -0.5171

    17

    -0.153

    0.1172

    -0.0806

    -0.0449

    0.0117

    -0.1068

    -0.382

    -0.4232

    -0.4197

    -0.478

    18

    0.1217

    0.1483

    0.1759

    0.1996

    0.2834

    0.3996

    0.106

    -0.1832

    -0.1783

    -0.1002

    19

    0.3863

    0.4044

    0.4232

    0.4395

    0.496

    0.616

    0.5939

    0.2876

    0.0631

    0.2776

    20

    0.64

    0.6503

    0.661

    0.6704

    0.704

    0.7732

    0.7918

    0.7584

    0.5545

    0.6555

    21

    0.882

    0.8853

    0.8888

    0.8918

    0.9028

    0.9259

    0.9306

    0.9392

    0.9626

    0.9222


    Players Hand

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    Ace

    A,2

    0.0466

    0.0741

    0.1025

    0.1334

    0.1797

    0.1224

    0.0541

    -0.0377

    -0.1049

    -0.0573

    A,3

    0.0224

    0.0508

    0.0801

    0.126

    0.1797

    0.0795

    0.0133

    -0.0752

    -0.1395

    -0.0939

    A,4

    -0.0001

    0.0292

    0.059

    0.126

    0.1797

    0.037

    -0.0271

    -0.1122

    -0.1737

    -0.13

    A,5

    -0.021

    0.0091

    0.0584

    0.126

    0.1797

    -0.0049

    -0.0668

    -0.1486

    -0.2074

    -0.1656

    A,6

    -0.0005

    0.0551

    0.1187

    0.1824

    0.2561

    0.0538

    -0.0729

    -0.1498

    -0.1969

    -0.1796

    A,7

    -0.1217

    -0.1776

    0.237

    0.2952

    0.3815

    0.3996

    0.106

    -0.1007

    -0.1438

    -0.092

    A,8

    0.3863

    0.4044

    0.4232

    0.4395

    0.496

    0.616

    0.5939

    0.2876

    0.0631

    0.2776

    A,9

    0.64

    0.6503

    0.661

    0.6704

    0.704

    0.7732

    0.7918

    0.7584

    0.5545

    0.6555


    Players Hand

    2

    3

    4

    5

    6

    7

    8

    9

    10

    Ace

    2,2

    -0.0842

    -0.0153

    0.0597

    0.1526

    0.2282

    0.0073

    -0.1593

    -0.2407

    -0.2892

    -0.253

    3,3

    -0.1377

    -0.056

    0.0305

    0.1272

    0.2026

    -0.0525

    -0.2172

    -0.2926

    -0.3377

    -0.3041

    4,4

    -0.0218

    0.008

    0.0388

    0.082

    0.1516

    0.0822

    -0.0599

    -0.2102

    -0.2494

    -0.197

    5,5

    0.3589

    0.4093

    0.4609

    0.5125

    0.5756

    0.3924

    0.2866

    0.1443

    0.0253

    0.0814

    6,6

    -0.2123

    -0.119

    -0.0202

    0.0824

    0.1555

    -0.2128

    -0.2716

    -0.34

    -0.381

    0.3505

    7,7

    -0.1305

    -0.0425

    0.0508

    0.1485

    0.2498

    -0.0485

    -0.3719

    -0.4309

    -0.4663

    -0.44

    8,8

    0.076

    0.1485

    0.2234

    0.3002

    0.4127

    0.3254

    -0.0202

    -0.3865

    -0.4803

    -0.3717

    9,9

    0.1961

    0.2592

    0.3243

    0.3931

    0.4725

    0.3996

    0.2352

    -0.0774

    -0.1783

    -0.1002

    10,10

    0.64

    0.6503

    0.661

    0.6704

    0.704

    0.7732

    0.7918

    0.7584

    0.5545

    0.6555

    A, A

    0.4706

    0.5178

    0.566

    0.6147

    0.6674

    0.4629

    0.3507

    0.2278

    0.1797

    0.1091


    Here all the positive expected value are highlighted in green and, the negative expectations are highlighted in red. The values highlighted in yellow are essentially a coin flip. This means that a deviation from basic strategy will cost so little that it doesn't matter if the player does not follow basic strategy in that case. The benefit gained from not following the optimal play in these situations is achieved when the eye in the sky and pit bosses see that you are not following basic strategy. So according to them you can't possibly be an advantage player.

    In these cases, the real financial cost is very low. It is important to know that the player does not have to execute a large bet off the top of the shoe or to deviate from basic strategy every time; but need only to employ these techniques when they have a curious pit boss or suspect that they are being watched. The diligent player can estimate the percent of the time that the techniques will be used and then apply them to the Blackjack Probability formulas to determine the precise expected values and standard deviations that apply.