Can you count a six-deck shoe?

In a famous scene from the 1988 Oscar-winning film ‘Rain Man’, an apparently-savvy casino security guard says, sagely, while watching main protagonist Charlie Babbit playing blackjack at Caesars Palace, ‘You know there’s no-one in the world that can count into a six-deck shoe.’ However, as anyone familiar with the ‘High-Low’ card counting strategy can testify, this statement is completely untrue, even at the best big win casinos.

When using High-Low, a card counter starts with a ‘running count’ of zero at the start of a shoe and adds to, or subtracts from, the running count as each card is revealed, according to the point value assigned to each rank. Aces, court cards and tens are assigned +1, twos, threes, fours, fives and sixes are assigned -1 and sevens, eights and nines are assigned 0. The next step is to divide the running count by the number of decks remaining or, at least, a rough approximation of the number of decks remaining, to establish the so-called ‘true count’. In other words, anyone capable of basic arithmetic is capable of counting a six-deck shoe, or an eighty-deck shoe for that matter. This is the case worldwide, from vegas, all the way to a south african casino. It’s all the same!

 It is understandable that Barry Levinson employed dramatic licence to make card counting the preserve of those, such as the autistic savant character Raymond ‘Rain Man’ Babbit, endowed with extraordinary mathematical skills, but the mundane fact is that, with practice, just about anyone can do it. Any casino security guard worth his salt would have known this, even in the late Eighties, but such a revelation would have ruined the plot.

Should you always spit aces in blackjack?

In blackjack, if you are dealt a pair of aces you have the option of splitting your cards into two new hands. If you take this option, you need to place a second bet, equal to your original stake, to cover the second hand. You are dealt one – and, in most casinos, only one – additional card on each split ace, you usually cannot double down after split and, if you are dealt another ace, you cannot split again.

According to basic blackjack strategy – which describes the mathematically correct way to play any hand – you should always split a pair of aces, regardless of the card the dealing is showing. A pair of aces technically makes a ‘soft’ total of 12 which, granted that tens and court cards make up 16/52, or 30.76%, of a standard deck of cards, is a difficult starting hand. Notwithstanding the fact that you need to double your stake, and therefore your risk, creating two hands in which the first card is worth 11 points is one of the strongest plays in blackjack; it is, in fact, one of the few moves that has a positive expectation against any dealer upcard.

Any ten or court card – or four of the 13 possibilities – will yield a total of 21, against which the best the dealer can do is push, while a 7, 8 or 9 – or another three of the 13 possibilities – will yield a total of 18 or better. The average winning hand in blackjack is 18.5 so, while there are also six possibilities whereby you can win only if the dealer busts, the attraction of splitting aces is clear to see.

Who was ‘Nick the Greek’?

The late Nicholas Andreas Dandolos, commonly known as ‘Nick the Greek’, who died on Christmas Day, 1966, at the age of 83, was a celebrated Greek American professional gambler in the early to mid-twentieth century. Dandolos reputedly won and lost millions of dollars during his lifetime. He once said, “The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing. The main thing is the play.” Although he was a millionaire for most of his life, at the time of his death, in Gardena, California, Dandolos was virtually penniless and reduced to playing small-stakes poker.

Born in Rethymnon, Crete on April 27, 1883, travelled to the United States, alone, as a 18-year-old, and settled in Chicago. Initially living on an allowance of $150 a week, provided by his family, he moved to Montreal, Canada, where he proceeded to win $500,000 by gambling on horse racing. On his return to Chicago, he lost all his winnings on cards and dice, but would soon become famous for his willingness to risk huge sums of money; in 1926, for example, he lost $797,000 to Arnold ‘the Brain’ Rothstein in a single hand of poker.

Legend has it that, in 1949, or in 1951, according to which account you choose, Dandolos played a marathon heads-up poker match against Johnny Moss at the Horseshoe Casino, run by Benny Binion, and reportedly lost $2 million. However, it is doubtful if any such match actually took place. Jack Binion, son of Benny, explained many years later that Dandolos and Moss did play a poker match in 1949, but at the Flamingo Casino, in private, rather than in public, and not for five months straight, as suggested in the original version of the story.

What is doubling down in blackjack?

If you find yourself on a break from the best online slot machines for real money, boning up on your blackjack strategy might be the way to go. In blackjack  ‘Doubling down’, also known to casino staff as ‘reaching deep’, is an option whereby a blackjack player, finding himself or herself in a favourable position after being dealt two cards, can double his or her initial stake in return for one, and only one, additional card. Some variants of blackjack allow players to double down on any total, while others only allow doubling down on totals of nine, ten or eleven. Of course, doubling down is not without risk, but conventional wisdom – or, in other words, basic blackjack strategy – dictates that doubling your initial stake is advantageous, statistically, in certain situations.

For example, if your first two cards equal a ‘hard’ ten or eleven – that is, any combination, not including an ace, which adds up to ten or eleven – doubling down is the mathematically correct play if the dealer shows anything between a two and a seven, or an eight, if your hand totals eleven. Similarly, if your first two cards equal a ‘soft’ sixteen, seventeen or eighteen – that is, you hold an ace and a five, six or seven – and the dealer shows anything between a two and a six, doubling down is the best play. Other examples of situations when you should double down include when you hold a ‘hard’ nine against a dealer’s upcard between two and six or a ‘soft’ thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen or seventeen – that is, an ace plus a two, three, four, five or six – and the dealer shows a five or six, otherwise known as a ‘bust card’.

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