That One Killer Winning Blackjack Shoe

I’ve played enough blackjack to see shoes* that have contained the good, bad and the ugly in terms of wins and losses.  In most cases the results stay within the realm of reasonable expectations even if that means taking a chunk out of your bankroll.  I’ve had shoes that have gone well before, but this last trip to Vegas was my all-time biggest positive swing on one shoe.

*A shoe in blackjack is the plastic card holder where the dealer places and then pulls cards for play on the table.  A shoe is measured in decks of cards (I play 6-deck hand-shuffled shoes) dealt before the next shuffle.  As a side note I’d recommend never playing more than a 6-deck shoe and avoid continuous-shuffle machines at all costs.

I wrote earlier about my climb back to even money for the year and this is the brief tale of the shoe that got me there.  I was down a decent amount for the trip, it was getting late on my third night in town, I was playing at a $50 limit table in Bally’s, and I was down $500 on this one shoe alone.

The first 1/3 of this last shoe was looking bleak and I was about ready to throw in the towel and accept a losing night.  At that point I started a nice winning streak that got me back to even for the shoe in a few hands with a couple of splits and doubles.  Once I was back to even, things got exciting in a hurry.  I don’t recall exact hands very often and this was the case tonight as well, but one thing I clearly remember from this run was being dealt 4 straight blackjacks!  That streak of easy wins built my bet size up quickly and the wins kept coming after that run with nearly every hand.

I was getting fired up, the dealer was nearly shouting on every hand when it seemed like I couldn’t lose and the chips kept flowing my way including a 2x split with 2 doubles that hit for another big hand win.  The last few hands of the shoe cooled off until the last hand came up as a blackjack to finish off a great run.

When all was said and done I went from $500 down to $2,500 up in the last 2/3 of that one shoe for a $3K swing.  I’ve never had a single shoe with that big of a win and that is a rush I won’t soon forget.

Now I’ve set a very high, and probably unrealistic, bar to judge my future shoes against, but I’ll keep playing to try and match, and then exceed, the rush and win from that one elusive killer shoe on my next Vegas trip!

Improving My Blackjack Play Using Data

In my day job I rely on data for most of my key digital marketing decisions so when I was struggling earlier this year with my blackjack results I decided to turn to the data and see what I could find.  The KPI for this project is pretty simple – money won/lost at live casino blackjack.

To get to the underlying data that led to that final result I realized I needed to dig a little deeper and analyze my play on a shoe-by-shoe basis.  In January I started tracking my results per shoe on my favorite app in my phone’s notes as well as every shoe played in a live casino.

With 4 months of results that spanned hundreds of digital shoes and dozens of live shoes I took the data and started crunching numbers.  The first thing I realized was that I needed to stick with a game longer – when I bought in for slightly more money and backed that buy-in up with a re-buy of 50-75% of the original amount on one table I had a stronger chance of hitting a strong run and earning money than buying in for less and hoping to win in shorter bursts by switching tables once that amount was gone.  I also learned that my style of play can lead to several winning or losing shoes in a row, but the variability isn’t very large between any given shoe so I should be able to weather a couple of bad shoes and still have the opportunity to make money.  Interestingly I didn’t see much difference between my play and results in surrender games vs. no surrender allowed – which is the only option at my local native American casinos – this was fairly surprising to me.

Armed with this data I’ve made a nice run since my poor results in 2016 and rough start to 2017 and now I’m only a couple yards from break-even for this year.  Of course now that I think I have some things figured out there is a great chance I’ll go on a terrible run which sends me right back to the drawing board.  At least now I’ve got some more data behind my play and I’ll keep working the numbers to deliver positive ROI on my blackjack play.

Always Tip Your Dealer

dealerBlackjack dealers are some of the most interesting people you will ever meet.  Their job is a mix of entertainer, counselor, teacher, cheerleader and salesperson.  Just like any profession there are people who show up to earn a paycheck and some that truly enjoy what they do.

I always try to have some level of rapport with my dealer and I have no problem changing tables if the dealer has a poor personality or attitude.  If you’re going to spend a decent amount of time with someone and potentially lose money you at least want to do it with someone you can tolerate.

In all my conversations with dealers they typically will chat about almost any possible topic from casino gossip to receipe ideas, but the thing one item they tend to be coy on is appropriate tipping amounts for dealers.

I do my best to be consistent and generous and when I’ve had the occasional dealer or pit boss who will give more than a ‘whatever feels comfortable’ response I feel that I’m in line or above the average tipper.  These folks don’t make much money on an hourly basis so  tips are an important part of their livihood.

So how much do you tip your blakcjack dealer?  This is by no means iron clad, and if you are a dealer please weigh in, but my advice is to tip in proportion to your wagers and your wins.

If you sit down with $100 and get wiped out in 10 minutes then you might not tip or throw the dealer a few bucks if they are very friendly.  However, if you sit down with $500, play for an hour or more and walk away with $800 you should have been tipping the dealer along the way to the tune of $20 – $60 bucks.

If you bet for the dealer along the way you can actually make your tips work harder – for the beginner a bet for the dealer is when you place a chip in front of your own bet and when you win the dealer wins giving them a tip double your original amount.

I typically place a bet for the dealer after I win a blackjack hand or when I’m on a good run and win a double or split hand.  I will also throw the dealer $5 to $50 after a session if they were fun to play with, the bets I’ve placed with them along the way didn’t win often, or I’ve won a solid amount.

The dealer doesn’t control your cards, but they can make or break your overall experience at the tables so make sure you treat them well.