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!
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.
One thing I hear from friends on a regular basis is that they often feel overwhelmed playing blackjack or almost any table game live in a casino since they are afraid that they will make a mistake that will embarass themselves, or worse, make someone at the table get upset with them. My guidance is that unless they are being an a-hole and the mistakes they make are honest rather than malicious the dealer and other players will usually cut them slack. The approach that I appreciate most when less experienced players join my table is to have them ask the dealer and tablemates for advice when they are uncertain about a situation. Nothing is more frustrating than an inexperienced player who makes a bad move that tanks the entire hand for the table rather than swallowing their pride and asking for advice.
To get started there are a few simple things to remember:
1) Don’t touch the cards unless you are at a single deck table where they deal face down
2) Feel free to ask the dealer or other players their opinion or advice
3) Take a minute to understand the table rules before you sit
4) Don’t sit at third base – the last seat to players left – unless you are comfortable with people second-guessing every play you make
5) Ask the players if you may join them or if you should wait until the next shoe
6) Don’t enter a game if everyone is on a roll without asking first
7) TIP your dealer and drink server – I usually play between a $2-10 bet for dealer after a blackjack or major split/double win
8) If the players look like boring jerks choose another table
9) If you smile and have fun even the biggest a-hole will usually not get too upset with a couple of bad plays
10) Cheer for other players to win even if you lose the hand
11) HAVE FUN!
Let me know if you have any other advice for new players to make their experience better