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A crash-course on playing smart at the tables


Every type of game in the casino has a different house edge: the mathematical advantage that the casino has over you. On a game with a high house edge, you might get lucky in the short term, but over time that edge will grind down your bankroll. For example, on roulette—a game with a 5.26 percent edge—for every $100 you wager the casino will wind up keeping $5.26. Multiply that by thousands of gamblers a day, and you’ll understand how the resorts on the Vegas Strip pay their power bills.

Also, the speed of the game makes a big difference; the faster the action, the more exposure you give the casino to your money. If you sit down at an empty blackjack table (using six decks of cards) and play one-on-one against the dealer, you’ll play an average of 248 hands per hour. If you’re one of five players, you’ll play a much more reasonable 76 hands per hour. This means even if don’t wind up winning, you’ll probably enjoy more time at the tables.

The same principle applies to playing slot machines: a few quarters per spin might not seem like much, but when you’re hammering the button and not pausing between spins, your losses will mount quickly. In the casino, speed kills.


Bet On Blackjack

If you’re going to learn to play one table game well, make it blackjack. You can shave the house edge down to a miniscule 0.5 percent if you learn Basic Strategy, and stick with it.

Basic Strategy is a simple chart that shows the mathematically correct play for every situation. It’s readily available on a million different websites, and even on cards you can buy in casino gift shops and reference while you play.

It eliminates the guesswork. The dealer is showing a 10, and you’ve got 16? Hit. The dealer is showing a 6, and you’ve got 10? Double down. And so on. With Basic Strategy, your responses will be automatic. You can memorize the chart in an hour and perfect your strategy with a couple of hours of play. This gives a significant advantage over the average blackjack player who plays according to hunches and “gut instinct.”


Rolling the Bones

Many players feel craps is the most exciting game in the casino, as evidenced by the rowdy crowds gathered around the tables. To first-time players, however, the fast pace of the game and myriad of different bets can be intimidating.

If you’re stepping up to a craps table for the first time, stick with betting on the pass line. The pass line bet in craps, with its low house edge of 1.41 percent, is one of the best bets in the casino. There are about 40 different bets you can make, but most of them—like proposition and hard way bets aren’t even worth learning about, since the house edge is brutal.

The person holding the dice is called the “shooter,” and the first roll he makes is called the “come out” roll. Before the shooter makes the come out roll, place your bet on the pass line at the edge of the layout. (The dealer can assist you with this.)

OK, so now the dice are thrown. if the shooter rolls a 7 or 11, you win. If he rolls a 2,3 or 12, you lose. If the shooter rolls any other number, that becomes the “point” number. The shooter will keep rolling until one of two things happens:

He hits the point number, and you win your bet. The shooter gets the dice back, he makes another come out roll, and the process repeats.

He hits a 7. If this happens, you lose your bet, the dice are passed to the next shooter, and it’s his turn to make the come out roll. Put another bet on the pass line.

For first-time players, the only other thing to remember is this: once the point number is established, you can make an additional bet behind your pass line bet. This is known as the “Odds Bet.” It is the only bet in the casino that does not have a house edge, since it is paid off with true odds. (If that sounds confusing—back up your pass line bet with an odds bet, and ask the dealer if you’ve got questions.)


Rock N’ Roulette

With roulette, the object is simple: pick the winning number that the ball will land on once the wheel stops spinning. You can also bet combinations of numbers, whether the number will be odd or even, or the color of the number (red or black).

American roulette wheels have 38 numbers, two of which are zeroes. The house edge is a fairly high 5.26 percent, but this is balanced out by the fact that roulette is played at a leisurely pace, especially if the table is crowded.

Bet the number (or numbers) you want by placing your chips on them. If the number you want is already covered with chips, simply stack your chips on top of them. (Each player has different colored chips, so the dealer can keep track of everyone’s bets.)

If the ball lands on your number, you’ll be paid 35-1: a thrilling score but also a longshot, which is why most players spread their bets over multiple numbers. Another betting area on the table surface allows you place your bet on the outcome being either a red number or a black number. This is not, however, a 50/50 proposition. Remember, there are also two zeroes on the wheel.



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