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Fast Comps for Slow Paces - Part 115 October 2001
At the casino in Las Vegas, there were six people ahead of me, all waiting to talk to the host. All wanted to know how much time they had played, how much their table-game play was rated, and what kind of comps they could get. The host was obliging. He'd dutifully look up their records on the computer and inform them of what they had earned. "Ma'am, we have you as a $94 player and you've played 8 hours in three days. If you want the full range of complimentaries, we ask that you average about four hours per day."
The host's request was not unusual, most casinos want four hours of table-game action per day (at various denominations of play) for extensive comps and most players are more than willing to give it to them. But playing four hours a day against negative-expectation games [definition: games where you will ultimately lose] is a dicey proposition to say the least and rarely are the comps - those free or discounted meals, rooms and shows - worth anywhere near what you will lose to get them.
But there are ways to get your comps and reduce your risk, too. In fact, in many cases are there are ways to get more value in comps than you will lose in play.
How can this be? Just follow me and I'll show you.
We have two blackjack players who play perfect basic strategy, Mr. Ed (not the horse) and Ms. Jones. Basic strategy, as many readers no doubt know, is the computer-derived best play for every player hand against every dealer upcard.
Now, Mr. Ed has a real-world expectation at blackjack of -$30 per hour. That means he'll lose about $30 on average for every hour he plays. On his trips to his favorite Las Vegas casino, he plays an average of four hours a day. That's an expected loss of $120 per day.
Ms. Jones also has a real-world expectation of -$30 per hour. She'll also lose $30 for every hour she plays. She too plays four hours per day at the same casino as Mr. Ed and she too is expected to lose $120 per day.
At the end of four hours of play, Mr. Ed and Ms. Jones go to the same host, George Smiley. They both ask George for a comp to the Italian restaurant. Mr. Ed is told he can get a comp to the non-gourmet rooms ("We have an excellent coffee shop here, sir.") but not the Italian restaurant. In addition, his comp can be no more than $30. That's his "cap."
Ms. Jones, on the other hand, not only gets the Italian restaurant (Mr. Smiley actually makes the reservations for her) but she gets the full RFB treatment. That is, her room is free, her show tickets are free, everything is free. And there are no caps on her meals.
Poor Mr. Ed has to pay casino rates for his room, usually $40 to $60 per night, and he has to pay for the shows as well. And all his meals have caps.
How can this be? How can two players with the exact same real-world expectation, playing in the same casino, with the same host, have such radically different compspectations? In today's gender conscious world, we might conclude that George is giving more to the lady because he is enamored of her. Or that Mr. Ed might not be the horse but his personal hygiene is somewhat similar to an equine's and Smiley finds nothing compensatory in that.
And you would be wrong.
In point of fact, George Smiley doesn't really make any decisions concerning who gets what comps. George works for a modern, computerized casino. The computer figures out the players' playing records and decides who gets what. Mr. Smiley just delivers the message. He's the mailman from Eprom, so to speak.
So how is it that the computer stiffs Mr. Ed and stuffs Ms. Jones?
You see, the computer rates Ms. Jones as a $150 player and it expects her to lose $180 per hour, while it rates Mr. Ed as a $50 player who it expects to lose only $60 per hour. Thus, for four hours of play, the computer expects Ms. Jones to lose $720 - enough to garner her the full RFB treatment, but poor Mr. Ed's computer analysis shows him only losing $240 per four hour stint - just enough to be a "casino-level" player and not RFB.
Indeed Ms. Jones is a $150 player. She flat bets this amount time and again at a two-deck game where the casino cuts one of the decks out of play. She only plays at crowded tables with six (or seven) spots filled. She prefers not to play in the high-roller salons where her action will be scrutinized more thoroughly by the pit personnel and where often no one but she is at the tables. Rather, she joins the low-rolling plebeians in casino steerage during prime hours where she can be assured that the casino pit crews are harried, overworked, and not as focused on the intricacies of her particular play.
She takes her time in making her hitting, standing, splitting and doubling decisions. She times her bathroom breaks to correspond to the beginning of a deal and when she returns she never jumps back into the game ("I'll wait for a new shuffle, I don't want to disturb the order of the cards."). She starts her play one half hour before the cards are to be changed (in two-deck games most casinos change the cards every two hours) thus enjoying the benefit of comp time without risk as the dealer goes through the elaborate casino washes and shuffles of the new decks.
In fact, when all is said and done, Ms. Jones plays about 40 hands an hour. Since she is an expert basic strategy player, the casino only has an approximately one-half percent edge on her. She will put into action $6,000 ($150 x 40 = $6,000) and her expected real-world loss will be $30 per hour ($6,000 x .005 = $30). However, the casino's computer formula rates blackjack players as playing 60 hands per hour against a 2 percent casino edge and, in fact, most players do play against edges this high or even higher. The computer figures Ms. Jones to lose $180 per hour ($150 x 60 = $9,000 x .02 = $180). Since most casinos will give back approximately 30 to 50 percent of a player's expected losses in the form of comps, Ms. Jones gets comps worth anywhere from $216 to $360 per day! That's RFB in just about any casino on the planet.
And what of Mr. Ed? Well, he plays $50 per hand at six-deck shoes in the high roller pits and at non-peak hours so he often plays head-to-head against the dealer. He plays perfect basic strategy but he plays it fast, making his hitting, standing, splitting and doubling decisions in the blink of an eye. And when the shoe is finished, he'll take his bathroom breaks while the dealer is shuffling so as not to waste playing time. More often than that, he'll just jump to the table next to him and play there until his dealer is ready to proceed. Mr. Ed loves the action. In fact, Mr. Ed averages 120 hands an hour! Since he too plays against an approximately one-half percent house edge, he is expected to lose $30 per hour ($50 x 120 = $6,000 x .005 = $30). Interestingly enough, the casino rates him as losing twice that. They have him playing 60 hands per hour ($3,000) with an expected loss of $60 ($3,000 x .02% = $60). For four hours, his total expected loss is $240, of which the casino will return $72 to $120, which translates into "casino-level" comps - discounted rooms and comped meals of non-gourmet fare with caps.
In truth, both Mr. Ed and Ms. Jones have good deals going for them...but Ms. Jones is taking her deal to the max! (And speaking of Max, you might be interested in a full-blown comp attack on the casinos which can be found in Max Rubin's delightful book, Comp City.) Ms. Jones has discovered the secret of maximizing comps while minimizing risk: play the best possible strategies at the games of your choice and play these s-l-o-w-l-y. Look for ways to extend you time but not your risk.
That maxim - extend time, not risk - can be applied to just about every casino table game with excellent results.
But another maxim works as well. Understand the nature of the games that you are playing. For example, two players are playing baccarat, Alan is expected to lose $57.60 per hour of play, while Bernice is expected to lose $58.50 per hour of play. The former is the baccaratian equivalent of Mr. Ed as Alan only gets "casino-level" comps; while Bernice is getting the full RFB treatment even though her expected loss is only 90 cents more than Alan's. Why? Because Alan is playing mini-baccarat at $25 per hand and Bernice is playing the traditional form of baccarat at $100 a hand.
Mini-baccarat is an extremely fast game where it is not unheard of for 150 to 200 decisions to be made in an hour. Traditional baccarat is a slow game, which can be made even slower by players who take their time dealing and exposing their cards, where 40 to 60 decisions per hour is the norm. If Alan puts into action $25 on 180 hands per hour (excluding ties), that's $4,500 in total action. He bets a combination of Player and Bank (eschewing the 14 percent house edge on the Tie bet) which gives the casino about a 1.28 percent edge over him. That's a small edge but it's a small edge on a lot of hands. The result is Alan will lose $57.60 per hour.
But Bernice is playing traditional baccarat. Let us say she makes a point of playing 50 hands per hour (excluding ties) and she bets $100 -- on Bank only. She puts into action $5,000 with a casino edge of 1.17 percent. Her real-world expected loss is $58.50 per hour. But she is a high roller, betting $100 per hand, whereas Alan is just a "rated" player.
Because for mini-baccarat the casino's rating computers generally use an 80 to 100 hand per hour formula against an approximately 1.28 to 3 percent range for its house edge (a combination of Bank, Player and Tie bets) and that's why Alan gets the worst of it by far in the comp arena. If he is rated as playing 90 hands per hour (an average of the high and low estimates) with a 2 percent house edge, his loss is calculated as $45 per hour, not the $57.60 it actually is. Bernice, on the other hand, is rewarded. Her expected loss the computer calculates as $120 per hour ($100 per hand x 60 hands x 0.02 percent house edge = $120) and not the $58.80 it actually is.
There is only one drawback to betting as Ms. Jones and Bernice do and that concerns volatility. Because they are betting larger sums on fewer hands, they will have much wilder short-term swings in good or bad luck. Still getting RFB (or close to it) will more than make up for the roller-coaster effects of the games they are playing. In fact, in real terms, Ms. Jones and Bernice could be considered as having a monetary edge as the dollar value of the real comps they are winning actually could surpass the dollar amounts they are losing in their play.
In part 2, Frank gives more techniques to get comps with reduced risk.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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