Casino mistakes



Dealers make mistakes. The likelihood and extent depends on many factors ranging from general incompetence to the fatigue of a long shift, but make them they do. I've seen many such that favour the house. Typically, the dealer misreads a hand and tries to treat a win as a push, a push a loss, or in the worst case scenario, a win as a loss and rather than paying the win, takes the bet. If this happens it's down to the player to pick up on the mistake. If he does not, his money is gone and there's no coming back. If the player realises what is happening but is simply a bit slow to react, the cards will replaced to ensure that a mistake was actually made, and the situation rectified.

There are other kinds of mistakes that players end up paying for. On one occasion, I saw a player, with 12 against dealer 3 and sitting in last position, watch the dealer pass over his hand completely and go on to play out his own hand. Did the dealer assume he didn't want a card? Whatever the reason, the player was left with the wrong play forced on him by the casino with no option of redress, even though he complained that the dealer hadn't given him the option to ask for cards.

On another occasion a dealer attempted to pay me even money for a blackjack. I caught the error and received the correct three to two payment, but I could just as easily have been distracted and let the substantially casino-favourable error stand.

Mistakes that favour the player


Of course, if dealers can make mistakes that work against the player they can work the other way, too. In the exact opposite of the casino-favourable examples above, your loss can be treated as a push, your push as a win, and best of all, your loss is paid as a win. In these circumstances, what do you do?

It's up to the casino to manage its affairs properly. If they make a mistake in your favour, accept it as one of the rewards for playing against a house advantage and do not feel bad for them. Do not correct their mistake and hand back the unexpected gift, and absolutely never call a dealer's attention to an error made in favour of another player - you'll make for yourself an enemy for life, and rightly so.

If the dealer picks up on the error just after making it, let the situation play out naturally. If she asks you to return the chip paid to you in error it would make sense to ask for an explanation - giving it straight back without raising an eyebrow would rather telegraph your awareness of the mistake and your intention to profit from it. But don't make a fuss and ask for a reset of the cards, as this would create unnecessary hassle; you're also on a hiding to nothing.

The bottom line: what's it worth?


These small victories can be worth a lot more than you might initially assume.

Remember that the casino advantage we're up against playing blackjack is very small, around just 0.5% or one bet in every 200. Since an hour's medium-paced play on a fullish table will yield about a hundred hands, this equates to about one bet for every two hours' play.

If you sit down at the table at 8 o'clock and play until 10, you average just one bet lost to the casino. So if, over that two hour period, the dealer at one point treats your multi-card soft 18 as a push against his 19, he has basically rebated you the full casino advantage for those entire two hours of play.

What if, instead of treating that loss as a push, he actually pays it? This can happen, particularly with multi-card totals that are harder to count. If he pays you for your 18 against his 19, that one hand rebates you the house edge for fully four hours' worth of play.

Going a stage further now, what if that loss-treated-as-win occurs more frequently, over the course of two hundred hands or about two hours' play?

At this point, adding your two-unit overpay to the basic strategist's one unit loss per 200 hundred hands, we now have a one unit gain per 200, or 0.5%.

Sound familiar? That 0.5% is the casino's average edge over the basic strategy player, now turned exactly back to front. Rather than a disadvantage of 0.5%, we have a 0.5% edge. And all because a loss was treated as a win once over the course of a two hour session.

Ideal conditions for mistakes


Although I'm really only speculating here, I believe that the best place to sit, if you want to increase your chances of profiting from dealer mistakes, is mid-table. If you sit on the sides the dealer is either starting or finishing his work for that round. In the middle, when he comes to you he's basically in the thick of it, fully engaged in moving from hand to hand and potentially slightly less focussed than for players on either side. I cannot back this up with any anecdotal evidence, but it's something to bear in mind.

On a more concrete level, try to be betting with just one chip. The more chips in the betting circle, the more the dealer has to focus on getting the payment right. With just the one chip, the dealer can manage your hand in a more casual manner, and this is liable to decrease his level of focus.

If you're following my advice and betting table minimum this should happen as a matter of course. But be careful to not put down five one-unit chips where one, for five units, will suffice.

Where does the responsibility lie?


Casinos, like their customers and just about every other individual or collection of individuals on the planet, are responsible for managing their affairs correctly. If this were not more or less a universal truth anyway, it could be taken as given on the basis that since casinos hold their players to be responsible for their affairs, the absolute same applies to them.

When players make mistakes in a casino they are expected to pay for them. In fact, you could make the argument that since the vast majority of players do not understand the nature of the games they are involved in, their simple participation in casino play is a mistake by default. This is probably a step too far, but mistakes players make come in this general category.

When a player goes into a casino intending to while away a couple of hours with reasonably responsible play, but goes on a bad run, gets down on himself and ends up playing - and losing - far more than he originally intended, this is mistaken behaviour of sorts.

What about the blackjack player who always doubles ten against nine, but on a given occasion just can't bring himself to do so? Or the player who gets drunk, and ends up throwing all semblance of his usual playing style out the window?

You can well argue that since all these types of behaviour represent the player's choice at the time of asking they cannot rationally be described as mistakes; they are at worst examples of poor judgement. However, in the case of the drunken player who throws away that month's mortgage payment on the tables, the chances are he'd apologise to his wife with something along the lines of "I really didn't mean it". These things have the whiff of error about them, though they do not really fit into the dictionary definition.

But either way, be it mistake or poor judgement, the casino takes the money with no questions asked. Some people may raise objections to how I advocate dealing - or rather, not dealing - with mistakes. But what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander; it cuts both ways.

Some personal experiences from the battlefield


I've seen many mistakes myself. During my first blackjack session in Las Vegas, the dealer checked his holecard and revealed a blackjack, thus beating all the players, none of whom had a blackjack. In an unnecessarily theatrical gesture he removed all the players' bets from the table with a semicircular sweep of his arm. Well, not all - he brushed my chip with his fingertips, sending it back in my direction. I quietly put it back in my pile.

On another occasion, I was playing out my hand thus: 10, 3, ace, 2 and 6, for a 22 total and bust...except that the dealer misread my 22 for a 21, left everything in place, and paid my bust hand when his hand ended with 19.

Then there was the time I was betting the three euro minimum with three one euro chips. My hand won, and the dealer matched my three-chip bet with three chips of her own...except they were three five Euro chips, so paying my three Euro win with fifteen euros.

One evening, in an East European casino, I'd finished exactly where I'd started, with fifty euros. Since most chips were in one and five denominations, I pushed them over to the dealer to "colour me up" with two twenty five euro chips. But she gave me a hundred euro chip. In the context of my low betting this was a big mistake, so I didn't just reach over, grab it and make a beeline for the cashier, as this could have created an embarrassing situation if she subsequently realised what she'd done and called me back. Rather, I sat there with the black chip next to my betting circle, looking vaguely into the distance and wondering if she'd correct her mistake. In fact, she did frown to herself and look a bit confused - I didn't imagine this, my soft focus concentration was in full flow at this point - but then she simply moved on to the next round. I pocketed the chip and left.

On another occasion, I signalled for no card, the dealer misread me as asking for a hit and dealt me a ten, busting my hand. I immediately complained, and the dealer withdrew the card. If the card hadn't bust me, I might well have kept quiet. However, she compounded the error by then offering the card to the next player, who refused it as it would bust him...and so on to the remaining players, who all knew the card was a ten and who all refused it as it would bust them also. Knowing the next card out of the shoe gave them a tremendous advantage. In these circumstances, a dealer usually puts the card to one side and offers a fresh, unseen card from the shoe. Happily, not on this occasion.

Away from the table, I was once overpaid at the cash cage. Only by about �£6 UK sterling, but with low table minimums - just �£2 - this amounted to a three-bet overpayment.

It all adds up. Adding up just the mistakes I've detailed above, in terms of house edge rebate: Las Vegas dealer loss inadvertently returned, 200 hands; twenty two bust treated as twenty one win, 400 hands; three euros' win paid with fifteen, 800 hands; �£6 over payment a cashier cage, 600 hands; fifty euros in chips coloured up to one hundred, 3,333 hands! This gives a grand total house edge rebate of over five thousand initial hands, or fifty hours of table time.

Even if you take away the egregious error in colouring me up, it's still amounts to twenty hours of play.

In conclusion


Be vigilant. As I said above, dealers often make mistakes that favour the house. Do not expect them to always pay your win or leave your push. Usually they do, but occasionally they do not. If you don't catch every occasion that the mistake works against you you'll negate all the advantage gained from those that go your way, and very probably a lot more besides.

When the mistake goes your way it's up to you how you handle the situation. I like to keep an attitude of calm soft focus, without making an anxious grab for the chip but not waiting so long as to give an unnecessary amount of time for the dealer to think back and correct himself.

Secrets of a Vegas whale


Blackjack player Don Johnson used dealer mistakes, along with good games and, crucially, enormous loss rebates, to gain what amounted to probably around a ten percent edge over casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City. The documentary The player: secrets of a Vegas whale chronicles his success. It's a hugely hyperbolic but entertaining account.

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