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Best of Henry Tamburin

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Blackjack and comps

25 December 2009

Blackjack is not only a smart casino game to play if you want to reduce the odds against you or even gain the edge over the house, but it's also a smart casino game to play if you want to take full advantage of comps. Last year, collectively the casinos in America gave away one billion dollars in comps to players. Did you get your fair share? I'll show you how.

First, a primer on comps. Comps is short for complimentary, and they're the free goods and services that casinos give to their loyal players. Depending on your level of play, a comp could be a free buffet, a free dinner in a gourmet restaurant, a free or discounted room, free show tickets, free invitations to special events, even free transportation. Why do casinos give players comps? To induce player loyalty and hopefully repeat business in a very competitive market.

Obviously, the more you bet and the longer you play, the higher the level of comps you can expect to receive. And unlike what most players think, you don't have to lose in order to get a comp. All the casinos ask is a shot at your bankroll.

The casinos determine how much comp they will extend to a player based on a player's worth to the casino. They compute the player's "worth" based on the player's average bet size, how many decisions the player gets per hour, how long he plays and the casino's edge over the player. It sounds complicated, but it's quite simple.

Suppose a blackjack player plays 3 hours with an average bet size of $25. On average a player will be dealt about 80 hands per hour. Of course, this could vary depending upon whether the table was full or if he was playing alone against the dealer. But 80 is a good average so we will use it in our example.

After 3 hours of playing blackjack, our player will have made a total of $6,000 worth of bets. This is calculated as follows: $25 avg. bet times 80 decisions per hour times 3 hours.

Of course some of the bets that the player makes will win while others will lose. But that's not what's important for computing the value of the comp. All that matters is how much action the player gave the casino (action = total amount wagered).

The casino has a mathematical edge over blackjack players. The amount of its edge varies depending upon the rules of the game and the playing skill of the player. Casinos usual assume a 2 percent edge over the masses of players who play blackjack. This means that the casino expects to win 2 percent of the total amount wagered by a blackjack player or in our example $120 (2 percent times $6,000). Casinos often refer to the $120 as the player's theoretical or theo (meaning this is what the player should theoretically lose during that 3-hour playing session).

Of course our player will more than likely win or lose more than the theoretical $120 he is expected to lose. But casinos don't care because as long as they have the math on their side, over time our player will average a $120 loss after every 3-hour playing session. Yes, he will have some spectacular and memorable winning sessions, but they will be offset by the losing sessions. Over time, the casinos will bank on winning $120 on average for every 3 hours of play (assuming the same average bet).

This player's worth to the casino is $120. What casinos will do is give back to the player a percent of what the player expects to lose in the form of a comp. In our example, the player's theo is $120 and most casinos will give back (reinvestment percentage) in the range of 20-40 percent. This means our player can expect to receive a comp worth about $36 (30 percent times $120).

From the casinos' perspective, they don't want to "over comp" a player. In fact, over comping players often costs a casino more than the amount they lose to skilled card counters. How can this be? To answer this let's take a look at how the casinos' determine the variables in the above comp equations.

How does the casino determine the average bet a player makes? They have to rely on floor supervisors to manually record this information. Ditto for the length of time a player plays and even his skill level. The fact of the matter is that most floor supervisors don't have the time to watch every player at every table under their supervision. They glance at how much a player bets from time to time and do their best job at estimating how long the player plays.

Smart blackjack players can exploit the rating system for blackjack so that they often get more in comps then their theo. Here's how it's done.

Take our example of the $25 player who played 3 hours of blackjack. He's a smart player and he took the time to master the basic playing strategy, so the casino's advantage over him is really only 0.5 percent. He also slows down his play by playing at full tables and taking frequent breaks. So instead of getting 80 decisions per hour he is actually averaging 50 hands per hour. Also, when the floor supervisor isn't looking his way, our skilled player decreases his bets from $25 to $10 so his actual average bet is around $20 rather than $25. If you do the math, this player's actual expected loss is only $15 ($20 times 50 hands per hour times 3 hours times 0.5 percent). So when the floor supervisor gives him his $36 comp he is ahead of the game by $21. In other words, by playing skillfully, slowing down his play, and reducing his bet size when the floor supervisor isn't looking, our blackjack player gets more in comps then his theoretical loss. He has fooled the casino into believing his theo is $36 when in fact it's only $15. Even though the player has a slight disadvantage in the game, monetarily he will enjoy the advantage over the casino because of his skill in getting more then his fair share of comps. This is what makes the game of blackjack an excellent vehicle to gain the advantage over the casino without even learning card counting.

I want to be clear on one point. You should never play longer or bet more just for the sake of a comp. Just play your normal game, ask to be rated, slow down your play, and then ask for the comp.

To summarize, it's possible to get the monetary edge if you are a basic strategy blackjack player by playing skillfully and fooling the casino into thinking you are betting more and longer then you actually are. If you want to learn more about comps and blackjack, I highly recommend you read my friend Max Rubin's book, Comp City.

Until next time, play skillfully and don't forget to ask for that comp.

Recent Articles
Best of Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin

Henry Tamburin
Henry Tamburin is the author of the best-selling book, Blackjack: Take The Money and Run, editor of the Blackjack Insider e-Newsletter, and Lead Instructor for the Golden Touch Blackjack course. For a free 3-month subscription to his blackjack newsletter with full membership privileges, visit www.bjinsider.com/free. For details on the Golden Touch Blackjack course visit www.goldentouchblackjack.com or call 866/WIN-BJ21. For a free copy of his casino gambling catalog featuring over 50 products call 888/353-3234 or visit the Internet store at www.smartgaming.com.

Henry Tamburin Websites:

www.smartgaming.com

Books by Henry Tamburin:

> More Books By Henry Tamburin