Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Blackjack Betting

There are two aspects to playing blackjack "well".  Playing strategy and betting strategy.  There are many guides to both.  Wikipedia actually has a great matrix of what do based on what you have and what the dealer is showing.  The very short form of the playing strategy is you generally assume the hole card is a 10.  Therefore you should hit until your hand total is higher than whatever the dealer has showing.  So if the dealer is showing a 7, then you assume he/she has a 17 and therefore you should hit up to 17 or bust trying since the dealer is likely to beat you anyway.  There's more to it than this and I would encourage you to read up on the full strategy--or sit down with me sometime as I explain it.

Betting strategy is something I don't see as often, but I'm sure it is out there.  My research is all based on no actual money--just a very realistic simulated environment.  In class, I would "buy in" for $200-$300 and play all night trying to only work with that initial buy in.  Most nights I made it last for 3 hours with little to nothing left over, but there were a couple of nights where I ended very up.  My record was $3800, but I did get over $1000 more than a few times.  I wouldn't encourage real gambling unless you really can afford it, but playing with a good poker set is most of the same fun.

My betting strategy uses two hands on a $5 table.  To play 2 hands you have to double the minimal bet to $10.  So Bet 1 gets $10 and Bet 2 gets $10.  From this you have fundamentally 3 outcomes.  2 winning hands, 1 win / 1 loss, and 2 losses.  1 win / 1 loss happens the most often and it results in a wash.  You win $10 and lose $10.  You take the $10 you won and move it over to the bet that lost and keep playing as is.  You just having fun for free at this point.

If both bets win, then you get $20 in pay out.  Add $5 to each bet and pull back $10.  Now you have $30 on the table--two bets of $15.  Just play normally.  Chances are you'll get the 1/1 result and you can keep moving the $15 winning bet over to the loss and you're still playing for free.  As long as you're winning or getting 1/1 you keep up the same pattern of adding $5 from winning bets or just moving over bets.  

If you lose both hands you basically start over at $10 bets and build up again.  If you're lucky you will have built up some winnings from pulling back winning bets.  If you want to play more aggressively, then double your starting bets to $20 and $20.  If you lose again, then double again to $40 and $40.  If you are applying good blackjack strategy then the odds of winning remain about 1 in 3 so you're bound to win back what you've lost if you can keep doubling the bet on the losses.  However... this is a game of a chance.  If this is real money, then it is your real $160 on the table to win or lose based on a 30 second blackjack hand.  Obviously, some people dig that.  Some don't.  Don't bet what you can't lose.

Overall this strategy allows you to stretch out play time.  It does require that you know your blackjack playing strategy.  While it isn't really possible for most folks to count cards in their head, you can keep a casual track of things.  There are 96 Ten cards and 24 Aces. If you're most of the way through a full 6-deck "shoe" then the percentage of 10's / Aces has likely altered.  Good playing strategy requires using Double Down and Split bets effectively in well timed ways.

Again, this is just my personal observation.  I make no claim about this strategy as likely to win you actual money.  All casino gambling favours the house.  My observations are my own and do not reflect the recommendations of any agency public or private.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Blackjack... a relatively simple game.  I've spent the last month playing about 4 hours a day, 5 days a week in training to be a dealer at a local casino.  I've always wanted to be a better blackjack player--it feels a bit "James Bond" even if his game was baccarat.  You know the basics.  You start with 2 cards and total the pips of each card to get as close to 21 as you can without going over.  All suited cards count as 10 except the Ace which can be either 1 or 11.  Simple enough with a few extra bits to remember.

You're playing against the dealer and only the dealer.  There may be 7 people at your table, but the only hand you have to beat is the dealer (me).  In this regard I am entirely a machine, the dealer can make no decisions about his/her hand.  My casino must hit on all hands "soft 17" or lower and must NOT hit on any hand of "hard 17" or higher.  Thus if I have an Ace and a 6, then I have a a soft 17 and must take another card.  If I have an Ace and a 7, then I have a soft 18 and must NOT take a card.  The dealer has only one card visible when you (the player) must decide if you want additional cards or not.  The hidden card (or hole card) is what you're betting against.  If your hand totals higher than mine or if I bust (go over 21) then you win and I match your bet.  If I beat your hand or you bust, then I take your bet. If you get a true "blackjack" hand (one 10 card of any sort and one Ace on your first two cards), then I pay 3:2 or 1.5 times your bet.

That's the basics of it.  Most of the class was more about handling the cheques(chips) than anything else.  You see casinos rarely lose money from players, but apparently employees cost them money all the time. Everything on a blackjack table is watch by multiple cameras.  They can count the cheques on the table--probably better than I can standing at the table.  So everything I do as a dealer must be very transparent to the cameras.

Now a public service announcement.  DEALERS ARE PAID ON TIPS!  The hourly rate of an American casino dealer is making less than minimum wage like any waitress or bartender.  There are a variety of ways to tip a dealer.  A popular route is to place a dealer bet next to your own on the table.  If you win, then the dealer wins that portion of your bet.  Certainly this is fun, but don't feel shy about just giving the tip (a cheque/chip) straight to the dealer.  You see if your hand loses, then the tip is lost as well.  The casino doesn't give the lost tip bet to the dealers...  Every dealer needs to make about $15 per hour in tips to make a good wage.  That's not very hard to do at a table of even 3 players.  Consider giving $5 per hour to the dealer as a general rule.  However, if you did just score big on a $500 bet, tipping a $25 is just fine!  This reflects only my opinion of tipping dealers.  You stick to whatever mechanism feels right for you.  My opinion is not a reflection of any organization or casino.

There is no "trick" to blackjack.  There is no magic formula to win consistently even if you are a master player.  It is a casino game of chance which has to take in more than it pays out in order to work.  That said, you can definitely hedge the odds a bit.  Generally, one hand in three is going to win.  Each hand has one of 3 outcomes, win, lose, or draw (called a push).  If you win, you get double your money. If you lose, you lose your bet.  If you push, then you neither win nor lose any money.  As with all things based on chance, you can get a string of 10 losses or 10 wins.  The odds just say what is likely to happen, not what will happen.  Again, no system can turn blackjack in to a consistently winning game, but it's fun to play and get lucky.  If you have the means to spend the money, enjoy yourself in a casino, and like to smoke and drink inside... then blackjack is a pretty enjoyable hobby.  Most people won't walk away "winners"... but a few will.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

EVEn Now

The years go by and games come and go, but EVE seems to be eternal.  The big draw this month is that CCP is creating a real life stone monument to the game in Iceland with the name of every active pilot etched on it.  So yeah, Masada Akiva and Porter Thorne will be cut in stone along with 200,000 variations of genitalia euphemisms.  In strange, very unlike Eve fashion, I haven't lost my station or alliance.  I'm still with Apocalypse Now in Providence space and doing fine.

I've been cycling through various games.  My playing time has been drastically reduced, but I've passed through Star Wars The Old Republic, Defiance, more Star Trek Online, and a tiny bit of Elder Scrolls Skyrim.  Just playing around with this and that.

Defiance is a great little game for some light-hearted shooting and some fun racing around in dune buggies.  SWTOR keeps packing in more expansions which are adding to the game, but it feels like drips and drabs.  It never has quite enough meat to really bite in to.  STO keeps adding more and more content and all of it is pretty well done, but the game so completely easy that it offers no real challenge.  Plus I think STO should be a game full of moral quandary and the MMO offers zero real moral dilemmas. Elder Scrolls isn't online yet, but from what I'm hearing of the beta, I probably won't even try it.  The fantasy clones are just not compelling.

I am looking forward to Titanfall, but that's won't be an MMO of course.  I keep flirting with the idea of GW2, but then never feel like spending the full price even though I know it is only one time.  I just picked up Shadowrun and while I'm not a fan of the "retro" top-down playing format with static text, it is a good story and I always love a game with cyberware.

The next BIG adventure will be a foray in to real games.  I'm training to be a Blackjack dealer at one of the local casinos.  It isn't a lot of extra money, but it's more than minimum wage which is good enough for a second job.  I won't be quitting my day job, but it is fun to think I could shift careers in to professional gaming.  That might be cool.

Game on!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

In the darkness of Dishonored

I put some time in to Dishonored over the last couple of weeks.  While not an MMO (or even multi-player), it has the sort of compelling story-line I enjoy.  It is somewhat darker than I like, but the world had a gritty reality to it that hooked me.  In my opinion, the backdrop was more interesting than the actual story.  The story is an un-original "avenge the murdered Empress and save the young princess" cliche.  Which is too bad as the whole rest of the game is one of the most original I've played.  I actually put off buying this title for months because of the dull premise.  I'm glad Steam finally had it up for $10!

The backdrop is a sort of steampunk world based on whale oil.  The city of Dunwall is on a harbor where one can frequently see the whaling ships come in with their still living harvest held suspended over the deck.  Technology is a blend of what looks like whale oil diesel and Tesla-inspired electrical fields.  Dunwall is suffering a massive plague, flooding, and internal corruption.  There isn't much hope in this story.  The game starts with the Empress of Dunwall murdered in front of you and her daughter.  The rest of the game is bringing those responsible to justice and rescuing the princess and here is where Dishonored shows a bit of uniqueness.

While many games have different outcomes based on decisions, in Dishonored the story alters based on body count.  If you work your way through the game murdering anyone and everyone in your path to ultimately eliminate a major target, then the game plays along a path of "high chaos" and the already dark story gets darker.  There will be more rats, more plague victims, and NPC's mutter darker phrases in your presence.  Alternatively, you can choose to knock opponents out or avoid them completely to achieve a "low chaos" victory.  The epilogue for each is different while the quests on the way are exactly the same.  The variation is subtle, but well done.  It isn't a radical story shift in either case.  In the end the bad guys are dealt with and the princess restored.  Still, I was left wondering what happened to Dunwall.  The epilogue hand waves over it, but I wanted more.  I wanted to see such a dark place become brighter.  I wanted to see more positive impact of my actions instead of merely avoiding the worst outcomes.  Justice never quite seems to be served.  Any story that can make me wish for such things has in my definition become worthy of recommendation.  It's a good journey with some interesting questions.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Interface Zero: Upgrade

In order to keep the creative mind active, I've started working more frequently on tabletop gaming and story building.  I use these sorts of things a muse to keep my mind in a particular world where stories happen.  My latest tool for this is Interface Zero; a campaign setting for either d20 Modern or Savage Worlds.  Since I've been keeping my eye on SW for a while now, I figured I'd give the system a shot.

IZ is a cyberpunk setting which attracts me as I see cyberpunk as a step in to transhumanism.  Transhumanism has less "humanity is in decay" and more "humanity is evolving and adapting".  So let's chat about Interface Zero and Savage Worlds.

SW is (in my experience) a step between the utter simplicity of True20 and the more common complexity of D&D 3/4 ed.  There are no levels, but rather "Advances" where you qualify for an upgrade to a stat, skill, or power.  This allows for great character flexibility.  The fundamental mechanic is based on the love of dice.  Traits like Strength are assigned a die type like d4, d6, d8, d10, and d12.  When making Strength checks the player rolls the die type they bought for Strength.  Most target numbers are just 4 so using a d12 makes such checks pretty easy while having only a d4 makes it harder.  When you roll the max on your die type, it "explodes" allowing you to roll it again and add the new roll to the first.  Thus you can pull off incredible acts of success.  Every time you beat a target roll by 4 points it counts as a "raise" with some bonus effect like extra damage or maximal effect.  Raises can stack so beat a number by 8 points and get two raises.  Everything works on this mechanic.

Damage to characters is handled by a wound system where by if your personal toughness and armor are exceeded by the damage dealt then you are shaken and/or wounded.  Incur three wounds and you are incapacitated.  Combats are short once one side gains an advantage.  For its simplicity, SW still contains a lot of nuance that can make every encounter different (players, read the damn rules).

Interface Zero is the setting on top of the system.  David Jarvis of Gun Metal Games ( has fronted this system and scored 7 "raises" on his Kickstarter campaign to fund the second edition printing.  He landed $84,000 in funding for a $10,000 project.  The new beta versions of the setting are just starting to roll out and they look pretty darn cool.  Unlike more "traditional" cyberpunk, IZ pierces space to introduce colonies and space stations.  It also has "gollemechs" and of course augmented and virtual realities.  I've been daydreaming this world for about 5 years so it is fun to see some game mechanics behind so I can actually play in this world.  See you in my own universe...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Federation, Klingons, and Romulans... OH MY!

Star Trek Online remains a common favorite.  You just can't beat free and as far as "space combat" goes, it doesn't get much more painlessly fun than STO.  So what's new with good ol' STO? Romulans, of course.

This "season's" expansion is Legend of Romulus and features the lesser known pointy eared space elves.  Let us review the timeline...

The Star Trek that original fans remember officially ends when Spock is thrown back in time in the JJ Abrams reboot.  From that point we were on a new timeline and we have seen two movies of the "new" Star Trek starting back in the early days of James T. Kirk.  So what about the original timeline that Spock left?  Romulus was destroyed and Spock had disappeared.  Those days were fairly far in the future of the to the original timeline and many of the old characters were retired or dead.  This is where Star Trek Online takes over.  STO is the original timeline told well after Romulus has exploded.

In this season, we see the Romulans attempting to rebuild their home on a new planet while the politics and warfare of the galaxy continue around them on all sides.  This is one of my problems with the STO game is that it turns Star Trek away from its roots and squarely back in to the space combat genre.  I lament this track, but I do actually enjoy space combat so I'll forgive it.

LoR does some pretty cool things with characters.  Besides adding Romulan as a fully playable starting race with its own storyline, the Klingons are also being given their own storyline starting from 1st level.  This is new ground for STO where Klingons were only playable *after* you had run a Federation character to 24th level.  While awesome! I also find this really annoying.  For years, Dan Stahl, the lead developer for STO has said he isn't developing the Klingons as a fully playable faction because "most of the players wanted to play Federation."  Well if that really is true, Dan, then why create a 3rd non-Federation race?  I'm glad of the change of heart, but I'm not sure what to believe out of you now.  Either your numbers were really bad or this was just the best thing you could come up with.

Anyways... There are new ships, new worlds, and graphics improvements across the board.  I personally saw less bugs than usual for STO, but the whole system has been suffering beta disease with daily outages and multiple patches.  This is partially due to Cryptic Studios also deciding to beta launch an entirely new title, Neverwinter.  Two betas at the same time... Really, Cryptic? Kudos for bravado if not brains.

The missions are good, the visuals are good and there are enough buttons and knobs to have fun with it.  There are some annoying bits... Free 2 Play doesn't mean free of course.  The developers count on gaining some revenue which I fully support.  In STO this comes in the form of buying access to ships and convenience items (like more bank slots).  These purchases are often tied to each individual character and thus would need to be purchased many times if one were to make many characters.  A theme of Cryptic game design is the encouraging of creating many characters... Cryptic games have lots of options locked in to the classes you pick and level quickly.  It is designed to create alts and each alt requires some revenue... that gets a bit annoying when you look at the total spend on a game.  Federation ships purchased are not available to Klingon characters for example (or visa versa).

The expansion is well worth a look for the price (free!).  I do love the ship combat.  Ground combat needs some work (still).  Overall there is easily a month or two of content in STO worth exploring.  PS: the picture is Masada as a Lethean... Game ON.

WhatEVEr Happened to...?

Eve Online? Well it is still out there and still cranking out updates and changes.  The latest release is Odyssey.  There are many full and better reviews out there so I won’t attempt an exhaustive list of features, but I can comment on what my experiences have been.

When last we left our intrepid pilot, Masada, he was deep in Providence with the CVA alliance.  While I always try to keep tabs on general events in Eve, I can’t always keep up with the actual personalities involved.  Eve is still a full monthly subscription game and that makes it prohibitive to play compared to free titles like Star Trek Online or Neverwinter, but something is still compelling about the silent expanse of Eve.  

When I returned, Masada was right where I left him and even in the same alliance and still in a friendly station.  This is something that can actually go wrong in nullsec regions like Providence.

I reconnected my Planetary Interactions (basically planet side manufacturing), tweeked my ship configurations a little bit and bolted out in to our home pocket to do a little ratting.  Everything worked about as I remember and then a drone got popped and another was almost dead.  WTF? Mobs almost never locked drones before.  I thought maybe this particular combat site must be special, but nooooo.  As I ran more Cosmic Anomalies (randomly spawning combat sites), it became clear that drones were definitely first on the mob menus.  My ratting Dominix battleship was vastly diminished.  I could tank forever, but I couldn’t keep my drones alive long enough to clear a site.  Replacing drones is expensive and time consuming.  A Heavy Assault drone in Providence can cost 2 million ISK a pop and are often many warp jumps away.  Dejected I clone jumped back to Empire to try some missions.

Rather than waste more drones, I went ahead and fit a modest Raven battleship.  The Caldari ships focus on missiles which have gotten a lot of love from the Eve developers in the last year or so.  Missiles now have fully animated launch sequences and leave these awesome vapor trails as they smash on to targets with new explosions.  It was very satisfying.  Many ships (like the Raven) have seen some changes to help balance them out.  This makes the "lower" end ships like the Raven better while shaving a little off the top of the "higher" end ships like the Rokh.   I made some isk and had fun chatting up my new corpmates in the same alliance.  Without putting in long hours I was making isk and enjoying the pretty stars (and explosions).

About this time my son decided he wanted to trial Eve so I helped him get started and then sent him a few million.  After figuring out the new mob mechanics I decided to jump Masada back to Providence to continue ratting and to poke at exploration.  I didn’t want to leave the boy all alone in Empire so I activated my 2nd account.  I figured I’d leave my alt with the boy to help him figure out mining and running missions and when he wasn’t online, I could run Masada in Providence.

So far it has all been working out nicely.  I give the new release a big thumbs up.  It is a good expansion on top of a decade of developed mechanics.  Eve continues to be a beautiful game with a lotta buttons to play with.  For me it is still a slow game—easy to keep up with—but it sure doesn’t have to be.  PvP remains fast, furious, and pulse pounding.

Will I be in space every day? Oh, I dunno.  I tend to think no, but it is fun for now.