Mysterium: The Best Game in Town

Posted by Jonathan Bayme on 10 April 2013

Editor’s Note: This article is the eleventh in a weekly series by Jason England: MYSTERIUM. Each article will be posted on Wednesday at 11:00am EST – every post on a different subject. This week, Jason discusses which games are the best in a casino, with the odds the most in your favor.

Mysterium - The Best Game in Town

To date, I've filmed 24 training videos on card cheat techniques - false shuffles, card controls, and the like. These videos are produced for entertainment purposes only. To win in a REAL casino, fair and square, you need to beat the odds - and that starts with choosing which game to play. In this article, I'll review which games are the best, with the odds the most in your favor.

Living in Las Vegas, people frequently ask me, “What’s the best game to play in the casino?” To the vast majority of people I simply reply, “Blackjack”.

It’s not that I don’t want to take the time to explain the real answer; it’s just that most people are asking what they perceive to be a simple question and so I don’t disappoint them – I give them a simple answer.

But recently someone that I knew to be the type to appreciate a serious, thoughtful answer asked me this same question, “What’s the best game to play?” My reply to him took several minutes and had a few tangential discussions that aren’t relevant here. But, I thought those of you that perform gambling demonstrations might be interested in the real answer, in case you’re ever asked the same question.

The truth of the matter is that determining the best game to play in a casino is more complicated that it first appears.

Perhaps the biggest issue that is usually left unresolved (or worse, unmentioned) is: What kind of player are you? If you are a classic “tourist” or “weekend” gambler that only gambles once a year and you don’t want to devote any time to learning even a rudimentary strategy, then baccarat is a good choice for you.

The house edge in baccarat is very low (around 1% if you avoid the “tie” bet) and the game is slow enough that you won’t go broke in an hour. The only downside to baccarat is that it often has some of the highest table limits in the casino. You might only be able to find $25.00 tables in most major properties, although you can sometimes find lower minimums at mini-baccarat (the same basic game except played on a blackjack-sized table).

But what if you don’t mind learning some basic betting concepts? Then craps might be a good choice.

Although the “strategy” for craps really only boils down to avoiding the bets with the high house advantages and sticking with pass/don’t pass and come/don’t come bets, the overall casino edge can be reduced to a tiny fraction with proper play. For example, a player betting $5.00 on the pass line and backing his bet with single odds can be playing against a house edge of well less than 1%. That’s very, very good for traditional casino games.

The only problem with craps is that it’s a relatively fast-paced game. Even though the player may only be wagering $5.00 on any given roll, there can be 50 or more rolls in an hour. If not controlled for, the fast pace actually cause you to lose money more rapidly than a game with slightly worse house odds, but a slower pace.

At the end of the day, baccarat and craps are long-term losing games. Only in a few rare instances can certain rare advantage playing techniques be used to turn a profit in these games. But, for the casual gambler who doesn’t want to invest much (or any) time into learning a sophisticated strategy, they offer the best bet in the house.

old-time-baccaratHowever, if you are the type of player who is willing to educate yourself over the course of 6 months or so, you can do significantly better than baccarat or craps. The two primary games that come to mind that fall into this category are video poker and blackjack. We’ll look at video poker first.

Video poker can actually be played with a small player advantage if the proper game is chosen and the appropriate strategy is applied. Depending on the specific game you choose, you can occasionally play a video poker machine with an actual edge, or you can even choose one with a tiny casino edge and still be a long-term winner? How is this possible?

The way it works is this: slot players are highly sought-after by the casino industry.

Every major casino has a slot club that offers incentives and coupons to regular players. Most of the time, these coupons and small cash incentives don’t amount to much more than simple advertising. But on occasion, slot clubs will offer to return a certain percentage of your total action back to the player in the form of a check. This is similar to the “cash back” programs offered by major credit cards. Spend $25,000 on your credit card in a year and they’ll mail you a check for 1% ($250.00) at the end of the year.

By playing certain video poker machines that are essentially a dead-even gamble against the house, and by recycling your buy-in amounts many times over, professional video poker players essentially “fool” the house into thinking they were gambling. These professionals are only gambling in a very narrow sense. The truth is they’ve calculated their edge against the machines and balanced that against their bankrolls to come up with a very smart plan to run tens of thousands of dollar through the machines without really losing anything. Then they sit back and wait for the casinos to mail them a check at the end of the month as a way of saying, “Thanks for gambling at our casino!”

If the cash-back systems are paying out enough money (say 1%), then it’s possible to use them even against a video poker game that actually has a tiny house edge. If the edge is too much, then the cash-back program can’t overcome it, but the smart players know where this break even point is and they avoid machines that don’t give them the best chances of making a good return.

The last of the classic casino games that we’ll look at is blackjack.

This is the game that most people believe has the lowest house edge and is therefore the game that they should play in a casino if they want the best chance of making some money.

The only problem with blackjack for most players is the amount of work it takes to play the game with an edge. Memorizing a basic strategy chart is a necessary first step, but that alone won’t allow you to play with an edge. There was a time when the proper basic strategy chart for a single deck blackjack game on the Las Vegas Strip would have the player at essentially a dead-even gamble with the casino. Those days are gone. Today, basic strategy charts still leave the player with a small disadvantage, usually in the neighborhood of 0.5 – 1.0% depending on the specifics of the game.

Once you’ve learned basic strategy you can start to explore the realm of counting.

It’s not particularly easy, but it isn’t rocket science either. Most people can get the hang of card counting over the course of a few weeks and with a month or two of steady practice can actually implement the concepts in a casino.

Of course, this takes time and effort and we’re back to the crux of our initial question: what kind of player are you? If you’re not willing to invest any time at all learning, then we’ve seen baccarat is as decent a game as any. If you’re willing to do some work, then perhaps craps is for you. If you’re willing to do significant strategy research and actually practice at home, then certain video poker games or blackjack might be more your speed.

As you can see, answering the apparently simple question of “What’s the best game to play in a casino?” is actually anything but simple. The next time you hear someone bring up the topic, you can refer them to this article, or you can just do what I do and say, “Blackjack.”