Earlier this week I met at length with executives from one of the corporations that back wagers in California card rooms.  In anticipation of these meetings, I wrote this blog article. The main topic of these meetings was advantage play: what is possible and what they can do about it. As I outlined the issues, the inability of the corporation to take immediate or meaningful action became ever more clear. Meanwhile, the corporation outlined a whole spectrum of advantage play that I would have never thought about. California card rooms are the wild west of advantage play and that's not going to change any time soon.  The most effective solutions to advantage play are in direct conflict with the way card rooms make their profit.

By charging a fee-to-play, the card room just wants warm bodies in their chairs. Each dollar that is placed on the table translates to income for the card room without bankroll risk. It's a sure thing. By backing off players, they are reducing their income, no matter the skill level of the player. Meanwhile, the corporation is left to suffer an advantage player's impact on their bankroll with no power to remove or modify a game, change procedures, fix layout issues or back off players. If the corporation presses too hard for a fix, the card room can just hire another corporation. These corporations are lined up, gladly willing to tolerate  advantage play in exchange for the opportunity to move into a competitor's action. In practice, advantage players are rarely backed off and very few vulnerabilities are quickly fixed once discovered.

The main resource the corporation has is a positive relationship with management of the card room. The better the relationship, the more likely that they can plead their case for changes to better safeguard the games. But changes always come with a cost. The cost may be dealer training time, modifying physical elements, re-writing policies and procedures, or education for staff. When the corporation asks for a change, the card room looks at the costs and may decide it's just not worth it. After a while it may seem to the card room that the corporation is chasing ghosts. Too many requests may sour the relationship. In the end the card room may say they've had enough of the corporation's nagging.

One solution we came up with was for the corporation to be able to point to  external references to back up their concerns when they express them to card room management. This already happened with the Dragon/Panda side bets for EZ Baccarat: the corporation I spoke with lobbied for the cut card to be placed at 26 cards. It also happened when the card rooms used the ribbon spread and exposed a card. The corporation mentioned several other cases when information they obtained from third-party sources was critical in making their case to the card room for changes.

During our meetings, I presented several advantage play opportunities I had analyzed. These games are live today at several of the casinos they bank. I showed them the counting system that could be used along with the play frequency, average edge, trigger count, and win per 100 hands. Then I showed them that their cards can be sorted. They told me about hole-card issues with Ultimate Texas Hold' em and Three Card Poker. When we considered the different options for protecting these games, the best solution always came down to approaching the card room to request some sort of change.  The key was a third-party resource for information about the advantage play opportunity.

In the end, the corporation not only gave me permission to write about the vulnerabilities of some of the games they bank, they saw the good it would do in having that information publicly available. The best APs are already beating their games. Like the Dragon/Panda bets, having the information public may draw a few opportunists, but it is also key in giving the corporation a way out.

Knowledge is power and that's why knowledge is most valuable when it is in the public domain. Those who want to take the time to learn will always be the ones who are best served. Knowledge inspires learning. What more could a retired teacher want?

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received his Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Arizona in 1983. Eliot has been a Professor of both Mathematics and Computer Science. Eliot retired from academia in 2009. Eliot Jacobson