In this post, I am going to offer my opinion on the top five opportunities APs will be seeking out in 2014. First, I offer a disclaimer. APs are continuously scouting, researching and innovating. They exploit one-time opportunities. They burn out games. They negotiate special circumstances. There is no way to keep up with or fully know what top APs are doing or how they are doing it. It follows that the list below is incomplete and out of date in both content and methods. However, more methods and games are coming to light all the time, so stay tuned.

Here are the top five advantage plays to watch out for in 2014:

#5: Edge sorting baccarat

As Phil Ivey showed, this method has the potential to bring in astronomical returns, in the millions. The problem is not one of method; rather it is a question of opportunity. There are only a few top APs who specialize in the social engineering required to make edge sorting possible at the highest dollar levels. When APs achieve this play, they are often subjected to after-the-fact legal wrangling. Winning a million bucks does not mean you have won a million bucks.

What is more common is to use edge sorting against a variety of other games at lower dollar denominations. Most notably, for at least two decades, APs have been using edge sorting to attack blackjack. More recently, it has found application as a method of play against proprietary games. Remember the turn! Here are some articles I’ve written about edge sorting:

#4: Hole-carding proprietary games

The edges that APs achieve by hole-carding Mississippi Stud can exceed 100%. On games like Texas Hold’em Bonus and Ultimate Texas Hold’em, opportunities to find edges over 20% are common. Unfortunately for the AP, the earnings are bounded by the table maximum wager that is allowed, which is typically quite low. On the other hand, the AP can walk into just about any casino in the country and find a game to play. The AP who does his homework will surely find some dealer on some proprietary game who is exposing a hole-card. Some games have procedural fixes. Three Card Poker can be safeguarded by using the New York, New York procedure. Texas Hold’em Bonus Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold’em can be hand dealt. But Mississippi Stud does not have an easy fix. Hole-carding Mississippi Stud continues to be the number one proprietary game opportunity for APs. Here are some articles I’ve written about hole-carding proprietary games:

#3: Hole-carding blackjack

Hole-carding blackjack remains the most commonly sought-out and exploited high-level AP opportunity.  Depending on the information the AP can comfortably exploit, the practical edge for the AP goes up to about 10%.  What makes hole-carding blackjack so valuable are the high table limits that can be found on many games. With a spotter/big-player combination, it is not uncommon for the big-player to be making wagers of $2000 or more each hand. What is not commonly known by many in game protection is that some AP teams are aggressively hole-carding six-deck shoe games. This takes place when an AP team forces the dealer to slide his hole-card over the edge of the rack or over the peeking device built into the table. APs do this by crowding the dealer.; they bring chips to the table to fill the rack; they place their wagers forward in their betting spots; they seek out shoe games dealt on a pitch layout. A spotter seated at third base signals the hole-card to other team players. I have not written about hole-carding blackjack.

#2: Card counting the baccarat Pairs bet

The Pairs bet pays 11-to-1 for a dealt pair. The player can wager on either or both of the Player or Banker side to be dealt a pair. The Pairs bet is the most common side bet available on baccarat world-wide. Unlike blackjack side bets, it is quite common for the table limit on the Pairs bet to be up to 10% of the table limit on the main game. Given the combination of wagering limits and potential edge, the Pairs bet is considerably more lucrative than hole-carding blackjack or proprietary games.

The method needed to card count the Pairs bet is very tough to carry out, but can be learned through dedicated practice. Certainly any top AP can master the method. However, there are jurisdictions internationally where device laws make beating the Pairs bet trivial. There are apps available for smart phones, as well as dedicated cell phones, that can be used to give the exact edge for the Pairs bet on every hand. Also, some of the biggest players are allowed to play via phone. An Excel spread sheet does the job. In my opinion, the Pairs bet is the most significant ongoing opportunity being used to beat baccarat for big bucks.

It is also important to understand that while card counting applies to the Pairs bet, it does not apply to the main game or to the Tie bet. These wagers are effectively worthless as card counting opportunities.  When management becomes fixated on non-methods, they can become blind to how they are really being beat.

Here are some articles I’ve written about card counting baccarat, the Tie bet and the Pairs bet:

#1: Exploiting high-roller incentive programs

Don Johnson showed how to crush the house when he exploited a 20% loss rebate offered by three separate casinos in Atlantic City, back in the winter of 2012. Loss rebates are typically offered as incentives to high-rollers. What makes them especially interesting to top APs is that bigger bankrolls usually equate to higher loss rebate percentages.  Most rebates in excess of 10% can lead to a player edge.

Although blackjack is the main target, baccarat and single-zero roulette are also viable games. On top of loss rebates, top players are often given additional incentives, like airfare, show-up money, quick-pay and promotional chips. The vigorous competition for high-rollers has led to an expanding market of opportunities to exploit loss rebate and related incentive programs.

Safeguarding loss rebates from the casino side is usually accomplished by requiring a minimum amount of play to be eligible for the rebate. For many overseas casinos, this is achieved through dead chip and rolling chip programs. However, most domestic casinos have no such protective procedures. Instead, they rely on identifying advantage players on an ad-hoc basis. In this case, syndicates have been known to rotate new players through the loss rebate program, making identification problematic.

Unlike the other opportunities listed above, protecting high-roller incentive programs begins with marketing and upper management. The competitive need to bring in high-rollers means these incentives will continue. Exploiting loss rebates and high-roller incentive programs was the number one method used by top APs to beat the house in 2013. It will continue to be the number one method in 2014.

Here are some articles I’ve written about exploiting loss rebates:

Conclusion

There are a number of methods and games that did not make my list. Collusion is becoming more viable with proprietary games like Double Draw Poker and High-Card Flush. Card counting blackjack and baccarat side bets can lead to significant win-rates, but low maximum wagers severely limit profitability to the AP. Hole-carding baccarat and other location plays (like exploiting the ribbon spread) may deserve a place on the list, so pay attention to those as well if you offer baccarat. On the other hand, ordinary blackjack card counting does not come close to making the list. The profit-potential is far too low and the risk of being blacklisted as an AP is far too high. The industry should pause for a collective sigh and stop obsessing over blackjack card counters.

I encourage you to explore the articles on this site. Look at the games your casino offers and read all about them. There is nothing cheaper and more worthwhile than knowledge. Find what's valuable to you and learn all about it.

About the Author
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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