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Counting cards in Reno - General Guide for new players
I hoped someone would answer this, but since no one has, here's a repeat of a post I wrote about fifteen months ago. Little has changed in that time.
Counting cards in Reno - General Guide for new players
Originally published in BJInsider.com., and posted on BJ21.com Green Chip. Because there seem to be quite a few new players playing in Reno, I thought it might be helpful.
Reno and other parts of northern Nevada are different from most casino destinations throughout the world. By “Reno,” I mean the general Reno area, including Lake Tahoe. I like Reno. Most employees are friendly. Most casino management still behaves as if it appreciates having customers. Comps are easy and generous. If you are accustomed to the hostility, rudeness, and mostly lousy games found throughout Las Vegas, Reno will be a pleasant surprise.
Single deck blackjack that pays 3 to 2 is still found almost everywhere. Other blackjack games are also offered, some quite lucrative, but in this article we will primarily address the single deck games. To determine which casinos offer other playable games, see Current Blackjack News: http://www.bj21.com/ads/cbjn1.shtml>
Basic elements of successfully counting cards at single deck blackjack in Reno include:
1. Recognition that the correct approach to the game is different in many ways than multi-deck games.
2. Proper game selection. See this link for a general guide: http://www.bj21.com/bj_reference/pages/singledeckgameselection.shtml>
3. Accurately counting the rounds that are dealt, to properly gauge penetration and to be able to recognize preferential shuffling.
4. Large bet spreads in short, anonymous sessions.
5. Not becoming a “familiar face” if it can be avoided. If you become familiar, other strategies must be used, which are beyond the scope of this article.
General Reno Information:
Flights to and from Reno are numerous and inexpensive. Reno’s airport is small and efficient. Some may find it more economical to fly to Las Vegas and buy a separate round trip ticket to Reno. Southwest Airlines is the airline of choice to Reno.
A nice feature of Reno is that local chips are interchangeable at almost all local casinos, both at the tables and at the cages. Therefore, there is no reason to go to the cage after most sessions. You will save time this way. Note that a few casinos have maximums on how much in “foreign” chips they will cash. Eldorado, Silver Legacy, Atlantis, and Peppermill are presently the best at cashing “foreign” chips without unreasonable limitations or hassles.
A car is necessary in Reno. Most of the worthwhile casinos are in a relatively compact area, but trying to navigate it without a car is foolish. Car rentals are cheap. Sometimes you can find a better deal by checking prices online a day or two before your scheduled arrival, then canceling your earlier reservation and rebooking at the lower rate. Parking is free and easy everywhere. Self-park is usually more efficient than valet, with a few exceptions.
If not staying in a downtown hotel, the best downtown parking is the Eldorado valet. It is safe, efficient, and you can easily walk to all the downtown casinos from there. However, I do not recommend walking to the Sands Regency or to the Siena after dark. Drive to them separately. All others are safe to walk to at any hour if you use common sense. In addition to the three mentioned, downtown casinos include Cal-Neva, Circus Circus, Harrah’s, and Silver Legacy. There is a second-level indoor walkway between Eldorado, Silver Legacy, and Circus Circus. Use it instead of walking outside.
Self-park garages to avoid are Cal-Neva and Harrah’s, especially after dark. Cal-Neva because of the unsavory characters who frequent the place, and Harrah’s because it is a slow, winding garage that wastes time entering and exiting. At Siena, park on the west side of the self-park lot if possible. The east side abuts a dangerous, high-crime neighborhood. Gang members and other undesirables often loiter on the east side of the Siena parking lot. Siena security, like most casino security, is practically useless. If parking is unavailable on the west side after dark, use the valet.
Use self-parking at all other casinos except the large ones in Lake Tahoe, where valet is usually more efficient. The slowest valet service is at JA Nugget and Atlantis. The self-park at these two casinos is not convenient, but is better than the slow valet service. At Peppermill, use the parking garage, unless you have Diamond or Platinum parking privileges, in which case the outside parking lot by the sportsbook is usually the fastest. Otherwise, proceed directly to the top (sixth level) and you will usually find plenty of places right by the elevator. To save time when entering the Peppermill property from Virginia Street, use the southernmost driveway, not the one with the traffic signals, unless you intend to park in the lot by the sportsbook.
A quick route from Peppermill or Atlantis to Grand Sierra is to take Moana Lane to the 395, instead of Plumb Lane. Reverse it from Grand Sierra to Peppermill or Atlantis.
To generate comps for use on future visits, you will need to determine which casino(s) you want for a “home base,” then play a narrow, polite blackjack spread there for a few hours so as not to risk getting backed off, or play other games and still play a strong anonymous blackjack game. You will have to determine which approach is best for you. Reno room comp mailers are generous and plentiful. Once you get on a mailing list, you will stay there for a long time, usually monthly offers with no play requirement. An approximate minimum level of play to get lots of room offers, some free play or cash coupons, and enough comp “points” for free food while in Reno is about three hours of blackjack with a weak, practically break-even spread, maybe 1-3 in black. If you get comps based on blackjack play, be prepared to put in this time on most visits to keep the offers flowing. In addition to the expenditure of time, another downside is that you waste a place to play aggressively, because you will become known to the pit and therefore unable to play anonymously.
Video poker $2 machines ($10 per hand) will get you decent comps with less time wasted. I personally know only 9/6 Jacks, which has about a half a percent house edge, but is good for room and food comps at most stores. Video poker is boring, but I force myself to play it at the better-comping stores to keep the freebies flowing. The value of the freebies is far more than the expected loss at video poker. Of course the variance at video poker is huge, so small-bankrolled players cannot prudently use this method of extracting comps. About $12,000 of coin-in (two hours of play at moderately fast speed of 600 hands per hour) will put you into the decent comps category at most Reno casinos. You don’t have to play the entire two hours all at once, just sometime on the trip. I break mine down into thirty-minute segments, as that’s about all the video poker I can stand at one time.
If using the video poker method, do not play blackjack on the same visit to that casino. If you get backed off anonymously, surveillance can backtrack you to the video poker machine and discover your identity, resulting in the probable loss of your comps. Naturally, you can return later to play aggressive blackjack anonymously. Even if you get backed off, your room and free money offers will continue, because they will have no way of knowing you are the same person.
Though comp policies change often, as of this writing the most generous comps appear to be from Eldorado, JA Nugget and Grand Sierra. Grand Sierra is effectively in foreclosure, but so far the lender has not meddled much in the day-to-day operations; that may change. Boomtown is an easy room comp for moderate stakes blackjack play.
Individual casino comments:
Let’s define the levels of play I’ll refer to throughout the brief visit to each casino in the area. Some casinos will be playable for players at certain bet levels but not at others. Therefore, we’ll break it down and define the players as follows, based on their normal maximum bets:
Max bet of under $100 = tiny stakes
Max bet of at least $100 but less than $300 = low stakes
Max bet of at least $300 but less than $500 = moderate stakes
Max bet of $500 and above = high stakes
Reno and Sparks:
ALAMO: This little truck stop is unplayable for all but tiny stakes players. It has just a $100 max, but play at or near the max is not tolerated for long. The game offers surrender, but any time a player surrenders, it is loudly called out by the dealer and the pit takes immediate interest in the player. The typical patron is a coin-playing truck driver.
ATLANTIS: A nice, well-run casino that is playable at all stakes.
BONANZA: Unplayable at any stakes. Preferential shuffling is rampant, even against tiny stakes players, who would otherwise be the only ones who could play there because of the $100 table max.
BOOMTOWN: Playable at tiny to moderate stakes. Dealers keep their own tips.
The place appears to be in deep financial trouble, and has closed most of its table games, resulting in layoffs. The morale is low among the remaining staff -- most don’t seem to care about anything except their next break or end of shift. As mentioned above, room comps are easy. Biggest problem is finding empty tables. The few patrons are packed into little losing clusters by management’s table-closing tactic.
CAL-NEVA: Playable only at tiny to low stakes. Anything else will get quick, unpleasant scrutiny. Quick to back off anyone suspected of the slightest amount of brain usage, and often the backoff is belligerent and nasty. This is one of few casinos where I feel fear for my personal safety from some of the staff. Some of the security guards look like they were just paroled from prison. Sometimes their behavior is as bad as their looks. Dealers keep their own tips. Many incompetent dealers, watch for errors.
CIRCUS CIRCUS: Playable only at tiny to low stakes, and even that is dealer-dependent. Generally offers the worst penetration in Reno, with rampant preferential shuffling. Unless you find a good dealer, there is no point in playing at this dump. Beware that most cell phones do not work inside this casino.
DIAMOND’S: The worst place in Reno. It’s in a dangerous slum neighborhood, with a clientele of mostly street people and drug addicts. There have been stabbings in the parking lot. This place makes Cal-Neva look like Bellagio. Diamond’s is unplayable at any stakes. Preferential shuffling is rampant, even against tiny stakes players, who would otherwise be the only ones who could play there because of the $100 table max. Stay away, unless you have morbid curiosity for the seedy side of life.
ELDORADO: A nice casino with good games, but sweaty and intolerant. Dealers keep their own tips. Playable in ultra-short sessions at all stakes. Backoffs are usually polite, but there have been nasty ones as well.
GRAND SIERRA: A nice casino that is playable at all stakes. Dealers keep their own tips. It has improved from a sweatshop into a reasonably tolerant place. However, the property owner was recently foreclosed upon. The casino is presently operated by the lender while it looks for a buyer, so conditions could change at any time. The best blackjack game in Reno can be found here, the lone $25 single deck game. It uses an auto shuffler and rotates two decks, with no time wasted by cutting the cards. The dealer removes the cards from the shuffler, burns one and then deals. With a fast dealer and fast player, the hands per hour can be double the norm. Other casino managers would do well to look at how this game is presented. Though good for brain-using patrons, it is also good for the casino against all regular patrons.
HARRAH’S: Playable only at high stakes. Other than the single deck games with $50 to $100 minimums, the blackjack is garbage. The high stakes games are better played in the high-limit room, as the one playable table on the main floor (next to the escalator) is usually crowded.
NUGGET (JOHN ASCUAGA’S or “JA”): A nice casino that is playable at all stakes.
PEPPERMILL: A nice casino that is playable at all stakes in ultra-short sessions. Pit is generally friendly. Game protection at Peppermill is primarily the function of surveillance, which was for a long time among the best in Reno. However, my understanding is that there was massive recent turnover. The competence of the present surveillance department is unknown. If you are staying at Peppermill, get your anticipated food comps written by the player’s club before you check in. This casino has been known to welch on comps. See: http://www.thebeargrowls.com/?p=69>
SIENA: Playable at tiny to low stakes. Dealers keep their own tips. Generous food comps. Its suites are among the nicest in town, seemingly in strange contrast to the low-stakes play that is enforced by the $300 table max. The original business plan was to cater to high-rollers, but that plan failed. Table limits were decreased and game quality reduced, as this place tries to hang on and avoid bankruptcy. The bad neighborhood is another negative factor. I like the place and hope it survives, but doubt if it will. It’s on my Casino Death Watch List, which has already seen two of its members fulfill my prediction: http://www.thebeargrowls.com/?p=139>
SILVER LEGACY: Playable at moderate to high stakes, but quick to back off.
TERRIBLE’S RAIL CITY: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is only $200. Watch for preferential shuffling by some dealers.
TERRIBLE’S SANDS REGENCY: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is $500, but table max players aren’t tolerated for long. Fleabag motels surround this casino, resulting in lots of dangerous-looking creeps in this place. Customer service is beyond bad. I suggest avoiding it after dark. If you do go there at night, park in the premium player parking area closest to the doors on the east side of the building. Be careful of the unusual D9 double down rule. See link for a nasty incident that occurred at this place:
Mel’s Diner used to be decent for a quick meal, but it has gone downhill with the rest of the casino and surrounding neighborhood.
WESTERN VILLAGE: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is only $200. It does not stock black chips in the dealers’ trays. The typical patron is a local who bets coins. Poor ventilation makes this place extremely smoky.
Carson City and Minden:
CARSON NUGGET: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is $500, but table max players aren’t tolerated for long. There is preferential shuffling by some dealers. Most of the tables were recently closed with layoffs. Remaining staff morale is poor. My understanding is the place is up for sale.
CARSON STATION: Unplayable at any stakes. Penetration is unacceptably poor, even against tiny stakes players, who would otherwise be the only ones who could play there because of the $100 table max.
CARSON VALLEY INN: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is $300, but table max players aren’t tolerated for long. Watch for preferential shuffling by some dealers.
FANDANGO: Possibly playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. An unethical house policy results in de facto preferential shuffling by dealers who closely follow the policy of dealing a certain percentage of the deck rather than a set number of rounds. The games are unplayable against dealers who follow this policy.
North Lake Tahoe:
All North Lake Tahoe casinos are unplayable for a variety of reasons. No reason to list them at all. It's a waste of time to visit them.
South Lake Tahoe:
HARRAH’S: Playable at mid to high stakes at a few tables.
HARVEY’S (owned by Harrah’s): Playable at mid to high stakes at a few tables.
HORIZON: Unplayable at any stakes for a variety of reasons. This place is a dump. No reason to go there. The landlord recently tried to evict the casino from the premises:
Court documents claim there is extensive water damage to the ceilings and walls of most rooms, mold and other biological contamination, stagnant water in places beneath the showroom stage, and problems with the roofing and exteriors of the building.
LAKESIDE INN: Playable at tiny to low stakes, dealer-dependent. Table max is $500, but anything above low green stands out. Beware of a sneaky practice if you try to get a player’s card. The player’s club clerk will try to snap your photo without telling you. There is a small camera on the wall. I recommend not bothering with a player’s card here (what comp could you possibly desire from this place?), but if you want to for some reason, be sure to tell the clerk, “No photo” before submitting any information. You should receive a card with a white rectangle on it where the photo would otherwise go.
MONTBLEU: Owned by the same Columbia Sussex as the Horizon, but not nearly as bad. Playable at tiny to moderate stakes, dealer-dependent. The table max is $1000 on the single decks and $2000 on the shoes, but $1000+ bets would not be tolerated for long. The six-deck games are playable only by wonging, not worth a play-all approach.
RED HAWK CASINO (about 50 miles west of South Tahoe, in California): Definitely NOT worth the trip from Tahoe. Nothing special there.
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