Moving up the smart way - piece of cake!

Dear Mark,
For the past two years, I have been learning blackjack on a 25 video blackjack machines. Now I would like to try my skills with the "real deal." No pun intended. Any helpful tips would be appreciated. Joyce H.

Most players never learn the game before they sit down and play their first hand. You're different, Joyce. You cultured the game on a 25-cent video blackjack machine. You did not let a five-dollar blackjack game be your classroom-at twenty times the tuition fee. You realized the advantage of a video blackjack machine versus a live game is the low minimum bankroll requirement needed to play. You saw that intimidation-free video machines offer top-notch practice sessions for perfect basic strategy. Hat's off to your astute training technique. And now, before bellying up to the "real deal" blackjack table, a few pointers.

* YOU CAN WIN. Always remember that. You didn't bring a c-note into the casino just to lose it.

* If you are losing at a particular table, set a hand loss limit (3 to 5 losing hands) and move.

* Focus on the dealer and his up card, not your neighbor's play. If other players at the table are upsetting you with their playing strategies, you can always move.

* Use a winning progressive method of betting by predetermining a percentage increase for each winning bet and sticking to it. For example, I increase my winning bets by approximately 50% after the second win: $2, $2, $3, $5, $7, $10, $15, $22, etc. I continually flat bet (table minimum) when losing.

* Never increase your bet when losing. A double-up-to-catch-up strategy is modeled on the lamb trotting into the slaughterhouse.

* Keep your emotions under control. The dealer is only the messenger of fate. Don't take your losses out on him.

* Drinking and gambling are the casino's favorite mix. In the gaming business, we call those free libations "chip remover." Believe me, Joyce, players have been known to lose entire bankrolls waiting for their free drinks.

* You must have discipline, so set loss limits and win goals.

* Only bet what you can afford to lose. Money for rent, car payments and other day-to-day expenses have no place in a casino.

* Even the small blackjack player like Joyce deserves to be rewarded for her play. There is nothing wrong with asking for a free breakfast, lunch or something smaller like a deck of cards or a pair of dice. But since the pit boss most likely will not be tracking your play, you will need to ask.

* When you feel tired, call it quits, or at least take a break and rest for an hour or two.

* Compared to a single deck, a two-deck game handicaps your play -0.35%, four decks 0.48%, six decks 0.54%, and eight decks 0.58%. Always play the game that uses the fewest decks.

* Smart blackjack players always play in a casino that offers the best rules. To avoid hostile playing conditions in blackjack, look for the following combination of rules that are favorable to the player:

* Finally, Joyce, PLAY PERFECT BASIC STRATEGY. Using the PBS card reduces the house to less than a 0.5% edge. Use it or lose it. Pun intended!

Gambling thought of the week: Astrologers make claims for themselves; yet I have never seen an astrologer who was lucky at gambling, nor were those lucky who took their advice." -Gerolamo Cardano (c.1520)