Sometimes casinos can't figure

Dear Mark,
I recently received a flyer in the mail from a casino showing some of their current specials. One was being paid 2 to 1 for blackjacks on Wednesdays. A good deal for the player? Louise J.

Geez, Louise, I just love it when the marketing department of a casino makes the rules. They may, or may not have known it, but when that casino decided as a promotion that it will pay you 2 to 1 for a blackjack versus 3 to 2, by God, they gave you an edge over the house. How much? Well if you played perfect basic strategy on a $5 game, you'll gain an extra $2.50 once every 20.7 hands. That's an improvement of 12 cents a hand-enough for some extra greenback in your wallet and a cheap buffet as well. But what's most important here, Louise, is that opportunities like this do happen occasionally, and anytime you can one-up the casino, jump on it!

Dear Mark,
When a pit boss brought in new cards on our blackjack game, a friend I'm with tells me to lower my bet on the first shuffle. Does it really make any difference? John D.

Whether I answer yes or no, John, it's still bound to stir an argument among purists on both sides of the issue.
First, a study I recently read stated that a new deck of cards only becomes random after it's been shuffled seven times. It's also my experience that most casinos only require a dealer to shuffle, even with a new deck on the game, from three to five times. So why are these statements important? Because, when a new deck of cards arrives on your game fresh out of the box, it comes in a predefined order (A-K hearts, A-K clubs, K-A diamonds, K-A spades), which contains 10-value card clumps not completely broken up by the initial shuffle.
So though my answer leans towards yes, albeit mildly, I do confess I also back off until the second shuffle-which should make the cards as random as they can be.

Dear Mark,
What are those funny little blackjack abbreviations like H17, RSA and DOA mean that I've seen on casino newspaper advertising or internet gambling forums? Bud T.

Authors Ovid Demaris and Ed Reid's conception of DOA was the cautionary advice they gave in their 1963 book, The Truth About Las Vegas. "The surest way to beat Las Vegas is to get off the plane that has taken you there and walk straight into the propeller." It's actually the rule variations/conditions that each particular casino offers for blackjack. Below are some you would typically see.

BSE = Basic Strategy Edge
H17 = Hit soft 17 (dealer must hit)
S17 = Stand on any 17 (dealer must stand)
DOA = Double On Any first two cards
D10 = Double on 10 or 11 only
DAS = Double After Splitting is allowed
RSA = Re-Splitting Aces is allowed
ESR = Early Surrender
LSR = Late Surrender
O/U = Over/Under 13 side bets are allowed

Dear Mark,
In some of your columns you mention the word "grind." What do you mean by that? Ray R.

In the language of casino gambling, Ray, grind can be used in a variety of ways. A grind player is generally a term associated with a low roller. A grind joint is a casino that caters to these low rollers. Then there's the grind down. This is where the casino eventually wins all the player's money due to the built-in advantage it has on all wagers. Finally, the grind system. This is any system used by a player that attempts to win small amounts frequently against the casino. Unfortunately, the latter is highly unlikely.