Many of the technical conferences I speak at are in Las Vegas. Vegas is a great town for conferences because, well, the town is basically designed to accommodate thousands of people. Hotel rates in Vegas are very reasonable, air travel is easy and relatively inexpensive, and there’s lots to do if you enjoy observing people and mathematics like I do.
When I’m at an event in Vegas, I usually try to get away for an hour or two and cruise through the casino gambling areas. It’s not uncommon for me to see a new game — Vegas is relentlessly trying to find new ways to separate visitors from their money. There are many companies that design new games and then showcase the games at one of the two big casino conferences (the Global Gaming Expo, and the Table Games Conference).
Of the dozens and dozens of new games invented each year, only about two or three ever make it into a casino for a trial run of a few months so that the Nevada Gaming Commission and the casinos are satisfied that the new game makes money (casinos) but not too much money (Gaming Commission).
While I was in Vegas for a conference recently, I walked through the Palazzo casino (connected to the Venetian where my conference was at) and I noticed a table game I hadn’t seen in several months. It’s a variation of Blackjack and is called “Deal & Reveal”. Briefly, thee game is much like regular Blackjack. Recall that you (the player) bet (say $25) and get two cards. The dealer gets two cards, one face down and one face up, so you know one of her cards. In Deal & Reveal, if the dealer’s up card is a 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6, then before you decide to hit or stand, she turns over her down car so you can see both cards! If the dealer’s up card is 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K then she doesn’t do anything. I’ll explain when the dealer’s up card is an Ace in a moment. It would seem like this would give the player a big advantage, but surprisingly, seeing both of the dealer’s cards helps you a lot less than you’d expect.
An interesting detail is that when the dealer’s up card is an Ace, the dealer immediately checks to see if her down card is any ten, meaning she has Blackjack. Normally you’d lose (omitting the detail of Insurance) but in Deal & Reveal, if the dealer’s down card is any ten, she discards it and you get a second chance. This is psychologically very powerful, but again, mathematically it doesn’t help you as much as you’d think.
I’ve left out several important details. You can look the game up on the Internet or click on the image of the Rule Card I picked up to enlarge it so you can read it.
(Click on image to enlarge)
The moral here is for me only: My love of combinatorial math, probability, and computer science was ignited in part by my love of games such as poker and chess, when I was young. Las Vegas is a intriguing place for me because of the math and the psychology. I do have some minor qualms about the ethics of gambling but I think I’m over-sensitive to those kinds of issues. I have more fun analyzing the games than actually playing them. Usually.