Everyone in the casino is playing a different game, even if they are sitting at the same table. It might appear as if the five players at a blackjack table, for example, are simply trying to get closer to 21 than the dealer without busting. But look closer.
In the first seat is a basic strategy player, playing every hand exactly by the book. In the second is a card counter, eyeing the cards like a hawk, doing mental gymnastics to calculate the correlation between the edge and his bet, and trying to spread his or her chips from minimum to maximum without attracting attention. In the third is a front-end loader, using a variety of strategies to spot the dealer's hole card, which gives him or her huge advantage on the hand. In the fourth is a comp hustler, slowing down the game by engaging the dealer in small talk and taking time to play a hand. And in the fifth is a casino novice, who barely knows how to hold his or her cards, let alone recognize all the other games that are being played right under his or her nose.
Here are a few tips to help you avoid sitting in that last seat.
If you don't have the inclination to memorize the whole basic chart, at least learn the following five golden rules. Stand on 17 to 21, but always hit soft 17. Stand on 12 to 16 against the dealer's 2 to 6, but hit on 12 to 16 against the dealer's 7, 8, 9, 10 and ace always split 8's and aces, but never split 4's and 10's. Double down on 10's and 11's against the dealer's 2's to 9's never take insurance.
Never play a slot or video poker machine without belonging to the casino's slot club. It costs nothing to join, you accrue slot club points as you play, and you can redeem those points for rooms, food, shows and even cash.
Always ask for comps when you play table games. As soon as you sit down and make a bet, call over a floor man and ask: 'How long do I have to play to get a comp to the buffet?' He or she will look at your bet and tell you. Play for as long as he or she indicates, then collect your free buffet.
Try to play slow. You are better off exposing your bankroll to the house edge for 50 hands an hour at a busy table than 100 hands an hour playing one-on-one against the dealer. Similarly, it is better to go for 400 spins an hour by feeding coins into a slot machine and pulling the handle, than 800 spins an hour by hitting the spin button like a madman.
Most 'money management' advice is mathematically unsound. (Quick quiz: when does the size of your bet affect the outcome of a play? Answer: never.) However, some of it is emotionally supportive. For example, to ensure gambling funds for your whole trip, divide your money into session portions. If you drop one entire session portion quickly, end of session. Don't dig into your remaining bankroll until it's time for the next session.
Look for coupons everywhere, especially in funbooks, the free magazines handed out by hawkers in front of the casinos. Two-for-one, three-for-two and seven-for-five coupons on even-money bets give you a huge edge over the house at blackjack, craps and the like. A first-card-is-an-ace coupon at blackjack is like money in the bank.
Keep an eagle eye on your coins, cash and chips. Always make sure back-to-back slot machines have a plastic or metal guard between them to prevent 'reach through' thievery of coin buckets or purses. Watch for 'rail thieves' when you are at the crap table and sneak thieves everywhere.