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gbgoooner
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22 September 2012 - 1:03pm

Live Dealer Games using Playtech's Latvian Casino

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A number of people have contacted me or my website about Playtech livedealer Blackjack. They report that playing basic strategy they are losing around 3% in live dealer games which use the Playtech software, instead of the expected figure of about 0.6% which the game should produce playing Basic strategy. They take advantage of casino promotions and think they have a fair chance to make money at -0.6% (they are often offered $100 to deposit $100 with 8 times play through for example) but little chance at -3%.

I have looked at the different tables on various sites (this site indicates which casinos use Playtech software, so you can check), and the complete shoe is taken away from the table, and then brought back for a "once through the pack" single shuffle. This gives rise to a suspicion, possibly unjustified, that the shoe is "arranged" before returning to the table - and this is the reason it is taken out of view for a short time. On one occasion I saw cards face up on an empty table in view in the main lobby, and there were about 10-12 aces on the right, all face up. Perhaps the cards were being sorted and checked. That view was only there for a short time, as someone then collected the cards.

The interesting statistic from the people who contacted me was that the percentage of Blackjacks for the player overall was around 2.4%, almost exactly half the figure that it should be for 8 decks of 4.7451% (2/416*128/415*2). What could happen to cause this might, for example, be that at the shuffle table the casino takes out 16 of the aces and places them at the bottom. Then there is a single riffle in six sections followed by a cut, so that these 16 aces will not be in play in the new shoe. There will now be an average of 8 aces in the section that will be used in the new shoe, and not the average of 16 aces that would be expected for the (approximately) 208 cards that are used in an 8 deck game with the postilion inserted half way. I did a simulation for 8 decks with only 50% aces, and had a figure of -3.3% playing basic strategy - no doubt you would be better than me at checking that!

I manually recorded 10 shoes and saw 83 aces, about the number I would expect in 5 shoes, so statistically there does seem to be something suspect about the game. The result I had was around 7 standard deviations below expectancy. I was not playing, and selected a full table where I could record without having to play. When I asked the live dealer why the shoe was being taken away from the table, she seemed very annoyed and called the supervisor and said "look what is in my chat box". The supervisor came and said that I could see another shuffle taking place at the shuffle table, but that was not available on the site I was using. Online support and the support of my site clarified that the "shuffle" could not be seen on most software. Also there is no independent verification that the shuffle out of view is fair.

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auCL-Ed
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28 September 2012 - 1:25pm
#1

That sounds extremely dodgy, especially the removal of the shoe for shuffling. If that happened at a land casino and I was playing I would take my chips and leave immediately. The dealer's response also raises an eyebrow.

Although you have only a small sample size, a result 7 standard deviations below expectations is close enough to being impossible. What sort of penetration do you normally get on a shoe? I assume they would be cutting it after only a few decks to combat card counting and spectators Wonging in. That could make a minor difference but I'd estimate that 3% would be stretching things.

I have a load of things to do this weekend as it is my daughter's birthday, but I'll try to get on at Bet365 or Betfred and do a bit of spectating for myself.

One thing I would suggest is getting in contact with Michael Shackleford of the website The Wizard of Odds. He is a qualified actuary and analyses game odds for a living. If you have detailed data I am sure he would be able to help you analyse it. Note that from memory I think he has been paid to design RNG powered games for Playtech in the past.

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auCL-Ed
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28 September 2012 - 1:42pm
#2

One minor thing - my maths might be rusty but I don't think this part you wrote is right:

goooner wrote:

The interesting statistic from the people who contacted me was that the percentage of Blackjacks for the player overall was around 2.4%, almost exactly half the figure that it should be for 8 decks of 4.7451% (2/416*128/415*2).

I assume you just left out a digit as there are 32 Aces in 8 decks, not 2:

i.e. (32/416 * 128/415 * 2) = 0.047451344

If anyone else reading this is wondering what that means let me try to explain. In an 8 deck shoe there are 416 cards in total (52 cards in each deck). 32 are Aces (4 in each deck) and 128 are valued at 10 (K, Q, J, 10 - 16 in each deck). You can be dealt an Ace then a 10 or a 10 then an Ace for a blackjack, and that is the reason you multiply it all by 2.

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28 September 2012 - 2:53pm
#3

I find this to be really interesting, although the math is a bit above my paygrade.

I know the Wizard of Odds looks at a lot of card games to share the true odds. Does he have anything for Playtech video blackjack?

gbgoooner
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2 October 2012 - 1:52pm
#4

Yes, well spotted. Just a typo, however, and the 4.745% of Blackjacks is correct, as you show.

I did send a message to Wizard of Odds, but have not heard yet. Perhaps he is monitoring a site himself. The Playtech software is used on a lot of sites. The penetration is 50% and that does lead to some high counts some times. I think they just ban people from playing if they only bet when the count is high. The people who contacted me were flat betting playing basic strategy, but getting a sign-up bonus which gave them, in theory, an edge.

I checked out the sites that are using the software, and the shoes are still all taken away all the time. There is a payout certificate for some of the sites on livedealer.org, but many of the links are broken. Those certificates just have "table games" and the payout is 98.2% for card games on a site using Playtech, 21 Nova, and 99.3% for card games on William Hill. "Card games" includes Baccarat (around 1% margin), the only other card game offered on Live Dealer, so it seems that the margin on one Playtech site for Blackjack is around 2.6%, fairly consistent with half the aces being taken out. The Baccarat percentage will be normal as the deck is shuffled at the table every hand.

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12 October 2012 - 5:22am
#5

Just letting you know I haven't forgotten about this but have had a million and one things on lately and haven't had time to sit down and take a look at the live game.

Have you heard back from the Wizard?

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12 October 2012 - 1:06pm
#6

No, I did not get a reply. I sent him the information via the form on his site, and he may have a backlog of those!

gbgoooner
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31 October 2012 - 3:22pm
#7

The Wizard replied and he conducted some research on the Playtech site, but now the percentage of aces is normal. I also get a normal number of aces now when I tested five shoes. So, it would appear that if there was any cheating in this area it is no longer.

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31 October 2012 - 5:03pm
#8

Thanks for the update goooner. Looks like they fixed it, eh?

Maybe it was a glitch or something that they fixed?

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1 November 2012 - 2:49am
#9
goooner wrote:

The Wizard replied and he conducted some research on the Playtech site, but now the percentage of aces is normal. I also get a normal number of aces now when I tested five shoes. So, it would appear that if there was any cheating in this area it is no longer.

Thank you for the update. Maybe it was a glitch. Whatever it was, I am glad they fixed it and the percentages are back to normal.

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2 November 2012 - 1:17am
#10

I did play for a while on two occasions over the last week. I only played a couple of hundred hands as its is quite a slow process compared to blackjack with a RNG. I got marginally less Aces than the expected average but it was not enough to raise my eyebrows. I started with €200 and ended with around €180.

I don't believe the "it was a glitch" thing. These are real decks of cards dealt by real people so any glitch has to be human. The fact they were removing the decks and shuffling off camera is a huge red flag. Most live dealer casinos make a big deal out of proving that the games are real and fair - some even display a TV with CNN or BBC on in the background so you can be sure that it is a live broadcast.

I'm more inclined to believe that they were sprung cheating and have fixed things. Its a good result but means they have to be watched closely unless it starts happening again. Personally I won't take the chance of playing at any of their live tables again.

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2 November 2012 - 4:26pm
#11

Touche, Ed.

It is good that the error was reported, but like you said, the red flags definitely would make me wary as well.

This all brings me to ask: What are the best live dealer spots to play then? There are many providers out there. Who would you recommend? This isn't so much for me, but for those out there who have the chance to play at places like Playtech or such.

gbgoooner
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5 November 2012 - 12:55am
#12

It is worth noting that the founder of Playtech, Teddy Sagi, has been in prison for stock market fraud. And another reason for taking the shoe out of view is to perform what the live-dealer industry calls "ten touching". They take out 40 tens and put them back in ten sets of 4. Then there is a simple single shuffle at the table in view of the players, which separates about half of the tens. However they are still close to each other, and "clumping of tens" is in favour of the house. My tests on shoes showed around 61% of touching tens, rather than the theoretical figure of just under 48%. This does not produce a difference in the composition of the shoe, but increases the house advantage by around 2%.

And, in response to your query, the games which use Evolution software seem fair. The shoe is always in view of the player. I expect others are completely transparent too. I have not heard anything against Microgaming, Vuetec or Visionary IGaming, who each have a share of the market. The critical test is whether the cards are in full view of the player at all times.

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