Casinos in Russia
Russian Casinos and Blackjack, Poker, Caribbean Stud, Lotteries, and Other Opportunities for Professional GamblersBy Garry Baldie
(From Blackjack Forum XXI #4, Winter 2001/02)
© Blackjack Forum 2002
A little about blackjack in Russia first. This is a blackjack magazine, isnít it?
Every casino in Moscow offers blackjack and many are good for card countersóat least until youíre blacklisted. As always, the standard rules are 6 deck, dealer stands on soft 17, double on any two cards, double after splits, resplit pairs, resplit aces (1 card on each), early surrender, European no hole card (dealer takes all).
Five casinos offer the triple rule on blackjack games (Golden Palace, Golden Palace Weekend, Crystal, Studio, and Imperia), which means you can triple down after doubling down. Some casinos offer bonuses for hands like 678 and 777 (Horseshoe, Alexander Blok, and Izmaylovo). Some casinos have early surrender against 10 only (Cosmos, Mizar, Metropol, Izmaylovo, Infant, Alexander Blok, Beijing In Moscow). Some offer loss rebates (Royal, Ambassador, Grand Prix, and Casablanca).
Whatís the news? The Golden Palace group bought Imperia. Not only they have they added the triple rule but the same blacklist of card counters as the Golden Palace.
Also, the new casino SOL was opened. They offered triple during their first month but soon killed it and introduced two Double Exposure Tables (blackjacks pay 1:1, no surrender, dealer wins ties, DOA, DAS, NRS).
Casino Oasis changed its name to the Lilit but no change in the rules. Crystal killed penetration ó 50% on all blackjack tables now. Izmaylovo pays 2:1 for suited blackjacks. Vinso Grand adds 25% to your blackjack payoff during 2 lucky hours per day. Shangri La has unlimited insurance up to Ĺ table max.
During the next few weeks the new casino Pharaoh will open. No information about blackjack rules. It looks like Cosmos has some financial interest in this casino. In February Golden Mine should be open instead of the temporarily closed Treasure Island.
The general trend in Moscow blackjack for card counters does not look well. Penetration gets worse and the heat keeps going up. More and more casinos are getting paranoid. Information between casinos is circulated more frequently. More and more card counters are sticking with Caribbean Stud due to lesser heat.
History of Casino Play in Russia
Before I talk about opportunities in poker and some other games, here is a brief history of gambling in general and advantage play in the territory of former Soviet Union.
As you may know, after the Socialist Revolution and until "perestroyka," all gambling in the USSR was prohibited by law. The only exception was state lotteries (with a tremendous state advantage). Despite these prohibitions, home card games and such games as backgammon, checkers and chess were quite popular. By the way, maybe itís because of this that Russian chess players are so strong ó all the people had nothing to play except chess. : - ))
Durak and Preference
The most popular home game in Russia was and still is not poker, like in US, but the game called "durak," which translates as "the fool." This game is played with a deck of 36 cards and has very simple rules. Perhaps every Russian citizen of the age of 7 and higher knows how to play this game.
Good play at durak requires a lot of memory and mental calculations. There are even championships here in this game now. "The fool" is considered by the public opinion as a sucker game. But if you play seriously there is a lot of work and a lot of potential money won due to a lot of bad players through all the country. The last championship was won by Partizan ó a famous person and professional player with phenomenal memory. You know, one of those guys who can multiply 7-digit numbers within seconds in his headÖ
Another most popular card game is called "Preference," and is considered by public opinion more elite, for intelligence. It has quite complex rules and is hard to master. Usually one starts to learn Preference at high school or university. Almost all students know the rules and many know how to play at a medium-to-high level. This game, like poker, should be played for money only (The Fool is a different type of the game ó itís a family game for interest until you play it professionally). There are a lot of pro level Preference players.
There are a few other card games that Russians like to play too. I donít want to go into details.
So here was the picture: to gamble was not legal, but all the country in fact did play various games, sometimes betting big money. This led to a lot of cheating. Decades of hidden gambling created thousands of scams, tricks and cheats.
There were so many suckers around you didnít need to be a sleight-of-the hand wizard. It was enough to master a couple of the simplest tricks such as false cutting to make a decent living on this. But anyway there were and still exist true professional high-class cheaters playing high stakes. So I urge all who wish to play home games in Russia to be very cautious. Marked cards, electronic devices, false shuffles, and coolers ó you never know what you may encounter.
So now come the casinos. After perestroyka casino gambling was legalized and A LOT of casinos were opened. In 1991 there was 72 casinos in Moscow alone. Most of them were owned by the mob. This led to crime too. Cheating at casinos, "no-pay" cases and money laundering were widespread. Those were very unstable years. And there were really great rules!
Now the situation is far better. You wonít find cheating casinos in Moscow now. There were two "no-pay" cases last year at small casinos. The situation outside Moscow, however, especially in small local casinos, is unclear. They all have a very small reserve fund and winning big can cause a "no-pay" incident. There are about 40 casinos in the capitol and about 550-570 in total on the former USSR territory.
The most popular casino game here is roulette. I think it goes back to Dostoevsky and his description in precise detail life of the gambling-addict character in The Gambler. Roulette here is always single-zero. And theoretically you can find very old and biased wheels in small towns.
Poker in Russia
Poker. Letís talk first about stud poker. This game grows in popularity. The most common type is 5-Card Draw with joker. This game is extremely popular and can be very profitable if you know your opponents. I think that Crazy Mike Caro could make a decent living here. 5-Card Draw is the only poker you will see played at home games, outside casinos. Home games are always limit and stakes depend on the players. Only in casinos do there exist pot-limit games and no-limit is played in tournaments only.
Other variants of poker you can find in only very few casinos here. Cosmos is the most known place. The most popular game there is pot-limit Holdíem with a $5 ante. There are 7-Card Stud and Omaha too. Such games as Lowball or Hi-Lo Split are extremely rare, even in tournaments. Casinos Crown and Shangri La usually offer 5-Card Draw or 7-Card Stud, rarely Omaha or Holdíem. There is a new poker room at the new SOL casino but I donít know about the game.
Talking about the skill level of players, I can say that the average level is very low but there do exist a few pro level players. Usually they play at Cosmos.
Caribbean Poker in Russia
Caribbean poker. Yes, I know that this game is not very popular in the US. But itís not the same in Russia. I think itís the most popular casino card game here. Thatís because the rules of this game differ greatly from international standards. In fact, some types of this game can be very advantageous.
Here is the most common set of rules: 52-cards deck, 6 boxes on the table. You can play 2 boxes (that means you can see your cards on the second box only after you make your decision on the first). You can change 1 or 2 cards after you see your hand. It costs your ante. Minimal game is Ace, King. If you think a little you will find that second box has an advantage over the house!
And here is the next step: Your friend is sitting on the next two boxes and you are signaling your cards. Several teams here use such a ploy with great success. And Iíve not described the most advantageous rules! There exist 6-cards Caribbean poker, sometimes you can change all your five cards for one ante, sometimes you can FORCE the dealer to change his card for one ante, etc., etc., etc. All these rules can lead to a great advantage, especially with team play. The only minus is that this game is very slow.
Lotteries. Yes, lotteries! These also can be profitable here. ANY casino here offers some lottery tickets. Prizes vary from $5000 and up to $500,000 (no kidding!).
If youíre a frequent customer you can collect A LOT of those tickets and have nice odds in these lotteries. If youíre a hardcore casino visitor and so lucky that you win every casino lottery during a week in Moscow you can find yourself richer by about 5-7 brand new cars and about $100,000 in cash. So, theoretically using a large team of players at one casino can give you nice chances to win at lotteries.
Other games besides blackjack in casinos in Russia. Baccarat and Craps are very unpopular, a couple of tables for all of Moscow. One Pai Gow table, one Wheel Of Fortune, one SicBo table. Nothing spectacular and almost no action.
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