Casinos and blackjack with early surrender in Cairo and Sinai, Egypt
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Egyptian Adventure: Casinos, Blackjack and Card Counting in Egypt

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By BJ Traveller (with Mark Dace)
(From Blackjack Forum XXIII #3, Fall 2003)
© Blackjack Forum 2003

I played blackjack in Cairo, Egypt several years ago in 1995. The games were mediocre, casinos small and the city dirty. My Egyptian guide asked when I would return? I replied perhaps in my next life!

However, recently, a professional gambler whom I know that is of Sri Lankan heritage, whom I will call Y, planned to go to Cairo where he had been several months prior. I desired to test my improved blackjack skills (improved relative to what they were on my previous Egypt trip of eight years ago) and decided to go with him. Y arranged our hotel accommodations at a Marriott for $120 a night. This hotel was selected as he won the most from there on his previous card counting trip. I also invited LG, an American card counter friend of mine, to join in on the trip.

After landing and checking in, my girlfriend and I headed straight to the casino in short order only to find Y already playing. Y has counted cards for only five years but with great success, winning approximately three quarters of a million US$, benefitting not only from the good rules he’s found but also from his persistence. He would try very hard to get even when losing and would sometimes play over 30 hours straight.

The Marriott game was not too attractive and LG and I quit rather quickly with a small loss. The rules included 6D, S17, D9, DAS, no surrender, ENHC (dealer takes all on splits and doubles with a blackjack) and 75% penetration. The persistent Y, however, called us half an hour later with news of winning $1,600. LG, my girlfriend and I went to check other casinos, finding early surrender against all dealer up cards everywhere.

Interestingly, there were only two casinos with early surrender in Cairo when Y had played several months prior. It appeared that most casinos, including the London Clubs (at the two Hiltons) and one Austrian Group (at Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel) yielded to the competition and started offering the good game and rules to attract and cultivate customers. Basic strategy players in Egypt have a small advantage over these casinos with their good rules. An additional reason as to why these favorable rules might have been put in place could have been that the casinos had suffered from the Middle Eastern tension and since locals are not allowed to gamble, the casinos needed to attract tourists.

We changed some money to Egyptian pounds to pay for the inexpensive taxis. We had to bargain every time but $1.50 could take us to most places within Cairo. However, being frugal with taxi fares for multiple passengers later proved to be a mistake because in scouting casinos together some casinos would later bar us based on the play of another in our group scouting party.

The Semiramis Intercontinental Casino offered the best rules on their six-deck game that included S17, ES, DAS and re-split Aces up to 4 hands. The maximums were $200 and $500 and were played in US dollars. Some tables had 9 playing spots and one can play them all, if desired. Wanting to stay closer to the better game, we moved to this hotel and got a $108 casino rate, which was more expensive than the locals paid. However, the rooms were of higher quality.

When LG and I arrived at the Semiramis Intercontinental Casino on the second morning of our stay there, we found Y already playing. He had lost $5,000 there on the previous evening and, as per his style, had returned early the next morning where he got some of his losses back.

LG and I won $1,000 each and left for other targets. We found that the Ramses Hilton Casino in Egypt was run by the London Club and offered a bigger table limit of $1,000 maximum as well as good rules. The smaller Nile Hilton was also nearby. We also discovered the largest table limit of $1,500 to be at the Conrad, another Hilton property. Both Hiltons had 9 playing spot tables. I believe that these types of tables were reflective of the “good old days” before the 9/11 incident and the Iraqi invasion when the casinos in Egypt were much more heavily populated with Western visitors.

Three of the four Sheraton hotels in Egypt have casinos. Of those three, one, the El Gezira, does not have early surrender. LG won $2,000 from there with his special counting system which exploits some card combinations. The Casino Sheraton offers early surrender but doubling on 9, 10, 11 only. The Heliopolis Sheraton offers early surrender and double on any two cards.

LG’s counting expertise failed him at Cairo Sheraton where he lost $3,000, although he would win back $5,000 later. Y wanted to settle in and did not want to play only a short session so I left them playing at the Cairo Sheraton and went scouting on my own. They ended up playing about 15 hours there, winning a net of $6,000. After that session, none of us, my girlfriend and I included, were allowed to enter the casino.

My girlfriend and I went to check the Four Seasons hotel but found that they did not have a casino. All of the casinos in Egypt were at the bigger hotels. We then went to the Mena House Oberoi Casino where I played on my previous trip eight years ago. The hotel was near the Great Pyramid. When we told the taxi driver where we wanted to go, he signed us in without discussing the fare. I suspected we would be charged a very high fare later. Most drivers would negotiate the fare with us without even knowing the whereabouts of the destination. This particular taxi took us to the Mena House Oberoi Hotel for one-third of the usual price. In order to find this hotel our driver drove us all over town, stopped and asked three people for directions, and after our one hour adventure, charged us a fare of less than $1. The cheap gas price, about half that of gas in the US, obviously helped.

The Mena casino opened at 3PM and closed at 7AM. Most other casinos in Egypt are open 24 hours a day. It offers good rules with a bad cut. On my last session of the day, I won $2,000 from one table. The casino then asked me to change tables. I didn’t know if this was out of superstition or for some other reason. I went to see an Egyptian Museum while my friends were busy playing. Ancient Egyptians greatly valued their afterlife. The Book of Death says a deceased person’s heart is weighed against a feather. A person with a heart lighter than a feather is received by the Ruler of the Underworld. On the other hand, Ammut—who is described as a monster with a hippopotamus head, leopard claws, and alligator feet—would eat sinners, those with heavy hearts.

Also within somewhat close proximity was the tomb of Tutenkaman, as well as some gaming opportunities in the same vicinity. By seeing the treasures of this intact tomb, one could only imagine the lost treasures of other bigger Pharaohs. Ultimately, most of my friends only saw the casinos on this trip. My girlfriend and I won $400 from the nearby Nile Hilton after our sightseeing tour, which was 80 times the museum entrance fee.

I found another casino listed in a guide book and went there. The Sofitel Casino, which didn’t open until 5 PM, offered low limits with a $200 maximum bet but had good rules. We won $300 at this stop. We then went to the Heliopolis Sheraton. The casino, called the Kings and Queens, might be run by the Starwood Group, Sheraton’s parent company, as its chips carried the Sheraton logo. The casino managers there were very nervous about our play and wore long faces during our session. Like many other Egyptian casinos, they offered good rules. We decided to leave after winning several hundred dollars for sympathetic and humanitarian purposes to prevent several of the managers having heart attacks.

The Conrad Casino was the only one in Cairo that issued VIP cards, and immediately at that. We went straight for its buffet, which apparently offended a young pit boss. He sent a waiter over to ask whether or not we intended to play. I immediately went back to the tables and bought in $2,000 on one of his tables to demonstrate to him our sincerity to play and to put into motion my desire to take their money.

Y started playing while we ate. I finished my soup and went to join him. He told me the running count was minus 2 so I started out playing only one hand. Small cards poured out like waves in the ocean. The running count ran wild to a plus 15. We piled the bets up until they reached $500 on three different hands. The count dropped back to minus 2 but I still lost $200 in the process. I returned to the buffet for another very tasty soup and when I arrived back at the table, I was pleased to be told that I was being greeted by another plus 15 count. I back-bet Y’s two hands. We pushed the bets to the table maximum of $1,000, losing $3,000 in the process and had to obtain money from our friends in order to continue. The results of the hands finally turned, making us $3,000 richer by the end of the session.

My next stop was an Internet cafe. A friend asked me about the games in Cairo. I told him about the good rules but requested that he not share the details with others. Many people have expressed a lack of comfort regarding my writing of good games. Many have questioned my motivations for being so forthcoming. This list, most notably, includes my girlfriend and my good friend and travel partner Mark Dace. For the record, let it be known that I choose to write about the less sensitive parts of my tales. The better and more lucrative games I now keep private, primarily at the insistence of the above two mentioned individuals.

LG had played mostly hit-and-run, mostly in Las Vegas, using a big spread that attracted a great deal of attention at the much smaller Egyptian casinos. Counters can profit with small spreads when playing games with good rules such as those in Cairo and Moscow. His style of play affected us since we would arrive together and were all of Oriental heritage. He would also wong in, opening new boxes, then, after enjoying some large card production, wong out, leaving the less attractive cards for us. I informed him that such conduct was impolite. He acknowledged my words and made some adjustments. LG lost his big win from Cairo Sheraton to Nile Hilton. This play was not only costly from a financial standpoint in the short term but in the long term as well as this casino eventually started cutting 4 decks out of 6 on us. At about the same time, the Ramses Hilton gave us only a half a shoe between shuffles.

We next went to play in a casino near the Cairo Sheraton. The first shoe was very positive but we I lost $2,000 and, in the process, attracted much attention. The casino manager told the dealer to ignore Y’s fake attempt at surrendering with three cards. Although the manager portrayed himself as knowledgeable and he was pointed in his comments, we didn’t take his hint and recovered our loss. He came to the table again and commented loudly that, “You lost on small bets but are winning on big ones.” He asked us semi-jokingly to play smaller. We ignored him again, won $2,000 and left. We later discovered he sent a blacklist about us all over Egypt including to the Sinai Grand, a casino on the Sinai Peninsula.

After I won $9,000 in five days the casinos turned their backs on us beginning on the sixth day, which was an eternity compared to a Hong Kong counter’s fate. He survived Cairo only hours. The Cairo Sheraton stopped us at their entrance after checking a blacklist and refused our entrance. Additionally, the Ramses Hilton half-shoed us, the Semiramis Intercontinental Casino stopped me after I played several shoes, asking me not to play blackjack. Y was simultaneously barred at the Conrad. We certainly had made a mistake by scouting the casinos together.

Having been barred by most big casinos, we went to play the Movenpick Heliopolis Casino which opened at 8PM. The casino had only one $3 to $50 table. It had the same good rules as most other Egyptian casinos. We were given four decks to play out of six initially. Suddenly, the dealer moved the shuffle point up to two decks without the pit boss’s instructions, following a shoe where we had jumped our bets. The pit boss noticed the bad cut, and asked the dealer to cut deeper for us. I tracked a shoe successfully only to lose hand after hand even while the large cards were produced. We won the last hand betting nine boxes of $50 which gave us a small win of $125, much to the disappointment of the casino staff as we were the only customers all night.

We discovered three casinos in Sharm El Sheik, a beach town on the Sinai peninsula, and decided to give them a try. It was easy arranging a ticket and we made a decision to go there in the morning and flew there that evening. The 500 kilometer flight cost us $181 round trip. The town is on the shore of the Red Sea. We choose to stay at the Movenpick as it had a casino. A twin room cost us $110 although locals paid only $67. The casinos opened at 9 pm.

The Movenpick’s Royale Casino was affiliated with an Austrian Gaming Group. We were a little nervous about entering the casino given our experience from the Austrian-backed Semiramis Intercontinental Casino in Cairo. Nobody seemed to care about us. While we were entering, LG was on his way out. The game was poor with bad rules that included no surrender and only 66% penetration. I, however, found the game playable. I played one shoe then went to check other places.

We were stopped at entrance of the Sinai Grand Casino. Y went and chatted with the pit bosses, discovering that the casino received a flyer from Pyramisa on us. Accordingly, no play was available to us there. The last casino in the city was Sharm, an independent casino that was not tipped off as to our expertise. It sported bad rules and low limits with a $100 maximum wager versus the Royale’s $200 maximum. I left with small win from this trackable game for the higher limit at the Royale.

We were lucky at Royale, winning three rounds during which we wagered an aggregate of $500 (5 boxes of $100 each, having jumped from $20 on each hand). We quit after the win. It was 2:30 AM but the streets were lively with many tourists sipping water pipes at roadside cafes. I could even check the Internet at this hour.

The Vacation Village had a good buffet breakfast, which pleasantly interrupted our intended sleep time. The village was big. It provided carts that took guests to restaurants and the beach, a semi-necessity considering the 37 degree centigrade (99° F) heat. In view of the poor games, I tried to arrange for a flight to the Luxor through the nearby mall. A merchant invited me to his new shops that had opened that Friday, the Muslim weekend. The merchant lied shamelessly claiming that he painted the papyrus himself. I inquired about a glass perfume bottle. He asked for $25, claiming it to be crystal. I had bought the same one in Cairo for $2.

We went for a glass bottom boat ride. There are coral reefs very close to the shore. Swimmers could enjoy watching colorful fish easily. Amongst the travelers on the boat was a large Egyptian family who danced joyfully during the boat ride. Y and LG regretted wasting time here and leaving the big city in light of Cairo’s good games.

We went together to check the last local casino, Casino Aladdin at Domina Coral Bay Resort. We were pleased to find the casino offering ES10 and re-splitting of aces. Penetration was also acceptable at 75%. The table was in Euros, $5 to $200. We bought Euros from the MISR Banks counter in the casino at very bad rate (6% below the market rate). The bank clerk said we could buy our dollars back at a 2% fee. LG didn't want to play but jumped in opening new boxes when the count shot up. We won close to $1,000 Euros in one shoe. The casino sent in an eagle-eyed manager. We used fake names entering the casino and weren’t looking for longevity so played aggressively. My partner and I moved to another table, thereby avoiding jumping bets in unison with Y and LG. I lost back most of my win rather quickly. Y won 900 Euros and quit. LG won 1,300. We borrowed their Euros before they left. The casino was not happy with their winning and instructed the dealer to half-shoe us. We still won 1,100 Euros with shuffle tracking.

On returning to exchange the Euros back, the bank clerk asked for a higher than the originally quoted 2% fee. I guessed that he might make more than his bank’s president with his powerful laundering position, since he gave no receipts for our transactions. On exiting this “chamber of cons,” we declined the taxi standing by at the casino exit that was asking three times that of the meter. At least the Egyptian people were consistent with their attempts to rip us off in all facets of their business dealings. On a more positive note, the resort was very romantic under moonlight.

We went to the Aladdin early on our last evening in the country. The eagle-eyed manager was waiting for us, and informed us that we were on Austria Casino Group’s blacklist and were no longer welcome. Aladdin had gotten the list from the Royale, obviously, as we were not allowed to enter that location. We went to the last playable joint, Sharm, and, with aggressive betting won $100. Then the casino half-shoed me. We left.

We headed back to Cairo for the last 10 hours before leaving the country. My partner had hidden some chips from the Hiltons, so we went chip cashing. We were barred there but able to cash the chips. I exchanged some money at the National Bank of Egypt. The clerk used 5.69 as the exchange rate instead of the posted 5.96 for me. On purpose? When I pointed this out to him, he said “Oops.”

That aside, I won $9,870, Y won $12,000, and LG $7,000 from casinos in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt in 10 days. I am sure I will not play blackjack at casinos in Egypt again unless my heart is lighter than a feather! ♠

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