Blackjack in Ecuador--Casinos, Rules, Limits, and Adventure
By BJ Traveller
(From Blackjack Forum XXIII #2, Summer 2003)
© Blackjack Forum 2003
Overall Ecuador Blackjack Observations
Some casinos in Ecuador offer full Early Surrender in addition to dealer stands on soft seventeen (S17), double after splits (DAS), double on any two cards (DA2), European no-hole card (with dealer blackjacks taking doubles and splits), on 6-deck games with 66% penetration. The limits are low, however, with most maximums in the $30 to $50 range. Card counting blackjack players should be able to cover travel expenses but not expect a big win.
Major Casinos in Ecuador
Quito Colon Hilton MRP Casino (MRP has been running casinos for over 50 years). There is only one MRP casino in Quito, the capital city of Equador, and it has a higher tolerance of winning players than other casinos here. There are three MRP casinos at Guayaquil, the largest city of the country. The Guayaquil casinos will react faster to card counters and will inform all other MRP properties about you. The other 10 casinos in Quito are not worthwhile to play.
Risks: Normal travel precautions should be taken as with any low-income country.
Foreign Exchanges: No control.
Transportation: Cheap taxis.
Accommodations: Can be easily arranged by the airport Service Center.
Blackjack Traveling in Quito and Colon, Ecuador
Equador is the smallest country in South America with 15 million people,1.5 million of whom live in Quito. Quito is the second highest elevation capital city in the world at 8,500 feet above sea level. The Galapagos Islands are the main attraction for foreign visitors because Darwin invented his theory of evolution there.
The airport Service Center arranged the Hotel Quito for us (my girl friend and I), for which we paid $54 a night including breakfast and airport transfer. Taxi fare costs less than $3 within the city. We went to a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet and ordered the $6 seafood plate, only to have it cost us $11.50 (it was mediocre).
There was a rotten casino called Reynabel nearby the hotel that was not among those on the casino list I printed from Casinocity.com. There were but two small blackjack tables here with $10 and $20 maximums, but at 8 p.m. they still were not open! We took a bus to visit Saqisili market where they sold clothes, carpets and agricultural products. We were shocked to see a woman peeing on the roadside. We had dinner at Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant, spending $10.
Crown Plaza has the second largest casino here, but with poor rules (Early Surrender against 10óES10--only) and penetration (66%). We then went to a very small casino called Tambo Real. It offered the same poor rules but the dealer mistakenly gave us $10 chips for $5! We left with a small win.
We headed for Colon, and though the table limits were low at $0.50 to $10, $1 to $25, and $2 to $50, we won $2,200 in 4 hours. We doubled A8 on our last hand, taking away the dealer's 9 that would have made a dealer 21. One good thing is that the dealers seemed to be competing for the world speed-dealing championship. As a result, most dealt eight shoes an hour, giving us 60% extra play.
Colon is a world heritage site with many old churches and buildings. We walked into a small market that sells clothes. A woman cut my friendís purse for her accomplice, while my friend caught her hand in the purse and yelled! The assailant ran away while waving a fruit knife at us. We went to three police stations to get a certificate (in Spanish) for insurance purposes. Later we learned that this Ipiales Market is very well known for pick-pocketing.
On our return to the casino, Colon welcomed us back warmly. We won $1,870 in five hours, a net figure after accounting for $55 in tips. In addition to Early Surrender, this casino offers Early Surrender after Doubling (basic strategy calls for surrendering stiffs against dealer's 8 and up, and doubling on 11 against dealer's 10). The rule gives an extra +0.15 EV for the player.
Mark Dace wished to join us, so we made a quick visit to all the casinos on my list to decide whether Colon was the only playable one in town. It was. But Colon would not open a new table for us on our third casino assault, which took place on a busy Saturday night.
Instead, we were asked to play at a $0.25 table with a $50 maximum limit. So we played five boxes, winning $700 in two hours.
An elderly lady bet $1 on one of my boxes (I had a bet of $20 on the same box). She would not surrender "my" 14 against the dealerís 10. The dealer said the elderly lady owned the box despite the fact that I had been playing the box for quite some time.
After much discussion, the elderly lady finally gave up and left. Almost immediately, a large man who appeared to be of Korean descent joined the game and started to play two boxes. He asked rudely for my fifth box after several rounds of play. I ignored him and kept betting $2 at that box. He reluctantly bet behind me.
When I attempted to hit my 12 against the dealerís 7 up card, he opposed my decision, claiming that he was betting bigger with his $10 wager. The dealer backed him up and allowed him stand on "my" 12. He played $50 on the next hand on my box. I continued to bet $2. The dealer pushed my money away. I complained. The Korean man jumped up and scowled at me. I ignored him. While this situation was unfolding, I was giving serious consideration to getting a bodyguard. The casino manager came to comfort the other player as if I was their common enemy. The player collected his money and left.
I kept on playing. Another Korean guy then joined the game. He asked politely for my fifth box and I agreed. The first Korean man came back and watched as I played five boxes of $50 and won them all. He cheered for me. I pointed to the fifth box and said, "All I want is a please." We shook hands and played together until 4 a.m., which was the casino closing time. I won $1,600. The total win from Quito (mainly Colon) had amounted to $6,200 so far.
We went to take the Cotopaxi Mountain train recommended by the guidebook. It allowed for passengers to sit on the train top, but we hadnít worn clothes warm enough for such an adventure. Foreigners were charged five times more on fares than the locals. It took two and half hours one way and the train waited an hour for passengers going to the cloud forest only.
We went to the good rules casino, Reynabel, but it was still closed. So we could only go back to poor overworked Colon. The casino manager was surprised when he saw me shake hands with the Korean gentleman. While in the casino, we met a guy who would later go with us to the rain forest. You can arrange a rain forest trip from Ecuador for a price of $400 for 6 nights including airfare.
The casino manager encouraged small bettors to play at my table. An Israeli student, who was learning Spanish while there, was playing the minimum of $0.50. He liked to split 10s, which cost me dearly. I hinted to him that he shouldnít be doing that but he claimed it was an advantage move for him. I pointed out that his $1 win cost us a few hundred. He left soon after. Almost immediately, a new player joined. I had been betting behind a local guy who played basic strategy. The new player invited me to do the same. However, after observing him standing on his 15 against dealerís 10, I withdrew my initial vote of confidence in him. He lost hundreds while I won $2,220.
There was a craft market near Colon and a Sunday market with a park facing it. The markets here sold better goods than we had seen in other markets in the country. I also went to see the Natural Museum; however, in my humble opinion, it was not worthwhile.
I played higher at Colon on my next casino visit, betting $20 off the top of a freshly shuffled shoe. The night started with a $700 loss but I ended up winning $710. The casino manager seemed very disappointed. Luckily, from the casinoís bottom line standpoint, the Korean gentleman lost $5,000.
Blackjack in Guayaqil, Ecuador
Our next city stop was to be Guayaquil, a southern city with a population of about two million peopleóthe largest in the country. I met a businessman from my home country who was going there and I decided to join him in order to give Colon a break. Between his party and mine, there were seven of us, including my friendís local contact, so we rented a van. My fellow countryman arranged a surprise brunch at a trout farm. We fished and caught nine rainbow trout for the chef to cook. These trout sold for $18 a kilo in my country but cost only $3 here.
After our meal, we dove down from the high plain. This small country has twice the average number of bird species (1,600) of all of North America. We stayed at a villa adjacent to a golf course. The villaís owner was a friend of our local friend. The 60 acres of land was worth, I was told, half a million dollars and had 350 kinds of birds within its boundaries. We dined with humming birds flying around.
Guayaquil was named after Guaya, the Mayan king, and his queen, Quil. It was lively, hot and wet. We got a $54 room through my friend's connection but paid $5.60 a minute for international calls.
There were four casinos in Guayaquil. Three (Unipark, Colon, and Oro Verde) were MRPs. The independent Ramada had the best game: 6D, S17, ES (including after doubling), 2 to 1 on suited blackjacks, unlimited full double after double, 3 to 1 for 777, and 7 to 1 on 7-card 21s. All of that and the shuffle was trackable! Basic strategy players, of which we saw none in this city, had an edge of over 1% off the top on this game. The table maximum was $30 per box and up to 7 boxes could be played by one player. I played seven boxes at maximum bets trying for $130 an hour expected value but ended up down $2,066 for the first night.
My friend bought 24 crabs and brought them to a Chinese restaurant for cooking. The owner said he played often at casinos and believed them to be honest. He also said the city was safe.
There was a park near our hotel known as Iguana Park, with about 50 iguanas climbing around. Locals believe that iguanas change to humans at night and, as a result, leave them alone. Conversely, some Chinese people have been known to pay $1,400 a head to eat them.
Mark Dace, who has traveled to many destinations with me, finally joined me from Las Vegas. He brought more specific and intricate strategies on the Ramada game such as doubling 8 against dealer's 4 and 5, doubling 9 against 7, and doubling A2 through 4 against 3 when the true count was equal to or higher than plus 1.
We played at Ramada together. The casino was a tad scary. For example, there was a sign at the front door requiring that everyone leave their guns before entering. There was a certain comfort in having another trusted companion with us. Outside of the Ramada game, which had only two tables, we then split for higher action. I won $1,000 early in the day at Oro Verde (the Ramada was only open in the evening). On day #2 at the Ramada, we both lost. My end of the loss was $1,300.
We agreed the casino did not cheat, and that the initial losses were simply a byproduct of standard deviation. Day #3 produced a total group win of $4,000 while we both played at the same table.
The casino paid us partly in $5 bills. We took that as a bad sign that perhaps they didn't have much money on hand and that the ceiling on our upside was possibly lower than our potential downside. Even so, although we had planned to leave Guayaquil to fly to Galapagos, we decided to play more at the Ramada for as long as they could stand it.
On day #4, we won $4,000 again while playing at the same table together and through some nicely tracked shuffles. At this point, we were not sure whether to press our luck at the Ramada or to play at other casinos. Mark wanted to keep on playing, predicting that the casino would change rules. We continued to play but cashed in our excess chips more frequently.
On day #5, we lost $1,400 very quickly to a tough (non-busting) dealer. I called it quits for the day. Mark stubbornly kept on playing and lost $1,900. I had won $3,000 earlier in the day from the three MRPs.
On day #6, we went back for revenge. Mark lost doubling A2 three times. I doubled my A2 four times to form a 6-card hard 17. The next card was a 4! I would have had a 7-card 21 and won $7,000 if I had doubled again. I felt tired and left earlier with a $700 win. Mark won $850.
My girlfriend and I went to the new history park while Mark was busy at Internet gaming. There was a small zoo with piglets and three-toed sloths.
On day #7 dawned the first rule change. The Ramada canceled the 7-card 21 bonus sensing the $7,000 risk. The tough dealer was glued to our table for seven hours, resting only for toilet breaks. We lost $1,400 to him despite the fact that he was the most trackable shuffler.
Day #8 found us to be the only blackjack players on a Friday night despite the great rules. I won $1,750, while Mark lost $850 playing at the same table.
Mark had only two nights left. We went back to the Ramada Saturday night and won $4,000 in 6 hours. We decided to leave early (the casino closed at 4 a.m.), as there were many strangers milling around the casino and we had already received many small bills while cashing in that evening. When we (that is, Mark and I, as my girlfriend didnít come out of a fear of being barred) left at 3 a.m., there was no taxi. This was very unusual. We left with close to $10,000. The casino security found a taxi for us that had no sign on it to designate it as such. We held the door handles on both sides and were ready to jump out at the first sign of a wrong turn.
Back to Colon for More Blackjack
On the last night I went to the Colon casino. Casino security tried to talk to me, but they were stopped by the casino manager before they could convey their thoughts. I thought perhaps I was not wearing formal enough attire. I lost $2,000, and then, while exiting, was told not to come back. Afterward, I wondered if I would have been paid had I won or, if I had started winning, at what point they would have stopped me. Once again, there was the risk of a big downside with a small or no upside.
With no more MRP casinos for us to profit from, we headed once again for Ramada. Here we found what we knew was inevitable. They had drastically changed the rules, canceling all favorable rules, and they limited our bets to a $20 minimum and a $40 maximum.
As Mark had shown an interest in the poker table at some point during the trip, the casino owner invited Mark to play Texas Holdíem with him that evening or the next day. Mark was leaving the next day but he did not want the owner to know so he stated that he would play him the following evening. However, Mark left without having joined the poker game as he didnít like the "home field advantage" the casino owner had with his table, his cards and his own dealer. My girl friend and I left for the beach town of Salinas. There were two casinos there and an interesting 8,000-year-old "loversí tomb" at the "Las Vegas" area.
The Barecelo Colon Mirama, an MRP casino, was not open on Monday, so we played at the Calypsso Casino, which had the same good Ramada rules. We won a total of $30 with the table maximum of $10 per box. The casino would not raise the limits.
On the next session, we won $500 in three hours. The casino changed dealers frequently (like a bad bullpen that keeps trotting out another pitcher). We lost back our profits to the last of many dealers. The casino owner sat at our tableís third base position and started whistling along with the music that was playing as our profits for the day dwindled down to nothing. He stopped whistling as soon as we began to win again and decided to close the table early. My girlfriend was not keen on playing at such a small joint, fearing they might go over the edge and do something drastic. I didnít think a $10 maximum casino would do something funny.
At the Colon Miramar, we were stopped at the entrance and forced to wait. We were not let in. With all of our options taken away in the southern part of the country, I went back to Quito, and the Quito Colon specifically, to change a $100 chip I had found. My girl friend would not go to the casino. Surprisingly, I was welcomed warmly. We won $50 and $1,200 in two nights. We stopped early the second night hoping to lengthen our playing life, which was a mistake as the news from the casinos in Guayaquil finally arrived in the form of a letter.
We ended up winning $18,500 from the country of Ecuador playing blackjack. That number is equal to approximately ten years income of an average Ecuadorian.
Two months later, Mark walked into the Bellagio poker room and was surprised to find the owner of the Ecuador Ramada casino there playing 20/40 holdíem. Mark joined the game and early on the two of them were in two pots heads up. Mark won both pots. The Ramada owner left $2 on the table to save his seat but never returned! Victory is sweet whether it be on foreign or domestic soil! ♠
Card counters who need to know index numbers for any rules on any blackjack game in the world can find them in Professional Blackjack, by Stanford Wong. For the correct basic strategy for any rules or bonuses to be found on any blackjack game in the world, see Basic Blackjack.
To take advantage of the trackable shuffles in South American casinos, see the introduction to shuffle tracking in Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack.
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