Success at card counting is about more than the card counting system you choose. Card counters also have to know what they're doing with casino comportment, including the urgent question of whether to toke (tip) the blackjack dealer or not in hope of getting deeper deck penetraton. Arnold Snyder analyzes the costs of dealer tips (tokes) in blackjack card counting.
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Tip the Dealer or Not?

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Dealer Tips and Faulty Logic: To Toke or Not to Toke

By Arnold Snyder
(From Card Player, May 6, 1991)
© 1991 Arnold Snyder

The first article I ever wrote for a gambling periodical was on dealer tips. I wrote it in October 1980, for Rouge Et Noir News, and later included the article in my book, Blackbelt in Blackjack, as Chapter 12: Toking Guidelines.

Now I don’t expect every card counter on earth to have read my book, and I sure don’t expect many to have read an issue of Rouge Et Noir News that’s now more than 10 years old. But it kills me that so many otherwise intelligent blackjack players still don’t understand the mathematics of toking.

Let’s acknowledge that blackjack dealers make their living from tokes. If they don’t get tokes, they starve. If you like a dealer and you win any sizable amount of money, you should toke as a matter of common courtesy, just as you’d toke a waitress or the valet who parks your car. In general, try to size your tips so that they add up, over time, to a fixed small percentage of the expected value from your play.

I've known low-stakes card counters who were trying to go pro who realized they were tipping the dealer almost their full ev. Bad way to go pro.

Bad Reasons to Tip the Dealer

The reason for this article is that many card counters have this weird view of toking. They see it as part of their playing strategy. The usual belief is that by toking the dealer, the player can buy a more profitable card counting game for himself. The way I hear it most often, the player says something like, “The count was through the roof and the dealer was about to shuffle. So I matched my $50 bet with a $5 bet for the dealer to get another round.”

Exactly how stupid this strategy is depends to some extent on the precise definition of “through the roof.” But the fact remains that this is an ignorant ploy. Even in the most deeply dealt single-deck blackjack games, the player will almost never see a 10% advantage. With a common, level-one card counting system, and Las Vegas Strip rules, a 10% advantage would correspond to a true count per deck of about +20.

If you did have this theoretical 10% advantage, however, with a $50 bet on the table you would expect to win about $5, which is 10% of your bet. Of course, it’s impossible to win exactly $5 on one $50 bet at blackjack. Your real world possibilities on this hand are to lose $50, to win $50, to push, to win $75 (with a blackjack), or to win or lose $100 or more (with pair splits and/or double-downs— though these wins/losses require an additional investment on your part over and above your initial $50).

Over the long haul, however, if you tally up all of the results from your $50 bets with a 10% advantage, you’ll show a win rate of about $5 for every $50 bet. That’s what a 10% advantage is. So, if you’re betting $5 for the dealer to deal this hand, you’re giving him all of your potential profit. You’re wasting your time playing the hand and risking negative bankroll fluctuations for no expected profit whatsoever.

The sad fact is that card counters who try to buy deeper penetration from a dealer with tokes are rarely in 10% advantage situations. More often than not, a high count will indicate a player advantage between 1% and 3%, depending on the game. Toking from $1 to $3 for every $100 bet gives you the same break-even expectation, because you’re virtually handing your total potential profit to the dealer. Most players who toke to get an extra round are often giving the dealer more than their expectation.

Toking to get an extra round almost never makes sense. Even if you are a black chip player, willing to give up a small percentage of a potential win to a dealer, you can’t insult the dealer by betting 50¢ for him when you’ve got a couple hundred dollars bet for yourself.

Furthermore, how often do your tokes actually achieve the purpose of getting an extra round? Many dealers would not comprehend that you’re trying to buy an extra round, because they don’t know you’re a card counter, they don’t know the count is high, and they don’t assume that a bet for them means “deal one more round.” You have to further reduce your expectation when the dealer innocently shuffles away the extra round you thought you were purchasing.

Or, are you going to be a real boor and pull back your bet, including the dealer’s toke, when he shuffles the cards? An amateur move like this will get you real far as a card counter. You might as well hang a picture of Ken Uston around your neck.

Tipping the Dealer for Tells

Then there are players who toke for tells, and believe that by throwing money at a dealer, the dealer will “help” them play their hands. Let’s say you’re playing in one of the few remaining casinos where dealers still peek under 10’s. And, let’s say you actually have found a dealer who’s crooked enough to play your hand for you if you’ve got a bet out for him. What’s it worth to you?

If it goes on for any length of time, you’ll probably get a free trip to the Nevada State Penitentiary, after the eye-in-the-sky video of your playing session gets shown in court. Working in collusion with a casino dealer is a felony in Nevada, with a minimum sentence of one year in prison.

When Tipping the Dealer Pays

Tipping the dealer can pay off in particular circumstances. If you're a shuffle tracker, for example, you can often buy the cut card by putting out a bet with a tip for the dealer as she's finishing the shuffle. In that circumstance, you're paying for a big advantage through an entire slug, not just one hand.

Tipping is also good camouflage if you play at the highest stakes, if you don't overpay. Again, make sure that your overall tipping remains a small percentage of your overall ev.

Just remember, the truth of the matter is that the majority of players who toke for favors get nothing. And although many players may be unaware of the law in Nevada (at least, this would be their defense in court), dealers are not. Toking a blackjack dealer in order to get a more profitable game is like giving a waiter a buck and hoping he’ll steal some desert from the kitchen so you don’t have to pay for it.

The only thing a blackjack dealer is “selling” is a friendly game, carefully dealt, according to house rules and procedures. If that’s what he delivers, you toke according to your means.

Send 10% of all the money you save in stupid tokes after reading this column to The Bishop. ♠

For Further Reading

For more practical information on winning blackjack play, see Arnold Snyder's Blackbelt in Blackjack

For more practical card counting tips and analyses, return to the Blackjack Forum Professional Gambling Library

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