Super Sevens Snafu (excerpt from Blackjack Wisdom)

Super Sevens Snafu

From Blackjack Forum, June, 1992:

There’s a new side-bet popping up at blackjack tables called “Super Sevens.” You’ll find it at the new Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, and on various cruise ships. You’ll also find it at Caesars, in both Las Vegas and Stateline. The option was invented last year by Caesars Tahoe pit boss Ken Perrie — the same man who brought us the over/under rule. Like the over/under, the Super Sevens option may be offered at any otherwise normal blackjack game — except that the option requires that at least three decks be in play. A $1 side-bet prior to the deal offers various payouts for different combinations of player hands containing one, two, or three sevens, depending on whether the sevens are suited or unsuited. The maximum payout is $5,000 for three suited sevens.

I have not previously revealed that I had a hand in the initial mathematical analysis of this option. The fact is, I was hired by Ken Perrie last summer to analyze this rule, and all of the possibilities and probabilities which could affect the house expectations. I suspect Ken hired me for this job because I was the guy who first published a counting system for attacking his over/under option.

In any case, Ken explained to me the basics of the Super Sevens rule over the phone, and asked me to look at the payout schedule that he had devised, as well as his mathematical analysis of the expectations. I knew from the get-go that this option offered little to card counters. Even if the effects of removal proved to be high – and I suspected they would – with a maximum bet of $1, no card counter could ever get enough action on the bet to expect anything but a minute return on his investment.

I told Ken I would do an analysis of the rule for my standard $75 per hour. Using a pocket calculator, I quickly analyzed his payout schedule. My results differed from his, so I called my math genius in residence (in residence in San Jose, that is) — Sam Case.

I explained the option to Sam, and asked him if he could do a quick spreadsheet analysis. He called me back within an hour. His computer analysis agreed with my calculator analysis. So, I called Ken and told him what we’d come up with. I agreed to play with various payout schedules until I could find one that offered an off-the-top house advantage in the neighborhood of what Ken was looking for, 10% to 11%.

Using Sam’s spreadsheet, I ran through dozens of variations of payout schedules, and called Ken back a couple days later with the front runners. By this time I had found many payout schedules which would give the house its 10% edge off the top, retaining the maximum payout of $5,000 for three suited sevens, but which would also be more attractive to card counters. I accomplished this by lowering the high-end payouts, raising the low-end payouts, and allowing a max bet of more than $1.

I argued with Ken about the wisdom of his $1 max bet. “The fact is, Ken,” I said, “with a $1 max bet, you may be stifling the opportunities for card counters, but you’re also severely limiting the potential gain for the house. Ten percent of a buck is only a dime. By allowing bigger bets, and providing smaller payouts at the high end, you’ll increase the action considerably.” (Hey, guys, I tried. . . .) He wouldn’t buy it. He just didn’t want any possibility of card counters taking any significant profits from the option. He picked the payout schedule that he liked best of those I’d drawn up, and I agreed to supply him with computer printouts of the spreadsheet analysis, as well as a typed report describing the analysis, including estimates of potential house profits based on the estimated hourly action per table. He also requested that I include in my report an explanation of why card counters could not win any significant amount of money from the Super Sevens bet.

I soon sent him the complete report, along with my estimated total time spent on the project of thirteen hours and twenty minutes, plus my bill for $1,000. [Damn, my consulting rates were cheap 20 years ago!] I was saddened that I had been unable to convince him to make the bet more attractive to counters, but what the hay, at least one card counter was going to make a cool grand on the option without ever placing the bet!

A week later, Ken called me. He had shown my analysis to one of the bean counters at Caesars, and the guy told him I’d made a mistake—that I had neglected to account for the $1 which the player automatically lost any time he was not dealt an initial seven. I told Ken I’d look at the spreadsheet and get back to him, but that I was sure the analysis was accurate, as I had checked and double-checked my work.

Unfortunately, I should have triple-checked it. All of the probabilities did total to 1.0 on the bottom line, indicating that all possible dealing sequences had been accounted for, but, as Ken had stated, I had placed a “0,” instead of a “-1,” in the payout column for a player who is dealt an initial non-seven. How embarrassing. . . .

I called Ken back and apologized for the error. Then I redid the analyses, adjusting the payouts, and revised my written report accordingly. Naturally, I didn’t charge Ken for these hours. I was just thankful that he had not already begun his marketing efforts. He could have sued me for a bundle if my error were not discovered until after numerous casinos were employing the option, and losing their shirts. So much for my lucrative consulting business. . . . Shortly after I sent him my new report, he sent me a check for $1,000, never mentioning my potentially costly error. What a gentleman. . . .

Some months later, I got an invitation from Ken to attend a combination golf tournament/party he was sponsoring to celebrate the success of his gaming company. These events were taking place in Las Vegas on the same weekend as the World Gaming Congress, which I was already planning to attend.

I didn’t get into Vegas early enough to participate in the golf match, but I did make it to the party, which was being held in the VIP Room of the Olympic Gardens. The Olympic Gardens, to put it bluntly, is a strip joint. More specifically, it’s a table dance club, i.e., a strip joint where the dancers meander through the crowd to perform close-up “table dances” for tipping customers. Of course, it’s all just innocent fun.

At the buffet table, Ken introduced me to his business partner, an L.A. dentist. In the course of my conversation with this gentleman, I learned that my embarrassing mistake in analyzing the Super Sevens option had proven very costly to Ken.

“That error cost us a bundle,” said the entrepreneurial dentist. “Right after Ken got your initial payout analysis, he had the typesetting done on our marketing brochures, and had them printed. Full color. It wasn’t cheap. They all had to be trashed and redone.”

Why hadn’t Ken mentioned this to me? I felt terrible. My first thought was that I should return my consulting fee to him. Why hadn’t he said something before? As I was looking for him, one of the table dancers started tugging at my arm.

“Let’s go,” she said. “I’m going to dance for you.”

I begged off with a “maybe later.” I had to find Ken.

“Sorry,” she said. “You can’t get out of it. It’s already been paid for.” As she talked, she was dragging me by the shirt sleeve to a vacant chair against the far wall. “Now just sit still,” she instructed me, “and no touching.”

“Who paid for it?” I demanded, dumbfounded.

“He did,” she said, pointing to a face in the gathering crowd.

There stood Ken Perrie, with a grin on his face from ear to ear.

“Thanks, Ken!” I yelled, as the dancer pulled her top off.

“My pleasure, Arnold,” he called to me.

Some godawful heavy metal noise started screeching in my ear from a speaker over my head. I was trying to get Ken’s attention, to tell him I was sorry, that I would give him his money back. He was only a few feet away from me, but I could only catch glimpses of him through the writhing flesh in front of my nose. I tried craning my neck, only to have the dancer bop me one on the head.

“Now, sit still!” she warned me. “Be a good boy!”

At this point it dawned on me that the Great Snyder was surrounded by guffawing casino execs, as a gorgeous young dancer in a g-string was climbing all over his bod. What am I doing here? I’m a religious leader of this community! What if Alison finds out? What if the Griffin Agency is here taking pictures? Maybe they’ll use one of these shots in their next book of undesirables! Already, I could see the caption: “Snyder, Arnold; Alias: The Bishop; Shown here exhibiting his unique ’front-loading’style.”

So, this is how Mr. Perrie gets back at a man of the cloth for a simple little mistake in math that anyone could have made! He places me into a compromising position, publicly embarrasses me, ruins my reputation, and attempts to destroy my marriage, while making me a laughing stock in the casino world.

After the dance, nursing my shame at the bar, some guy I didn’t know came up to me and said, “That looked like fun. How much did she charge you?”

“I didn’t pay for it,” I said grumpily. “A buddy of mine set me up.”

“Oh,” he said. “Do you know how much it cost him?”

“A thousand bucks,” I said. “Plus, about twenty for the dancer.”

©1992 Arnold Snyder

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