Friday's Google Kirkland Holiday Party featured what one might expect at a Google company party - great food, classic video games, casino tables, and the Google logo as an ice sculpture.
I spent a fair amount of time at the blackjack tables. I like blackjack because it is a game that, if played carefully, can result in a player advantage over the house. Typically, in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, the house holds a 0.35% edge (with a 4 deck shoe) over the player, assuming the player plays the optimal blackjack strategy effectively. This edge can be erased and turned into a player advantage if the player keeps a hi/lo count, i.e. whether the chance of a ten being dealt is likely or not. However, doing so requires a lot of concentration, and playing even a few hands incorrectly can be very damaging. Recalling recent experiences in both AC and Vegas, it is extremely hard to keep the necessary concentration with all the flashing lights, buzzers, and general "this is real money we're playing with here" pressure.
So, Google's casino was a nice chance to play for fun in a low pressure enviroment. I got an initial stake of $30K (play money), and playing the basic strategy, built that into $100K in a relatively short time. The house rules here weren't posted, but I quickly found that they were VERY favorable to the player, including support for 5 card charlies, 2-1 payout on blackjacks, and something I hadn't seen before, pushes count as a win for the player.
Looking at the odds, support for 5 card charlies is a net gainer of 1.46%, and 2-1 on blackjacks is worth an extra 2.27%. Taking into account just those two rule changes, I was looking at a 3.38% advantage, and assuming about a 6% value for payout on pushes, the net player advantage was probably about 10%. With a number like that, you expect to double your money about every 7-8 hands, and I was able to do that several times over the evening.
When the dealer informed us that the casino part was about to shut down, I had chips totaling about $1M. There were prizes for the top 3 winners, and looking around, I saw at least two people who had what appeared to be bigger piles. Not wanting to lose out on account of being too careful with play money, I went all in on the last hand...
The dealer had a blackjack. Ouch.
If you find blackjack strategy or odds interesting, there is a lot to read at The Wizard of Odds.
Update: I found out from this site that about 9% of blackjack hands result in a push. So the player edge was actually over 12%. Will have to keep in mind for next time...