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No such thing as a free beer?

Free beer.  It almost exists, thanks to Tesco.

Bonus Clubcard point offers returned to the shelves last week after a long absense, and they came back in style.  There’s some fantastic value among them.  The full list is here:
http://www.supermarketspecialoffers.com/TescoPointOffers.aspx

For example, 6 bottles of Heineken for £7.34, with bonus 200 clubcard points untll 21st July.

Points are worth 4p each if you spend them on Clubcard Rewards, so you get you £8 back for every £7.34 you spend. Although £7.34 is not a great price for 6 bottles of beer, it effectively costs you nothing.

Buy 7 packs and you not only make enough on top to cover the delivery charge, the £50 spend should also trigger a 5p per litre fuel discount voucher.  There are also voucher codes floating around for discounts or further bonus points when you spend £50 or more.  Each time you do this, you get 42 bottles of better-than-free beer.

Claire and I a serial multi-accounters with Tesco, and two of our accounts accepted a “Save £10 when you spend £50″ coupon!

If wine is more your thing, there’s a bottle of Rose or Brut for £10.99 with 300 free points (worth £12) and some kind of red wine for £5.99 with 150 points back (£6).

Or, slightly more mundane, there’s several offers on washing powder.  Don’t knock it, you’ll always use that sort of stuff eventually and it doesn’t go off.

What’s this got to do with the kind of stuff I usually write about, apart from being a fairly oblique +EV play?

Well, there are now two ways that Tesco Deals can get you to Las Vegas (or many other placed in the world, if you’re that way inclined) which is why I’m now trying harder than ever to eek every last point out of the system.

As well as Virgin Holidays (who I’m not a fan of) you can convert your points to British Airways Executive Club miles.  BA start flying non-stop from London Heathrow to Las Vegas in October.

Free beer if you buy a holiday, or a free holiday if you buy beer.  Whichever way you look at it, that’s a superb deal.

Freebies with a half life

Two years ago, Virgin Trains sent me an unexpected Christmas gift: port, cheese, biscuits and mince pies.

Last year, it was just the port and cheese.

Today I got another parcel.  This time it’s just half a bottle of wine and a corkscrew that looks a bit like a parrot. 

I don’t like moaning about free stuff, but if you’re going to make cutbacks like this just send me the bloody mince pies.

You’ll have to excuse my ignorance about wine.  I never drink it, so I don’t need to know anything about it.

But I did a little research and apparently Sauternes is usually sold in half bottles because it can be difficult to find the half-rotten grapes that it’s made from.

Sounds lovely.

I’ll either mix it with lemonade or use it for cooking.

Eating seeds as a pastime activity

I just can’t say no to free stuff, so when I had an email from a blog directory I’d signed up for asking if I’d like to test some new products and write reviews of them it I was in there like a shot.

So last week they sent me a "9 bar" pack.  The name’s a bit misleading though, cos there was only 3 of them.

I just finally worked up to eating one, and I was like "meh".  Which, honestly, must mean they’re pretty tasty considering what’s in them.

Look at the facts.  It’s made of seeds.  Seeds.  What am I, a fucking canary?

Not only that, it’s topped with carob.  I can’t remember ever enjoying anything made with a chocolate substitute.

So for me to end up feeling pretty indifferent about the product is really quite a good thing.

I also made Claire eat one with me so we could gague each other’s opinions.

Already she was like "yay, it’s a seed bar" but she gave it a go.  She reacted to the smell first (think pet shop) and then the taste.

"I can’t place what it tastes like," she said.  "Probably bark."

If you like health foods, I’m sure you’ll love it.

However, I’m holding out for a new brand of mince pies that will need reviewing in the run up to Christmas.

Free shirt (yes, with an “R”)

It’s always a nice feeling when you find a ten pound note you didn’t know you had at the bottom of a pocket.

I just found £136 in Betfair that I’d completely forgotten about.  It kind of feels like Christmas, even though I know it was my money all along.

This time last year, I took advantage of a promotion on Centrebet for a free football shirt.  As a new player, if you bet £35 on the outright winner of the English Premiership, you were sent an online coupon code to spend at Subside Sports for about £42.

The coupon amount was just enough to buy any official team shirt (with shipping) but in fact you could spend it on anything at all and I actually got two different England shirts.

If you were in the market for such a garment anyway, this is a real bargain.  Instead of spending £40 on the shirt, spend £35 on a bet and get the shirt for free!  Then there’s always a chance your bet will win as as well!

However, I care so little about soccer any more that I decided to hedge it.  I picked Chelsea to win (a potential return of £101.50 for my £35 bet) and bet in the opposite direction on Betfair (laying £70 to return £105).

Best case: no loss; Worst case: I’m stuck £3.50. Whatever happens, you don’t lose your shirt (geddit?).

The downside to hedging is that you’re out £105 until the end of the season, and then you have to remember not to leave it gathering dust at an online bookmaker that you never ordinarily use.

Like I did, until today.

The same free shirt offer is running again this year and it’s only slightly different – now you have to bet £40 to get the freebie (valid to 30th Sept).  It’s still superb value.

I have an affiliate link and I’m not afraid to to use it: Get yer free shirt here!

EDIT: Shameless sell out that I am, I also have an affiliate link for Betfair now: Get a £25 free bet and use it to hedge your free shirt bet!

Mad as a March Bonus [Part 2]

Last weekend, Sporting Index threw a bonus deal at me because I hadn’t given them any action for atout 2 years.  It was effectively free money.  I had to deposit to play, but they would refund any losses up to £50 over the course of the weekend.  This was a refund of net losess, not on a single bet.  As they offer spread betting not fixed odds, taking full advantage of their generosity is a little trickier.

I hadn’t planned it that well last weekend and ran out of time before I could get one more bet before the deadline in whilst I’d still not lost the full £50.  In fact, on my last bet I committed a cardinal sin – I had ended up with a winning bet, but the only result of that was that I won back some of the money they were going to repay me anyway – not enough to take home a profit!  With this kind of promotion, the last bet you place should always make you busto (within the limits of the refund value) or guarantee a profit.  With sports spread betting, I found this tricky to anticipate with my hurriedly placed total goals and corners bets.

The key would be to find a bet that has a limited downside so you can’t lose more than £50, but also has the chance of hitting it big.  A total goals bet on soccer, buying at 2.5 goals for £20 per goal cannot lose more than £50 (for a 0-0 draw) but a three goal match only wins you £10 – you need to find a real goalfest to win a significant amount.

This weekend’s promotion is available to everyone, and is in a similar vein – a £30 net refund from your weekend’s bets, but for their virtual games rather than sports spread betting.  These games are gimmicky rubbish, allowing you to bet on fake horseracing, fake poker games, fake dice, fake slots and fake roulette as well as some really silly novelty games like a cartoon tank that fires footballs with random numbers into the air.

However I liked the look of the roulette game in order to play through this offer fairly easily so I had a go.  It’s a single zero game and you create your own market by placing chips as you would in a casino, and then betting higher or lower than an expected win amount that the system generates for you.

To keep things simple, I only looked at single unit bets and for every type of bet the market was set at 0.94-1.00.  In other words, when you buy the market at 1.00, the amount you win is exactly the same as you would win on a regular roulette table.  A single number still wins 36 times your stake and a red/black bet wins even money.  The house edge for each bet comes only from the zero on the wheel – 1 in 37, or just over 2.7% - just as it does in a casino.

The 0.94 figure is for when you want to bet against the spin producing a winner for whatever bet you placed on the roulette layout.  When you sell this market, you can win 0.94 times your stake but you risk the amount of the roulette payoff multiplied by your stake.  Betting against a single number, you could win 94p or lose £36 for a £1 stake whereas on an even money bet, you are laying £1 to win 94p.  The zero on the wheel works in your favour - you win 19 times out of 37, but the payoff is reduced.

If my calculations are correct, the edge on selling bet is very small.  For a red/black bet at £1, every 37 spins you will lose (18 x 100) and win (19 x 94), a net loss of 14p.  That’s a house edge of 0.38%!  I’d love someone (if only I knew a maths teacher, for instance…) to correct me here – that seems far too small, and I wish I’d noticed this before I actually started playing out this bonus!

I had also assumed that I would have to buy in any market in order to hit a big payoff.  Now I realise this is also not true.  I would have been able to cover multiple bets on the layout (e.g. two separate dozens) and sell that market for odds of roughly 2-1.  Effectively I’d be betting the other dozen as well as the zero, and this might have been a better bet than doing the bet the "normal" way round.

There was a five bet play requirement and although no minimum risk was stated I thought it was wise to at least make sure the £30 freebie was wagered in full.  I began with five £6 bets on red, intending to move on to a bigger bet after these five bets were complete.  Things didn’t start well: 22, 36, 26, 2, 6

Down to £12.  I’d need a 2-1 payoff to get back to be only £6 into profit.  It would have to be a 5-1 shot or longer to make it worthwhile.  I decided to play it a different way – try to gamble back up to the free £30 and then go for one win for that full amount on a 2-1, aiming for a £60 profit.

I put the remaining £12 on red.  21.  Hooray.  £6 more to get back even, so I played red one more time.  18.  Home and dry – almost.  Now just the small matter of trying to win something…

I bet the first dozen for £30.  If I win, it’s £60 profit and I’m cashing out.  If I lose, I get my £30 back on Monday.  A great position to be in.

Click here to watch the spin and retrospectively sweat it with me.  Remember, we’re looking for any number between 1 and 12…

Mad as a March Bonus [Part 1]

Both Party Poker and Absolute Poker have thrown free money at me this weekend.  Which would be great, if I hadn’t blown it all on blackjack already…

Party seem to think it’s my birthday so they gave me $5 to celebrate with.  In fact it just looks like I entered the month and day back to front, so I’ll try to correct that and see if I get the same offer again when it actually is my birthday! $5 won’t get you very far in any of their poker games, so trying to spin it up playing blackjack seemed like a good idea – the play requirement was $25 in total bets before being allowed to withdraw.

This is an eight deck game with the dealer hitting soft 17, and wizardofodds.com puts the house edge for these rules at about 0.8%.  No point grinding through 25 $1 bets here to keep the swings to a minimum and cash in as much of the $4.80 expected value as possible - go for glory!

The plan here was simply to try to double up three times to $40 (actually $35 in total wagers – reducing my EV by a few cents) to get to an amount worth withdrawing.  With the possibility of a 3-2 blackjack payout, it could even be a little higher than this.  However I only got to see one hand – a hard 15 against a dealer 6, and the dealer did not bust.

Second try then.  Absolute actually sent me two promotions for the price of, well, none.  The first said "here, have $10" and the second said "here, have $20".  Indeed this was a good mistake, as I found $30 waiting for me in my account.  Both emails told me they missed me in slightly different ways.  Funnily, I hadn’t been missing their clunky software and super tight players at all.

The only play requirement for the free money was to play something – anything would do.  But I couldn’t be bothered to try to make something happen with poker – I already have a Party Poker bonus to clear this weekend – so this also came down to one hand of blackjack.

Absolute use six decks, but the dealer still hits soft 17.  The house edge for these rules is ever so slightly better: 0.76%.  Actually, playing just one hand for your entire bankroll messes up these figures somewhat – not being able to split and double down in favourable situations gives the house a bigger edge.  Again, only giving up a few cents here in exchange for an easier life.

I saved this hand for posterity.  They gave me a brief glimmer of hope for my useless hard 16 against a dealer’s face card, but it wasn’t to be.

Click here to view the hand in action!

EDIT: Of course, since replaying this I noticed the "surrender" button light up, which is the correct play here.  I never even looked for it, dammit.  I could have had $15 back to go on one more hand..!

Is anything better than free mince pies?

Tesco have been giving away a free box of mince pies with every grocery delivery lately.  A nice little bonus for sure, but these may well be the sweetest mince pies of the season.  A very nice, completely unexpected freebie from Virgin Trains no less! Pies, cheese and booze.  The perfect combination.

 And yes it does indeed say:

 It’s better if I keep that out of context, don’t you think…

Marooned!

My return trip from London usually involves a late train.  That way I never have to worry about leaving the office on time, getting stuck on a delayed tube and missing the train.  It does, however, mean that I’m hanging around for up to two hours at Euston.  This is where a cheap First Class upgrade comes in handy.  By "cheap" I mean that you get the very lowest tier of First Class ticket.  These are only available after they stop serving hot food to your seat, and instead you get a sandwich and a banana.  However usually they put the most expensive tickets at the front of the train so they get first dibs on all the snack food, and by the time yours truely gets served the sandwich choice is probably only egg.

It’s still better than at weekends, where you have to fetch everything yourself.  And as the shop is right in the middle of standard class, you have to climb over three carriages of poor people (you can’t hear the irony, but it’s there I promise, because I only use the train at the weekend on a free ticket) to pick up a "snack box" that contains a couple of crackers and some dried fruit.

Still, it means I get somewhere warm to sit for a couple of hours with an unlimited supply of complimentary coffee and crisps.  Today, they even have some rather nice chocolate truffles.  I was actually disciplined enough to just have one.  Impressive.

When I’m bumming about in the lounge above Euston Station, I’m usually online.  No change there.  There’s a wifi hotspot – touted as a feature of first class, when you still have to pay £4/hr to use it – but I now have my super funky phone with wireless modem and unlimited data calls, which is just as good when there’s 3G coverage.

Today, the phone said I had a full four bars of 3G signal but I couldn’t connect to squat.  It dialed, it thought, it gave up.  Same thing happened trying to get online from the phone itself, and it’s still the same problem now that I’m on the train.  I waited a good ten minutes on hold to T-Mobile, but nobody is there this time of night… at half past six?  Unlikely.  So I decided to bite the bullet – and bite into some complimentary fruit cake – and pay for the wifi.  I still had over an hour to kill and thought I may as well do something useful, even if "something useful" is trying to find out whether the 6-max $2/$4 game at Noble Poker is as soft as it appears to be, or if I just ran very hot so far.  The early signs are good (and here I go tempting fate again).  Sure, I’ve been getting lucky with some hands, but it’s so lovely and passive, they’re just always letting me catch up – and then paying me off!  Of course I don’t mind winning $30 pots with two pair made on the turn from 47o in the big blind, it’s just a little embarassing… I’m sure people in the lounge were watching me!

However, as I’ve bought into Gutshot folklore, I was particularly pleased with this hand.  Would have been worth an extra $50 at their online cardroom too!

The hotspot let me log in, but I had zero credit and when I tried to reload it said "this feature is not available".  There’s an award winning business plan buried away in there somewhere I’m sure…

So I was feeling a little marooned.  NO INTERNET!  But then I remembered the time I playing PokerStars here and my credit ran out but I was still able to play.  I hadn’t figured out whether it was because I still had an open connection and it didn’t know how to disconnect me after the credit ran out, or if it just wasn’t configured to block poker traffic.  Turns out, it’s their configuration.  Which means…

Free poker!

Well, for some sites anyway.  Noble Poker worked just fine.  I could see the lobby and sit at tables.  The only problem was accessing the cashier, which uses web pages within the client.  But as I already had a balance, I could play away happily.  And, yes, it still feels pretty soft.  I think Stars will work, although I couldn’t test it properly.  It tried to get a software update, presumably from a web site, and failed.  Party Poker and Mansion would not connect at all, but ParadiseParadise Masters: $1.5 million in prizes worked fine, and their cashier does not use the web so it looks like you get full functionality.  For free!

That’s about all I had time to check, but I’ll be doing more research!  They definitely block web and email access until you sign in with a credit card, and apparently MSN messenger too.  However I could connect to ICQ and Yahoo! Messenger without any problems, and without paying!

I only have limited experience with wireless hotspots.  The odd hotel and airport, and once at Starbucks when it was the hot new thing, which was memorable because it just didn’t work.  I wonder just how many actually allow free access like this! 

Bargaintastic

Our house insurance just came up for renewal.  £420 they said.  Time to shop around I said.

If you haven’t signed up for Quidco yet, do it.  Seriously.  Insurance companies pay a small fortune in commission for a new customer, and the idea of Quidco is that you get to keep most of that yourself.  So not only did I get a quote from Barclays that was £80 cheaper, I’m also set to receive another £120 in commission in a month or so!

So not everything you earn is quite on that scale, but there’s lots of little somethings that add up…  With a cunning combination of Quidco cashback and online coupon codes I just ordered six CDs from HMV (of all places!) for, effectively, £43!

T minus 286

There was never really any doubt that Claire and I would be heading to Vegas for the summer again next year.  I just didn’t expect that we’d book it this soon.  Last year the flight prices were hideous this time of year before a promotion kicked in on Christmas Eve and we snapped up the seats in a flash.

So when the diamond club reservations system showed availability for the first four weeks of the school holidays – the first time I’ve ever seen it show dates to Vegas that would be vaguely useful to us – we snapped them up even quicker.  Best deal ever – two flights in the summer for just £240 (just the cost of the taxes, plus 90,000 miles).

Between us we actually had enough miles for two free business class flights.  This was a tough decision, but not being able to combine the miles using online booking, and really not wanting to wait until we can speak to someone to nail down those flights (I’m completely paranoid about losing them once we find a good deal) we made the booking on economy.  I’m going to call in the morning and see if there’s any way we can use Claire’s miles now to upgrade, but even if not … what a bargain!

So that’s virtually my entire diamond club balance gone, but the countdown to Summer O’ Poker III can officially begin.  Two hundred and eighty six long and probably wet days.

I don’t think this will be our next Vegas trip though.  If for no other reason (and let’s face it, any excuse is a good excuse) we need to go at least once more before the summer to maintain silver status with BMI.  Possibly twice :)   With the current promotion of 3x miles on all flights before the end of the year, and 50% extra on all Las Vegas flights until the end of October, if we can fit in a trip in half term then it’s virtually a free flight.  There’s a £500 premium economy ticket that almost has my name on it.  Just need to find out if Claire’s "training day" on the Monday is an actual training day or a teachers bonus day.

With 50% extra miles on premium, plus the promotions, we’re looking at somewhere between 50,000 and 75,000 miles depending on just how the offers combine.  45,000 miles gets you an economy flight to the USA.  Can we say +EV!