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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Are parlays reasonable strategies to start small and finish big?

3 December 2007

What do you have to do to bag big bucks in a casino if you begin with a moderate stake and make modest bets? The obvious answer is to play a game that offers some kind of jackpot. This usually means the slots, one of the newer table offerings that feature sliding payoff scales depending on factors such as the poker value of hands, or traditional games augmented by bonus side-bets. But these options often strike solid citizens who consider themselves punting prodigies as rather plebeian.

Another approach for gamblers who favor true grit like blackjack, craps, and baccarat is progressive betting. In the extreme, creating parlays by starting at the table minimum and letting winnings ride on subsequent coups. An extended series of wins often thought of as a run or a streak can be highly remunerative. Not quitting before a streak ends, of course, wipes out intermediate gains. And although income along the way can increase a player's fortune if collected, a loss in such cases still only reduces a stash by the amount of the initial bet.

Figures for bets on Player at baccarat illustrate how this works. They accordingly offer a basis for deciding whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks in light of your own gambling preferences.

Make believe you start with a $10 bet and are considering parlays of various durations up to 10 successive wins ignoring Ties. Your chance of winning any given hand is then 49.34 percent. Probabilities of successful parlays, and corresponding profits, are shown in the accompanying table.

Chance of parlays of up to 10 wins on Player at Baccarat

duration	probability	odds	total
of series			earnings
	1	49.34%	1.02-to-1	$10
	2	24.34%	3.11-to-1	$30
	3	12.01%	7.33-to-1	$70
	4	5.92%	15.88-to-1	$150
	5	2.92%	33.21-to-1	$310
	6	1.44%	68.34-to-1	$630
	7	0.71%	139.55-to-1	$1,270
	8	0.35%	283.88-to-1	$2,550
	9	0.17%	576.43-to-1	$5,110
	10	0.09%	1169.40-to-1	$10,230

To put these values into perspective, contrast them with two alternatives. For this purpose, pretend your goal is $10,230.

First, if you were what the casino bosses call a "whale," you might bet $10,230 on a single hand. You'd then have a 49.34 percent probability odds of 1.02-to-1 to win $10,230. Your chance of success would be a lot greater than via parlays. But a failure would set you back $10,230 rather than an affordable $10.

Second, you might try a jackpot-oriented game such as video poker. For the sake of argument, imagine you could bet $10 as the maximum coins on a spin. Odds are roughly 40,000-to-1 you'd hit an $8,000 jackpot. The chance is far worse and the prize somewhat less. But the parlay is all-or-nothing win $10,230 or lose $10 while video poker has a range of payoffs. You can miss the brass ring but receive at least some recompense. And, while you may not be satisfied with the returns on non-jackpot hands, even 1-for-1 pseudo-wins replenish the register for further rounds.

Another reason parlay bets may appeal to you is the opportunity to pick your own risk-reward trade-off. As examples, you can take a 68-to-1 shot at betting $5 to win $315 with six wins, or accept 284-to-1 odds that your $10 will pay you $2,550 with a run of 10.

A primary shortcoming of parlay gambling is that, offsetting the chance to luck out on a small bankroll, you may go broke relatively quickly. With a $100 budget and bets starting at $5, 20 losing cycles will wipe you out. Prospects aren't too dim with a short series; at five in a row to win $155, you have over 44.72 percent chance of at least one victory in 20 tries. At 10 in a row, the analogous outlook falls to 1.69 percent.

A second danger of this gambling mode occurs when mere mortals experience the streaks they told themselves at the outset were their goals. Either the Devil or an adrenaline rush tells them they're on a roll so why quit now. Why, indeed? Here's how the immortal muse, Sumner A Ingmark, answered that question:

Life should teach this principle, Nobody's invincible.

Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.