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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Can a Leopard Change Its Spots? Should a Blackjack Player?

6 November 2002

Many blackjack buffs won't start a game without several people already in action at a table. Others prefer to gamble with as few compatriots as possible, even heads-up or one-on-one. Likewise, lots of players always bet on a single spot, but some wager on multiple hands - either regularly, to have an even or odd set of "live" positions (depending on factors including but not limited to the relative transits of Pluto and Uranus), to change the flow of the cards when nobody's doing well, or to get an extra bet on the table when everybody's raking in the dough.

Certain of these considerations follow purely from emotion. One person may regard a game without a pack of participants as too stressful or intimidating. A second may find other patrons overly annoying. Alternately, some folks believe they do better with two spots than one or three, or vice-versa. Similarly, different individuals may be sure that switching numbers of spots helps synchronize hands with the clumping of high and low cards after the previous shoe, or offers a means of exerting control over the game, or is merely a sign of frustration and despair.

Math and logic alone can't settle these issues. If you're uneasy with neophytes who hit 15s into dealer sixes, amen; no statistics will convince you these bezonians don't spoil your chances. And, although it's true that casino shuffles don't totally randomize the cards, there's no proof the effect can be exploited or that it's even been adequately simulated in computer analyses.

Others at a table do have a quantifiable impact on anticipated session performance, however. The aggregate of active hands influences rounds dealt per unit time; this, in turn, determines how many of your bets are decided, and therefore your gross wager, during a session of any particular duration.

The number of spots you personally play affects your session characteristics the same way. But it has a further consequence. The swings your bankroll undergoes on a round-by-round basis decrease as you split a given total wager among more spots. To picture this intuitively, make believe you bet a total of $20. On one spot, you'll usually go up or down by $20 per round - with sporadic pushes and occasional greater wins or losses. With $10 on each of two spots, you'll get more pushes, intermittent $10 wins or losses, and the odd instance of a $20 or greater change.

The accompanying table helps put monetary values on this state of affairs. Data entries show the bankroll range over which you have a 50-50 chance of fluctuating during an hour-long session, per dollar total wagered, betting on one to three hands with from zero to three added spots taken by fellow players.

Range over which a bankroll has a 50-50 chance of fluctuating
during an hour-long session, per dollar total at risk, betting
on one to three hands with zero to three other spots in action.

Your spots
Spots bet by other players
0
1
2
3
1
-12.10 to 10.00
-9.73 to 8.33
-8.33 to 7.30
-7.40 to 6.57
2
-8.23 to 6.83
-7.03 to 6.00
-6.23 to 5.40
-5.67 to 4.97
3
-6.53 to 5.50
-5.80 to 4.97
-5.27 to 4.57
-4.87 to 4.27

Here's how to interpret the table. If you're playing heads-up on one spot, you have a 50-50 chance of being between $12.10 down and $10.00 up during an hour of action per dollar you bet. With $10 at risk, rounding off, that would be from $120 behind to $100 in front. Two spots at $5 each, heads-up, would give you a typical range of minus $82 to plus $68 for the hour. One spot at $10, with additional players at three other positions, would yield a normal range of $74 in the hole to $65 ahead.


The conclusion to be drawn is that, by adjusting the complement of spots you cover and seeking tables with more or fewer other solid citizens, you can magnify or moderate the bankroll peaks and valleys you can expect to experience during your time at the table. If your personal theory of gambling encompasses psychological elements and cosmic alignments, you're exploring a dimension for which road maps are notoriously unreliable. Such uncertainty aside, you may be able to derive direction from the pragmatic poet of the punting pits, Sumner A Ingmark, who wrote these lasting lines:

Superstition's seeds are sown,
By phenomena unknown.

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.