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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Can You Wait for a Winning Run?

16 June 1997

Gambling can get frustrating. Especially in high-payoff games.

It's partly because big scores seem so close yet are so elusive. But that can't be the whole story, since sensible solid citizens are savvy enough not to anticipate major money on every outing.

The frustration also results because bounty bestowed comes from cash collected. Games favoring the few with rare rich returns are bankrolled by bet after losing bet taken from the many. Players aspiring to high prizes are therefore destined to encounter briefer bursts of successes than of setbacks.

The casinos aren't being sinister or devious setting up certain table games and most machines this way. They're meeting demands for a gambling experience in which the next bet offers a shot at a pot of gold, or, at least, knowledge that one hit can save an otherwise dreary day. Players happy with small profits have ample opportunity to make bets with no pie-in-the-sky multipliers for rare single-play outcomes, and to win correspondingly more often.

I'll compare two alternatives to show how this works. Blackjack is a traditional even-money game. Let It Ride, a newcomer to the casino table repertoire, offers large multiples of the amount bet. Craps bets other than propositions at the center of the table, outside roulette wagers such as red/black or odd/even, Player/Banker at baccarat, and big/small at sic bo work like blackjack. Slot machines, Caribbean Stud, and longshots - when available - at other table games are more akin to Let It Ride.

At blackjack, even with liberal resplitting of pairs and doubling down, players can only win a maximum of eight times the base bet. And they must risk an equal sum to do so. In over 99 percent of all resolved hands - those which don't "push" - the player wins or loses two or fewer betting units. The probability of winning at least one unit on any hand is high - 48 percent of all rounds in which a decision is made.

In contrast, Let It Ride offers payoffs up to 1,000 times what's bet. A player starting with three $5 spots, who draws a 10-H J-H Q-H and leaves the first two wagers active, grabs $15,000 if the "community cards" are K-H and A-H. Other payoffs are attractive, too. A straight flush yields 200-to-1 - $3,000 for three $5 bets in action. And four of a kind has a 50-to-1 return - $750 for the same three $5 bets. The downside is that wins of any amount occur on only about 24 percent of all hands.

The accompanying table shows numbers of rounds played in the two games before a bettor's statistical expectation is to experience one losing or winning run of the indicated length. Here's an example of how to interpret the table. One series of 10 successive losses is expected in 3,014 rounds of blackjack or 281 rounds of Let It Ride - a lot of blackjack, not much Let It Ride. Conversely, one run of five successive wins is expected in 151 rounds of blackjack or 2,180 rounds of Let It Ride - not much blackjack, plenty of Let It Ride.

Differing chances of runs of successive losses or wins don't necessarily mean one game is somehow better than another. Players have individual motivations. However, in selecting, it's wise to understand both negative and positive factors. Going for the gold is great, but not if you're easily annoyed by a streak of losing bets. A preference for moderate swings is fine, but not if you'll be impatient when a series of wins doesn't get you a limo ride to Easy Street. The bard of baffled bettors, Sumner A Ingmark, put the predicament poetically:


Monster wins, although infrequent,
Add to life a zest most piquant.
Modest gains, occurring often,
Can the pain of losses soften.

TABLE
Rounds of blackjack and Let It Ride
in which to expect one losing and winning run
of various lengths
length of
losing run
rounds of
blackjack
rounds of
Let It Ride
5
120
74
6
226
97
7
430
126
8
820
165
9
1,571
215
10
3,014
281
15
78,987
1,081
20
2,077,090
4,222
length of
losing run
rounds of
blackjack
rounds of
Let It Ride
5
151
2,180
6
309
9,066
7
638
37,756
8
1,321
157,292
9
2,744
655,358
10
5,707
2,730,626
15
223,566
3,429,291,000
20
8,772,436
4,306,734,000,000

 

 

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.