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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Changing Tables or Machines Helps When the Next One's Better

11 July 1994

Experts offer opposite answers when asked about moving when a table or machine is cold. Some say jump when you've reached a loss limit so you'll have pesos to play where conditions are bound to be better. Others say stay so you'll be there for the rebound the law of average presumably predicts. The experts say it in more complicated ways so they'll sound authoritative. But, eschewing obfuscation as I endlessly endeavor to do it washes away to walk or wait.

Readers who like me to skip the long boring part and get directly to cashing in at the casino will be disappointed to discover that neither moving nor staying is right or wrong. For equivalent games, chances are equal no matter where you play, regardless of past results on a particular table or machine.

Players who move when they're losing sometimes do better in the new game and sometimes don't. Improving fortifies their faith in the smartness of switching. Worsening gets chalked up to a bad day. Ditto for those who try to weather the blizzard. When the strategy works, they credit their gaming acumen. When the downswing never ends, they remember why it's called "gambling."

The dilemma has yet a deeper dimension. Say you're tossing tokens into a bottomless pit disguised as a slot machine. You consider sliding over one seat, but you don't. Some tourist from Tumbleweed Texas, who's never seen a casino before, drops three coins into the machine you've been eyeing and zaps the progressive jackpot. Or maybe you've been crashing at craps and mull over migrating to the next table, but you don't. Somebody grabs the dice in the adjacent game and rolls numbers for 45 minutes. "Damn the idiot who said to stick with a game because it'll come full circle," you mutter to yourself. If you'd moved, you'd be rich.

The opposite also happens. Change machines and someone hits big where you just left. Switch tables and the old one comes alive. You'd like to strangle the jerk who said to abandon a cold game. If you'd stayed, you'd be rich.

The logic is flawed either way. Games of chance are random processes. Enter or leave a game and you alter its outcome, but can't predict how. Here's what I mean. You changed blackjack tables. Your old spot was empty for one or more hands. The cards everyone got for the rest of the shoe differ from what they'd have been had you stayed. At the end of the shoe, the cards won't be shuffled exactly as they might were you still there, so future hands will differ, too. Similar reasoning applies to all casino games and to random processes elsewhere in life as well. A classic example, cited by scientists studying the theory of chaos, is that a butterfly in the Brazilian rain forest stirs the air by flapping its wings and ultimately affects the weather in New York, but nobody knows when or how.

Before I get too philosophomoric, maybe I'd better at least suggest when to fish or cut bait. Move if you find yourself getting disgusted, blaming everybody in sight for making you lose, and betting foolishly in the hope that one lucky hit will bring you back. Stay if you're comfortable with the machine or table and believe it will turn around. It boils down to winning attitude. Will moving or staying help you get it? Pondering this profound puzzle in the casino and out I wallow in the wisdom of the wily words of Sumner A Ingmark, troubadour de la tableaux:

Winning makes you feel great,
The flip side is true, too.
Attitude can buttress fate,
Attracting luck to you.

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.