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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Common Sense May Be Your Strongest Play in a Casino

25 July 1994

Are ordinary rules off in a casino? True, the casino experience is out of the ordinary. Solid citizens can flee the workaday world and feel like a million bucks. And, while odds of actually making a million are miniscule, they beat those available elsewhere. Flaunt the laws of mathematics or suspend the dictates of common sense, though, and play at the peril of your pocketbook.

Casino calculus can be complicated, but aid abounds. Basic strategy in blackjack, lower house edge on Banker than Player or Tie in baccarat, benefits of odds on line and come bets in craps, and similar elements of other games are explained in countless books, articles, and wallet-size cards. You don't need a calculator for every bet. While some "experts" think 2+2=3, most sources that don't tout techniques "guarantee to win" are consistent with the principles governing the known universe.

Common sense is something else. The scientist and educator, Karl Taylor Compton, often told of his sister, a missionary, who was having her house rewired by a local tradesman. The handyman repeatedly barged into her study asking where to put this or that outlet or switch. Exasperated at the interruptions, she blurted out, "You're the electrician. Use your common sense." The worker replied, "Madam, I am only fortunate enough to have a technical education. Common sense is a gift of God."

The moral? You can be taught to be guided by the mathematics of life, but you're on your own to show common sense. And, you need both.

In general, the numbers give your chances to win each bet, house edge on various wagers, and best decisions when you can influence outcomes. Math has also been used to optimize how much to bet and when to quit; but, in random games, these factors mostly fall in the realm of common sense.

Here's what I mean:

You came to the casino with a $200 stake, planning to spend it all trying for the keys to Fort Knox on a multi-casino progressive slot link. The $200 is gone. Does common sense say to head for the cash machine or for the buffet?

You relish roulette but only have $100 for a particular trip to the tables. Does common sense say to start by betting $25 on each of four numbers for one spin of the wheel, or to lead with $5 on an outside bet like red or black and take a number or two for $1 each?

You've lost five $25 blackjack hands in a row and have $125 left in your poke. Does common sense say to stick with $25 bets, put the remaining $125 up on the next hand, go to another table, or quit entirely?

You've been playing craps at a $10 table for four hours, making a line and two come bets with 3-4-5 odds on every shooter. At one point, you were down $1200, but inched your way up until a $400 roll brought you within $100 of break even. Does common sense say quit and be grateful for an $1100 recovery, or keep going because a half decent roll now will put you over the top?

Sure, people ignore common sense and clean up. (They ignore the math, too, but that's a topic for another column.) Cash machine money hits the jackpot. A $50 bet on the first roulette spin nets $1750. An all-or-nothing blackjack hand breaks the cold streak. A craps shooter holds the dice for 45 minutes on the heels of a 20-minute roll. And, sure, sense for Sam may be nonsense for Nancy. Once-a-year patrons have different objectives than frequent players. Millionaire rock stars don't share many criteria with seniors living off social security. Your first bet of the day isn't the same as your last. Still, as Sumner A Ingmark, revered rhymer to the rollers, revealingly wrote:

Take knowledge, add some common sense,
And blend them with a little luck.
The mix can make the difference,
'Tween those who lose and win a buck.

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.