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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Consistency Means Never Having to Say "I Should'a"

20 November 1995

ntrary to common casino canon, consistency doesn't affect chance. Play consistently well, for instance bet where house edge at craps is lowest, and improve your prospects; the key word is "well," not "consistently." Play consistently poorly, say hold three low cards for inside straights at video poker, and increase your risk; the key is "poorly," not "consistently." Or, play inconsistently, maybe by jumping among red, black, high, low, odd, and even at roulette; you may be lucky, but the odds 10-to-9 against you don't vary.

Still, consistency has merit. Psychologically.

Some solid citizens are cowed by players who blame others when they lose. Consistency means never being derided for inducing the seven by tossing the dice differently each time at craps or changing the flow of the cards by splitting pairs on hunches at blackjack.

More importantly, consistency avoids the ordeal of second-guessing. It means never having to say, "I should'a." Here are examples.

My friend Bob plays craps. He usually starts on the pass line, takes full odds, places all the other numbers, and presses up his bets as a roll progresses. Last week, ahead, he decided to quit "after one more shooter." Then he wavered from his routine and didn't place the four or 10. The shooter was hot. Bob made money. But the roll included six fours and two 10s. Had Bob been there, these numbers would have paid well. Instead of savoring his profit, he was glum about getting "stiffed on those fours and 10s."

Janet says she can sense when a slot machine is "cold" or "hot" and plays one to five coins accordingly. Last week, she groused that the casino must have "switched things around." It seems she lined up four stars on a $1 progressive machine with only one coin, winning $250. The 5-coin payoff would have been over $2500. Janet went home $200 to the good, whining about her $2500 "loss."

At blackjack the other day, a $25 bettor was losing hand after hand. With the shoe nearly over, the player slammed down what was left of his stake, $100, on what proved to be another dud. Then he stomped off. On the next shoe, everybody but the dealer pulled miracle cards. The fellow who'd just gone belly-up wandered back and saw we were all raking in the dough. He cursed himself for having blown it all instead of "hanging in" for the hot shoe.

Second-guessing is frustrating. Foolish. Fallacious. It confuses the chance of something happening with how an event turns out. Worse, it ignores what we now know about the application of chaos theory to casino games. If players did what they later wish they had, their actions would alter the eventual outcomes.

Suppose Bob had placed the four and the 10. The dealer might have taken an instant longer to set up the bets, the dice might have gone to the shooter slightly later and differently aligned, and Bob's extra chips on the layout might have affected the way the dice were aimed or what they hit or missed as they bounced about. Considering such factors, results would almost certainly have changed. There's no way to know what Bob would have won or lost.

What if Janet had played $5 rather than $1 for that fateful pull. Dropping more coins, or hitting the 5- instead of the 1-credit button, would have changed the precise moment the machine was activated. The random number generator would therefore have been at a different point in its sequence and something other than those four stars would have appeared in the windows. There's no way to know what Janet would have won or lost then or on subsequent pulls.

Picture the blackjack player betting and losing only $25 on that crucial hand, and staying in the game. The shuffle, the cut, and the number of cards dealt in each round would have changed. There's no way to know what anyone would have won or lost on the next shoe.

As Sumner A Ingmark, plainly pleased to pen poems praising the persistence of percentage players, perceptively proclaimed:

You can't go back in time because,
By second-guessing chance's laws,
You'd change what is from what it was.
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.