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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Fun and (Table) Games: Are They for You?

22 November 2004

Casino table games evoke a certain elegance that slot machines just don't muster. Not that anything's inherently wrong with the slots. Many solid citizens, casino regulars as well as those who try their luck once in a while or even once in a lifetime, head for the machines without giving the tables a second thought.

And, why not? Machines are unintimidating, can be played for bets that -- singly -- aren't devastating if they lose, and typically yield extended sessions on moderate stakes even when no extraordinary hits happen along. Further, casinos have promotion programs nowadays that reward slot buffs with complimentary meals, toaster ovens, and whatnot matching or exceeding the freebies doled out to the average table aficionado.

Still, nothing beats the tables for a leisure experience steeped in the lore and legend of casino tradition and history. Table games help workaday folks feel they're engaging in something special, something big-time. But how do recreational gamblers, who haven't the incentive to study detailed manuals or take expensive or demanding lessons get their feet wet? Without opening themselves to embarrassing mistakes or getting knocked out of the box before the dust settles on their chips?

It's far easier than you may imagine, both to play and to play competently. Table games may look complicated. But once you've gotten past the mechanics of entering the game, betting, and collecting proceeds -- in themselves merely matters of convention -- you'll find it ain't necessarily so. More, you'll usually encounter dealers who are happy to help neophytes and veteran players who are flattered to be asked for aid and advice.

The dealers actually do the hard part at the tables. For players, the games span the low end of the difficulty scale. Some are simple (you can't make a faux pas) as in baccarat and roulette. Others are intuitive (use what you already know, add an extra rule or two and you're an expert) as in poker offshoots like Let It Ride or Caribbean Stud. A game may also be confusing but elementary (a lot goes on around you but you can ignore it and focus on your own bets) as in craps. And it may be sophisticated yet not require great skill or mental acumen (you should follow a series of conventions to reduce the house advantage, but they let you consult a chart covering every situation) as in blackjack.

Although specifics differ among games and must be addressed individually, some general issues should be kept in mind. These include: are you comfortable wagering at the required level, how large a stake do you need for a decent shot at surviving normal cold spells for a period you deem long enough, what's a realistic goal for the amount you can win, does the game offer alternate bets, and will you have to make strategic decisions during a round? Later, assuming you find you enjoy table action, you can mix elements such as the casino's edge into your selection of games and the degree to which you want to master the subtleties.

Together, these considerations can help direct you toward a game that suits your own personal proclivities and preferences. And, if you're thinking of trying one or another, you'd be wise to weigh the different points before rushing over to a table and placing your mad money at risk (even if you've convinced yourself you've only brought as much as you can afford to lose).

There's another thing you may want to factor into your choice. The classics -- baccarat, roulette, craps, and blackjack -- have a savoir-faire that will bespeak your worldliness when you brag about having won or lost at them to everyone who will listen. You may feel like James Bond sitting down to Bezonian Bim-Bam-Boom or some other new wrinkle. But your know-it-all friends are apt to scoff at your saying you played a game of this type, rather than nod admiringly had you instead recounted your baccarat escapade.

The critical aspects of various table games will be covered in coming installations of this series. For now, just remember this incredible insight of the immortal inkster, Sumner A Ingmark:

Were everything as tough as it first looks,
There wouldn't be reality, just books.

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.