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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Fun and (Table) Games: Try Roulette

6 December 2004

You may have itched to try roulette ever since you heard Captain Louis Renault say he was "shocked, shocked" to find it being played at Rick's Cafe Americain in Casablanca. It's a good game for solid citizens seeking a leisurely pace, a menu of bets with a range from highly probable small wins to remotely possible big returns, and almost nothing they can do to look foolish.

Start by finding a table where the limits let you size your bets to your budget. Novices would be wise to go for $5 minimum. This offers several distinct options involving $10 in action at once.

Grab a seat, then buy-in by dropping cash or casino chips on the layout in front of you. The dealer will swap your money for tokens. At low-limit tables, tokens are normally assigned values of $1; if the dealer asks, say this is what you want. The dollar value won't be marked, but the dealer has a way to keep track of what the tokens are worth. This, so each bettor at a table gets a unique color, which shows who's on what and tells the dealer whom to pay. Before you leave, redeem the tokens for regular chips.

After settling all wagers on a round, the dealer will open the betting for the next. Put your tokens on the parts of the layout corresponding to the wagers you select. You needn't rush. The dealer will allow ample time for this activity; in fact, you can put down tokens while the ball is in motion until the dealer announces "no more bets." Different players may stack their tokens atop one another's because the colors distinguish them. You can drop most of the tokens at the desired locations yourself, but the dealer will do it for you if you can't reach. Put the tokens on the table but off the layout; the dealer will know they're yours by the color and ask you where you want them.

The edge alongside the layout is for "outside" bets. These pay 1-to-1 for low (1-18), high (19-26), odd, even, red, or black. Between the outside and the grid of numbers are the "dozens" (1-12, 13-24, and 25-36), paying 2-to-1; you can also get 2-to-1 on the 12-number columns by betting in the boxes at the foot of the grid. And, of course, you can bet on particular spots, dreaming of 35-to-1, by covering the corresponding numbers. There's lots more. For instance, tokens on lines between two spots are split in half between the numbers and pay 17-to-1. You can learn these fancy touches later, when you're comfortable with the basics.

Here are three variants on a $10 bet at a table with a $5 minimum, offering a beginner a decent set of alternatives.

1) Put $5 on each of two dozens or two columns. The odds are almost 2-to-1 you'll win, but you risk $10 to net $5 (the hit gets you $10 while the miss takes away $5).

2) Put $10 on any outside proposition. This is slightly shy of a 50-50 shot at even-money. In most casinos, you either win or lose $10. In Atlantic City and a few enlightened joints elsewhere, probabilities are equal to win or lose $10, tempered by a small chance of losing $5 -- on a 0 or 00.

3) Put $2 on each of five spots. You have a modest but not insignificant 13.2 percent chance of earning $62 ($2 pays $70 on the spot that hits, minus $8 on those that don't), and the complementary 86.8 percent likelihood of losing $10.

Say you have a $200 budget and wish either to stay in action for three hours or double your money. The accompanying table compares the suggested alternate strategies according to these criteria.

Endurance and earnings probabilities for alternate proposed bets

Bet
prob of
lasting
three hours
prob of winning
$200 before
losing $200
$5 on each of two dozens or columns
87%
2%
$10 outside, lose $5 on 0 or 00
84%
25%
$10 outside, lose $10 on 0 or 00
75%
10%
$2 on each of five spots
41%
41%

Some roulette players track past spins and bet according to what they perceive as trends and patterns. Stuff and nonsense! Spins are random -- matters of luck. Valid roulette strategy involves spreading or concentrating wagers to balance survival and earnings potential, recognizing the associated tradeoffs. As the William Wordsworth of the wheel, Sumner A Ingmark, wrote:

Those who desire to have it both ways,
Face a dilemma for all of their days.

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.