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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Gambling Mistakes Come in All Shapes, Sizes, and Aftermaths

15 September 1997

Gambling mistakes. Depending on what you consider wrong, they happen often. And they can be costly or annoying, although sometimes they're just the opposite. I was reminded of this by several incidents during a long blackjack session last weekend.

For instance, the relief dealer made three errors on my hands alone in two 20-minute stints.

First, he collected my cards without paying me for a win - as if we had pushed. Of course, I was vigilant and stopped him before he got to the discard rack. Next, he picked up my bet when the hand was actually a push. Again, my attentiveness and quick response got everything remedied with little ado. These errors were annoying because dealers should be more competent and the circumstances raise doubts as to this individual's honesty. Had I been less watchful, the mistakes would have been costly as well.


The dealer's third mistake occurred when I had an eight-four versus his three-up. Following basic strategy, I signaled for a hit. Many players, incorrectly, stand in this situation. The dealer anticipated my decision. But, obviously being no blackjack whiz, did so wrongly, bypassing me and giving the next card - a five - to the bettor on my left. Granted, had the card been ten, and maybe ace through four, I might have kept mum. And I knew they couldn't back up the cards to give me the five, even though it would have helped me and also my table-mate - who'd doubled on 11 and certainly wasn't thrilled with the resulting 16.

I was polite but firm. The error was ultimately resolved by the pit boss, who said I could draw after the last player had acted but before the dealer revealed his hole card, or recoup my bet then and there. Since 12 versus three has about 60 percent chance of losing, I took the money. This blunder was annoying and disruptive, but let me retreat from a weak position. Had the person with the doubled 16 asked, she too could have withdrawn her bet.

Players also made mistakes. For example, one fellow - who'd had a series of winning hands - pressed up his bet and pulled ace-nine against the dealer's seven. Confidant he was on a roll, the player doubled. Ace-nine is strong against seven. Standing yields about 85 percent chance of winning; doubling also has positive expectation, but halves the theoretical profit. The player drew a ten and won big, so the "mistake" turned out to be fruitful. Or did it? Success bolstered his sense of invincibility, leading to a series of increasingly high bets - several played contrary to all that's holy, none of which won. The player gave back everything he'd gained during his "run," and more. What would have happened had he bet and decided "correctly?" Nobody knows.

Another mistake during the session was committed by a solid citizen duty-bound to disparage every decision deviating from "what the book says." The error was in thinking that gamblers who haven't seen the light appreciate being called stupid and getting blamed for everyone else losing. In this case, one target of repeated criticism left the table, muttering "Don't tell me how to bet my money," and an air of acrimony engulfed the rest of us.

Did I make any mistakes myself? I'd been in a deep hole, but didn't quit the first, second, or third time I got back to break-even. I was looking, in vain, for the one more hand that would mean a profit. On the fourth recovery, after dropping yet further down, I stopped. By then, though, the high-roller gourmet brunch - to which the casino had generously given me a "comp" - had closed; I went, instead, to the regular all-you-can-eat buffet.

Was not quitting the first three times I got back to break-even a mistake? I know how I would have answered if I didn't make it the fourth time. Or if my sensitive palate demanded bouillabaisse at the elegant brunch rather than fish stew at the hearty buffet.

These not being the case, however, I'll reply by reviving a long lost limerick of the lauded Sumner A Ingmark:


In gambling, decisions erroneous,
Have endings like actions felonious.
Do right, we are taught,
If not, don't get caught;
Excuses do not sound euphonious.

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.