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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How Betting Strategies Affect Your Chances

21 April 1997

People want to believe whatever supports their preconceptions about gambling. Frequent players, especially those who've studied the usual books or videos, want to believe money management can overcome house advantage. Occasional bettors, especially those who spend their mad money trying for a big win, want to believe it's all luck. And non-gamblers, especially those who know what's best for everyone else, want to believe casinos set virtually insurmountable odds that can only be beaten as a teaser.

Each of these groups proves its point with questionable anecdotal evidence or qualitative logic. Further, since the beliefs are contradictory, they can't all be right. Actually, they all contain elements of truth, but are false nevertheless.

A subtle thread weaves through these different gambling tapestries. Subtle, because everybody knows the thread is there but most ignore it or downplay its significance. That thread is the betting strategy solid citizens elect to follow during sessions.


I was reminded of this at blackjack last week. During the game, another player told me he'd noticed my "flat-betting" - keeping the same wager every hand - and said I couldn't win that way. He then described his "system" for raising or "progressing" bets. I replied that flat-betting blackjack gave me a high probability of a session with a small profit, and a low likelihood of losing my stake. His progression, I explained, led to bigger wins when successful, but would cause him to lose more frequently. For the record, I won a little during that sitting while he lost a lot.

Specific effects of betting strategies on the chances and amounts of winning sessions can be seen from a simple craps example. Say Dick and Jane leave Spot home and head for the casino with $10 each. They've both decided to bet on "any craps," a wager with an 11.1 percent chance of winning and a 7-to-1 payoff.

Dick believes it's all just luck; his strategy is to bet the $10 at once, then quit - win or lose. He has a small 11.1 percent chance to win $70 and a big 88.9 percent chance to lose $10.

Jane believes in money management; she'll bet $1 at a time, quitting when she wins once or loses the $10. Here's how she can do: win $7 (11.1 percent), win $6 (9.9 percent), win $5 (8.8 percent), win $4 (7.8 percent), win $3 (6.9 percent), win $2 (6.2 percent), win $1 (5.5) percent, break even (4.9 percent), lose $1 (4.3 percent), lose $2 (3.8 percent), lose $10 (30.8 percent).


Either way, the casino has a mathematical edge. No betting strategy can change it. This is the element of truth advanced by Spot and other non-gamblers who think the house advantage is unbeatable.

Similarly, nothing can change the 11.1 percent chance of winning an "any craps" bet. This is the kernel of truth espoused by Dick and others who think gambling is pure luck.

Players, however, can influence session results. Jane's approach yields chances of 56.2 percent to net a small profit, 4.9 percent to break even, 8.1 percent to lose $1 or $2, and 30.8 percent to bust. This is the seed of truth held by Jane and others who think money management is the secret casino bosses don't want revealed.

But, the numbers show give and take. Big wins a small fraction of the time; a bankrupt stake the rest. Or small wins a large part of the time; moderate or worse losses the rest.

Wagering strategies don't overcome the edge on each bet, but do influence the chances associated with each session. No tactics are inherently "right" or "wrong." Your personal goals should dictate which suits you best. Do you crave occasional big hits? An aggressive style may be fitting. Would you prefer a long series of modest wins? A conservative approach may be appropriate. The bettors' bard, Sumner A Ingmark, may have said it best:

To gamblers, betting is a ritual,
Whose liturgies are individual

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.