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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How Many Gamblers Can You Fool, How Much of the Time?

28 September 2005

Back in those halcyon days of my youth, Lenny -- who lived next door -- got a chemistry set for his birthday. The box prominently proclaimed it to be "harmless." Lenny told us this meant if you don't know what you're doing, "it'll go boom!" In awe, I believed him. Until I looked-up "harmless" in my own prized birthday gift, a dictionary. (Who says the child isn't the father of the man?)

Many of us in the geezer class remember "Rinso." This laundry soap contained "Solium, the sunshine ingredient." Simply touting the sunshine ingredient wouldn't have done. Too superficial. It had to have an authoritative tone, regardless of any conceivable meaning. "Solium-free" would probably have been as effective.

Once, while I still worked for a living, I decided to test a new space-age adhesive, "epoxy," on an apparatus I was building. Ken, the shop technician, asked what the stuff was. When I explained, he fetched a bottle of yellow glue, insisting it was better. I pooh-poohed it as obsolete, so he "proved" his point by showing me that the label said it was based on "aliphatic resin." Unlike Solium, aliphatics are real (a type of hydrocarbon molecule) and afford superior bonding for many woodworking jobs. But Ken had no idea whether, why, or for what this compound might be relevant.

The roads into Atlantic City are billboard bliss. My favorites have been those advertising things like "5X" or "10X" craps, "single-zero" roulette, and "9/6" video poker. Favorites, in a cynical sense, because the vast majority of solid citizens have no more clue what the code-word jargon means than did Lenny of "harmless," soap buyers of "Solium," or Ken of "aliphatic resin." And, for those who do understand gambling gobbledygook, only a small fraction would or could take advantage of what was offered.

A new series of billboards, though, has to win the all-time prize for huftymagufty. When I first saw these signs, their claim seemed impressive for today's casinos: "single-deck blackjack." Sounds great -- even though not many patrons, including seasoned blackjack buffs, could say why. It's that single-deck blackjack, spread with the rules standard nowadays around the country, gives a slight edge to players who follow Basic Strategy. Not just, as might be surmised, to card counters. But to anyone who knows things like always split aces and eights, hit 12s into a dealer's two- or three- up, and double on 11 against anything but an ace.

So, unless the casino in question was planning to lose money on every table but make it up in volume, there had to be something vital the ad omitted. There was. And this past week, whatever the reason, the billboards changed. They now boast "single-deck 6/5 blackjack." Somehow, the pitch it still has an appealing air. Why else would they be vaunting this game? Why, indeed?

The "6/5" means that instead of a 3-to-2 payoff, $7.50 on a winning blackjack for every $5.00 bet, players get $6.00. No big thing? A lousy buck and a half? Sorry, with this change alone, a Basic Strategy player goes from being slightly favored to giving the casino roughly 1.5 percent edge. This is triple what the bosses bag from the same bettors in banal eight-deck games. So "single deck 6/5 blackjack" is nothing a joint would want to announce to an informed public. It'd be like a restaurant saying "our food is the cheapest and most execrable in town."

This doesn't mean there's a rigid correlation between single-deck 6/5 blackjack and a person's having a winning or losing session. Lenny's chemistry set didn't "go boom!" but he became an accountant who was instrumental in starting up what's now the world's largest donut chain. Rinso is no longer on the shelves (except, oddly, in Turkey). And you can use glue with aliphatic resin for some tasks and various epoxies for others without comprehending or caring about the molecular structure of either.

Abraham Lincoln said "You can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time." Of course, you don't have to con all of the people to make a dollar. Maybe that's what the minstrel, the immortal Sumner A Ingmark, meant when he mused:

To sucker the public with come-ons terrific,
Try couching your message in terms scientific.

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.