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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How to Lengthen Your Stay at the Tables

2 March 1998

You begin a session at a blackjack, craps, roulette, baccarat, or other table with some gambling stake - $50, $100, $1,000, maybe more. How much action can you expect for your money? Or, put more bluntly, how can you get the most go for your dough?

There's no way to predict the answer on an individual here-and-now basis. But good gambling isn't about what happens to a single solid citizen in a particular session. It's about understanding goals and following strategies most likely to reach them. It's about the laws of probability - the chances and statistical expectations associated with alternative events and decisions.

But the question can be answered in terms of averages for large numbers of players. And these answers can be helpful to folks wanting to stretch the sessions they get for their stakes. This, because factors that improve the performance of all bettors also tend to enhance the likelihood of each individual's success.


Expected session length can be characterized by a recirculation factor. This is the average turnover of a bankroll during a session. Recirculation factor is calculated from house edge, number of betting units the bankroll represents, and "win/drop hold percentage" or "PC" typical for the game. Representative values are listed below for a range of edges covering most table games. To find how many bets you can expect to make in a session, multiply the number of betting units in a bankroll by the recirculation factor for the edge at which you are playing.

 

house
edge
recirculation
factor
0.50%
24
0.75%
16
1.00%
13
2.00%
8
3.00%
5
4.00%
3
5.00%
3
10.00%
2

I'll give a few examples. But gamblers know "no pain, no gain," so you might want to try variants for other situations yourself.

Say you're a blackjack buff. You buy-in at a table for $200 and make bets averaging $10 each. Your stake is 200/10 or 20 betting units. Play basic strategy the way you think the book should be written rather than the way it is, in a game with no fancy options. House edge will be about 0.75 percent, so multiply your 20 units by the value of 16 from the list to find an expected 320 bets during your session. Play by the book in a casino with options such as resplitting pairs and surrender; this cuts the house edge to about 0.5 percent. Now multiply your 20 units by 24 to find an expected 480 bets during the session.

Instead, imagine buying-in at a table for $500, intending to bet $10 on the pass line with single odds and place the five or nine for another $10 - $30 at risk. Your stake is 500/30, about 17 betting units. The house has an effective edge of 1.9 percent. Multiply the 17 units by the factor of 8 shown for 2 percent, to find an expected 17x8 or 136 bets during the session.

What if you trim the edge for the same money at risk, dropping $10 on pass and taking double odds with no place bets? Now the house advantage is only 0.6 percent. Estimate a recirculation factor of 20, halfway between the values shown for edges of 0.5 and 0.75 percent, and you'll find an expected 17x20 or 340 bets during the session.

Lower the edge further taking triple odds but raising your exposure to $40. Your buy-in becomes 500/40 or 12.5 betting units and the edge is under 0.5 percent. You have improved the edge but have fewer betting units; combined, these factors yield an expectation of only 12.5x25 or 312.5 bets during the session.

Consideration of recirculation factor offer a rationale for sizing bets to bankroll and minimizing house edge. But the case of triple odds at craps shows that these elements may offset one another. Still, Sumner A Ingmark got the rule right when he said:


Gamblers who survival like'll,
Earnestly their bets recycle.

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.