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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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In a Casino, Learning by Doing Can be Costly

10 September 1996

It happens a lot. Not just on low-limit bets. Someone buys into a game then asks the dealer, "How do you play this?" Or worse, it's obvious after a few rounds that a player should have asked.

I'm not referring to nuances or subtleties. Like the difference between "placing" and "buying" a 10 at craps. Or whether a pair of fours against a six-up calls for a hit, double, or split at blackjack. Or if it's preferable to hold a low pair or three suited connectors at jacks-or-better video poker.

I mean simple stuff. Here's an example involving Let It Ride, a five-card stud poker game aimed at novices and casual players.

A lady bought in for $100 and asked the dealer what to do. The dealer responded, "Start by making equal bets on the three spots in front of you." The player put $5 on each circle. "The table minimum is $15," the dealer stated. The player replied, "That is $15." The dealer came back, "No, $15 in each spot." The player complied. The dealer gave everyone three face-down private cards.


On her turn, the lady again asked what to do. The dealer answered, "If you think you're making a good hand, let the first two bets ride. Otherwise, tell me to take them down." To get to the point, the player left both bets in action. The moment of truth: a pair of eights in the hole; the community cards didn't help. The dealer took her $45. The bettor protested, "I had a pair." The dealer explained she needed at least a pair of 10s to win and pointed to the payoff chart printed on the layout at the player's position. "You should have said so before," she groused.

Next hand. The lady got an ace, eight, four - mixed suits. She took down her first bet. The dealer exposed the first community card, ace. The player took down her second bet. The dealer revealed the other community card, four. The lady won $30 on her $15 third bet, a contract that couldn't be withdrawn.

"You should have kept your second bet," the pit boss, who was now watching, commented. "Why?" the player inquired, "I didn't have anything. I don't even know why I got the $30. This is worse than the last hand." The pit boss told her she had a pair of aces for the second bet, a sure winner, and ended up with two pair. For emphasis, he slid her private hand toward the community cards. "You mean, I combine mine with the dealer's?" she asked.

"I'm not sure you understand the game, Miss. Read this," the pit boss said, handing her a booklet from the holder on the table. "I asked the dealer but she was no help," the player complained, stomping off in a huff.

Had the hands been played properly, the bettor would have dropped $15 on the first round and picked up $60 on the second - netting $45. Instead, she lost a total of $15. It might have been worth the money had the experience been an education. But her parting shot, "the dealer ... was no help," showed this wasn't the case.

One lesson to be learned from this anecdote is that not all casino games are pure luck. Players' knowledge can affect their chances of winning, the amounts they're paid, and the house edge.

A second lesson is that dealers can assist players with procedure - what bets are available and how to make them. Proper play is another matter. In some games, dealers can't help because they don't know players' options until it's too late. Other times, dealers hesitate to speak up because "best" moves don't necessarily win. As an illustration, say a solid citizen asks a craps dealer about hedging a $10 pass line bet with $2 on any craps during the come-out. The dealer says, "I wouldn't do it; any craps is a sucker bet." The shooter rolls a 12. The player loses $10 instead of making $4 and thinks a conspiracy is afoot. The dealer feels like two cents and abandons any hope for a tip.

And a third lesson... well, that provocative punter's poet, Sumner A Ingmark, knew the nuances when he noted:

Whene'er gamblers for intellect substitute nerve,
And get not what they want, but get what they deserve,
They are quick to assume someone's thrown them a curve.

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.