CasinoCityTimes.com

Gurus
News
Newsletter
Author Home Author Archives Author Books Send to a Friend Search Articles Subscribe
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Newsletter Signup
Stay informed with the
NEW Casino City Times newsletter!
Recent Articles
Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

author's picture
 

In Gambling as in Life, Simpler Is Often Better

16 January 1995

ultimate purpose of this web site is to supply straight skinny on casino gambling, not rouse you from your reverie. So I hate to get too meditative or risk being accused of politically-incorrect pedantry. Such as by hinting of things in life beyond hooting, hollering, and hoping for happy happenstance.

But, sometimes, like after a day at the casino that began bad and got worse, weighty words seem warranted. After all, mortality may be more than mere mutterings on making the most of a jaunt to the casino of your dreams.

Which brings me to Occam's razor. No, not a knife to commit hari-kari rather than tell your spouse what you blew on sic-bo. A principle stated by the 14th century philosopher, William of Occam, that in situations offering multiple alternatives, the simplest is probably the best.

Take reel-type slot machines, for instance. It's no coincidence they're the simplest games in the casino and also the most popular. Drop in your nickel and push a button or pull a handle. An internal random number generator picks a result, shows you, and keeps your money or pays accordingly. That's all there is. Sophisticated schemes involving different numbers of coins depending on past results, elaborate exercises to spot the hot slots, and complicated conundrums to break your bankroll into sessions that keep you from tapping out on one cold carousel are malarkey. Only two things help. Luck. And a simple rule saying the chances of winning are small, so allow yourself plenty of tries and quit if you get ahead.

How about a table game like roulette? Nothing more to it than guessing where the ball will fall. True, you can pick various combinations of single and multiple numbers when you bet. But, increase the possibilities you cover and you'll earn less money more often. A buck on a single number at a standard double-zero table should hit an average of once every 38 spins. You'll win $35 when it does. Bet $1 on all 38 numbers and you'll hit every time. But you'll lose $2 on each spin. Fancy formulas to blanket much or all of the board by betting columns, rows, reds, blacks, highs, lows, and whatnot don't improve the percentages. Nor do intricate instructions for inferring new winners from patterns of old hits. Even if a wheel is slightly off-whack, tactics to exploit the resulting small bias won't help over reasonable periods of play.

Some buffs believe blackjack is complicated because smart play means memorizing basic strategy when to hit, stand, double, split, and surrender. But the concept is simple. One out of thirteen cards (give or take for shoes of finite length) is a five, six, ace, and so on; four out of thirteen are 10-valued. For every player-dealer combination, basic strategy gives the decision with the highest expected profit. A fifth-grader could add and multiply the fractions, although there are lots of steps so a computer is helpful. But, you don't have to know the math. Just that the rules embody the results and aren't arbitrary choices made up by some guy trying to sell books or video tapes.

Casino games are meant to be simple. Whether or not they involve decisions by the players. It isn't an insult to the intellect of solid citizens flocking to the machines and tables. It's that money at risk provides enough excitement and incentive without mental gymnastics. It's that William of Occam was right about simplest being best.

Does the world have room for complexity? Sure. But I'll stop short of elaborating, lest the lesson lapse into why we haven't resolved racial tension in America, ended war in Bosnia, and decided whether life on earth could have risen by chance from the primordial soup or by intelligent design. Anyway, as Sumner A Ingmark, bard of the unembellished, poetically proclaimed:

For straightforward answers I've searched hard and long,
'Cause complex solutions oft fail weak or wrong,
While simple approaches prevail right or strong.
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.