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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Is It Cheating If They Let You Do It?

20 October 1997

You're not supposed to see tablemates' hands at Let It Ride. Some players think the rule silly. After all, the object is to beat the payout scale. Players don't compete with one another.

But there's a reason for the rule. And the only silliness is that casinos let you break it. I'll explain.

In Let It Ride, you can maintain or remove the first and second of three bets after seeing three and four cards, respectively. The optimum strategy depends on the chance that your final five-card hand will have a poker value of or exceeding a pair of 10s.

If you have a high pair or a triplet, the wager will win so you let it ride. But, what about betting "on the come?" For instance, maybe your first three cards form a low pair, flush, or unsuited straight. The "book" says keep the first bet only with a "made hand" or possible straight flush. Everything else has negative "expectation" - the house has an edge. And it's to your advantage to withdraw bets on which the house has an edge.


As an example, say you start with a pair of eights and an ace. The first bet wins only if the two "community cards" improve your hand to two pairs or better. Based solely on the known eight-eight-ace, and 49 unknowns from which the dealer will expose two cards, the probabilities of various payoffs are:
o two pairs (pays 2-1) 16.837%
o three eights (pays 3-1) 7.483%
o full house (pays 11-1) 0.765%
o four eights (pays 50-1) 0.085%

With these probabilities and payoffs, expectation for a low pair is a negative 6.038 percent. You expect to lose just over six cents per dollar at risk. It's best to retract the wager.

Now assume the solid citizen in the next seat draws three queens and blurts it out in excitement. You now know about your two eights and an ace as well as the trip ladies. With six such cards, and the 46 unknowns from which the dealer will expose two, chances of payoffs from your low pair increase to the following:
o two pairs (pays 2-1) 17.681%
o three eights (pays 3-1) 7.923%
o full house (pays 11-1) 0.870%
o four eights (pays 50-1) 0.097%

The gains achieved by knowing the unrelated triplet in the second hand may seem small. But they're enough to make the expectation a positive 0.096 percent. You expect to earn almost a tenth of a cent per dollar at risk. Most gambling criteria dictate keeping bets in action with any positive expectation.

Possible advantage gets even greater seeing two additional hands. For instance, assume bettors on either side of you expose their "garbage" in disgust. Naturally, you try not to look. But you see five-six-queen in one, three-six-nine in the other. Hmm... a pair and four singles, none matching your eight-eight-ace. And the pool of unknown cards has shrunk to 43. The probability your low pair will hit the charts rises again, to the point where expectation is a positive 5.426 percent - almost five and a half cents per dollar wagered. A good shot. You let the first bet ride.

If players sometimes benefit by seeing additional hands, why do casinos let it happen? Several reasons come to mind. The way tables are set up and the lack of incentive for players to hide their cards makes unintentional observation inevitable. Further, the casino bosses think that few bettors know how to change their decisions based on what they see. And, perhaps most important, this is not a game favored by players whom the casinos fear.

Finally, there's the ethical question. Is it cheating? I think not. If the game can't be set up to keep players from inadvertently seeing each others' hands, the casinos who offer it anyway have to abide the consequences of some bettors knowing how to use the extra information. Sumner A Ingmark, whose rhymes often occur by happenstance, anticipated just such a situation when he wrote:


Haughty scholars may well spurn,
Truths they accidentally learn,
But they can't the facts return.

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.