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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Know What You Can and Can't Control in the Casino

23 January 2002

Other than "live" poker, casinos tender tests of chance, not skill. Good gamblers, of course, master the optimum decisions in card games such as blackjack and video poker. They also show cunning in other situations. For example, at craps they take or lay maximum odds on Pass, Come, Don't Pass, or Don't Come, they make Come rather than Place or Buy bets, and they avoid hedges. Practices like these trim - occasionally even overcome - the casino's edge. But they let solid citizens reach, and not go beyond, inherent limits ordained by odds and payouts. That is, players can get just so good and no better with respect to edge.

This doesn't mean that folks filing into their favorite punting palaces must rely purely on luck, fate, secret systems mailed to their homes in plain brown wrappers, or the prognostications of their 1-900-PSYCHIC advisors. Over an extended gambling career, edge will come to dominate an individual's performance. But the time or number of rounds involved, depending on the particular game, can be indeed lengthy. Certainly longer than a specific casino sojourn or even years of regular visits.

In the context of a single session, day trip, weekend, or vacation, players are more concerned with the likelihood that, given a definite bankroll, a) they won't go bust during the normal downswings of a game, and b) they'll reach a profit level they consider worth the risk they took. Here, players have a lot of control. Edge is certainly a factor, and gamblers can choose games and sometimes the way they play to trim this element to the bone. Bet sizing relative to bankroll is also a consideration, as are quitting criteria and whether or how wagers are varied during the course of the action.

In some games, players can also influence session characteristics by balancing the probabilities of winning and the corresponding payoffs. Roulette offers the opportunity to do so without changing the edge or the amount placed at risk during a spin.

Say you're at a double-zero roulette table. You have a $350 bankroll. You'd like to double your money or, failing to do so, get a two-hour ride for it. The accompanying list shows six ways you could bet the same $10 total per spin, giving the chance of winning and the net payoff for success.

Six alternate $10 bets at double-zero roulette
bet
chance
payoff
single spot
2.6%
$350
2-number split
5.3%
$170
3-number row
7.9%
$110
4-number row
10.5%
$80
6-number double row
15.8%
$50
12-number column
31.6%
$20


Edge is 5.26 percent for all the bets indicated. Were you to play a hundred thousand spins at $10 each, you'd bet $1 million overall and would be close to $52,600 in the hole. But two hours is, at most, 120 spins. And it's incorrect to assume you'll be 5.26 percent of $1,200 or $63.12 behind when the dust settles.

The next table shows that by spreading your $10 over more numbers, getting a better chance of a smaller hit, the likelihood decreases that you'll double your money but it increases that you'll survive the fluctuations of a two-hour session.

Chances of doubling a $350 bankroll and
of surviving for 120 spins, with alternate
$10 bets at double-zero roulette
bet
chance of winning
$350
chance of
lasting
120 rounds
single spot
47%
39%
2-number split
44%
52%
3-number row
41%
62%
4-number row
38%
69%
6-number double row
32%
79%
12-number column
13%
95%


The upshot is you can tailor a session to suit your preferences, but can't have it both ways. Concentrating the bet gives you more chance of doubling your money and simultaneously of tapping out. Spreading the bet across multiple numbers lowers prospects of going belly-up and also of scoring a big return. It's as the immortal Sumner A Ingmark, the bettors' bard, astutely advised:

Consider the day of reckoning,
Whenever a scheme is beckoning.

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.