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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Manage Chance to Cut Your Reliance on Luck

21 February 2000

Everyone knows luck figures into gambling. Even the ablest poker, blackjack, and craps strategists lose. On occasion, at least. And people who couldn't tell a bonus slot in a casino from a candy vendo in a mini-mart hit giant jackpots. Sometimes, anyway.

But, luck is only one element. Chance is another. What separates haves from have-nots is ability to manage chance -- reducing both dependence on luck for success and sensitivity to it for failure.

Chance in gambling can be managed in lots of ways. The simplest involve selecting games for low house edge and high odds of winning. The most complex entail developing discipline, sizing bets to bankroll, and balancing when to cash-out or color-up with a profit against the points at which to retreat with a loss.

A dimension of chance management that few folks fully fathom pertains to how the same total can be allocated on a single round. Roulette and craps offer the greatest flexibility for apportioning money among several simultaneous wagers. Similar -- although less pronounced -- results can be achieved by covering extra spots at other table games, or by commandeering multiple slot machines.

I'll illustrate with an example that ignores variations in odds, payouts, and other unrelated effects. Consider three different ways to bet $30 on the "outside" at single-zero roulette: 1) $30 on one proposition, say red; 2) $15 on each of two bets say red and odd; 3) $10 on each of the three possibilities, say red, odd, and high. Edge is 2.7 percent of $30 in each case. And the probabilities of winning the individual bets are all just over 48.6 percent. Whichever option you take, luck will determine the particular outcome on every spin -- for instance, black and not red. But by distributing your resources, you manage your chances.

Here's what can happen on any spin. Betting $30 on red offers probabilities of 48.6 percent to win $30 and a complementary 51.4 percent to lose $30. Dropping $15 each on red and odd yields shots of 23.7 percent at $30 wins, 50 percent at pushes, and 26.3 percent at $30 losses. With $10 bets on red, odd, and high, chances are 11.5 percent of winning $30, 36.5 percent of winning $10, 38.5 percent of losing $10, and 13.5 percent of losing $30.

Since one spin doesn't make a game, inquiring minds want to know the bottom line for a session. How do the approaches affect the likelihood of getting enough action to earn a comp for the all-you-can-eat buffet, on bankrolls that seemed sensible before they left home -- not when they were in line at the cash machine in the lobby? And what are the chances they'll reach some profit levels rather than deplete their buy-ins trying?

For any situation, answers hinge on the details of the game and the amounts specified for stake, win goal, and bet size. Here are representative figures, showing the general trend.

Betting all $30 on red at single-zero roulette, players can be 85 percent confident of surviving 96 spins on $500 stakes, and have 51 percent chance of earning $250. Splitting the bet as $15 each on red and odd improves the potential for survival on $500 at the same degree of confidence to 152 rounds, but cuts the prospect of a $250 profit to 36 percent. Going to $10 each on red, odd, and high further raises projected longevity on $500 to 191 rounds, but trims the hope of a $250 profit to 25 percent.

You get the idea. If your objective is a bigger profit, adjust your chances and reduce your dependence on luck by concentrating your bet on fewer propositions. But plan on grabbing your money and running, rather than settling in for a long session. If your goal is extended play, adjust your chances and lower your reliance on luck by spreading your money around. But recognize that this means you should set your sights on a more modest gain.

Of course, some solid citizens suppose they can have it both ways. Endurance, and abundance, too. For them, there is the thesis of the poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

I dream how rich I might have been,
Were systems guaranteed to win,
Much more to fact than fib akin.

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.