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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Personal Gambling Goals Define Right and Wrong Play

20 July 1998

Little you can do in a casino is absolutely right or wrong. The wisdom or folly of a strategy depends on personal motivations. And true gambling skill as much involves knowing how best to meet your own goals as how to minimize the house's edge on every bet.

Cover 35 numbers at once with $1 each at roulette? Split a pair of threes against a dealer's nine at blackjack? Make equal bets on Pass and Don't Pass at craps, then take or lay odds on one or the other depending on whether you think the solid citizen shooting the dice looks like a hero or a hobo?

Drop your whole $300 bankroll into a $100 slot machine at the three-coin maximum level? Go for broke at Let It Ride, never locking up a profit or squirreling away your initial stake when you get ahead, but playing until you either hit at least a straight flush or lose it all? Double your bet whenever you lose at baccarat, figuring the chances are minuscule of running short or hitting the table limit before a win saves your skin?


Most gambling gurus would say all of the above are wrong. They'd pooh-pooh such play based on probability, money management, and tradition. Depending on what you're trying to achieve, the practices may indeed be extremely poor. But right for you isn't necessarily what punting pundits proclaim proper for everybody.

Here's what I mean.

Say your idea of beating the bosses is to descend into the Maelstrom - earning enough to cover gas, tolls, and tips while getting a complimentary all-you-can-eat binge at the buffet for yourself, your spouse, and your in-laws. You're willing to forfeit your bankroll if things go awry because it's discretionary entertainment money, as long as you know chances of this failure are small compared with those you'll meet or exceed your goals.

Then, wagering on Player at baccarat, starting at $5 and doubling up every time you lose - the widely-reviled, normally-shunned Martingale betting system - may be right for you. If the table limits are $5 to $1000 and your bankroll is $1500, your worst nightmare is a run of eight successive losses. At this point, you'd be $1,275 in the hole for the series; you'll be unable to continue because the next bet, $1,280, would exceed the table limit. The odds against this long a cold streak are 228-to-1 - certainly possible, but high enough so you could play and win every week for years without seeing that $1,275 loss.


Instead, maybe you visit a casino once every few months with $300 burning a hole in your pocket and one thought burning a hole in your head. You can always put together $300 - the proof is there, in your billfold or purse. But you've never accumulated anything like $1 million. And you realize you're not apt to even be in a position to do so other than by betting on a longshot. So you're not gambling to make a mere day's pay. You want to invest your $300 in a shot at the million. Your chance is small, no matter how you play. But it's zero - you'll run out of time or get gradually eaten alive by house advantage - if you try to do it with a lot of nickel-dime bets, refusing to quit until you either hit your target or go broke in the process. That $100 slot machine, played three coins at once, may be right for you.

The converse also holds. Picture returning from a casino having gambled, seen a musical, eaten a gourmet meal, and made $100 net profit. If this clicks, then failing to lock up your initial stake plus that $100 when you were $500 ahead was wrong for you. Or imagine making a few big bets because you're willing to go down in a blaze of glory soaring for that monster prize. If you lose the stake you set aside when reason prevailed, then sneak off to the cash machine to withdraw money so you can keep trying or recover, playing boom or bust was wrong for you.

Either way, right or wrong, Sumner A Ingmark, who aspires to approach absolute truth in his poetry, may have said it best:


Hurl not invectives, beware gambling references,
Players objectives are personal preferences.

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.