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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing it smart - Bets that oppose one another

16 January 2007

Several table games offer bets that oppose one another. More often than you might imagine, players devise strategies combining these bets, confident they're putting one over on the casinos.

An example might be a "team" of two people who pretend to be strangers. One bets $25 on Red, the other $25 on Black in the same single-zero roulette game. They figure, between them, to rack up comp credits based on $50 per round without hazarding a loss. After all, they break even on every spin unless the ball lands in zero. And that hardly ever happens. Right?

The ploy at craps might be to bet $10 on Pass and $10 on Don't Pass. Then, when the point is set, to take heavy Odds ?? maybe $50 at a 5X table ?? on the "do." The idea is that the flat bets cancel each other out. So for all practical purposes, only the Odds are in action. Since there's no house advantage on the Odds, edge is eliminated. Well, OK, there's a $10 loss now and then when 12 pops on a come-out. But this can be neglected. Right?

At baccarat, opposite wagers are sometimes exploited to get the perks of the high-limit pit with only modest exposure. The approach involves different amounts on the two sides. Such as $500 on Banker and $475 or $525, alternately, on Player. So a $25 bet buys $500 pampering. Right?

Schemes like these picture casinos gambling with their patrons and profiting from a favorable shot at bettors' bankrolls. Not exactly. Players win and lose on normal swings of fortune. The bosses profit from the edge, a statistical tax imposed on each bet, with the law of averages smoothing individual peaks and valleys to a gentle downward slope. Opposing wagers put more cash on the table, raising the gross on which the tax is levied.

Consider the Red-Black single-zero roulette strategy. Folks who bet $10 on Black for 37 "statistically correct" spins will win $10 18 times ($180) and lose $10 19 times ($190). Net loss is $10. A team that bets $10 each on Red and Black for the 37 ideal spins will break even 36 times and lose $20 once. Net penalty is $20. Double the dough on the layout, double the theoretical loss.

Here's the skinny on the craps tactic. In 1,980 statistically-correct resolutions, bets on Pass will win 976 and lose 1,004 times. This is 28 more losses than wins. The predicted damage at $10 apiece is $280. Analogously, bets on Don't Pass will win 949, lose 976, and get no action 55 times. This is 27 more losses than wins. At $10 per try, the house rates this play as $270 at its bottom line. Now consider $10 on Pass and $10 on Don't pass. The only action is a $10 loss when a 12 pops on the come-out. This will occur once in every 36 come-outs, on the average; that's 1,980 divided by 36 or 55 dammits. Guess what? Losing $10 55 times amounts to $550. Not coincidentally equal to the $280 plus $270 for $10 Pass and $10 Don't Pass bets taken independently.

As for baccarat, pretend you bet $500 on Banker for 1,000 rounds. You expect 458 successes and 446 failures. You'll win 12 more hands than you'll lose. At even money, your profit would be $6,000. But the house deducts 5 percent from payoffs on Banker. This is 5 percent of $500 times 458, or $11,450. Your net is a $5,400 loss. Say you bet Player, averaging $500 per hand. You expect to lose 12 more hands than you win, At $500 each, this is a $6,000 loss. Combine $500 Banker and $500 Player in every round. The decisions are a wash but you pay 5 percent of $500 on 458 Banker nods. That's the $11,500. Betting $25 on Banker alone, net loss due to edge would be 5 percent of $25 x 458 in commission minus $25 x 12 in wins, $275 instead of $11,500.

There's a new book exploring the surprisingly widespread belief in alien encounters. Its underlying thesis is that those who accept this notion have no concept of the scientific principles they're disregarding. Akin to the way certain solid citizens seek systems that challenge unassailable arithmetic. Ignorance against which the beloved bard, Sumner A Ingmark, railed in his rhyme:

By flouting nature's laws and thinking they can skirt 'em, Some gamblers run great risk with wagers that can hurt 'em.

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.