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Best of Alan Krigman
Playing it Smart: Game speed can affect your gambling fortunes19 October 2007
Baccarat is classy. It's traditionally played in cordoned-off sections of the casino at big tables with fancy chairs, run by dealers dressed to the nines, and monitored by more bosses than you knew the joint had. And, oh yes, at high stakes. Occasionally with lower limits at $50, more often at or above $100.
There's a practical reason for the high-stakes operation. House edge is middling 1.2 percent on Player, a bit less on Banker. And decision rate, rounds per hour, is slow. The latter, mainly because bettors pull the cards from the shoe and expose them to form the hands, and many make an elaborate ritual out of it. Low edge and decision rate would keep the casino's "take" so small it couldn't afford to run the game without big bets as multipliers.
About the fastest a game goes, provided patrons don't engage in outrageously excessive theatrics when drawing and exposing cards, is 50 coups per hour. With six patrons at the table, each betting $100 per coup, casinos would average 6 x $100 x 0.012 x 50 = $360 per hour based on edge. Bettors get about a third of this back as comps, leaving $240 to pay the staff, the mortgage, the utility bills, and the stockholders. Lower bets, or fewer people at the table, might mean the establishment is subsidizing the action.
One day, some genius invented mini-baccarat. Same idea, same scoring. But just the dealer handles the cards. And staffing involves a single dealer who shares relief workers and supervisors with other tables in the pit. The first of these factors speeds-up the game; 200 coups per hour is typical when the dealer shuffles the cards manually, more when machines do it automatically. The second of the changes slashes the overhead, allowing the casino to net more while grossing less.
Of course, who cares whether the casino makes any money? The important question is what happens to the solid citizens. This is where decision rate comes vividly into the picture.
Make believe you go to a casino with a $500 stake. You want a profit, but don't have a particular sum in mind. You do know that you can't win if you bust out and aren't gambling, though, so you set a goal of a session lasting at least two hours.
At mini-baccarat, you can figure on 400 rounds in those two hours. Betting $10 per hand on Player, you'll have over a 98 percent chance of staying in action that long. You'll have wagered a total of 400 x $10 = $4,000, out of which the casino figures theoretical earnings from edge at $48 and should give you $16 in comps. Betting $25, your chance of surviving for two hours falls to 62 percent. You'll have risked 400 x $25 = $10,000, worth $120 on paper to the casino and meriting you $40 in comps.
How much bankroll would yield the same prospects of longevity betting $50 or $100 at "big" baccarat? At 50 rounds per hour, you'd get 100 coups. Betting $50, you'd need $1,200 for a 98 percent chance of survival and $450 for a 62 percent chance. Assuming you got through two hours, your gross wager would be $5,000; you'd give up $60 in edge and earn about $20 in comps. Double these figures for $100 bets: stakes of $2,400 and $900 for 98 and 62 percent chance of survival, respectively, with a gross wager of $10,000 corresponding to a $120 theoretical donation to the casino through edge and $40 in comps if you do endure.
The moral of this story is that decision rate is a dimension to the choice of casino games that may impact your performance outlook. It can accordingly be an element in choosing which games to play and how much to bet. Selecting between the two types of baccarat offerings is only one of many ramifications. Here's another. Maybe you consider $1 per spin at the slots reasonable and $10 per spin at roulette out of your league. But in an hour you can get 600 $1 bets at the machines, $600 total, and 50 $10 rounds at a game that a suave guy like James Bond plays $500 in all. And, while the slots tend to be boom or bust, you can tailor your roulette action for moderate swings and extended time at the table.
The beloved bard, Sumner A Ingmark, etched this extraordinarily erudite epigram into the rock of risk:
There's lots more to gambling than how much you bet, Some have gambled for years and ain't learned this yet.
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