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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Playing Multiple Spots Reduces Blackjack Bankroll Fluctuations

28 January 2002

Betting buffs are often befuddled because they never learned the real lesson of Goldilocks. They gorge greedily on games and playing strategies too hot or too cold for their tastes, when out in plain sight is a bowl of porridge that would be just right.

To an extent, the size and speed of bankroll ups and downs under ordinary and extraordinary circumstances are inherent in the structure of a game. Slots are usually more volatile than tables. And, in either case, games featuring extreme payouts fluctuate more wildly than those offering conservative returns.

At the tables, solid citizens can not only select games whose mercuriality fits their fancies, but also induce or moderate the swings by choosing appropriate playing styles. Progressing and regressing bets is one way. There are others. At blackjack, for example, the number of positions a person plays impacts volatility. This is quite aside from the contentious question of switching numbers of spots to change the flow of the cards.

To envision the effect, imagine a coin-matching game. Two players, $1 per round. Match and you win, mismatch and you lose. Your bankroll goes up or down by $1 after each and every flip.

You could reduce volatility by betting $0.50 on each of two coins against an opponent. Chances are 25 percent to win both, 25 percent to lose both, and 50 percent to push by winning one and losing the other. Your bankroll would still rise or fall by $1 when money was exchanged but there'd be only half as many such transactions. You could also bet $1 on each of two coins, getting jumps of $2 each. Relative to single-coin games, volatility would exceed that involving $1 bets because of greater size but be less than that entailing $2 wagers because of lower frequency.

Blackjack differs from coin tossing because chances aren't 50-50, and individual hands can push as well as win or lose, be split or doubled in various ways, or win 3-to-2 on naturals. Playing two spots therefore goes beyond just winning or losing both, or staying even. Further, the chances on two spots aren't totally independent - they're related through the dealer's cards. Both hands get stronger when the dealer is weak, and conversely.

To picture the effect from a session perspective, say you're at a $5 table with two other patrons. Your tablemates each bet on one spot. You're willing to go up to three hours, shooting for a $150 profit. Playing one position, three hours will get you about 300 rounds; two positions should get you roughly 250 rounds per spot.


Assume you buy-in for $300 and follow basic strategy. Here are four betting options: $10 on one spot, $5 each on two spots, $20 on one spot, and $10 each on two spots. The accompanying chart shows the chances of not going belly-up before the end of three hours, and that you'll get at least $150 ahead at some point before falling $300 behind, for each of the four choices.

Session volatility for some 1- and 2-spot bets,
three hours of play on $300 stake
bet
chance of
surviving
chance of
earning $150
$10 on one spot
66%
29%
$5 on each of two spots
82%
18%
$20 on one spot
30%
46%
$10 on each of two spots
39%
38%

 

You can see the compromises. For the same total wager, spreading to two spots improves the chance of surviving for the three hours (from 66 to 82 percent at $10, 30 to 39 percent at $20) but lowers the likelihood of earning the $150 profit (from 29 to 18 percent at $10, 46 to 38 percent at $20). Going from $10 on one spot to $10 on each of two positions cuts the chance of lasting three hours (from 66 to 39 percent) while raising that of hitting the $150 win goal (from 29 to 38 percent). Contrast this with the figures for one $10 versus one $20 spot (66 to 30 percent for survival, 29 to 48 percent for achieving the $150 target).

What's best? On matters this subjective, you have to ask your personal 1?900-PSYCHIC advisor, or, under real duress, make up your own mind. Gaming gurus may be on firm footing when furnishing facts, but the wisest heed the bard, Sumner A Ingmark:

A pundit shrewd avoids derision,
Dispensing data, not decision.

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.