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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Recovering from a Bad Start Depends on You and the Game

9 May 2002

It'll happen. You sit down at a casino game. And before you've gotten settled and ordered your Old Mr Boston Fizz, your worst nightmare becomes reality. You lose at the getgo and can't seem to catch a turn. Your bankroll plummets by half. Or more. And, although you know you're gambling for entertainment, not for a living or to pay the rent, you're definitely not having any fun.

Is it reasonable to think you can recover? And, if so, what'll it take to do so? The answers, as well as the likelihood you'll get into this predicament, depend on what and how you're playing.

Series of rounds dominated by losses are most common in games with top-heavy payout schedules - those featuring jackpots and other big-buck returns. It's easy to understand why: something other than the beneficence of the kindly casino bosses has to finance those few major scores. That something must be lots of small losses. Small by casino standards, anyway, if not by yours.

The upside is that the same games give you a shot at getting back - to a moral victory, break-even, or a substantial profit - with a single hit, betting at your customary level. The chances are small, to be sure. But it just takes one lucky round.

You can also fall way behind playing what seems sensibly at games with low-multiple payoffs like even money or maybe 2-to-1. Craps, blackjack, and baccarat are in this category. Under these circumstances, some solid citizens desperately try to recover by escalating their bets. They fantasize that a win is coming due and will get them much or all of the way back. This can work. But the approach is perilous because 1) losses can spiral out of control, 2) folks accustomed to wagers at one level can suddenly be facing terrifyingly high outlays, and 3) even bettors with deep pockets can hit table limits and be unable to keep raising to a point where they can recoup by finally winning.

It's also possible to reach redemption in non-jackpot games by grinding it out. Sticking to the tried and true, knowing that severe drops are only slightly more apt to occur than comparable rises. Perhaps forgetting that one rare event does not beget another. Still, the probability of recovery in this scenario may actually match or surpass that of restitution in a jackpot game or using a negative progression. However, time may be a barrier. As may a person's patience and discipline.

Roulette offers a compromise between these extremes. This, because the game has propositions paying from 1-to-1 to 35-to-1, which can be bet singly and in combination. As an illustration, make believe you've been betting $5 each on the "dozens" 1 to 12 and 13 to 24. You're favored by 24-to-14 to win $5. Despite these odds, you've been watching the ball regularly land in 0, 00, or a number from 25 to 36, and losing $10 per spin.

Say you'd rather not second-guess the wheel by changing dozens or otherwise altering your primary strategy. Nor do you dare chase your losses by pressing. Consider putting $11 at risk on each spin, betting the extra dollar on a single spot between 25 and 36. If one of your dozens hits, you'll only net $4. If neither does, you're fighting odds of only 13-to-1 to net $25. Variations on this theme are copious. For instance, bet the dozens with $1 on each of two spots from 25 to 36. You put $12 at risk, will net $3 on one of your dozens, and - if neither wins - are fighting odds of 6-to-1 to net $24. One or two $25 or $24 bonuses won't lift you over the top. But, coupled with more normal performance on the dozens, they can certainly help boost you out of the hole.

At some point in one of those disastrous sessions that ultimately befall every gambler, discretion becomes better than braggadocio. Your subjective preferences and circumstances govern whether you'll want to cut your losses, go for broke by betting down to the bottom, or something in between. The one objective no-no is hit the bank or credit card machine for money you never planned to risk, that you may rue losing far more than what's already gone. As the assiduous poet, Sumner A Ingmark, astutely asserted:

No situation's so adverse,
That foolish acts can't make it worse.

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.