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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Right May Be Good, but Who's To Say Wrong Is Bad?

28 December 2005

Not so very long ago, gambling information was hard to find. Newspaper or magazine articles, books, and like sources of wagering wisdom were rare. Of those that did exist, the few with even a dab of dependability tended to be abstruse while the rest ranged from useless to dangerous. Worse, going back 25 or more years, the computing power now routinely used to analyze games and strategies was either unavailable or accessible only for problems far more profound than the edge on Goin' GaGa slots.

Today, relevant material, at least a swad of it statistically sound, is ubiquitous. You can learn not only the "mechanics" of playing the various games, but strategies for those that involve decisions or choices. And you can get advice, occasionally insight, into the relationships between the size of your gambling budget, the amount you bet per coup, the chances of earning various amounts or of going bust trying, and so on. All before entering a casino and placing your coveted cash at risk.

Yet, given the present day and age, you still see many folks who don't seem to have a clue or to care about the "correct" way to play various games. For instance at blackjack, violating Basic Strategy by refusing to split pairs of eights against a dealer's 10-up or standing on 12 versus a two. Likewise at craps, tossing money on the "propositions" or making Place instead of Come bets when it's no great secret that such wagers give the house more of an edge than it's willing to accept. Similar situations could be cited for most other table games and some machines as well.

One why and wherefore might be that not all bettors do their homework. Maybe they're too lazy, or they'd prefer not to let what's supposed to be fun become hard work, or their minds are already made up and they don't wish to be confused by facts, or they figure that luck will dominate the little gambling they do so why bother, or they just arrived from the planet Visigoth and their space ship happened to land on a casino rooftop helipad.

Off-the-wall play, of course, could also result from following a false prophet. Perhaps a book touting a bogus system was the first and only source of guidance someone sought. Or, conceivably, a gambler picked and chose advice he or she wanted to hear. There are, sadly, eager buyers for shameful blather.

A further explanation could be that these solid citizens have different criteria than those the experts use to discriminate right from wrong. The standard by which games and strategies are commonly compared is edge or house advantage. This drives dough into the casino coffers, but isn't necessarily appropriate for particular players. Who's to fault being most concerned with staying afloat on a limited bankroll, shooting for truly big bucks, enjoying the ambience without being intimidated, or many other factors? In such instances, a cent or so in edge per round -- theoretical and invisible as opposed to an actual cost -- may be a fair trade-off for a subjectively more important goal.

Something else, much more fundamental, is also worth considering. The philosopher, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, has speculated that "truth" is not an absolute. Rather, he says, a person's bedrock convictions about what is true may be derived through alternate channels. Fernandez-Armesto lists them as: a) Logic, including mathematics -- what people deduce for themselves; b) authority -- notions mediated by sources or using skills not available to everyone; c) sensory perception -- including analysis or simply observation of empirical data; and d) intuition -- ideas rooted in emotional perceptions. Behaviors based on what a person holds as the truth aren't easily modified by arguments over anything as trivial as the value of the $1 side bet at Caribbean Stud.

So, next time you're tempted to tell someone, or you get told, that only suckers play roulette, insure their blackjacks, bet on the hardways at craps, decline the bank at pai gow, or whatnot, recall this rhyme by the punters' poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

When endeavors with unknowns and uncertainty are fraught,
Speculation may succeed where the scientists do not,
And determinists may get in a web of chaos caught.

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.