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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Second Guessing May Help Your Attitude, But not Your Chances

2 April 1996

You've been at a slot machine for a while and it's been cold, cold, cold. You're not ready to pack up. Should you stay where you are because it's bound to improve? Or, move across the aisle where the slots look hotter?

You've been betting on the pass line and the inside numbers at a craps table for a while and it's been cold, cold, cold. You're not ready to pack up. Should you stay, making the same bets because it's bound to improve? Stay but switch bets, perhaps to the don'ts? Move to a table with lots of hooting and hollering?

You've been following basic strategy on one spot at a blackjack table for a while and it's been cold, cold, cold. You're not ready to pack up. Should you stay at the table, playing the same way, because it's bound to improve? Remain and play basic strategy but on two spots to change the flow of the cards? Sit tight and hold to one spot but don't split, double down, or hit any 15s or 16s. Move to a table where the dealer seems to be breaking?

It boils down to four options: a) change machines or tables, b) change bets or strategies, c) both, d) neither.

As usual in gambling, no one shoe fits all feet. Here are some factors to consider in deciding what's best for you.

Changing machines or tables: The chance you'll profit from a series of bets depends on the probabilities and payoffs associated with each wager. In games like blackjack, poker, pai gow poker, and video poker, it also hinges on how you play your hand. Nothing else about a machine, a table, a dealer, or your fellow bettors makes one situation more promising than another. So, moving to a new machine or table with the same parameters doesn't affect the odds. Switching leads you down a different path than persisting, but you don't know what fate awaits either way, or what fortune would have befallen you along the road not taken.

Changing bets or strategies: Say you normally adhere to a certain gambling style -- for instance you always make a line and two come bets with full odds at craps, play five coins at 25-cent video parcheesi, or work two hands with strict basic strategy and press a unit after every two hits at blackjack. If your approach is statistically optimum, changing won't improve -- and may degrade -- your chances. If your standard operating procedure doesn't minimize your risk, alternate bets or strategies may increase or decrease your odds. In either case, deviating from your routine may help or hurt you. Unfortunately, there's no way to predict which it will be. Further, the middle of a losing stream of bets is not an ideal spot to change horses.

Psychological factors may also influence your decision. But, again, the phenomenon works two ways.

Some solid citizens get frustrated when they're doing badly, and make mistakes or place foolish bets. Part of the problem is the feeling that the situation is out of control. They grasp at the straw that switching machines or tables, or altering playing modes, will influence their luck.

Even an irrelevant change may be advantageous if it alleviates a self-destructive attitude. Further, when a shift proves successful, players' self-esteem rises and they think they're wagering wonders. But if the change doesn't help, or exacerbates the already execrable, bettors who dither out of despair may second-guess their way deeper into despondency. Often, they blame themselves for making "wrong" decisions, not based sensibly on their chances but irrationally on how things turned out.

Stay the course or bend with the wind? Ultimately, it's the same dilemma inside the casino and in what passes for real life outside. Only, in the casino, everything happens faster and results are more readily tallied. To be sure, it's just a game. It's only money. Er, isn't it? In the casino, I mean. As Sumner A Ingmark, rhymer revered for resisting rule reversals, relevantly wrote:

Wagers that are second guessed,
Hurt more if they're second best.

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.