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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Should You Bet More on One Spot or Less on Two?

21 October 2001

Bettors often play multiple hands at table games or commandeer several seats at the slots. What's behind this preference? How does it differ from betting more on one outcome or less for a longer period? Most importantly, which approach is best for you?

As usual in gambling, no one collar fits all necks. Here are factors that can help you decide whether to play multiple spots.

There's edge, of course. It's a function of the game and the total wagered. If edge is 1 percent and you bet $10, the house chalks up a theoretical dime whether you put it on one spot or divvy it up. With $10 on each of two spots, the "take" is $0.20.

The fluctuations a bankroll is apt to undergo during the action are something else. For the same gross at risk, multiple bets tend to moderate bankroll swings.

Picture the volatility in terms of a hypothetical no-edge wager, paying 1-to-1 and having 50-50 odds of winning or losing. Betting $10 on one spot offers chances of 50 percent, each, to win or lose $10. If the results of multiple bets are independent of one another, $5 each on two spots offers probabilities of 25 percent to win and the same to lose $10, and 50 percent to push. The math predicts you'll be near break even after enough play either way. And, it's possible to max out, up or down, regardless of method - for instance, being $100 ahead or behind after 10 rounds. By spreading risk, however, you expect half as many wins and losses, and lots of pushes. So swings will typically be smaller and, when the dust clears, you'll likely quit with lower profits or losses.

Separate bets aren't totally independent in most table games. At blackjack, for example, all spots are weak if a dealer has 10-up and a 10 in the hole, while every position is strong if the dealer starts with six and flips a 10. This gives more multiple wins and losses with fewer pushes, nudging swings back up.

The odds of winning and the corresponding payoffs are another factor. Make believe you're playing Let It Ride. The payoff for four of a kind is 50-to-1. With a base bet of $20, the profit on four kings - all three bets ($60) would be in action - is $3,000. With a base bet of $10, the profit would be $1,500. Sure, playing two $10 hands, a gambler could hit quads twice with three bets in action at each spot and collect the $3,000 anyway. But the odds of any big-buck return are low, and the prospect of two such miracles during the same session, let alone the same round, is minuscule. In practical terms, the choice therefore boils down to whether you prefer twice the chance at half the money or half the chance at twice as much, in roughly the same time frame.

The converse might apply to games with extreme jackpots. The question is then whether it's worth $2 per round to get two admittedly long shots at, say, $250,000, or $1 per round for one try at the same amount. A winner certainly wouldn't care whether it had cost $1 or $2 to earn $250,000. But, going in, one person might consider a dollar all that can be justified on a bet with a remote prospect of success, payoff notwithstanding. Another might think $2 little enough compared with the return, that it's worth this much to get twice the chance at a big score.

The clock may also be a consideration in jackpot scenarios. Solid citizens whose buses won't wait may favor playing two spots to get more shots during a limited time span. Folks not on fixed schedules may try to raise the numbers of chances they get by betting less but playing for longer periods.

One more thing. It applies to some card games. Blackjack, especially. Mathmeisters call it periodicity. Normal people call it the flow of the cards. It involves switching from one to multiple hands, or conversely, to get in synch with how cards are ordered by the pick-up from the previous round, the shuffle, and whatnot. Periodicity may be fact or fancy, but its adherents hold it as an article of faith. And, who'd dare dispute faith? As the versatile versemonger, Sumner A Ingmark, so vividly verbalized:

An argument comes but to grief,
When raised against a firm belief.

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.