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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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What's the Best Way to Use a Match Play Coupon?

25 February 1997

Match play coupons are popular casino promotions. They're meant to be bet at tables with like or higher amounts of regular chips. If you lose a bet, the dealer picks up the lot. On a push, the real and funny money ride. Win, and you're paid for the total of your cash plus the match play, but the dealer takes the coupon.

Match play is usually only good at blackjack, pass or don't pass at craps, and player or banker at baccarat. And, you can't use it to make the minimum - say a $5 coupon and $5 cash in a $10 game.

Most players bet their bogus bonus bucks as intended. They buy into a game and augment a normal wager with a coupon either at the getgo or when the inspiration hits.

Maybe you don't want to do this. You're a slot player and got a coupon as an incentive to try the tables, but don't care to become involved. A casino insulted you by denying you your rightful comp and sent you a coupon to apologize, but you'll never give those bozos your business again. You cut a coupon out of an ad, but didn't like the looks of the joint when you walked in. You notice your coupon expires that day, but the bus leaves in 10 minutes so you haven't enough time to join a regular game.

Still, you don't want to waste the implied worth; why let the casino have the satisfaction? You could give it to a friend, but what did he or she do for you lately? You could offer the coupon to a someone you don't know for half or less of its face value, but what if the person thinks you're a con artist and calls security? Or you could make a quick bet, but how do you minimize the risk or maximize the expected return on your own capital?

You have two principal possibilities.

Best, find a solid citizen already playing at or above the level of your coupon, and ask whether you can add it to his or her bet. Then, win or lose, walk away. This is the first choice - playing wholly on the house's nickel. It's easy if you spot an acquaintance at a table. With a stranger, it takes chutzpah.

Next best, match the coupon with your money and make the most promising single bet. All five options are attractive with match play, offering roughly 1-to-1 shots at winning 2-to-1. That is, chances are about 50-50 you'll win $2 for every $1 you root out of your fanny pack. But, which proposition is most propitious?


Blackjack is the least favorable. True, the house has lower inherent edge than in craps or baccarat. However, to achieve the benefit, you must ready to increase your exposure by splitting pairs or doubling when appropriate. If not, the casino has too much advantage. More than in the other games. Further, the extra money bet by splitting and doubling cuts your relative return. For instance, say you start with $10 in cash and $10 in match play, then double down on a hand with another $20 in cash. Your chances of winning are over 50-50. But your return is $40 for the $30 you had on the table - 1.33-to-1 rather than 2-to-1.

On pass or don't pass at craps with no odds, or on player at baccarat, $10 of legal tender will become $30 in 49.3 percent of your matched plays. This gives your $10 an expected value of $14.79. On banker in a baccarat game with 5 percent commission, your $10 will become $29 in 50.7 percent of your matched plays. This means your $10 has an expected value of $14.70.

Based on the expected value of the real money being wagered, matched bets on the line at craps and player at baccarat are equivalent and superior to banker at baccarat - by $0.09 for every $10 at risk. Based on probability of winning, the matched banker bet at baccarat outshines the others - by 1.4 percent.

The optimum choice? I'd go for frequency, betting on banker. You might favor expectation, choosing player or either craps bet. That's why they make apples and oranges. Or as Sumner A Ingmark, the Chaucer of choice, put it:

When differences get very small,
Then predilections get the call.

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.