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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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What's to Thank When You Win, Blame When You Lose?

3 October 1994

An old Ruritanian proverb says "triumph hath many mothers; failure is a foundling." The old Ruritanians must have been bettors because these bywords seem never more canny than in a casino.

Winners credit themselves for being shrewd, sophisticated, endowed with a superior sense of time and place, and able to control conditions that mystify mere mortals. Losers blame everybody and everything in sight, from dealers and other players to the full moon and the squirrel that darted in front of the car on the way to the casino.

At craps, the bimbo whose hands got hit by the dice is always a good scapegoat. At blackjack, it's often the bozo who changed the flow of the cards with a dumb move like splitting sevens against a dealer's nine. In poker, the "live one" who never folds turns your nut-on-the-come hands into second-best big losers. And everyone agrees that busybodies from the bus sour the slots.

One day I watched a blackjack player double on a nine against a dealer's eight, a weak move. He pulled an ace for a total of 20 his best possible result. Someone at the table said, "Good hit!" The dealer turned over a three then drew a 10, beating the 20 with a 21. The player who had doubled and lost lashed out at the person who had praised what then seemed like a gutsy but successful decision, blaming the poor soul for what happened.

Naturally, pit bosses get blamed for deliberately breaking up hot streaks at craps. It's a proven fact, I've been told more than once, they do this by slowing down games so the dice cool off, bringing new dealers into the stick position while shooters are in the middle of rolls, or intimidating players by demanding they "slow the dice down, please," or "keep 'em below eye level when you throw." Once, I heard a box person tell a shooter, "you're not supposed to take so much time setting the dice, sir; just pick 'em up and throw." Three tosses later, still painstakingly arranging the dice before throwing, the shooter rolled a seven. He looked around and said, "I coulda gone longer. That dealer made me miss-out. He broke my concentration."

Some solid citizens believe they're naturally lucky or have an uncanny sixth sense while others think they're cursed with chronic misfortune. Few players, though, admit that chance has much to do with winning the kind of money they have in mind on their way into town. Recall those patronizing interviews with big winners in casino newsletters. No new millionaire ever says, "I know the odds against my winning the Giganta-Pot were one in a jillion, but I spent a few bucks to give it a shot anyway. Wow, was I surprised when it hit." No, most claim things like "I had a hunch I was going to win today." Another favorite is "This is my lucky machine. I knew it would pay off sooner or later."

What about players who've honed their skill, knowledge, and discipline? Good gamblers who've done their homework pat themselves on the backs for being so clever. When they win, it's because they're experts and deserve it. When they lose, something's awry beyond the risks inherent in the games.

And players who don't know there's anything to know? When they win, it's due to a special talent they've had since they fell off a pony when they were young. When they lose, its because the casinos have everything rigged. But these folks were glad they came, anyway, since they had a good time, met some wonderful people, got a comp for supper in the buffet, heard the piano player without buying the minimum one drink by standing in the aisle outside the lounge, and didn't bring more than they could afford to lose.

Nobody will ever summarize it better than Sumner A Ingmark, wordster to wagerers worldwide, when he mused:

All those who win are masters of their fate,
While losers look for someone to berate.
But take your hunches with a grain of salt,
'Cause if they're wrong, it's no one else's fault.
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.