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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When Are You Closest to Winning Half the Time?

7 September 1998

Old Morris was a fixture at the craps tables in one of my favorite casinos. Whether I went morning, noon, or night - weekdays or weekends - he was there. Dropping a nickel on Don't Pass, not laying odds. Standing until the shooter made the point and the bet lost, or rolled a seven and the bet won. Then repeating the cycle. A grind? Boring? Not for Morris. He kept within his budget, enjoyed being part of the action, kibitzed with the dealers, and sometimes won a few bucks for his effort.

A few weeks ago, I saw Morris at a roulette table. Betting $5 a spin on Red. "Male menopause?" I kidded. "Isn't craps your game?"

"Craps was," he answered. "But I have a better shot at roulette. And I ain't here for the la-dee-da. I'm here to make money."

I should have wished him luck and left. But I blurted out "Oh?" and hung around, not thinking what I was letting myself in for.

Morris explained that he started playing casino craps by betting on the Pass line. "I knew Pass lost more often than it won, but I could get ahead if I had the bankroll to wait for a hot shooter," he stated. "Then," he continued, "I heard Don't Pass was the house's bet and won more often than it lost, so I switched. It usually worked, 'specially if I waited 'til the next shooter after someone made a point so a hot roll wouldn't wipe me out."

"Lately, I've been losing," Morris went on. "And I heard that Red at roulette wins on half the numbers, what with zero and double-zero not being numbers since you win half your money back."

The pedantic urge to proselytize gushed from my gut, inducing me to inquire, "Morris, are you ahead or behind right now?"

"I'm even," he replied.

"Good," I exclaimed. "Cash in. I'll take you to lunch on my comp and show you your chances of winning and losing on these bets."

I cranked out the figures on the placemat. Here's what I got.

Take players making Pass bets on 1980 come-outs. The probabilities say they expect to win 330 on sevens and 110 on elevens during the come-out; after this, they expect to win 250 on sixes and eights, 176 on fives or nines, and 110 on fours and tens. This is 976 out of 1980 - 49.29 percent. Nearly half.


Make believe they bet the other side, Don't Pass on 1980 come-outs. Now, the probabilities say they expect to push on 55 twelves while winning 55 on twos and 110 on threes during the come-out; after this, they expect to win 300 on sixes and eights, 264 on fives and nines, and 220 on fours and tens. This is 949 wins out of 1925 non-pushes - 49.30 percent. Again, just under half, and a hundredth of a percent better than Pass.

I found Morris the expected win rate at double-zero roulette using the probabilies on 38 spins. Red expects to win 18, but two of the rest lose only half what's bet. This is like winning 18 out of 37 - or 48.65 percent. Almost half, but more than six tenths of a percent worse than Pass and Don't Pass in craps.

"There it is, Morris," I announced, pleased to have enlightened another wayward solid citizen. "You were closest to winning half the time betting Don't Pass at craps. Pass was practically as good. And you're furthest away with Red at roulette."

"You telling me to go by 49 instead of 48 point whatsits percent? To forget what I know from gambling since before you wore long pants and got your first pencil? Thanks for lunch, Professor Joe College. But, you're nuts," he grunted - getting up, shaking his head, stuffing a bagel into his pocket, walking away, leaving me glad I didn't bother with baccarat or pai gow, and making me ponder the perspicacity of Sumner A Ingmark, the punters' poet:

Working out numbers is nice but distracts,
Me from conjectures I want to be facts.

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.