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When Are You Closest to Winning Half the Time?7 September 1998
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.
"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.
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,
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