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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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When the Pit Bosses Respect You, Watch Out!

21 December 1998

Roswell, who's named after the military base where his mother believes Aliens from outer space crash-landed, is a big wheel at roulette. He thinks the pit bosses really respect him for the style of play he's evolved. Momma believes that story, too.

Once, I tried to set him straight. The royal treatment he mistook for respect had to do with the casino's theoretical earnings per dollar bet at roulette -- a whopping 2.63 cents on even-money wagers and 5.26 cents on everything else. He told me I was just jealous. That although he may not win every time, he's way ahead overall. I can't confirm or refute this, since I neither pry into people's private finances, nor trust figures they toss around to prove points only their personal 1-900-SHRINKS understand. It may well be true, of course. After all, the whole incentive for casino gambling involves fluctuations above the loss expected on the basis of the house advantage inherent in every bet.

When Roswell started playing roulette, years ago, he used a simple system he learned from a fellow traveler on the bus. Wait 'till red hits twice in a row, then bet on black because the law of averages says it's due. Or vice-versa. Nobody could convince him the law of averages says no such thing, that chances of red or black are the same on every spin regardless of past results. Eventually, Roswell abandoned this system. Not because it was bogus. Because the 1-to-1 payoffs weren't big or frequent enough.

His next system was a tad more sophisticated. He bet two units on the color that last hit, while dropping one unit on a single oppositely-colored number; he sat out spins following a 0 or 00. Now, net wins were one unit on the selected color and 33 units on the chosen number. Units were usually the table minima. Roswell had more action and was up for better payoffs. But after a while, he deserted this system, too. Not because it was nonsense. Because he lost half the time -- two units on 0 or 00 and three units when neither his color nor his number appeared.

Anyway, he'd already figured how to win more often by betting more spots. With one chip on each of 20 numbers, he was a 20-to-18 favorite. Covering 30 numbers, the odds he'd win reached 30-to-8. He knew that net profit per spin fell as odds rose -- 16 units at 20-to-18, six units at 30-to-8, and so on. But settling for modest gains most of the time and having the discipline to quit when he was ahead seemed sensible. Roswell called it "the magic of money management." He could see the respect he was beginning to garner from the pit bosses. But he ultimately forswore this system as well. Not because it was phony. Because the sporadic major defeat wiped out a lot of minor victories. The weak link was the lack of any means to grab big returns.

Roswell's current system still covers more than half the table, so the odds favor his getting a payoff. But he no longer merely bets a bunch of numbers flat and accumulates those steady but petty 6-, 16-, or whatever-unit returns. He now artfully places chips on the layout to erect what look like elaborate edifices. Sometimes he builds pyramids -- tall central stacks on single spots surrounded by piles of successively diminishing heights on adjacent lines, corners, and neighboring numbers. Other times, he creates castles -- soaring stacks at the corners of big oblongs representing turrets, mounds of varying heights inside to form elements such as buttressed walls and domes or towers, and single chips around the perimeters to simulate moats. The effect is splendid. Pit bosses and higher-ups come from all over the casino to watch. Dealers hold the ball until Roswell is finished. Solid citizens crowd around to "oooh" and "aaah." Other players are awestruck and hardly ever grouse at the delays.

When numbers hit in the midst of Roswell's architectural wonders, payoffs are lavish. When hits are on the peripheries, returns are enough to recover the bets that lose, at least in part. And the occasional total routs? You can see it in the dealers' faces. They're sad to sweep those chips away without rewarding Roswell for his work. But sweep they do, for the game must go on. As the rhyming raconteur, Sumner A Ingmark, rhapsodized:

In life as in betting, celebrity's fleeting,
See yesterday's hero come back for a beating.

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.