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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Why Casino Bosses Don't Want You to Quit When You're Ahead

26 May 1997

In language, a tautology is a useless repetition of meaning in different words. In logic, it's a verification that something equals itself. An important axiom underlying money management - to win at gambling, quit when you're ahead - is a tautology.

Why so? Because you obviously win if you quit when you're ahead. Being ahead is winning. Winning is being ahead. You surely don't win if you quit when you're behind. Except by declaring a moral victory and moving on, but that's another issue.

A tautology poses a dilemma. You can't argue with its truth. But you can't learn anything from it, either. This doesn't imply that the admonition to quit when you're ahead isn't sensible advice. Au contraire, on the contrary.

Certain solid citizens lose touch with reality at the casino. They overlook the significance of being ahead by some number of bets in a particular game. What a dollar is worth when it's time to pay the phone bill. What odds have been beaten to achieve the gain. So they don't quit with reasonable earnings. They remember when staying turned paltry profits into big bucks. They forget when the spoils of victory drained down the sewer of defeat.

Beyond that, quitting when you're ahead does turn out to be one of those mythical secrets the casino bosses don't want you to know. But neither do they want you to quit when you're behind. The house rakes in the riches from the edge built into every wager. Amounts specific bettors win or lose relative to this fee average out over the punting public. So casino coffers fill as players continue to bet regardless of how fluctuation - the statistical variance - affects the fortune of each individual.

Say you get ahead and quit. Informed casino managers don't sweat your walking away winning a big multiple of their theoretical hold on your action. They'll recover as much from the aggregate of gamblers leaving with correspondingly less than the mathematically-expected values. The bigwigs only brood when you're not betting at all; then, they're not collecting the small but sure commission on your action - the source of their profits.

Maybe you want to believe that quitting when you're ahead transcends tautology. That discipline is a way to overcome the laws of probability governing the entire known universe - including class-M planets, supernovas, galaxies, and slot machines.

Then picture a pair of players patronizing a casino together, each with $500. Mickey and Minnie make identical bets, simultaneously, at the same craps table. During the session, they undergo the ups and downs characteristic of craps.

Stupid Mickey doesn't know enough to quit when he's ahead. So he rides right through the peaks, greedily grabbing for more. At one point he's $1,000 ahead, but eventually a cold streak wipes out his entire $500.

Smart Minnie always quits when she's ahead. But she also likes to play. So she quits mentally whenever she has a profit, writes down the sum, then immediately starts afresh. In due course, she logs nine separate games. She won the first eight, securing cerebral profits of $1,000. But, she got into a hole at the outset of the ninth game and never emerged. The cold streak that gobbled up Mickey's $500 took Minnie for $1,500 - $500 from home plus $1,000 she mentally amassed in the first eight games.

Mickey played one game, losing $500. People not privy to Minnie's approach might presume she did likewise. But Minnie knew she had an eight-game winning streak then got hammered for $1,500.

Wow! Talk about coincidence. Stupid Mickey and smart Minnie both ended up the same. It proves the prudence of the proverb penned by the celebrated scrivener of seventh-sonnets, Sumner A Ingmark:

A system needing no apology,
Won't base its structure on tautology.

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.