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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Why Players Are Always Coming from Behind, and How to Handle It

25 April 1994

Last week, a dealer asked me why players rarely jump ahead at the get-go and stay there. "I've dealt most games," he said; "players usually fall in a hole and spend most of their time climbing out. Shouldn't nearly as many start ahead as behind in games where there's supposedly a fair chance to win."

Good question. Not grasping this point probably cost players more money in the casinos than any other single factor.

Longshots

Most table game bets are longshots, to some extent or other. They lose more often than they win but achieve balance because, one way or another, winners pay more than losers cost.

Think of it like this. Flip coins to win $1 on heads and lose $1 on tails. Or roll a single die to win $5 when the number's a one and lose $1 on two through six. Both are fair games. The first has even money bets; the second, longshots. Long term, your chances are equal in both cases. Short term, volatility prevails. Flipping coins, you're as likely to be up as down. Rolling the die, you'll generally be behind and looking for a breakthrough.

Details depend on what and how you play, but the effect is the same. Here's how it works in the two most popular table games.

Craps: If you "place" the six or eight, chances are you'll lose six bets for every five winners; however, for every $6 it cost when you lose, you get $7 when you win. Likewise, if you "place" the five or nine, you expect to lose six bets for every four winners; for every $5 it cost when you lose, you get $7 when you win. And, "placing" the four or ten, you'll probably lose six bets for every three winners; for every $5 you drop on a loser, you'll pick up $9 on a winner. The situation is reversed by placing multiple numbers -- but it still may not help. For instance, bets on all six boxes can be wiped out by a single seven, while players need four or five hits to cover what's on the table and position them for profit.

Blackjack: If you bust, you lose before the dealer's hand is played. This situation favors the dealer. The compensating longshots are the 3-to-2 payout bonus on blackjack and the opportunity to split and resplit pairs, double down, and surrender certain hands.

Implications

You can break the bank by luck alone. That first slot pull may be a bell-ringer. That green chip on big red at craps can net $100 on the next roll. That $100 bet on blackjack can bring $150 when your first hand is ace-king.

But the long odds make you more apt to lose than win any given bet. A few hits that 20-minute roll at craps, that resplit with a double or two at blackjack put you in the money. So profit usually requires the staying power to endure the losses a good gambler anticipates, waiting for the likely but not guaranteed wins. This translates into four principles of perceptive play.

1) Match your bets to your bankroll so you can ride through the downswings you should expect for your game.

2) Don't get so disgusted after a long but normal string of losses that you take foolish risks.

3) Quit when you get ahead, since you'll probably drop rather than rise on your next bets.

4) Avoid "house games" like big wheel, sic bo, and red dog where the casino's edge is so great you're unlikely to break even or get ahead after a normal series of wins and losses.

Sumner A Ingmark, the gamblers' own poet laureate, may have put it best:


Gamblers who bet without remorse,

Wait for the odds to run their course.
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.