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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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You Can Use Betting Strategies to Shape Your Playing Sessions

29 March 2000

Casino table game buffs often believe that progressive betting -- changing the size of wagers during the course of the action -- is vital to success. Especially in situations with close to 50-50 chance of winning approximately even money -- such as blackjack, "outside" bets at roulette, and Player or Banker at baccarat.

Players disagree, though, as to how and when to vary their bets or why the approach supposedly works. Solid citizens may go up or down after wins or when they're ahead, after losses or when they're behind, when inspiration strikes, or not at all. Ideas also diverge as to increments and numbers of steps to take. And, explanations range from the merely muddled to the absolutely absurd. Take raising when you're winning. It can be as simple as playing with the casino's money. Or as Byzantine as automatically betting more during hot than cold runs by raising after hits, because runs of wins and losses are roughly symmetrical.

Such gobbledygook aside, betting strategies can still be useful. They don't alter long-term house advantage, contrary to claims by advocates of arcane schemes. They do affect chances of winning or losing various amounts during particular sessions of reasonable duration, contrary to the dogma that edge is everything.

Consider the extremes of trend-based progressions. Players may double-up after every loss and return to a single unit after a win, constrained only by table limits and their own depth of pocket. This approach yields high probability that a session will show a modest gain, offset by a small chance of a wipe-out. Conversely, doubling bets after every win and returning to a single unit after a loss leads to at least a shot at the moon, balanced against the strong possibility of a crash landing.

Here's a less radical example. Billy, Lilly, and Moe all bet Player at baccarat. Billy bets $10 flat. On hunches, Lilly risks $5 half the time, $10 on a quarter of her hands, and $15 and $20 each on an eighth of all rounds. Looking for patterns that only he has the propensity to perceive, Moe starts at $5 and goes to $10, $20, and $40 -- also on a half-quarter-eighth-eighth basis.

The three fight the same 1.2 percent house edge. They differ, however, in two ways that affect session characteristics. 1) Average bets per round: Billy's is $10, Lilly's is $9.375, and Moe's is $12.50. 2) Inherent bankroll fluctuations per round: Billy's is $9.50, Lilly's is $10.22, and Moe's is $16.13.

Average bets and inherent fluctuations, along with edge, determine the bankroll swings players are apt to encounter during typical sessions. They suggest the levels of profit and the severity of losses which can be considered normal for the game.

For instance, from these figures it's possible to estimate each player's chance of finishing a session above or below some limit. The following list is for $100 net wins or losses in 225 rounds.

Player
chance of winning
over $100
chance of losing
over $100
Billy
19%
31%
Lilly
20%
32%
Moe
29%
39%

From average bets and fluctuations, statistical analysis can also suggest how many rounds players can be confident of surviving and the chance they'll reach any win goal before depleting a stake. Here are projections for 90 percent confidence and doubling $250:

Player
rounds
chance of
earning $250
Billy
205
33.6%
Lilly
59
46.1%
Moe
14
48.8%

These figures show that varying bets at random makes a big win more likely when luck runs hot and a big loss when it runs cold. And the greater the bet spread, the stronger the tendency. Coupled with the effects cited earlier of progressing wagers during runs of wins or losses, such strategies let sophisticated bettors shape the characteristics of individual sessions. But shaping is one thing and ignoring the give on the bottom of every take is quite another. Which calls to mind the verifiable verse of the venerable poet, Sumner A Ingmark:

Only gambling's greenest amateurs,
Try to stretch a game's parameters.

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.