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# If You Think You've Got a Sure-Fire System, Think Again

28 February 1994

Since the Industrial Revolution, screwballs have been inventing what engineers call "perpetual motion machines." Motors that run of their own accord without energy sources. They'd be nice. But they don't can't work. Perpetual motion violates laws of nature. Advocates don't know science. Or try to profit by conning suckers who don't know it.

"Systems" to beat the casinos are like perpetual motion machines. Screwballs keep inventing them. But they can't work because they violate laws of mathematics. Folks who tout systems don't know math. Or try to profit by conning suckers who don't know it.

Negative progressions

The most common gambling systems involve raising bets when you lose, so a hit which will come eventually gets you home. Elaborate charts and formulas may tell you how to bet, but in the smoke lurks the classic Martingale System: total what you're behind and make the next wager to recover it.

Progressions dig lots of players out of small holes. But what if that eventual win is late in coming? You may not have the money to keep chasing your losses. Or the casino may have limited how high you can bet. Either spells doom. Look how \$5 at blackjack escalates. Lose your first \$5, and bet \$5 on the second hand to break even. Lose the second; now you're \$10 behind and bet this much on the third hand. Here's the series for nine hands:

5 5 10 20 40 80 160 320 640

After seven dogs in a row, you're \$320 behind and must bet this much on the eighth to break even. Say your bankroll was \$500; you'd only have \$180 left. With \$5000 you have the \$320, but a table with a \$500 limit won't book \$640 on the ninth round. And, if you think nine straight losses are rare, you haven't played much blackjack. Or anything else.

Hedging

Games like roulette and craps let players bet on different outcomes for the same event. "Hedges" are systems using multiple bets to protect each other.

An example in roulette is taking a total of \$20 as \$1 on each number from 00 through 18, and making a single \$25 bet on the set from 19-36. You pick up money and they take some away wherever the ball lands. High numbers get you the \$25 but lose the 20 individual \$1 bets \$5 net profit (47.4 percent probability). Assuming no "surrender" on 0 or 00, lows give you \$35 on the winner, but take \$1 each from the other 19 and \$25 from the high set \$9 net loss (52.6 percent probability). Shake or bake those bets; 2 plus 2 is always 4.

Hedging can't help you win. It can moderate swings in your bankroll, but you may pay the house a high commission to do it.

Streaks

Streaking used to mean running down the street naked. Gambling systems based on streaks are about as sensible. There are four basic possibilities:

1) Bet on a hot machine or table, the winning streak might continue.

2) Don't bet on a hot machine or table, the winning streak might end.

3) Don't bet on a cold machine or table, the losing streak might continue.

4) Bet on a cold machine or table, the losing streak might end.

Systems based on streaks are usually garnished with elaborate proofs. But false logic is always buried in the bombast because chances of winning on any bet are the same each time, regardless of previous results. So past streaks don't anticipate the future.

The essence

In the libretto to his recondite opera, "Der Krappenspieler Aus Vegas," Sumner A Ingmark, gambling's own poet laureate, parodied the essence of it all:

When he told me of his system
(Tra-la tra-lee, tra-la tra-lee),
I began to doubt his wisdom
(Tra-la tra-lee).