Stay informed with the
Recent Articles
Best of Alan Krigman

# Mistakes Are Always Costly, Otherwise They're Hunches

4 April 1994

Gambling mistakes should be easy to identify. They're decisions that raise the casino's mathematical edge, lowering the likelihood or amount you'll win.

In practice, it's not so simple. Here's what I mean. Is it a mistake to play blackjack with no surrender or pair resplitting when you can get these favorable options next door? Is it a mistake to play craps with double odds when limits are higher across the way? Is it a mistake to play blackjack or craps at all when mini-baccarat offers higher probability of winning? Is is it a mistake to play quarter slots which return 87 percent when dollar machines in the same casino pay back 91 percent?

Statisticians might say all these are mistakes, even if you win, because your chances are worse than need be. But statisticians with their heads in the oven and feet in the freezer might say that, on the average, they were quite comfortable.

Is it a mistake to hold a queen and ace of clubs rather than a pair of fours in jacks-or-better video draw poker? Would your answer be the same if the next three cards were 10-J-K of clubs? How about two fours and a nine?

Suppose a blackjack player hits on a pair of nines and pulls a three for a total of 21. The dealer, who is next with a ten up and a six in the hole, draws an eight and breaks. Everybody wins. Had the player followed "basic strategy" and stood on 18, the dealer would have drawn the three for a total of 19 and beaten everyone. Did the player make a mistake or act on a lucky hunch?

Here's something I did last month at baccarat. Banker and Player, which pay even money, are "good" bets because the house edge is less than 1 percent. Tie, an 8-to-1 longshot, is a "sucker" bet because the house takes a big bite. I always bet Banker. But the waitress brought my coffee and a friend started talking to me just as I was sliding out my chips and I accidentally put them in the Tie box. Tie hit, taking me over the top. Was it a mistake? Fate? Some occult force? Would I have thought differently if Banker won the hand?

Is it a mistake to let money ride after a longshot hits? Longshots pay high because they pay infrequently. But they're usually sucker bets because the casino takes a big commission. So smart craps players snicker when some ya-hoo tosses \$5 on the twelve, a 35-to-1 wager that only pays 30-to-1. If the twelve hits, the smart players bust their guts laughing if the ya-hoo parlays the original \$5 and the \$150 payoff, hoping for another twelve on the next roll. Of course, players rarely win on twelve and the odds against two in a row are 1295-to-1. But nobody snickers if the parlay does hit and the player wins \$4645.

Some actions neither improve nor weaken your chances, yet affect your results. You're at a roulette table with an electronic sign showing the last twenty hits. You're been betting \$5 each on 5, 9, and 12 your kids' ages. In an hour, the ball never went near any of these numbers so you move to the next table. Five minutes later, peeking at the sign over your old table, you see 5, 9, and 12 one after another. Your mistake in moving cost you \$495. But, was it a mistake, or just the one out of the many possible random processes you happened to follow? Had you stayed where you were, not cashed in and caused the dealer to delay turning the wheel and spinning the ball, would the 5, 9, and 12 still have been the next three hits?

Well, I'd better stop here. Or, I'll soon be asking if casino gambling is just life squeezed into an afternoon. Which, of course, it is. As Sumner A Ingmark, the poet laureate of gambledom once so eloquently said:

Everything I need to know
In life I learned at craps.
Mostly that what ebbs will flow,
What rises will collapse.
Flying high risks falling low,
And certitudes are traps.

Recent Articles
Best of Alan Krigman
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.