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Just Ask A.P.

27 June 1999

Dear AP:
Every time you read an article about gambling in a casino, the author quotes the house edge and then pushes you to play certain games. Is that the only or the most important thing about a game? Should you only play games with low house edges? What if you like a game that is considered a high house edge game?


Dear SW:
There are a few factors that go into making a game attractive to a gambler only one of which is the house edge. A player's temperament is probably the first thing to consider. Some people prefer a slow game like roulette; some people prefer the socializing that goes on in blackjack, while some people prefer the high energy of craps. Still other people enjoy the solitary pursuit of Lady Luck on the slot machines or the skill factor of video poker. No gaming author can tell you that your temperament should be different or that you should enjoy this game over that game.

However, in the context of a game that suits you, the house edge and another very important factor -- the speed of the game -- will determine your chances of coming home a winner both in the long and the short run. Sometimes writers will overlook the fact that even a relatively great game such as blackjack, where a basic strategy player might face a mere one-half percent house edge, can win a bundle of money for the house in the long run when a player plays 80 to 100 hands an hour. And even a relatively high house edge game such as roulette with a 5.26 percent edge can be played in such a leisurely fashion that 20 to 25 decisions are made per hour. If the player who is playing roulette also sits out a spin or two every now and then, it is conceivable that he will not lose as much as a blackjack player or will lose only slightly more. The fact is that the speed of the game and number of decisions per hour are important elements.

Another element is how often your bets are really decided; how often are they really at risk? In craps for example, if you were to bet the Pass Line and place full odds and stick to this for your session, then your bets would only be "active" at the most around a third of the time. That means that two-thirds or more of the rolls would not be decisions for you.

How does this work? Say, the shooter is on the come out roll -- only the 7, 11, 2, 3, and 12 will affect your Pass Line bet. There are only 12 ways to make all these numbers (some of which you win, some of which you lose), but there are 36 possible numbers that can be rolled at craps. Therefore your Pass Line bet is decided only one-third of the time on the come-out roll.

Now, let us say that the shooter's number is a six, the second most frequent number (along with the eight) in craps. You now have 11 ways that are decisions (six ways for the seven and five ways for the six) and 25 ways that are not decisions. A person's bankroll could last a long time playing this way because two-thirds of the rolls will not result in a decision.

As Frank Scoblete states in many of his books and audio tapes, if you are playing a negative expectation game, which most casino games are, then the player is better off slowing down the pace while the casino is better off speeding it up. So, a smart player is a slow player!

Dear AP:
What's the best poker game to play in a casino? I love to play at home and I'm pretty good, but I've been somewhat hesitant to play in a casino. Any advice?


Dear MM:
The best poker game to play in a casino is the one you can win at. That means you must have knowledge of the game and the ability to play a controlled session, usually against strangers, without going in on bad hands. Now, some of these strangers will be sharks looking to eat you alive and you'll find it hard to bluff them - especially in low limit games.

Poker is fun and good players can win in the long run. Success at home is not necessarily an indicator of success in a casino. If you've never played poker in a casino, let me recommend the "guerilla" style of play as explained in the book Guerilla Gambling: How to Beat the Casinos at Their Own Games! by Frank Scoblete. According to Scoblete, the novice casino player has one big thing going for him - the other players don't know his style of play. Thus, short sessions at several different casinos might be the best way to get your feet wet in the treacherous world of casino poker.

Dear AP:
I overheard someone saying that he was playing the "big number" in roulette. What exactly did he mean? I checked out all the numbers and they looked to be about the same.


Dear ET:
The "Big Number" is a system of playing populiarized by John F. Julian in his book, The Julian Stratgies in Roulette (Paone Press). In effect, the player is looking to capitalize on potentially biased wheels; that is, wheels that for whatever reason favor certain sections or numbers. The Big Number is any number that has shown up more than probability theory would indicate. According to Julian, if in 20 spins of a roulette wheel one or two numbers appear three or four times each, say, then you would bet these numbers in the hope that they might indicate a biased wheel. You would risk a certain percentage of your bankroll on these numbers in the hope that they will continue to repeat. Will they? If it is a heavily biased wheel, yes they will. If not, it is possible that you've hit a fluctuation that you can take advantage of. At worst, you will not be at a biased wheel and you will be facing the regular roulette edge of 5.26 in the double zero wheel.

Dear AP:
I keep hearing that it is possible to beat blackjack if you know how to count cards. So how much would I need to quit work and become a professional blackjack player? And would I make a good living?


Dear PC:
Yes, some players can beat some blackjack games in the long run. However, I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but professional blackjack players - that is, people who make their sole living playing blackjack - are rare. Rarer still are people who can make a "good living" just by playing blackjack. In fact, if we define "good" as a gross income of $80,000 or more a year, my guess is that you'd find the needle in the haystack before you would find someone making that kind of money at blackjack. Yes, some people will make much more than that in a year (or a night) of playing blackjack but these people are not card counters. They are high rollers whose source of income is something other than blackjack. The casinos that have good games are very wary of anyone betting relatively large sums (black chips, sometimes green chips) and will quickly take action against anyone they suspect having the edge over them. That's why it's practically impossible to make a good living playing this wonderful game. Is it unfair to skilled players to make it hard for them to win? Yes. Unfortunately, that's the current state of affairs. So play blackjack for fun and profit, but drop the dream of becoming a "professional".

Alene Paone
Alene Paone is the publisher of Paone Press which specializes in gaming books, videos and audio cassettes. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406.
Alene Paone
Alene Paone is the publisher of Paone Press which specializes in gaming books, videos and audio cassettes. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406.