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Best of Frank Scoblete
The numbers don't lie24 May 2007
I get a lot of mail from gamblers asking me about this or that; arguing with me about this or that; complaining about this or that. I try to answer all my mail, even the letters that start with "You don't know nothing, Mister Scoblete!" These irate letters usually come from players who are not well schooled in the math of the games. They want to argue their feelings over the mathematical principles that rule most of the casino gambling world.
One recent letter writer said, "You think you are some great gambling expert but let me tell you this for a fact - math means nothing in the games. You got to go with the flow of the cards or dice. You do that and you'll be a winner."
I wrote him back and asked him how long he had been playing and whether he was a winner in that time by going with the flow of cards and dice. He was honest. He wrote back and said he had been playing for several years, about once a month, and that he was not a winner. "My system works, I've just had bad luck with it."
No matter what system a player uses, there will be losing times. Even the great advantage players in blackjack, craps, video poker, sports betting and poker have plenty of losing sessions, days, weeks and months. But advantage players, in the long run, will be winners - luck will not be the dominant factor; their skills will prevail.
Other gamblers, those millions who go to the casinos each and every day, will win occasionally but almost all will be long-run losers. Why? Because they are trying to buck the math of the games by using betting systems that just can't win.
Most gamblers are not mathematicians. Most gamblers know almost nothing about the math of the games they play or the bets they make in the casino. Sports bettors tend to base their picks on feelings; table game players tend to rely on intuition; and slot players resort to a lot of praying.
There are approximately 52 million casino gamblers in the United States and I would say that maybe five to 10 percent have an inkling of how the casino gets its edge on the games. To most gamblers "the edge" is some nebulous thing that means the casinos win a lot of money from a lot of players.
Here's how one slot player put it: "The edge is the thing that makes the casinos win. The casinos can't lose because of this edge. The edge is based on the fact that the casinos have to win to stay in business."
That was a gallant try at defining something - gallant but inaccurate. The edge is a mathematical principle in most games - usually a stagnant mathematical principle. You bet the Any Seven wager at craps and the house pays you 4 to 1 if you win. The real odds are 5 to 1. The house keeps that extra money and gives itself a 16.67 percent edge on the bet. The edge is always 16.67 percent if the house pays you 4 to 1. In a random game of craps, nothing changes the math.
Roulette is also mathematically stagnant. The house edges on the American double-zero wheel (invented in Europe!) and the European single-zero wheel (invented in America!) are 5.26 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively. That edge never changes if all the payouts are 35 to 1 on a number hit. There is nothing the player can do to change this mathematical fact.
In point of contrast, a game such as blackjack is not stagnant. The edge changes as cards are dealt out of the deck or shoe. Sometimes the casino has the edge; sometimes the player has the edge. A bunch of high cards have just come out of the newly shuffled deck, the casino is in a winning position; a bunch of low cards come out of the newly shuffled deck, and the player has an advantageous position. However, the casino will have the edge more often than a player will and that defeats just about all blackjack players, even those who play perfect basic strategy.
Only card counters can ascertain those times when the player has the edge and they will bet more in such situations in order to overcome the house's overall edge on the game. Card counters are a rare breed. Of the six to seven million blackjack players, maybe a few thousand can really attain that edge over the house. The rest of the players are playing a long-term losing game.
Poker players exist in a world of math and psychology. There are very distinct mathematical underpinnings to the game of poker and smart poker players know through study or through years of experience what those mathematical underpinnings are - even if they can't articulate them. However, poker also has a strong psychological side and players who are gifted at reading their opponents tend to win more than players who can't read their opponents. So successful poker players (success defined simply as long-term winning!) are usually those who have a grasp of the math of the game and the mental state of their competitors.
How many poker players are long-term winners? I'd say maybe 10 to 20 percent. The rest lose to their opponents and the house's rake of the pots. Today more and more poker players are being hatched due to the incredible success of poker shows on television. Most of these newbies will be losers.
Video poker is nothing like real poker. Here you are playing to get the best possible hand. There are dozens upon dozens of video poker games - most of them with devouring edges. But some are really excellent games with minimal edges. Indeed, some video poker machines actually return over 100 percent of the money played in them - if you know the correct strategies for those games. Very few video poker players do. Most just play whatever machines hit their fancy and most lose in the short and long run. Video poker can be a mean and devouring game for the unskilled player making poor plays.
Although most casino players face long-run losses, the short run can see them winning, sometimes winning a heck of a lot. Luck does play a roll in the short-run experience of casino games. This luck will cause some systems players to believe that they have hit upon a winning system. Memorize the following sentence: All systems will win some of the time. Don't confuse these wins with long-term success. As the great gambler Dominator says, "Anyone can win tonight. Even a blind squirrel sometimes stumbles upon some nuts. But you have to be able to win time and time again to come out ahead of the casinos!"
So what is the average, non-advantage player to do? Are they to quit gambling and take up a less thrilling hobby such as "dew-watching" ("My, my Martha, that dew is really sticking tonight!"). There are better and worse strategies to use to keep the house edge low and players should learn these strategies. After all, it's just as much fun to make a low-house edge bet as it is to make a high house edge bet - if winning is important to you that is.
This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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