Winners &Losers

Winner & Losers
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The Game of Life
Real Until


Figures can’t lie but liars sure can figure.

‘AIN’T ONLY THREE things to gamblin’, ’ former world poker champion Pug Pearson remarked to me one fine morning.  ‘Knowing’ the 60-40 end of proposition, money management, and knowing yourself.’ Puggy, dressed in his ‘work’ attire of red satin shorts and open-necked shirt, cigars sticking up out of his breast pocket like a battery of missiles, gave me a shrewd look: ‘Any donkey knows that.’

            Sitting at an empty poker table in the card room of the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, Peggy was waiting for new players to arrive to start up a game.  ‘Siddown, ’ he invited me, One of the poker players already waiting at the table looked up, ‘Ya gotta be playin’ to siddown.’  ‘Aw right, ’ Puggy commanded, tossing me a huge roll of hundred dollar bills trussed together with elastic bands, ‘Siddown here.  You can play this game, can’t ya?’  I had just vacated my seat at the $ 3-$6 limit game to talk to him.  ‘Er –sure can, Pug.’ 
            On the instant, the table filled up with four or five hungry-looking guys, eyes agleam.  Pug made a rapid reassessment of the situation.  ‘Yeah, well, okay gimme the money back.’  He had evidently concluded that staking me in a high rollers’ game meant that he himself would be taking the 40-60 end of the proposition.  I tossed the roll back again it has a comfortable heft to it, ten thousand bucks and stood up, to resume my seat in the tourists’ game.
            We had both of us demonstrated his definition of the winning gambling formula cited above.
            As a matter of fact most people do know the 60-40 end of a proposition when they see it.  The trouble is the attraction of the gamble is so strong that the bet overrides their judgment.  This is especially true of bets on sporting events, where enthusiasm, not to say blind fervour, for backing one’s fancy, or local team, or favourite poker player, frequently warps any prudent estimation of true odds or value.  Money management simply means making your bets in sensible proportion to your funds.  The commonest mistake people make in  casinos is over-betting their bankroll.  They get in too far.
            So  the  real contest is not between the player and the house, whether it is a sports bet or a casino game, but between the player and himself.  And despite what Puggy says, the injunction to know yourself’ is rather difficult to fulfill, as moral philosophers down the ages have pointed out.  Do you want to win or do you want the sensation of action for its own sake?
            It you are an occasional player, buying say ten or twenty pounds or dollars worth of chips after enjoying a good dinner in the casino, what are your chances of winning or losing?  And how much?
            At blackjack, playing basic strategy, the house edge against you is reduced to around a mere 0.5 per cent which all in all seems pretty insignificant.  Or perhaps your fancy turns towards the faster action of craps, when the house edge rises a notch but is still only 1.4 percent against you provided, that is, you stick to the basic line bets and don’t go in for proposition bets, like throwing double sixes, where the house edge rises in American casinos to 16.6 per cent (in Britain it s a mere 5.5 per cent ).

            At roulette, of course, it all depends if you play the European game with one zero, or the American game with zero and double zero.  In the single zero game the odds against you, playing red or black or other even money chances, are only 1.35 per cent (when zero comes up you lose only half your stake), which is virtually the same as at dice; betting the numbers, the odds against you rise to 2.7 per cent.  At American roulette, with two zeros, the house edge rises to a whopping 5.26 per cent, whether you choose to play ‘even money chances’ like red and black or numbers.
            Regardless of which of these games you choose, if you make ten straight bets the same stake, the chances of breaking dead even are about 25 per cent.  The luckiest 1 percent of online poker players will be eight or more units behind.  In any case, making ten bets is not too serious, whatever happens.
            The outcome looks very, very different if you play for  long periods of time and make say, 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000 bets.
            You ’ll never see the kind of figures which I present in the previous pages displayed in a casino.  They have been calculated for me by Professor Peter Griffin of California State university Sacramento (the blackjack expert, see chapter 1).  My thanks are also due to Edward Rothman in London, who wrote a computer program for me to show how any particular edge against the player, after any given number of coups, works out.
            So, suppose you spend a couple of hours in a casino and make 100 bets at the same stake, what is the result likely to be?  Or suppose you are on a four day vacation or business convention with time and money to burn, and indulge yourself by spending four or five hours a night at the tables, making a total of 1,000 bets.  (A rate of 50 coups an hour is quite normal.) How does that change things?
            Or suppose, finally, that you are a ‘serious ‘ gambler.  You take off every weekend for Atlantic City or Lake Tahoe, or tournament around Mayfair every night: over two or three years certainly over a lifetime’s play you can easily rack up 100,000 bets.  It ’s not so much as it seems, it you play several hours a night.  My figures show what to expect.
The first diagram shows what percentage of players will win, lose or break even at the three main casino games, blackjack, craps and roulette, after 100 bets, 1,000 bets and 10,000 bets, at level stakes.

                At blackjack, the calculation is based on the assumption that the player is following basic strategy  which is an edge of 0.5 per cent in the house’s favour.  (As can be seen from the left hand column of chips, after 100 coups, 51 per cent of players will be behind, 47 per cent will be ahead and 2 per cent will be even.) The middle section on craps also stands for European roulette, because the edge against the player is virtually the same 1.4 per cent at craps, playing line bets, and 1.35 per cent at roulette, on the ‘even money’ chances (not numbers).  At American roulette, when the edge against the player rises to 5.26 per cent on ‘colour’ bets, there will in the long run be no poker winner.
                In practice, or course, good gamblers never stick to level stakes.  They increases their bets as the dice or the cards get hot, or they feel lucky.  The corollary of winning at a faster rate, however, is risking losing at a faster rate: varying the stakes, therefore, will not alter the basic findings set out here provided that the gambler goes on playing.


The second diagram shows in graphic form how many units that is how much money the luckiest and unluckiest 10 per cent of players will win or lose in the course of making 100, 1,000 or 10,000 bets at level stakes.
                Figures on the plus line mean more than that amount ahead: minuses signify that amount or more behind (e.g. at blackjack, the luckies 10 per cent of players will be more than 97 units ahead after 10,000 coups, while the unluckiest 10 per cent will be 197 units or more behind).  When even the luckiest players still lose, as occurs at craps and roulette, the minus figures signify no more than that amount behind.
                At the extremes (not shown in the graphs) the luckiest 1 per cent win 92 or more and the unluckiest lose 374 or more and at roulette the luckiest 1 per cent will be no more than 294 behind and the unluckiest, with the profound blessing of the casino, be 750 or more behind.  The house wins what the players lose.

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