CLIMBING OUT OF THE HOLE
YOUR CHANES OF COMING BACK AFTER A BAD BEAT
by Basil Nestor
Basil Nestor is author of "The Smarter Bet Guide to Craps," "The Smarter Bet Guide to Blackjack," and other comprehensive gambling guides. Got a question? VisitSmarterBet.com and drop him a line.
Let’s say you sit down at a blackjack table and play a perfect game with flawless basic strategy. No counting, only flat bets or maybe a modest progression. Alas, Lady Luck kisses the dealer and then gives you a nasty head-butt. You lose three straight, push twice, double down once and lose, win a couple, then lose four in a row. Hey, it happens. Bad mojo. Then let’s say you go thirty minutes with a steady back and forth, win a few, lose a few. No significant gain or loss. Then another bad streak comes swirling through, topped off with a double loss when you split eights, draw two tens, and the dealer beats you with a 19.
Wow. That sucked. Now you're down by ten bets. It took an hour and you played sixty hands. What are your chances of coming back by the end of the session? What are your chances of winning those ten bets back at some point in the next ten sessions? The odds may surprise you.
It’s Not Unusual… To Lose
The first thing to remember is that ten net losses in one hour are common. Unfortunately, that’s the way blackjack works. Nearly one out of three players, about 28% of punters, will lose a net of ten or more decisions out of sixty (lose thirty-five or more, win twenty-five or less). Approximately 24% of players beat the casino, netting at least a couple of bets or more, and the rest fall in between; they break even or lose less than ten. In the best-case scenario, you make up some of those losses and hopefully eke out a profit with extra payouts on ace-ten naturals (about three naturals per hour), and extra profits on winning doubles and some splits. However, if those mitigating hands don’t appear, or if the dealer ties you for a push, then your net losses will be worse.
Indeed, when someone tells you the casino has less than 1% advantage when you play an optimal basic strategy, that doesn’t mean you win roughly 49.5% of the decisions in most sessions. Rather, it means you lose about four more decisions than you win per hour, on average, and you squeeze back to near even with naturals, doubles, and splits.
Since only about 24% of players, one in four, will win more decisions than they lose in an hour, this provides us with our first clue about the chances of coming back. It’s a steep hill to climb.
Cards Don’t Care if You’re Down
Another thing to remember and this is something frequently misunderstood, is that cards don’t "even things out" to mitigate positive and negative streaks.
Cards are not sentient. They have no knowledge of the past. From the deck’s perspective, you’re always starting at zero. Thus there is no mechanism for mitigating past anomalies. It’s not like the aces and tens decide how they will be shuffled or dealt to make up for a recent bad beat. So if you push a natural (or a few) lose a double down, and have too many hands like 10-10 killed by 5-6-10, then the cards are under no obligation to give you a break on the next series to get you back into equilibrium. The harsh truth is that not everyone is destined to be exactly in the center of a classic bell curve. The very nature of the curve guarantees that many people will do better than average, and many will do worse. So…What are your chances of going from the bad side to the profitable end? Brace yourself…
If your sessions are two hours each, and you’re down ten bets, then the chances in the next hour of winning back ten bets with a combination of regular wins, naturals, doubles and splits, is about 7%. Your chances of winning ten net decisions outright, without the help of premium hands, is only about 4% in one hour.
If we stretch that to ten sessions (twenty hours), then the numbers get dramatically worse. Your chances of winning net 10 decisions, 605 or more out of 1,200, is about 0.3%. By this point, the itty-bitty house edge of less than 1% is dragging you inevitably into the negative end. This is why…
Counting Changes Everything
All of the above calculations are based on flat-betting or arbitrarily changing bets. However, if you count cards and profit substantially more on winning hands compared to losing hands, then all these numbers are essentially reversed. When you count, the important question is not… Can I come back from a deficit? Because the answer is unequivocally yes, you can. The only question then is… How long will it take? The answer depends on the size of your bet spread, the depth of deck penetration, and the quality of your counting.
Bad streaks will slow you down. Some counters will do better than others will, just by being lucky. But eventually, everyone with a clear edge will win more than they lose. Everyone. Period.
So… If you can count cards, do count cards, or find some other way to get a legal edge. At the very least, find games with favorable rules that lower the casino’s edge because over time, those itty-bitty fractions of percents add up.
Otherwise, resolve to play the best game you can, and accept that luck will tend to push you arbitrarily onto one side of the profit/loss column. And once you’re there, it’s rather tough to get to the other side. That can be a curse. On the other hand, sometimes it can be a blessing because…
Sometimes things go well. You win and win, and then win some more. Let’s say you begin with a hot streak and you’re up by ten bets after playing one hour. Winning net ten bets in one hour happens (as I mentioned previously) about 7% of the time, or about 4% not counting premium hands.
When lady luck kisses you this way, then you have a better than two-out-of-three chance of making it to the end of your session with a profit, and suddenly the bell curve is beautiful.
Enjoy being stuck in the profit zone.
(c) copyright 2012 Basil Nestor
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