WHERE GAMBLERS GO WRONG: AN ANALYSIS OF PSYCHOLOGICAL AND STATISTICAL ANALOMIES THAT HAPPEN
Ariande has over 15 years of experience dealing and supervising casino games in multiple states for diverse companies. He offers the following observations and advice based on his experience.
Why Didn't You?
"Why didn't you press? You just won the last four in a row and you just won another double down. I would have made so much more money..."
You've heard a hundred versions of this from patrons sitting next to you. But what frustrates players even more than someone sitting next to them winning is the statistical anomaly of an unexpected or disproportionate loss. Imagine an absurdly high count. You can make all the right moves, bet big all the right times, and yet the worst card keeps falling onto the dealer's hand. Here's the thing: the dealer is as likely to get blackjack as you are no matter what the count is. But here's your advantage: you can only lose even money while the house can lose 3/2, or 6/5 (sigh). Nevertheless, you can lose.
What a downer to start an article... I try to think beyond the experiences from both sides of the table, to address certain issues of gambling with a bit of psychology; the act of gambling activates genetic instincts that require perception to make order of one's environment. Through no fault of your own, you give meaning to the meaningless, because you are hardwired through evolution to do so. Before it rains, plant your seed. Before the animal runs, throw the spear, shoot the bow, or fire the rifle, but in random events, IT DOESN'T MATTER!
"OH! I could have made _____."
Let's look at the following statement. I could have won even money in baccarat (unless it was a tie). I could have won 2/1 on the dozens in roulette (so long as it wasn't a zero). I could have won 35/1 if I picked the number outright... I could have won a million to one or a hundred to million to one in the lottery...
I could have bought stock Amazon in 1997 for 10k. It would have been worth 4.8 million in April of 2017. April wasn't the high point. Amazon dipped about a hundred points in about a week recently ... For a brief period, Jeff Bezos was richer than Bill Gates, but he isn't now. Why didn't he liquidate all his shares at the high point of his stock relative to the present? Think of the inherently ludicrous nature of the question. No one can see the future. When gambling, the idea of a high point is a construct of your imagination.
Keep in mind I know very little about stocks. You could always have done something differently. It's a lot more fun to wonder about winning that trying to make sense of the huge hands you lost when everything was going well...
ADAGE: Gamblers over-bet their bankrolls; though counterintuitive, they do it less with money and more with expectation.
I've tried to deal with this issue before, but I see gamblers get frustrated too often. How often have you heard, "Every time I double my 11 against a 10 I lose, so I'm just going to hit." Do you know what the casino hears in this situation? If you think your memory is good enough to synthesize probability, you are likely more profitable for them.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take the gambler with 11 who doesn't double their 11 against a 10 or A... If they don't get the face card, the patron says, "That's why I don't double." When they do get the 10 without doubling, they say, "It only comes when I don't double."
What lies we can convince ourselves to make us feel vindicated, right, smart, whatever... These lies make a gambler a sucker!
Betting Big to Win Small
Let's consider the player with a decent bankroll who hopes to win a relatively small amount of money. Though the saying goes, the mostly likely way to leave the casino with a small fortune is to come with a larger fortune.
For the moment, I'm picking on the "Martingale Player" playing baccarat to prove a larger point. What do you expect to win, walking into a game, with say, 100x the table minimum? The game has a minimum of $15 and you have $1500. Can you win $100 without going broke? It sounds like you only have to win seven bets...
The worst run that can happen is as follows:
Bet 15 lose stuck 15
Bet 30 lose stuck 45
Bet 60 lose stuck 105
Bet 120 lose stuck 225
Bet 240 lose stuck 465
Bet 480 lose stuck 945
You are effectively out of money... You can bet your last $555 but it won't cover your losses. Clearly $1500 isn't a good number. Realistically you could have simply brought $1,000 but $2000 would be better. You could send on the 7th and get your money back half the time.
Above is only six hands in-a-row. (I've seen a player chose wrong on 17 consecutive hands.) If winning was simply ½, the six consecutive loss event would happen 1/64 times... If 1/64 event blows up your bankroll, is that ok? Keep in mind with any commission baccarat game, the payout on the bank is only 95% of the bet, so a $15 wagered yields $14.25 profit on a win, though you do win slightly more than half the hands.
Imagine playing a coin flip game with no house advantage. 63/64 times you win your first series as indicated above; ditto for the second series. The fraction is supposed to look something like 63/64 to the seventh power. If my calculations are correct, you would win 89.5% of your trips. Seven events times $15.00 is a $105 profit.
Let's add a 5% commission. You'd still be ahead $100, right? Could you not expect to win roughly nine times out of ten in this scenario?
Wrong. Because you'll be paying commission on much larger bets than $15 even though that's all you are trying to win. You could escalate the stakes to account for this, but you'll be betting more. (I am ignoring that the Bank wins slightly more than the Player. If this was done on the Player, you'd be winning less than half the time.)
In either scenario, you'd have to win multiple additional bets. If 8 bets, the number goes to 88%; if 9, roughly 86%. You're getting further and further from winning 9/10 times to cover the 1/10 that you'd lose. I'm not going to go through the complicated math that could play this out, showing how much commission would really add up, because the estimate by itself proves a larger point. I don't think anyone should follow this strategy (though plenty do), and I'm trying to make a larger point about probability.
What is Rare?
An event that is 1/64 isn't that rare, 1.565%. A dealer gets blackjack in an even count about 1/21, under 5% of the time. As I pointed out earlier, the more positive the count, the more likely the dealer is to get blackjack. When an event is going to be more frequent, it should bother you less. You don't want to hear this though, because you are rationalizing that the count is in your favor. You deserve to win, right? Having the advantage means you can win over time, but you need a lot of time.
Probability doesn't care what units you are using or where you are sitting (i.e. where the cards are falling) As proven, the higher the count, the more likely blackjack is to occur. When you over-bet your bankroll, you are in essence gambling that you, not the casino, will be getting the blackjack.
You have an answer for me. You can play multiple hands to increase your advantage. This is true. While your blackjack is worth more per hand than the dealer getting blackjack (because you are getting paid 3/2), the dealer is still likely to get a good hand. While their hand may be more predictable in the long term, you still have to play the hand you are dealt and the roughly 1/13 is far more likely than a 1/64.
With a team, you could easily play all the spots on a table to maximize this advantage, but this presents inherent difficulties. You can't all start making table max or outrageous bets all at once without attracting attention. Further, casinos aren't stupid. Surveillance can easily track who is playing together. Can you assemble a new team for every excursion where every member will know that exposure is exponentially higher than playing alone? Everybody risks being caught when playing at the same table.
I'm trying to build towards a point, trying to help you with longevity. Say you have a tremendous bankroll and you want to go for it. Realistically, how many times are you willing to make your lowest bet? The higher the multiple, the higher the bankroll (obviously), but also the higher the chance of getting caught when counting. For example, a multiple of 10x a low bet is an immediate flag.
"Mr. All In" Enters
"Hold your horses you crazy casino employee. You've seen Mr. All In who can be betting $25 one hand, and after winning 4 or 5 hands, consecutively wager $500 or $1,000."
Fine, let's talk about Mr. All In. In a single session, Mr. All In can win more than any counter in the casino. He scoffs at the person trying to grind out $100 in baccarat with a system. If he only came to the casino with $1500, he would not be satisfied with doubling his money. The Mr. All In I know generally doesn't stop before $10,000. Here's some more information. Mr. All In never goes home breaking even, nor does he come with a mere $1,500. He either goes home broke or a winner. "The game doesn't stop until I have all of your chips or you have all of mine." How often do you think he goes home a winner?
I love seeing Mr. All In win. He generally tips generously and is on cloud nine when he is victorious. Mr. All In often doesn't care about losing. This is not rent money or income; this is entertainment.
Mr. All In is the character who is telling you how much he could be winning with your cards. What Mr. All In never says to you is, "I would have lost every nickel in front of me on that hand you lost because I wouldn't be satisfied." It's akin to something I heard a dealer say once, "I've never heard a poker player admit to be outplayed in a hand. The other guy always got lucky, usually because a poker player was forced to continue the hand." What a bunch of lies we tell ourselves to console ourselves in defeat...
I brought up Mr. All In for another reason. No matter how much he is winning, he doesn't care when they are watching him. When they revue the tape, they might see he increased his bets with the count sometimes, but they're going to see him do plenty of stupid moves as well. We have plenty of film of him losing...
Gambling for Profit vs. Entertainment
You are not there for entertainment; you are there to win, despite the casino thinking that the odds are against you. I started out with the doom and gloom scenario. Now, I'm going to the completely opposite extreme.
You're about to have the day of your life. The shoe starts slow, but picks up. You've split your 8's to the max, doubled everything, and the dealer continues to break with 2's and 3's. Your 17's are winning over 10's and A's as just the right cards are falling for you. Meanwhile, you are counting a multi-deck game and playing advanced strategies, not hitting 12 against a 2 at true count of +4 or higher, and doubling 9 against dealer's 2 at true count of +1 or higher, and so on. The most exotic beautiful counts come up and you are ready, having memorized your advanced strategy chart.
We've been taught by Wall Street that greed is good, but greed will get you caught. You can't win $100,000 if you quit up $10,000. This is true. But in any casino across the country, winning 100k will inevitably bring about analysis by a count team and quite possibly advanced-play computer programs. What would you care if you were able to win 100k? Would that be enough to retire on?
There's another problem with this scenario. Forget that the odds of making 100k are inherently difficult no matter how big your bankroll is. Imagine your starting unit is $1,000. Winning 100 units doesn't sound that hard. Even if there is only a single supervisor on the game, they are still watching you in surveillance. Good luck maintaining advanced strategies. Two shoes later, the shoe is cut in half. What? You've been caught.
OK, a hundred grand seems a bit much. You have every right to ask how much you can win before a casino is going to get suspicious. But there isn't an industry standard or threshold that I could just tell you. Some houses start watching as low as a $2,000 win, or lower if it is slow, or if a dealer or floor has been watching closely. One place I worked had a count team analyze every session where a player profited by $10,000. That was on a busy night. Let's say the count specialist is a full-time employee. When it isn't busy, what do you think he's doing? He's watching players with smaller win-sessions.
Wait, this is supposed to be the happy part of the article, right? You're winning here and somehow you are the victim? I suggest you consider some of the suggestions I made in aprevious BJI article about evading the traps of being caught (bjinsider.com issue 206).
Everyone wants to tell the story about the time they won a Mercedes. I'd love to see you do exactly that! But just keep in mind the exposure that comes with a tremendous win. Mr. All In will be back next weekend. You can't simply come back to the same well playing advanced strategy because sooner or later you are going to get caught. The shoe will be cut in half. You may be restricted to table minimum. They may shuffle at any time. (Sigh.)
If you don't believe me, I hope you can prove me wrong. I get lists of confirmed counters along with their pictures even if we don't know their names. If you don't think surveillance studies the pictures a lot more closely than I do, you need to start thinking smarter.
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