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Deal Me In: Skilled play offers no guarantees of winning

1 June 2012

By Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: Having taken into account the random behavior of a chip, my recent video poker play, using perfect basic strategy, has me concerned. Lately, I seem to have far more losing sessions than winning ones. I am not screaming conspiracy here, yet, but… Jason A.

Your "but…" has a straightforward explanation. Skilled players just so happen to lose sometimes. In fact, Jason, in video poker, losing sessions outnumber winning sessions, and that's with expert play. Depending on the specific game and pay table, royal flushes account for about two percent of your long-term return, and they occur approximately every 40,000 hands. To be in the black playing video poker, you are counting on those rare Royals to overcome your current losing sessions.

Dissecting your play of late, what you are seeing, Jason, is a bunch of losing sessions that came together. They line up so that suddenly they look like a pattern, a continuous losing pattern, and you start to accept, as truth, "conspiracy". Nevertheless, Jason, each playing episode in your gambling timeline is still random, and above all, you have distanced yourself from your last royal flush.

Gambling sage, VP Pappy, describes randomness best as "an uncaring, indifferent bitch!" How true.

Dear Mark: I once heard there is one bet on a crap table that actually gives the player a big edge against the house. You often mention "taking odds" with your Pass line bet as the closest you can get to the house having no advantage over your play, but still, that bet does not give you any edge. Have you ever heard of such a wager where the player actually has an advantage in craps? Cliff N.

Actually, Cliff, there is such a wager. A while back, I was at one of those charity Vegas nights and noticed a Crap layout that looked uncharacteristic of what I had experienced in the casino business. What I spotted was a Field bet that paid 3-1 on 12 and 2-1 on the 3 or 11.

Typically, the Field bet is a wager that any of these numbers; the 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, or 12 will appear on the next roll. This bet pays 2-1 on the 2 or 12 and even money for the others (3, 4, 9, 10, 11), although some casinos do generously pay 3-1 on the 2 or 12. The casino advantage is typically 5.5 percent on a Field wager, but reduced to 2.77 percent if the 2 or 12 pay off at 3-1. Although true odds of a conventional field bet are 5:4, by paying 3-1 on 12 and 2-1 on the 3 or 11, this charity game was paying odds of approximately 7:5, giving the player a 5% advantage on this wager.

Since I was not there to beat down a charity by turning in play money for a dinner-for-two at Applebee’s, I decided to pass on my chance to score. Though you might find a casino that offers this bet as a one-time only special offer, my path has yet to stumble onto it. Damn!

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "Destiny is a good thing to accept when it's going your way. When it isn't, don't call it destiny; call it injustice, treachery, or simple bad luck." — Joseph Heller
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.