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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Kids show Pops the hazards of gambling

1 December 2003

Dear Mark, How do they do it? My kids have taught me a coin-flipping game called Mix or Match and are steering me toward bankruptcy. You bet on one of three possible outcomes: Two Heads, Two Tails, or the Mix — one Head, one Tail. You bet whatever amount you want (up to ten cents) on one of the outcomes, and your opponent bets on another; winner takes all money wagered. You can also bet on Any Match — whether Heads or Tails — and in that case, the wager for the Mix is just half the Any Match bet, since there are two Matches possible against one Mix. They're driving me nuts as well as broke, with no cheating I can detect. How? Wing T. B.

Nice name. I once knew another guy named Wing who I used to ski the steep and bumps with at Lake Tahoe. But like the casino, where danger lurks around every corner, a freak accident on a bunny run sidelined Wing for years. He went on to card counting somewhere in the Caribbean, I to another 12 years of 100-day ski seasons. I sure miss those days of skiing every day, pitching cardboard every night. It's the Any Match bet, Wing, that is your downfall, or broken leg if you will. You see two ways of winning with that wager and only one way with the Mix bet, and, thinking you'll show the kids a thing or two, you frequently bet on Any Match, putting up twice the silver that the kids risk. Right? While there may seem to be only one chance for the Mix bettor to win, there are really two chances — so the Any Match bettor is putting up twice the cash that the little con artist is risking when he (she?, they?) goes for Mix. And since the odds of a Mix are really the same as the odds for Any Match, and the Any Match bettor is paying off double half the time, it's a long slippery slope for the latter toward insolvency. Here are the possible outcomes of a flip:

1) Wing - Head / Kids - Head Matching Heads

2) Wing - Tail / Kids - Tail Matching Tails

3) Wing - Head / Kids - Tail Mix: Head-Tail

4) Wing - Tail / Kids - Head Mix: Tail-Head

Several street cons and bar bets turn on this same illusion — the overlooked possible outcome. Now that you know the ruse, you can probably score some few refreshments at your favorite watering hole. Better yet, bet em' they can't spell Albuquerque. Most can't. By the way, where do your kids go to school?

Dear Mark, Recently in the column, you mentioned that when playing video poker you should always break the low pairs (2s - 10s) against any four-card flush, straight flush, and three cards to a royal. Are you saying that in the above case you should hold the high pairs — or is that a "duh... of course"? Don P.

"Duh" questions for this column? Never, Don. Chalk this one up as an omission on my part. Keep the high pair against a four-card flush, but discard it against a 4-card inside straight flush or an open-ended straight flush. As for what to do when you have both a high pair and three-card royal, many experts advise you to hold the high pair. I lean towards keeping the 3-card royal. Either way, the difference is minuscule.

Gambling quote of the week: This is where I should have quit, but some kind of strange sensation built up in me, a kind of challenge to fate, a kind of desire to give it a flick on the nose, or stick my tongue at it." Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Gambler (1867)

Recent Articles
Best of Mark Pilarski
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.
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.