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Best of Mark Pilarski
You got to know when to hold 'em26 August 2005
Dear Mark, I have found over the years that betting on sports and beating the bookmaker is no easy task. Nevertheless, exactly what percentage of games do I have to win just to break even? Mark M.
To kick off (puns offered at no extra charge for people with the right name, Mark), the person you are really trying to outfox is the oddsmaker, and his analysis on each team's chances, not necessarily the bookmaker as your question implied.
The bookmaker is simply a middleman who operates on a small profit margin and, ideally, is looking for half the money wagered on one team, and half that bet on the other. If too much of the money is wagered on one team, the bookmaker merely moves the point spread to prop up betting on the other team. What assures him of a profit is balancing his books.
As to a specific answer to your question, at odds of 10/11 (bet $11 to win $10) you only have to win 52.4% of your bets to overcome the bookmaker's profit and break even. While that may not seem like very high win-ratio, Mark, watching sports from a lazy-boy chair is one thing, while betting and winning them is quite another.
Dear Mark, Ditto to Lester’s comment last week, and thanks for the increase in poker coverage. Anyhow, I just have a one short question if I may. You being a student of the game, what is the most sound advice you have ever received? Dell G.
It’s probably from The Gambler himself, singer Kenny Rogers (who by the way doesn’t gamble, then again, he’s been married five times), whose biggest contribution to the game of poker also just happens to be my Golden Poker Rule #1: “You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em.”
Put more concisely, Dell, you need to maximize the size of the pots that you win; and to minimize the money in the pots that you lose. This simple rule of poker is the most overlooked stratagem among most of those who play the game, and a real fortune-builder for those who follow it.
Dear Mark, Last week in your column you explained the never-bust was a bad bet and advised players that you need to hit "plenty of those stiff hands.” My question concentrates strictly with the player having a 12 against a two or three. Wouldn’t the smart move be to always stand since it seems that every time I hit a 12 when the dealer is showing a 2 or 3, I always get a 10 and bust. What’s wrong with standing instead of giving the dealer that bust card? Kevin M.
Without even considering depletion of the deck, a 12 in hand is somewhat different from most other "stiff" hands because you have a 9 out of 13 chance of not busting if you take a hit. Likewise, if you decide against hitting, your only chance of winning with a 12 is for the dealer to bust, and he has that same 69.2% plus chance of making his hand that you did.
The negative aspect of hitting a 12 is that even if you do take a hit, you will still lose money over the long haul, since a 12 against a dealer’s 2 or 3 is a losing proposition. Yet, you should always hit a 12 against a two or three in order to save from 2-5% of the money wagered as compared to standing.
Granted, Kevin, you won’t win any additional money by hitting, but it will help keep you from losing more than you should.
Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run. You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealin’s done." –Kenny Rogers, The Gambler
Best of Mark Pilarski