Better to keep emotions out when gambling

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Many years ago, when I participated in season-long football pools through one of the local casinos or occasionally throw a few dollars down on a parlay card, I’d lament over losing what seemed to be a sure winner. 

In response, my father would simply tell me to never wager on anything where the participants had two legs. Essentially, he was telling me to never bet on anything where mere mortals are participating. 

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a few glaring reasons why he would say this. About two weeks ago, we had the unfortunate situation where a member of the Kansas City Chiefs killed the mother of his child and then himself.

Last week, we had a Dallas Cowboys player who was injured and arrested for a drunk driving incident which resulted in the death of a teammate. Lastly, we had Manny Pacquaio seemingly moments away from winning a boxing match when he was hit with a punch he said he never saw and went down in an instant.

No one can foresee these events. In the case of the first two that I mentioned, no one can foresee how their respective teams would respond to the tragedies. Perhaps they are all in shock and get demolished. Perhaps they use it as a rallying cry and play their hearts out. 

In these cases, the triggering events were well known, albeit just a day or two before the games. Who knows what events take place that we never hear about? Perhaps the star quarterback has a huge fight with his wife the day before the game. Or the top running back finds out that a parent has been diagnosed with a horrible disease. These things may never be known to us mere fans. Worse yet, they may never be known to us mere “betting” fans.

This is why my father preferred that gambling be limited to things that are less emotional and more math based. Of course, as we all know, he zeroed in especially on video poker, but he was a fan of most of the table games too. 

There is nothing emotional about any of these games. Everything that you need to know is known. It doesn’t matter if the dealer just found out that his wife is cheating on him (okay, he may not be in a very good mood, but this will not affect the cards that are dealt). The deck can’t play harder or give up half way through. Every card is as random as every other card. Armed with this knowledge, a clear strategy can be developed to maximize your chances to win.

If you’re dealt a 16 vs. a dealer 10 you won’t automatically lose and you never know exactly what cards will be drawn, but you do know that you have an 8 in 13 chance of busting. This is a hard cold fact.

You don’t have to worry that the Jack of diamonds got drunk the night before and maybe doesn’t feel like showing up as often as he should.  You know that if you decide to stick on that 16, that the dealer has an 8 in 13 chance of beating you by drawing a 7 through Ace (assuming he didn’t already check for blackjack, in which case it becomes a 7 in 12 chance). 

You can decide to do some rudimentary card counting which will change the percentages a little bit, but again, this is concrete math. You can alter the numerator in your equation and make your math more precise, but it will be precise. The impact will be fully known to you and to anyone who chooses to use the information.

Or course there are those players that can turn a math-based game into an emotional one. We’ve all sat down at a blackjack table and watch someone try to “out guess” the shoe. Sometimes, they’ll hit a 15 against a Face card, sometimes they won’t. It won’t be based on any math, but on a gut feel. 

It will be as if in their head they are playing the scene with Dirty Harry – “Do you feel lucky, punk?” In many respects this is worse than wagering on sports. At least if you try to outguess how an athlete will react to a tragedy you might have some frame of reference. We’ve seen how other teams deal with a tragedy. We might try to put our own experiences to use. But, exactly how does one try to outguess a deck of cards? 

If you need to understand what this entails, I suggest you take a deck of cards and have a friend pick one at random without showing it to you. Then, without looking at the cards, you have to figure out which one he took. It works at a magic show, but  you’ll be right about 2% of the time. 

Casino gaming is, for the most part, about math. The games are built based on mathematical concepts. If the game doesn’t work mathematically, then it never sees the casino floor. Yes, the game must also be fun and create a sense of drama and excitement. 

What it doesn’t have is any emotion to the strategy. You start with a deck of cards and you know everything you need to about the game. From there it’s about playing the odds, without worrying if the deck has a hangover.

Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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