Math, not emotion fuels decisions

I’ve been writing for Gaming Today for more than 17 years. In all honesty, I have no idea how many people have actually read my columns through the years. I would presume thousands, if not tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands. Roughly speaking I’ve written 800+ columns, so this just doesn’t seem like a stretch.

One recurring theme in just about every column is how a decision in the casino should be based on math and not emotion. We don’t stick on a hard 16 looking into a 6 because we feel the next card will be a 10 and we don’t want to bust. If the dealer has a 4 underneath, you’re a dead duck anyhow.

We don’t stick because there are more 10’s than 5’s in the deck, although this is a part of it. We stick because mathematically, we are more likely to win more money if we stick in this situation as opposed to any other action.

We don’t know what will happen specifically on this hand. We just know that over time, this hand will appear repeatedly, and we will do better by sticking than hitting. Guessing is just guessing, and it does us no good in the casino.

In a similar vein, we hold a 4-Card Flush over a Low Pair and a Low Pair over a 4-Card Straight not because we feel like the next card will help the Flush but because over time this will make us more money. We have nine chances to draw that Flush paying 6 and only eight chances to draw that Straight paying 4.

Maybe when we go for that Flush, the next two cards would have been the other two of that Pair Rank. We will never know. Nor does it matter. We are playing according to the math and not trying to outguess the random number generator.

Math should also help us dictate which games to play. We want to search out full-pay paytables in video poker, Blackjack tables paying 3 to 2 for Blackjack and less zeros on our roulette wheel. We want to play video poker at max-coin because of the increased payout for the Royal which also maximizes our payback.

That all said, there is one concept that we cannot ignore when we are playing. We still must remember to have fun.

Financially, we will be better off playing a Deuces Wild machine paying over 100% vs. a Jacks or better paying only 99.5%. But if you’re not having any fun playing the Jacks or better, are you really better off overall?

For most people, winning is more fun than losing, but everyone has their own tastes. If you just don’t like to expend much energy thinking in the casino, then video poker, Blackjack and Ultimate Texas Hold’em may not be for you. Maybe Pai Gow Poker, Baccarat or Three Card Poker are better suited to your needs?

This will undoubtedly lead someone out there to decide what I’m saying is that if you want to play slots at 92% payback, go for it. Not completely. I’m not going to tell you absolutely don’t play it if this is what you consider to be fun.

But I do think you should go into with your eyes wide open. You need to understand that 92% is the average payout of slots in Las Vegas (roughly) and you have no idea if your machine is set to pay 92% or 82%. I personally believe that if you want a relatively mindless game, you can find something else.

In the end, you must make your own decision. Let the math guide you, but always make sure to have fun!

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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