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Frank Scoblete - Make the Best Decisions in the Short Run

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  • Frank ScobleteWhen you read gambling books and articles, you sometimes see a distinction made between the ?short run? (tonight, this weekend, this week, this month) of a few hundred or a few thousand decisions, and the ?long run? (a few years or more) of millions of decisions.

    As pundits have noted since Pascal, in the short run anything can and does happen. Players can go on incredible streaks of improbable wins or equally improbable losses. Gaming writer Barney Vinson saw the number 7 come up six times in a row at roulette a couple of years ago. That?s about as improbable as you can get, a billions to one chance. Yet, when you take a look at the particular wheel that produced that phenomenal streak over an extended period of time, each number came up well within the range that probability indicated -- that is, each number came in close to 1 in 38.

    The short range weirdness of that particular day had no influence on the long run math. The casinos bank on that fact and their bank vaults are overflowing with money won in the long run from players.

    The long run is a very long time, granted. Usually, it can be stated as the amount of time, or number of decisions, necessary for the probabilities to be within a given range of results. A coin flip will be in the long run faster than a roulette wheel because a coin flip has only two possible decisions and a roulette wheel has 37 or 38, depending on the type of wheel. As I stated, in the long run the math of a game will win out over any aberrations that take place tonight.

    So what is a gambler to do when making strategy decisions for the game of his choice? Some gaming writers suggest that since most players will never truly get into the long run, that strategies based on long-run results are fundamentally flawed, if not irrelevant. Some will suggest that you go for a guaranteed short-run win, such as taking insurance when the dealer shows an ace and you have a blackjack. Since anything can and does happen in the short run, such writers reason, applying strategies based on the math of the games will only work if you intend to hit the casinos weekly, or daily. Many players buy into this notion. They prefer to play for here and now and they tend to forget about tomorrow.

    ?I play for tonight,? a gambler once told me. ?I have no interest in learning strategies for craps. I just hope my luck will hold out and I can make some money. I have had some great evenings at the craps tables when everything went my way. I?ve also had very bad evenings as well. Overall? Overall, I am a loser but so is everybody who goes to casinos.?

    Although it is definitely not true that ?everybody who goes to casinos? is a loser, it is certainly true that the overwhelming majority are, especially if they go more than once or twice in a lifetime. Yes, it is true that tonight you can have great luck and tomorrow as well and, maybe, you?ll have a week of incredible good fortune, but the bigger the house edge on the bets you make and the greater the number of decisions you face, the more likely it is that your winning streak will come to a halt and you start a slippery slide down that icy mountain called loss.

    The types of streaks you have in all negative-expectation games will be longer on the losing end, monetarily speaking, than on the winning end. The games are structured that way. Even when games are 50-50, such as a coin flip, the casino will (if it offered a game called ?coin flip?) take out a tax on the winning bets. So while a streak of three heads and three tails are equally likely, if the player won, the casino would take out ?vig? or a tax on his winnings. If he bet $10, he?d win, say, $9.50. However, when he lost, he?d lose the whole $10. So a winning and losing streak of three in a row would see the player down $1.50.

    Is it wise to forgo what we know about the proper long-run strategies at games such as blackjack, craps, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud, and others, to take a chance on ?luck? in the short run? Obviously, no, it is not wise. In fact, it is silly. There are only two ways to play casino games -- the best way and all the other ways. The best way is to make the proper decisions each and every time. In games such as blackjack, that means following basic strategy to the letter, even if certain hands (such as 8:8 vs. a dealer?s 10; or 12 vs. a dealer?s 2) seem intuitively almost suicidal. In games such as craps and baccarat, it means making the low house-edge bets. Likewise with card games where your strategy choices matter, such as Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud, Pai Gow Poker, and Three-Card Poker, the long-range strategy should be your short-range strategy.

    Keep this in mind as well. Your chances of having good ?luck? at a table increase as the house edge and the number of decisions decrease. Your chances of having bad ?luck? multiply as the edge and the number of decisions multiply. It?s a simple formula. This same premise holds true for those infernal slot machines as well. Playing the best payback machines, that is ?certified? 98 percent return machines, stand-alone, non-progressive machines and the like, offers you the best chance to ?get lucky? tonight and to stay lucky in the nights to come (or, at least, to not be as ?unlucky? as those who play a heavy dose of progressive machines with high house edges). Video poker is much like real card games. Your choices matter. A good video poker player plays against a minimal edge; a bad video poker player gives the casino much larger edges. So keep this in mind. The long run is just made up of a lot of short runs and the math, not ?luck,? will usually win out in the end. So, to get lucky, stick with the math!

    Some of Frank's most popular books can be purchased by clicking one of the image links below:

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