The very first game I ever played in organized baseball, 6th grade -- a long time ago in a city far, far away -- I went four for four with one home run and five runs batted in. That morning I had eaten scrambled eggs, ham, and whole wheat toast, burnt.
The very last game I ever played in organized baseball was in 12th grade on the high school varsity team. I didn?t have a particularly great game, but I did get two hits in five at bats and I fielded several grounders at shortstop. That morning, too, I had eaten scrambled eggs, ham, and whole wheat toast, burnt.
And in all the games between that first one in 6th grade and that last one in 12th grade, I always ate the same breakfast. I played for good teams, bad teams, great teams and awful teams. I had good days and bad days; great days and days when I wanted to crawl into the fetal position and suck my thumb. No matter, breakfast on game day always remained the same.
Why? I guess I made an association between that first breakfast and success and I just locked it into my brain.
And what about all those bad and awful teams I played with and all those bad and awful games I had? It didn?t matter. I associated success with that breakfast and so I kept doing it. When things went bad I just kept doing it figuring things would get better and after awhile things did get better. Well, when things were going well I didn?t want to change my routine. So I never changed my routine.
The above might explain why so many casino players cling to their ?superstitions? even in the face of bad runs and awful streaks. I know one lady who plays a single coin in the Megabucks machine. That is a crazy thing to do because the only reason to play Megabucks is for the giant jackpot and the only way to get the giant jackpot is to put in full coin. Otherwise you face house edges of around 15 percent but you don?t have a chance to reap the rewards of such risk.
So why does she do this foolish thing? Because the very first time she went to a casino, she won some money on Megabucks playing one dollar. She didn?t even know what a Megabucks machine was -- she just plopped herself at the first machine she found herself near and won. When I attempted to tell her why she should either play full coin or abandon those hungry monsters (she has lost almost every time since on these machines), she got a glazed look and metaphorically kept eating her scrambled eggs, ham, and whole wheat toast, burnt.
Now, there are distinctions to be made between my crazy breakfast superstition and Maureen?s (oops, did I say Maureen? I mean, uh, Jane?s) Jane?s crazy beliefs. My breakfasts were healthy for me, gave me fuel and had absolutely no effect whatsoever on my real performance in baseball over those seven years. My superstition was irrelevant.
But Jane?s superstition is harmful because it has a direct impact on her financial performance in the casinos. Her superstition is highly relevant to her prospects -- and highly negative.
Here?s another example. At a recent talk I gave at a local college, I was asked the following question:
?I went to the casino the other day and won. Before I got in my car to go, I rubbed the head of a statue that I have on the lawn. I don?t even know why I did it. I am now planning to go to the casino again. Should I rub the statue?s head? And should I go for it in the casino??
?Rub it,? I said. ?But don?t play any different than you played last time. Don?t believe you are charmed and bet more than you normally would. If you play your normal game, rubbing the head of the statue is a harmless superstition. If you alter your game because of the statue, you could be playing more money into the house edge and that would be a bad thing to do.?
The bottom line is that gambling decisions -- what games to play, how much to bet at these games -- should be made with these things in mind:
a. your temperament
b. the house edge
c. the speed of the game
The type of games that appeal to you might not appeal to me. You might enjoy playing slots, I might enjoy playing blackjack and craps. It is foolish for me to say to you that you can?t spend your money on the games of your choice just because I chose to play other games. But it would be foolish of you to say: ?All slots are the same so it doesn?t matter which ones I dump my money into.?
Slots are as different as you and your neighbor. Some return more of the money put in them and some return less. The ones that return less will often return it in spectacular fashion, the above Megabucks for example. The ones that return more will usually not have those spectacular jackpots but might have greater hit frequencies and more winning combinations. Your temperament decides what kind of machine you want to play -- the outside shot at a big bucks win or a decent shot at small but frequent payoff.
The House Edge and the Speed of Games
Some games have high house edges, such as the Big Wheel. Some have low house edges, such as the Pass Line at craps. Some games are fast and have many decisions, such as blackjack; and some games are slow and have fewer decisions, such as roulette. The best combination in games where the casino has the edge is to find ones that are slow and have low house edges. The next best thing is to find low house edges and play slowly or play intermittently.
Math and common sense should guide your choices when it comes to what house edges you will buck and at what speeds you will buck them.
With that said, if you want to breakfast on scrambled eggs, ham, and whole wheat toast, burnt; or rub a statue?s head till it becomes bald; or do any one of a host of silly superstitious things, feel free. But, knock on wood, never use superstition to replace good, cold math and logic. To do so might just bring bad luck!
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