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Best of Fred Renzey

Gaming Guru

 

How Much Luck Is Involved in Gambling, Really?

27 February 2005

There's a poker player I know who usually kills 'em dead at the tables. He never calls on the end with a losing hand and always wins the max with his winners – usually, that is.

For the past couple of months, though, Mr. Poker has been reduced to a pathetic loser, unable to complete a hand or make a hand "stand up" when he does complete one.

Has Mr. Poker's game gone in the toilet? No! If you watch closely as the cards are played out, Mr. Poker usually has the best hand until the last card. He still never plays a bad hand and never puts himself in an irresponsible situation. Yet, lately he's been getting pounded by chumps who don't deserve to carry his chip rack.

I know what that's like. A while ago, I had a losing streak at blackjack that was downright sadistic. It lasted for just over 150 hours of playing time. All during that spell, I witnessed some of the most super-human feats performed by the dealer –- any dealer. Having 20 wasn't good enough –- I flat out needed 21 to win!

On the other side of the coin, I have a friend who plays only a "typical" game of blackjack. He took four trips to Vegas in 2004 –- and came home a winner on all four! So what gives? Is gambling all luck –- or what?

Actually, there is quite a bit of luck in gambling over short and mid-range periods. In fact, on any given day, luck will play a bigger part in your outcome than anything else. After ten or twenty gambling sessions luck affects things less, but it can still swing the overall bottom line quite a bit. Only after 200 or 300 gambling sessions will the luck get thoroughly sifted out and you'll be left with results that are a direct reflection of your skill.

To show you how this works, we'll use some probability theory to illustrate how the effects of luck are paramount at first -- then get diminished over time.

Let's say you like to bet the pass line at the craps table and you're just an average dice thrower. Now of all the things that could happen, you've got 244 ways to win that bet and 251 ways to lose it. If you played for, say, three hours, you'd finish two bets behind –- if your luck broke perfectly normal. But due to random luck, there's actually a 42% chance you'll end up a winner.

Now suppose you play that same craps session every week for a whole year. With perfectly normal luck you'd end up the year 100 bets behind. And since those 251-to-244 odds have been grinding away all this time, there's only 1 chance in 8 (12%) that you'll still be an overall winner.

After five years of doing that same thing, you're a slim 200-to-1 underdog to be ahead of the game, or a 0.5% shot. Eventually, the underdog in any gambling game has no chance to come out ahead, even though he may look like a champ for a while.

That's what makes gambling the titillating proposition it is. On any given day, anybody can win. And those who do win often delude themselves into thinking they were supposed to win –- because of some quirky system they have. It's not until hundreds of hours later that the real winners are known.

Just understand this. In live poker, only time will tell who's really favored over whom. In craps, unless you can exert some honest-to-goodness dice control, you're the perpetual underdog, even though you may dodge the house's bullets for a while. In blackjack, you're a solid "dog" if you're the average putz, a tiny dog if you play perfect basic strategy and a small favorite if you can keep track of some cards. No matter what your status is at any gambling game, though, you could go hundreds of hours before your true results take shape.

Gambling is a gamble. The best you can do is have the skill to be the favorite, then keep pounding away with your edge. Makes me wonder how David would've made out against Goliath if it were a "best out of seven" series.

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

Blackjack Bluebook II

> More Books By Fred Renzey

Fred Renzey
Fred Renzey is a high-stakes, expert poker player. On a daily basis he faces--and beats--some of the best players in the country in fierce poker room competition. Now for the first time, Renzey offers his perceptive insights on how to play winning poker. For Fred's 13-page blackjack booklet "Ace/10 Front Count", send $9 to Fred Renzey, P.O. Box 598, Elk Grove Village, IL, 60009

Books by Fred Renzey:

> More Books By Fred Renzey