Wednesday, April 21, 2004

You Got To Know When To Hold 'Em…: I have no idea why I get like this. I like to think its just intellectual curiosity, but it may be some slow acting form of ADD. Anyway, I get freakishly interested in certain topics for a brief while, learn about them, read everything I can about them, to the point of neglecting more practical or important pursuits, and then the feelings fade. The latest one is casino gambling. You might think that I am planning on breaking the bank, but no. I have no illusion that I have any influence -- psychic, mystic, or otherwise -- over the laws of probability. In fact, a serious investigation of casino gambling by a rational mind can yield no other conclusion except: you’re hosed any way you look at it.

So what's the point of my interest? We'll part of it is that I would like to be a smart gambler. That is to say, I'd like to know how to make the smartest plays possible, given that the odds will NEVER be in my favor. To me, the point of casino games is not to beat them, because you CANNOT in the long run. But since you presumably have a set a maximum loss, you can minimize the likelihood you'll reach it. And you will also maximize the chances of a good long run that will turn your trip into a winner, provided you can stop when you’re ahead and even though -- and I can’t stress this enough -- the odds are AGAINST this no matter what you do (does it sound like I’m trying to convince myself?). Plus, you won't look like some wet-eared rube.

Another thing that fascinates me about it is the psychological aspect of it. For instance, there are bets that are completely uncomplicated and require no understanding of strategy at all that are pretty darn close to even money, and yet they are also a good deal less popular than truly long-odds stuff like Keno. The way a quick fix, easy money bet can overwhelm rationality is not news to anyone. Casinos revel in these types of people. Are these the same sorts of people who respond to spam in the naive belief that if something too good to be true could be true?

I would guess more complicated motives are behind the players who play the more benevolent games -- Blackjack, Pai Gow, Craps (some bets) -- but play based on superstition; following trends and streaks, rather than probability based strategy. These folks are like mystics, believing in unseen forces affecting the outcome of all sorts of events. Are these the same sort of people who buy into conspiracy theories, unable to accept that strings are not being pulled by someone or something.

What prompted all this is my reading of Casino Gambling Secrets by Marten Jensen, a clearly written and comprehensive guide to casino gambling (not sports betting or poker). It explains rules odds and strategies for someone who wants to gamble as intelligently as possible without making a career out of it. I had a handle on Blackjack, now I'm thinking Pai Gow and Craps are good goals for my next trip, especially Pai Gow (although it's a bit scary). In both cases you can keep the house edge down to around 1% or less if you play it smart. Stay away from Keno. Keno is like a state lottery in miniature, and there’s a reason states like their lotteries.

I really wish I had read this book prior to my last trip, and it will be the first thing to go in my suitcase next time around.