Games you can beat + experts destroying bankrolls

I wrote this article 16 years ago, and it first appeared in the January, 1982 issue of Gambling Times magazine, and later in Card Player.

This remains one of my personal all-time favorite columns. It’s something you should let your skeptical friends and family read – those people who may doubt your ability to win, and those who believe that magic mathematical formulas for deciding how much to bet will help them beat games of pure chance.

For anyone who thinks you cannot beat poker, for anyone who thinks you can beat roulette, for anyone who thinks gambling is all luck and nobody wins in the long run, this column is for you.

And, now, here is a column delving deep, deep into a concept you must understand to succeed gambling. And I call it, “Experts” Who Destroy Your Bankroll…

Vintage 1982.
When I was nine years old, Dad put a tent in our back yard. It was a present, a special place for my friends and me. It became sacred ground, a clubhouse where no adult dared enter lest he encounter our scorn.

Every time you stepped inside, you would be enveloped by the smell of canvas. It was a very old tent, patched in spots that hinted of nameless accidents in the woods.

Just follow along for a minute. We’ll be getting to the point.

A Coleman lantern hung inside — you know, the kind where you can adjust the light anywhere from bright down to eerie. The brighter it burned, the more you’d smell the kerosene.

Sometimes, when the weather was good, Mom would let me sleep out there with three or four friends. I’d turn the Coleman so low that it almost went out. Then I’d give it a soft shove and it would swing back and forth from it’s handle. Spooky, sinister shadows would twist across the army cots and the sleeping bags. At times the wind would conveniently lean against the walls of the tent, cooperating with the creepy mood we all wished upon ourselves.

The point? Yeah, well, we’re getting closer.

Of course, we weren’t really frightened. Not terribly. We had to work at it just to get those tiny shivers to sneak up and down our spines. So we’d tell ghost stories.

There was this kid, Edward. For some reason, nobody ever called him Ed. He was the best ghost-story teller among us, and he’d paint haunting word pictures for hours. Sometimes he’d whisper solemnly, creating true ghosts and real victims.

You could tell that he believed these things himself.

A secret truth.
Whenever the lantern swung too slowly, one of us would give it another push. Then there were unshapely shadows to terrify us as they danced and became tangled.

“We can never tell anyone,” said Edward. “We all have to promise.”

So we promised not to tell our parents, because they might laugh and offer some stupid adult logic. Such rebuttal would be most unwelcome to us; besides, no one really wanted to share our experiences with skeptics.

So we pledged our silence, all of us, and we maintained it.

I heard from Edward the other day. His letter said that he’s been going to Vegas twice each year.

He explained that he’d been following my columns and had been meaning to get in touch. “I have stumbled on something I bet you might find interesting. Certain numbers keep turning up at keno all the time, particularly when they follow certain other numbers that can be figured quite simply, but no one knows about this. That is not even the most amazing part. What really seems exciting to me and my wife is the unbelievable fact that the same thing happens when we use our system for roulette. Namely, we win!”

Should he send me the details? No! Don’t send them! I’m tired of reading about using psychic weapons against roulette wheels and charting numbers at craps. I used to laugh about attacking slot machines astrologically and beating keno by analyzing mysterious number sequences. But when you consider that people are following this advice and destroying their bankrolls, it seems serious.

It’s not just which numbers you bet, they tell me. It’s also when you bet and how much you bet.

Poor souls! They must lie around all day determining what comes next in a betting sequence like 3-5-2-1-7. Such analysis takes a great deal of time. Do you suppose these guys ever get laid?

If you sprinkle in a few relevant facts, like the date of your birth, you can begin to appreciate the numerology of gambling. There ought to be a lot of winning systems that grow out of this sort of dedicated investigation.

But, alas, there aren’t any. And there never will be, because it’s all bullshit! Well, maybe that’s a little strong. Let me think for a minute and see if I can rephrase that. . .

Nope, can’t. It’s bullshit, and the more I think about it, the angrier I get. You see, there are some of us who’ve put a lot of effort into supplying the serious gambler with real, meaningful answers. To do this requires logic, disciplined evaluation and a certain degree of insight. The science of gambling is often complex, and scarcely anyone understands it thoroughly.

Many people are too busy with their own problems and professions to learn the tough, entangled world of scientific wagering. That’s understandable. I don’t have the time or the inclination to unravel the complexities of modern medicine. For that, I respect the advice of my doctor. When confronted by a legal dilemma, I seek a lawyer.

Serious gamblers deserve the advice of legitimate gaming authorities. This magazine (Card Player) provides the opportunity to find that advice. But the newsstands are peppered with gambling garbage-systems that tell you how much to bet, how to manage your roulette money, magic ways to win at keno.

Advice you can bank on.
By the way, I haven’t forgotten about the tent in the back yard … or Edward … or the point.

This is a list of some common things you can gamble on: each has “Yes” or “No” preceding it that lets you know, once and for all, whether that game can be beaten.

Name of the Game
No* | Baccarat
Yes | Backgammon
Yes | Baseball betting
No | Bingo
Yes | Blackjack
Yes | Boxing betting
Yes | Bridge
No | Chuck-a-Luck
No | Craps
Yes | Dog Race betting
No | Faro
Yes | Football betting
Yes | Gin Rummy
Yes | Harness Racing
Yes | Hockey betting
Yes | Horse race betting (thoroughbred)
Yes | Jai Alai
No | Keno
No | Keno machines
Yes | Liars’ Poker
No* | Lotteries
No | Money Wheel
No | Numbers Games
Yes | Over and Unders (Sports bet)
Yes | Poker
Yes* | Pyramid Games
No* | Roulette
No | Slot Machines (nonprogressive)
Yes* | Slot Machines (progressive)
No* | Video poker (noprogressive)
Yes* | Video poker (progressive)

* Baccarat can theoretically be beat with an elaborate count system that involves remaining cards in combinations, but for practical purposes, this isn’t a game you should likely pursue. Lotteries can theoretically be beat under very rare conditions — when prize pools are very large and less-popular numbers are selected. Pyramid games favor the earliest players to join, and the late players cannot find “buyers” to cover their “investments.” Roulette can theoretically be beat by timing the wheel and ball, but that tends to break down in practice. Video poker can occasionally be beat, even without progressive jackpots when a new form is introduced without the odds correctly calculated. Slots and video poker with progressive slots need jackpots large enough to overcome the built-in disadvantage. And there are other considerations we could talk about, but you get the point.

Of course, the list could include hundreds of other things. I have omitted most card games. Had they been included, all but a few would have been given a “yes.” That’s because most card games pit opponent against opponent and the more skillful players prosper.

You can invent special propositions. You can bet whether a flea will die on its flight over the Antarctic. There are, in truth, limitless ways to win gambling. With all this potential for a dedicated gambler, you wonder why writers spend so much time devising “magic” systems to do the impossible.

About the chart.
Let’s talk about the chart. Of the 30 things listed, 18 were theoretically beatable, 13 were not.

Pyramid games? Maybe you’re surprised by the “yes.” These games received a lot of publicity about a year ago, especially in California. I won’t take time to explain how they work, but basically a person willingly hands over some money to someone else. This is the buy-in. He then solicits others to give him money and join the game. The amount of money you get is determined by your position on a “pyramid.” This scam, like pyramid letters, is illegal. So why did I include it on the chart? To correct a common misconception.

Many newspapers quoted mathematics professors who asserted that since each newcomer to the Game had to recruit two others, the supply of investors would soon be exhausted. Well, that’s certainly true. But the implication was that you couldn’t beat the pyramid game. And that’s certainly false.

The common sense of this is that the first players in the game couldn’t possibly lose, and the last players- when a pyramid collapsed-couldn’t possibly win. All the money lost was won by others. The net was zero. Obviously the advantage went to early arrivals and to those skilled in convincing others to join.

Stating the obvious.
I don’t want you to look at the chart and get the idea that everything marked “yes” is easy to beat. In fact, some of these things are very hard to conquer without special knowledge and training.

Here are some absolute truths

(1) You must eventually lose if the odds are against you;

(2) You must eventually win if the odds are in your favor;

(3) If the odds are flexible and dependent on how you play, you can favorably affect the outcome by using skill. This does not always mean that you can win-only that if you play skillfully, you will improve your chances;

(4) If skill affects the odds in any way, then skillful players will eventually fare better than unskillful players.

Now here’s another absolute truth. This is the one that all those magic- system writers seem to ignore: If the odds are against you, it doesn’t matter how you vary the amounts of your bets, you will eventually lose.

That means you’d be wasting your time trying to devise methods of betting for games where the odds are fixed against you. Games such as roulette, keno and craps offer no opportunity to win in the long run. That’s why there are professional blackjack players, professional poker players and professional football handicappers while, in the whole damn world, there’s not one single professional craps shooter.

So, if you play craps, do it for the excitement and try to defy the odds for a while. A lot of people find it worth the price. Remember, some craps bets are better than others, but none is profitable.

And here’s a bonus absolute truth: If the odds are against you, it doesn’t matter which numbers or colors you choose, you will eventually lose.

Return to the tent.
Let’s get back to the original point. Reading Edward’s letter, it occurred to me that he had never escaped the tent in my back yard. He was still finding mysterious truths that bore no logic but sent shivers up and down his spine.

A lantern still swung in his mind, and strange shadows danced on the walls. For him it wasn’t ghosts anymore. It was gambling. Thinking back, I could still feel the uncertain excitement of those nights in my tent.

The point? It’s there. And when you see it, you’ll understand why some people spend their whole lives questing for the perfect keno system.

Beware, my friends, because scientists can only search and charlatans will always see. — MC

Published by

Mike Caro

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Known as the “Mad Genius of Poker,” Mike Caro is generally regarded as today's foremost authority on poker strategy, psychology, and statistics. He is the founder of Mike Caro University of Poker, Gaming, and Life Strategy (MCU). See full bio → HERE.


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