Gambling stupidity: One minute before dawn

Note: Not at the old Poker1 site. A version of this entry was originally published (2006) in Casino Player.

Recently I was in Reno on business and ended up playing blackjack. I was betting mostly $200 a hand and, for a time, playing alone against the dealer.

Let me stop here and explain something. I don’t go to war against any casino playing blackjack. The people in the pit usually know who I am. They know I’m not going to take advantage by counting cards. I even tell them so. Yes, I tend to be “card conscious,” which is like estimating, rather than counting. Sometimes, a pit boss will even thank me for playing “a break-even game.”

Because I make it clear I’m not at war with the casinos, I’ve never been barred from the blackjack tables – even when I’ve scored significant wins. You see, I’m not interested in beating up on blackjack games — assuming I could and that they’d allow me to do it. It just doesn’t feel right. To me, that dealer is a sitting target with no options.

Proving intellectually that I can beat blackjack and programming my own computers to analyze it is about as far as I want to go with the adventure. Poker is more my game. That’s because, in poker, I’m against opponent’s who do have options. It’s understood by poker players that the battle is about decisions, and the players who consistently make the best decisions will probably win in the long run.

Now, I’m not against blackjack. And I’m not against gamblers who enjoy counting cards and trying to beat blackjack. It just personally makes me uncomfortable, and doing it might cause friction between me and casinos with which I sometimes consult. So, I’m content to neutralize the house edge, play basic strategy, and vary my bets a little. I rarely play blackjack, anyway.

A new definition of breaking even

But, back to the game in Reno. As I said, I play a “break-even” game in deference to the casinos, so, of course, I was losing my ass. That’s OK. I never let losing bother me, so I was my normal, cordial, happy self when a grumpy man in a rumpled, tie-less business suit sat two chairs away. His said nothing, just puts five $100 bills on the table.

The dealer arranged the bills on the table for the cameras to see. “Change 500,” she chirped in a voice that sounded genuinely friendly to me.

“Aren’t you going to ask me what denominations I want?” the man challenged unpleasantly. He had a glassy-eyed look I’ve seen before. I’m not sure what was causing it: lack of sleep, inner anger, booze – you tell me.

Her response was calm and professional. “I was just going to ask, sir. Do you want all black?”

He replied rudely, “Of course. But you’ve still got to ask.” She gave him chips without comment, correctly babysitting the situation.

Before his first hand was dealt, a particularly bubbly woman sat down and bet $25. The next hand was dealt without reshuffling the shoe or asking them to wait (by either me or the dealer). The woman picked up two kings against a dealer six, hesitated, and decided to split. She hit a 7 and a 9. The man had two aces and also split, catching a deuce of clubs twice from the six-deck shoe. I then busted, catching a jack to my 12 — something I would have avoided if the previous hands hadn’t shown a dramatic number of face cards (and was probably slightly wrong, anyway). The dealer caught an ace and ended up with 17. The male player and I had lost, but the woman had made money by pushing with one hand and winning with the other.

This unusual strategy – splitting kings — was too much for the new guy to take, and he stormed away with his three remaining chips, growling at the woman, “That’s the stupidest play I ever saw!” I was surprised he wasn’t annoyed by me hitting the 12. If I hadn’t, the dealer would have caught my jack and we all would have won.

Even more “stupidity”

OK, here’s another example: Later I was playing poker at another casino soon thereafter — a $100 and $200 limit game. The form of poker was “seven-card stud high-low, eight-or-better,” a particularly complex game to play correctly. A woman sat down. Soon it was obvious that she’d seldom played that game before, if at all.

In this type of game, the highest hand will split the pot with the lowest hand – provided the low hand is not worse (meaning higher than) an eight-high. On the final round of betting, a player with two aces and two jacks showing bet. An opponent with three tens showing called. The woman, who had made a qualifying low hand on her first five cards, quickly called.

The bettor, who won half the pot with aces full, fumed quietly, but didn’t speak up. Later, away from the table, he cornered me and ranted: “Can you believe she didn’t raise? She was guaranteed to take half the pot with the only possible low hand, and she was going to get two to one on her money! So was I. I hate it when stupid people cost me money!”

There’s that word again: stupid. Many gamblers are especially quick to label actions of others as stupid. But, my outlook is different. On a public Internet newsgroup two days ago, I posted this:

For every obvious thing we know that others seem too stupid to see, there was a time one minute before we knew it when we were equally stupid.

It’s been a core component of what I’ve taught for many years. And I’d be honored if you thought about it. — MC

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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.


12 thoughts on “Gambling stupidity: One minute before dawn”

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  1. If it weren’t for stupid plays and mistakes, no one would make any money. I’ve made my share over the years.

  2. As usual Mike, you hit the nail on the head. I’ve always maintained that poker players can gamble and gamblers can play poker but in the best world, poker isn’t about gambling. It’s about skill. I hear a poker player say “let’s gamble,” and that means they realize they are betting on a coin flip. I hear a gambler say “let’s play poker,” and I can’t wait to get to the table. All of us, no matter how long we’ve played the game, do ‘stupid’ things from time to time. We know it immediately after we do it and we don’t need some limp dick telling us about it afterwards.

  3. How do you bust at blackjack with the dealer showing a 6 and claim to be playing a break-even strategy?

    1. Hitting a 12 count, as an example, against a dealer six is, indeed, a violation of basic strategy. But basic strategy isn’t break-even. If your game is superior and you want to find ways to bring it down to break-even (as was my stated goal in the entry above), there are many plays you can make that vary from basic strategy at little cost. But, beyond that, sometimes (rarely) you can risk busting by hitting against a dealer six and be playing the percentages correctly!

  4. Mike: My cash play is online. I take copious notes during a session about the players I sit with. I have had players attempt to insult my play. My response to good players is to copy and paste my notes for the rest of the table to see. The really good ones then leave the table. My response to poor players is to keep my online mouth shut.
    Thanks for another insightful article.
    The smaller the mind the greater the conceit.

  5. Mike, it seems that everytime you write about something, that something happens to me the same day or soon thereafter. The other day when you wrote about playing one over card with a inside str8 draw, it happened to me that night. I had ace 7 suited and the flop came 6 8 9. I called a bet and 10 came on the turn giving me my str8 but I really wanted the 5. lol Now I had to worry about the higher str8. The other player checked so I was almost sure I had it and I did when a blank came on river.
    Forest Gump said Stupid is what stupid does. In a hand last night three limpers saw the flop while I was in the big blind with J 3 of diamonds. The flop was Q Q 10 with two dias. It was checked all the way around the table, which told me that no one had a queen or they were sandbagging. To see if there was a sandbagger I made a small bet and had two callers. 9 came on the turn. (not a dia.) I made a big bet and one player called while the other folded. I missed everything on the river and just checked since I knew the other player had me beat and would have called even if I bet. When our hands was showed down the other player had Ace two and won the pot with Qs and ace high. The player that folded called me stupid. I asked, who me for a failed bluff or the other player for his call. He said me because I had nothing. I told him to look at the history of the hand. I had a flush draw from the flop and str8 and flush draw from the turn and could have got a 3 or jack to win the pot. Thats 23 outs from the turn. If thats stupid I’m as stupid does.

    1. Stan, thanks for sharing your stories. I think there is a population of players online who love to try to impress others with their superiority. Some of them know what they’re talking about, but many of them are either just making noise, or really think they know what they’re talking about. I wonder if pointing out the hand history led to silence, or an apology, or just more abuse.

      Take care,

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