Friday, September 16, 2011

One question you have to decide is, Would you ever want to play against a random numbers generator pretending to be a real casino table game?

(For current information about Target's ongoing sports betting experiment, please go to the Sethbets website)

I just added more than 1,500 rounds to the current baccarat sample after digging back through the archives for sessions against another online pseudo-casino, BookMaker.

My experience with them early this summer reinforced my suspicion that unregulated online operations are scams - and, of course, there are not many regulated ones.

British based outfits such as William Hill and Ladbrokes claim they comply with the rules that apply to bricks-and-mortar casinos in the U.K., and there's a move in Australia to extend government oversight to Internet betting services.

I played baccarat against BookMaker for quite a while, and although I logged all my own bets, I backed up my data by requesting a full history of each session from customer service.

"Histories" look like this:

I was surprised how well I did.

Every time I had to place a real-money bet of $100 or more, I expected a departure from the to-and-fro pattern that characterizes baccarat, but I was a winner pretty much every time.

The "casino" help desk always responded reasonably promptly to my requests for history updates, and I began to think that maybe this was a straight game after all.

Then came a reality check - a session in which paired wins vanished from the face of the earth and my winnings almost entirely evaporated.

Not to worry, I thought, I can request the usual history and run a careful analysis to see if the losing session was as kosher as the others seemed to be.

I put in my standard request, and here's what I got in reply:

The issue, of course, was not resolved at that point - and never was.

I waited another month, and after sending several more requests for the missing data, I closed my BookMaker account.

Does all this seem suspicious to you? It did to me - but after my Bodog experience, I wasn't greatly surprised that one of their biggest competitors seemed just as crooked.

The big difference was that sports betting at BookMaker using the Target method had doubled my buy-in and I was happy to cash my payback check (after a 3-week wait!) and return the money to my bankroll.

The BookMaker baccarat data is tainted to some degree, whether or not the games are truly random and reputable, because online casinos protect themselves from card counters by, in effect, reshuffling the "shoe" after every round.

I don't have a problem with that, as long as the data is not being manipulated to boost the house edge.

After all, I am always advising students of Target to walk away from a layout where their next strategic bet would exceed the table limit, because logic dictates that their chances of winning the critical turnaround wager at a new "higher rent" location are no better or worse than if they had stayed put.

And that doesn't contradict my recommendation that a Target player should run for the hills - or at least pastures new - if things start going badly.

Baccarat and blackjack are both short-skirmish games most of the time, with recovery series being resolved in five bets or less more often than not.

When a series drags on way past the norm, there can be no way of knowing if recovery is just two or three bets away, or if a serious threat to the bankroll is looming.

Likewise, there's no guarantee that stepping back and resuming play elsewhere will have a beneficial effect.

But sitting still for a relentless pounding just doesn't make sense, and that's one of the many problems I have with billion-bet simulations like the ones that are routinely used to "disprove" the principle of progressive betting.

Setting a random number generator at a house edge of, say, 1.4% and then letting it rip is a neat way of avoiding all the time and effort involved in playing real games in real time for real money.

But pretending it's a fair test of anything is downright dishonest.

For example, blackjack and baccarat have about the same house edge (less than 1.5%) but the character and rhythms of the games - the patterns of wins and losses - while similar, are certainly far from the same.

Blackjack has several factors at work that make it more profitable than baccarat, not the least of them being a payback for player naturals that is better than even money.

Double-downs and splits offer an overall player advantage of around 20%, and their timing can often be critical, ending a drawn-out recovery series in a single win instead of the two consecutive wins that are often required.

I have yet to come across a high-speed sim that would permit the rules of Target to be applied to blackjack hands randomly-dealt from a source that imitates an actual deck or shoe.

So it is with baccarat, craps and roulette.

The most offensive aspect of "sims" as touted by the likes of the Wizard of Odds as a fair method of evaluating betting strategies is what I usually refer to as the inertia effect.

No one with blood in his veins is going to sit still for 23 consecutive losses (the number I once recorded at the Union Plaza in Las Vegas!) or even half that number, although I concede that the house has no option but to keep taking bets when a player manages 16 consecutive wins - my personal record.

But "sims" routinely dole out that kind of punishment.

For the record, in the current baccarat and blackjack sessions, the longest losing streak for either game is -10 (blackjack's is -9), and the longest winning streak was +10.

"The Wiz" makes much of his debunking of a method submitted by Daniel Rainsong, but from what I have seen, I feel it's safe to say that Mr. Rainsong was gypped.

Here are the updated rules variables numbers after the addition of the BookMaker data:

Setting up a web page that explains the meaning of each line is high on my To Do list and I'll post a link here when the job's done.

In the meantime, a few words about one of my personal betting quirks: doubling my wager in response to a push or a tie.

I do it just for fun, even though I'm always at pains to tell Target students that strategic betting is a serious and disciplined business...with the emphasis on business.

Let's face it, pushes are a waste of time - but does it make sense to respond to random prompts to increase bet values without reference to Target's mid-recovery win rule?

It does, and the new data confirms it.

The center block of numbers in the summary above is self-explanatory, I think, but the page I have promised will make it even clearer.

One big plus from "push pumping" your bets is that a well-timed win will (as with blackjack's "bonus" paybacks) bring turnaround a little sooner than it might otherwise have occurred. And that's never a bad thing.

Some baccarat advice: Never, ever put money on Banker - and ignore the tie option unless you're keen on flushing good money down the toilet.

Balking at Banker bets often gets me into trouble with baccarat enthusiasts, but the commission penalty adds up to way too much money over the long run to make sense to a player who's in it to win it.

Pushes, on the other hand, are pretty widely accepted to be a crappy bet.

Dealers often push ties as an attractive option, especially at "Mini-bacc" layouts, and I follow a simple rule: If a dealer tries the pitch twice, I put money on the tie and tell him or her, "This is for you" - adding that that's where all future tokes will go.

The effect is always the same! Suddenly, betting ties doesn't seem like such a good idea.

An important reminder: The only person likely to make money out of this blog is you, Dear Reader. There's nothing to buy, ever, and your soul is safe (from me, at least). Test my ideas and use them or don't. It's up to you. One more piece of friendly advice: If you are inclined to use target betting with real money against online "casinos" such as Bodog, spend a few minutes and save a lot of money by reading this._