Tuesday, October 4, 2011

If I were trying to sell you something, I wouldn't tell you this: Any progressive betting method is better than none at all.

(For updated information about Target's ongoing sports betting experiment, please go to the Sethbets website, or click here for an introduction to progressive betting, and here [20] and here [5] for current picks)

I once read a sarcastic response to a new betting strategy in which the author of the post claimed he had come up with what he called the "1-Minute System."

I'm not sure if the method got its name because it took one minute to devise it, or because it only needed one minute to win.

Either way, it was a pathetic failure that couldn't beat a mere 100 outcomes from a simple RNG, and the poster said that was the whole point - no betting strategy could ever win.

He was one of those interested parties I talked about last time, a software salesman pitching the ridiculous notion that the only way to win at blackjack was to learn to count cards using a tutorial that he could provide for $600 or so.

On a trip to Las Vegas, I spent an entertaining evening with an avid card counter who used a wonderfully uncomplicated method: When the deck was "rich" in high cards, he bet $50, and when it wasn't, he bet $25.

He also played the fool, acting just a little bit drunk and a little bit more ignorant.

To me, the greatest drawback to card counting (other than the fact that it is unreliable in the long term) is that it often tells you to stand on a "stiff" - a hand that can be busted - against a strong dealer "up" card.

And if most of the time, you play perfect basic strategy, it gets noticed when all of a sudden you depart from the blackjack bible.

My Las Vegas companion (call him George) pretended he was a novice, constantly asking for advice, and reacting to the stiff/rich dilemma by saying, "I don't think you've got a hand, dealer" or "I'm betting you're gonna bust."

As it happens, George did very well that evening, winning quite a bit more than I did (although I wasn't complaining).

Seems to me counting's just fine for players with the patience to learn it and follow it.

But shuffle-tracking and ace predicting and hi-lo charts and 1001 other frilly add-ons to the old method that Ed Thorp marketed as brand new and all his own back in the '60s are all reminders that in the long run, card counting doesn't work.

The stiff/rich dilemma sums it all up: If you have 16 against a dealer's 7 or higher and the deck is rich, the dealer probably has a pat hand, and you will probably bust if you hit yours.

But as always, probably does not mean certainly until after the fact, and you will make a wrong decision just a little more often than you make a right one.

Taken over the long haul, the difference between the number of times you get it right and the frequency of wrong calls will approximate the house edge overall, and counting will turn out to be about as helpful as...not counting.

Casinos love card counting because so many people try it and get it wrong, prompting them to bet (and lose) more money than they might otherwise.

Ed Thorp's book, for example, convinced countless thousands of punters that they'd found the brass ring and prompted an explosion in the number of blackjack tables in Las Vegas.

And - surprise! - casino profits exploded too.

In the end, we come back to the tough truth - how you bet is more important than anything else, and if your betting method is not consistent, you will lose in the end.

Counting sets bet values that bear no relation to prior losses, since those bet values depend on the deck count, which bounces up and down like Pedro on a pogo-stick.

So...don't count on it.

Progressive betting remains the only answer, and here's a snap of what I'm talking about.

"Plus-Five" (for a $5 minimum bet) is a method that adds 1 unit after every loss until a win, then bets LTD+.

"Double 3" doubles the bet after a first, second and third loss, then repeats the bet until a win, again going for LTD+ on the next bet after a mid-recovery win.

Both of these methods can do very well for tens of thousands of rounds on end.

My RNG-driven spreadsheets will often record dozens of consecutive strategy wins before a crash-'n-burn noccurs, and since each consists of 5,000 rounds, that's a very long time in profit before a bite gets chomped out of the bankroll.

And then, of course, we're back to the old inertia effect!

I just tapped recalc 54 times before getting a "bust" for Double-3, and the series opened with four consecutive losses, a win, six losses, a win, eight losses and so on.

Skeptics like to say that a player who backs away from a "cold" table is just as likely to end up in a worse situation as he is to improve matters, and that may be true.

But the "killer" series that hands the house an edge of 20% and up vs. 1.5% and less is a rare bird indeed, and I believe in being safe rather than sorry, even if the only good thing to come out of a move is that it makes me feel better.

The overall house edge for the series I just described was "only" 8.0% - but the problem is that once you hit your max, only a miracle is likely to save you.

And that's why I prefer Target over all the other variations of progressive betting.

It takes longer to get into trouble, and I think that's a good thing.

Update, October 5: "Oscar's Grind" often comes up as a topic in my in-box, and since it's a progressive betting strategy, I'd have to say it's preferable to flat or random betting.

But I have some problems with the method as it is described in Tom Ainslie's "How to Win in a Casino," in which he claims that Oscar has covered the cost of many of his gambling trips to exotic Caribbean locales.

Mr. Ainslie recommends a stop-loss of 20 units, so if you started at $5 and your next bet would be $100, you cut your losses and bow out of the game.

That's a conservative approach that appeals to players on a tight budget (and since most players carry a lot less money than Target recommends for battle, I won't quarrel with it!).

The Ainslie version of the Grind also omits any win progression, so a series that begins with successive wins doesn't exploit the temporary run of luck, it simply bets $5 every time.

Based on the Ainslie rules, I'd say Oscar's Grind is a certain long-term loser, but it can do well in the short term, and it imposes a discipline that many people will welcome.

As always, the above is not submitted as proof of anything - just as an example. I'm not a fan of "Plus-Five" as an alternative to the recommended Target rules, but it's a progressive method and often does quite well.

Against the same data set, Oscar's Grind does less well in this example. That's all I'm sayin'!

(The data set is 5,000 rounds of baccarat, courtesy of one of those RNGs I despise; that's at least 50 hours of continuous play).

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._