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Best of John Grochowski

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Betting progressions don't change the math of the game

20 July 2010

Early on a slow casino morning, I pretty much had my choice of where and what to play. From the time I passed the gift shop on my way in from the parking garage until I approached the table games pit, I'd seen only about a dozen people, and half were casino employees.

A couple of blackjack tables with $10 minimum bets were open, and there were only two players at each table. I joined the action, and started making minimum bets. It was an uneventful, hold-your-own kind of session, but it didn't take long to notice that the gentleman to my right was playing a betting progression. I saw him win four in a row at one point, winning $10, $20, $30 and $40, then dropping back down to $10.

Putting it all together, his system was to increase wagers by $10 after each bet, but dropping back to table minimum after four consecutive wins, or after any loss.

It's a fun way to play, one that can result in big wins without too much added risk. After all, progressive bettors increase their wagers only when they win, so they're not dipping into their pockets.

But it doesn't change the math of the game. If you're not counting cards and raising bets only when you have an advantage, you face the same house edge as someone betting flat, with the same wager on every hand. And because the progression bettor is putting more money on the table than someone just betting the progression's starting point on every hand, average losses will be larger.

I know from experience. One of my first "big" winning sessions came the first time I used a progression. I was a $5 bettor and just learning about the games. Betting a flat $5 a hand, the most I'd ever won in a session was $50, or maybe a little more.

I was playing at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, and bought in for $100. I'd read about a progression in which after a $5 win you stayed at $5 on the next bet, but then progressed to $10, $10 again, $20, $20 again, and so on.

That's a really conservative betting progression, but on this day, it worked wonders. I had several nice streaks, including one in which my wager got all the way up to $60. In less than an hour, I was up more than $300. In those days, a run like that could pay for half my trip. It was exhilarating.

However — and this is a big "however" — big winning sessions don't come without a cost, and the cost is more frequent losing sessions. Progressive betting systems don't change the house edge, and in the long run a progressive bettor will lose the same percentage of money wagered as someone betting a flat amount on every hand.

Let's look at the progression I saw the other player using recently. If I'm betting $10 a hand, you're using the progression and we each win four hands in a row, I'll win $40, and you'll win $100 — $10 plus $20 plus $30 plus $40.

Point for the progression.

But if the four hands follow a win-loss-win-loss pattern, I'll break even, winning two $10 bets that offset two $10 losses. On the progression, you'll wind up a $20 loser, winning two $10 bets but losing the two $20 bets that follow the wins.

Even if you win three hands in a row, the progression bettor winds up in no better position than one who is betting the same amount every hand. If in the progression you win bets of $10, $20 and $30 — $60 in winnings — then lose the $40 bet, you wind up with a $20 profit. If you win $10 three times, then lose a fourth $10 bet, you have the same $20 profit.

The big wins in this progression don't really come until you win four hands in a row, maximizing profits before dropping down to the $10 base bet.

Point for flat betting.

We win fewer than half our hands in blackjack, and any win is slightly more likely to be followed by a loss than by another win. That can turn a break-even session or better into a loser.

For the progression to work its magic, you need streaks of winning several hands in a row. When that doesn't happen, the result is losing larger bets than a flat-bettor would make, wiping out the gains from winning the smaller bets that led to your increased wagers. And that leads to more frequent losing sessions.

I'm not going to tell you not to play a progression. Those big wins are loads of fun when they come. It was sure fun for me on that long-ago Las Vegas trip. Just be aware of the price.

My neighbor at the table? He was a little better than even when I left the table. I hope another winning streak was just around the corner.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski