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Experiences with betting progressions10 August 2010
Every now and again, a column seems to raise as many questions as it answers. That's fine by me. I'll do the best I can with the follow-ups and clarifications.
So it went when I wrote about betting progressions a few weeks ago. Several readers contacted me, offering their own experiences with progressions. One gentleman sent along a chart of a 15-win run that had taken him from a $5 initial wager to an amazing $2,733 profit.
That is the upside of a betting progression. Increasing wagers as you win enables winning sessions far beyond anything possible than betting the same amount each hand. If my e-mail friend had bet a flat $5 a hand, 15 wins followed by a loss would have left a profit of 70 bucks.
A 15-win streak like the one my reader detailed is rare and precious. If we won half our blackjack hands, and the results were like flipping a coin, we could expect a 15-win streak an average of once per 81,290 trials. That's a LOT of blackjack. And we don't win half our hands. Depending on strategy, we win closer to 47% of decisions, ties not included. That makes a 15-win streak even more precious and rare.
Granted, you don't need 15 wins in a row to show a nice profit. In the system I watched a fellow player use a few weeks ago, in which he added $5 to his bet after each win, a modest streak like four wins in a row would bring profits of $5, $10, $15 and $20, for $50 in winnings when a flat bettor would have won only $20.
Still, the downside is that when the results are choppy, when you win a couple of hands leading you to increase your bet only to lose with more money on the table, progressive bettors leave with smaller wins or larger losses than flat bettors. And streaks like two wins, loss, win, three losses, two wins, two losses happen A LOT more often than the bankroll padding winning streaks.
The progression used by my e-mail correspondent in his $2,733 win started out on the conservative side, then became increasingly aggressive with bigger wins. A $5 win was followed by another $5 bet, before wagers increased to $10, $20, $30, $45, $65, $100, $150, $225, $335, and finally maxing out at $500, where it stayed until a loss on hand number 16.
The idea of using a second bet equal to the first win is not unusual among progression players. It's a way to avoid coming up on the losing end in a win-loss sequence. Using a $5 starting point, a win and a loss leaves a player using this progression even, just as it would a flat bettor. If the player was more aggressive, adding $5 after the first win, a $5 win would be followed by a $10 loss, for a net $5 loss.
Once the progression kicks in, even this conservative start is vulnerable to choppy results. A progression player who wins $5, wins $5 and loses $10 just breaks even, while a flat bettor who wins $5, wins $5 and loses $5 has a $5 profit. Streaks like that happen in virtually every blackjack session; the long, spectacular profit-making streaks don't.
Over the long haul, the spectacular wins and the more frequent small losses balance out. They have to. The amount you bet doesn't change the house edge on the game.
A few points I raised via e-mail with those who wrote with additional questions:
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Best of John Grochowski