Saturday Jan 12, 2008

Blackjack and Craps

I have been fond of gambling through-out my life, intrigued by the odds, pay-out, and strategy. Mathematics dominates this industry and plays key roles in every nuances of every game. Of course, making money with skills, strategy, and luck is addictive too.

I have seen gambling ruin people's lives and break up families. My heart bled when a little girl waits for her mother at the slot machine 10 feet away. She cannot go near since it is against the laws. I stood by someone blaming his crying girl bad luck and asked her to leave the table. I knew mothers that spend all her time on the Mahjongg tables and leave their children unattended.

Gambling exercises self-control. I searched for instincts and toyed those tugs of tension inside of me: mathematics v. intuition, emotion v. judgment, greed v. fear, relax or focus. I often observed people around me during the game: dealers, pit boss, high roller, recreational, drunk, or even apparent gangsters. They are all fascinating, better at a distance too.

Of course, winning money is always fun.

New players fear casinos and hide in the slot machine jungle. I don't blame them. The table games are complicated and intimidating. What is the fun of embarrassing yourself in front of strangers and lost money at the same time? But actually, they are fun (and occasional profitable) once the you've got the basics.


BlackJack is easy, fast paced, and quite fair — if you play correctly. The trick is to learn the so-called basic strategy: when to hit, stand, split, or double. Edward Thorp, an UCLA mathematics professor in the 60s, developed this strategy originally. His famous book hooked me on this game several years ago. Online resources can teach you this strategy. After mastering it, proceed to learn card-counting.

If casino catches you counting cards, you will be escorted out. The simplest card-counting, however, is effective and almost not detectable. Cards of 2, 3, 4, 5 are worth 1 point each and 10, Jack, Queen, and King are negative 1 point. Notice the cards on the table and keep track of cards that show on the table.

Use this only in single-deck games. Bet 1 unit of money when the count is zero or less. Double the bet size if the count is more than 2, quadruple if 4 or higher. For double-deck games, increase the bet only when the count reaches 4 or 8.


Craps intimidate beginners. The tables are always rowdy. Money flies across the table with incomprehensible instructions. They seem so much fun yet so mysterious.

Lewis taught me a bit and I am still experimenting, at the pace of one visit to the table a year. I now play the "pass line" and its odds, plus the place bets on 6 and 8. Let me explain:

Pay attention to a big button on the table. Enter the game when it is "Off" and put your money on the area said "Pass line." Someone (maybe yourself) will toss two dice across the table. If the dice show 7 or 11, you win. If they are 2, 3, or 12 (called craps), you lose. For everything else, a point is established and the fun begins.

The table staff will turn the button over (On) and put it on the number. This is the time you put additional money behind the pass line next to your original bet. This is so-called "the pass line odds" bet.

Now the game has turned into a race between the established number and 7. If the dice show the number first, you win; 7 you lose. When you win, the part of the money on the pass line pays even. The money behind the pass line pays more than even, depending on which number it was. Don't worry and just take the money.

Round up your bet to even number, give the chips to the table staff and said "place on 6." Do the same for 8. You therefore have 2 units of money on 6 and 8. Now, whenever the dice show 6 or 8, you get 7 to 6 pay-out for the money you bet on those numbers.

This strategy works quite well for me so far. If I found a new and better one, I will share it here. <script language="JavaScript"> TagStart() Technorati("Gambling") Technorati("Blackjack") Technorati("Craps") TagEnd() </script>




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