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The Odds and Gambling

The world of gambling is completely and entirely based upon the “odds”. In very general terms, odds are used to describe the likelihood of one event occurring rather than another. When you are likely to win or you are winning, the odds are said to be in your favour.

In ancient times, the Greek mathematicians were convinced that all the numbers had an equal chance to turn up, and they used to pray to the god of gambling, Hermes, to improve their luck so that they could win. Much later in 1654, Blaise Pascal, through his very elaborate and convincing calculations proved to the Craps players that 7 is a highly likely score and has the most odds in its favour. While you can make observations, perform calculations and develop strategies to improve your odds, but at the end of the day you will probably end up losing. If you keep all the calculations and observations away, you might win by just kissing your dice for luck.

A casino generates revenue from its players. Every casino game has an advantage towards the casino and this is known as the ‘house edge’. It is represented in a percentage figure and signifies how much a casino expects from every bet that is made. For example, in the game of single zero Roulette; the house edge is 2.7%. This means that if you bet 100 units and win, then 2.7 units will go to the house. Similary, blackjack has a house edge of 0.80% which is relatively quite low and the lowest in all the table games. Each game has a different house edge, so the higher the house edge, the higher the amount of money you will lose to the house if you win.

Today gamblers use a number of strategies like card counting, sophisticated software, expensive computers and much more to improve their odds and make huger profits. One such story is of a trio of American Gamblers: Roger Baldwyn, Julian Braun and Edward Thorpe. Together they shook the casinos in 1956. Roger Baldwyn developed an ‘optimum strategy’ to win and Julian Braun developed and expanded it. Edward Thorpe, in 1962, formulated the first ever card counting technique. This put the casinos in serious danger. However, the casinos soon realized what was being done and that some sort of technique was being used by the trio which gave them an advantage over the rest to win, especially in blackjack. So then the casino operators took some measures, they introduced more packs of cards which as a result made it much more difficult for the trio to use their techniques. Thorpe, however, proved that this measure was ineffective against a good card counter. But now, card counters are banned from a casino if they are suspected of card counting.

Blackjack is a variable game, this means that the odds of any card turning up are continuously changing as the game progresses and the cards are dealt from the deck. For example, the odds of drawing a queen are initially 4 to 52. Now suppose two queens are dealt out of the deck, then the odds to draw a queen in the next turn will be just 2 in 52 or one in 26.

Another interesting story about beating the odds is of Joseph Hobson Jaggers at Roulette. Jaggers worked at a textile mill where he used wooden spindles which were used for winding the wool. Eventually after prolonged use the spindles wore out and consequently the wheel became misbalanced. Since there were spindles on Roulette wheels too, Jaggers knew that they would also wear out and unbalance the wheel.

So, in 1873, Jaggers with his six assistants went to a casino in Monte Carlo. There, for six days they recorded the winning numbers. They observed that a particular set of nine numbers kept on winning again and again on that wheel. So he bet on this wheel for four days and won $300,000. But the very next day he started losing. He then observed the wheel closely and found out that ‘his’ wheel had a scratch and this particular wheel was missing the scratch. So he searched for his scratched wheel and then again won a whopping $450,000. The casino operators had changed the wheels.

Later, the casino operators started suspecting Jaggers’ activities and changed the wheel design. They then started using removable frets to separate the numbers. As a result of which they could change the numbers at the end of the day. This made it impossible for Jaggers to predict and hence he quit but won another $325,000 before that. Predicting on Roulette is nearly impossible these days since they are serviced regularly.

Another such area where the odds play a major role is Golf betting. Two bookmakers did some research work found out that they could get odds from 20 to 1 to 100 to 1 for a hole in one. They further observed that in European Golf statistics the odds were more like 20-1 as the standard of play improved. They travelled throughout the country, placed bets and won a fortune with this knowledge. However, their act was soon caught and effective measures were taken and their odds were reduced accordingly by the bookmakers.

So with these examples we see that odds play a major role in winning or losing; to some extent they can be improved, but mainly it’s just the luck!


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