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Deal Me In


There was an old lady who swallowed a fly

Dear Mark: I have been using a simple, if not boring, system of playing and winning at roulette. I was wondering if you have ever heard of it or what you thought of it. I play a $5 bet on black. You could use Red, Odd, Even or whatever, but I just so happen to use Black. On any roll of the ball that does NOT land on Black (including Green, or 0 & 00), I double my bet; $10 then $20, $40, $80, $160, etc.  Whenever the ball lands on Black, I take my winnings and start over at $5. Eventually, Black will come up. The only thing holding you back is your bankroll. You need to have enough cash to finance a longer than usual losing streak. The largest I have ever had to bet was $640, and it finally came up Black. If need be, you can excuse yourself from the table, go to a bank or ATM, get additional funds. Just return to the table and continue. I have been playing this system for nearly a year now, and I have NEVER lost. It's a tad boring, and I don't win a ton, perhaps $50-$100 per hour of play. What do you think? Rob S.


Your system, Rob, seems logical, if you call it logic, but, unfortunately, it isn’t. Have I heard of this doubling up system? Yes. Would I recommend it? NO!

The doubling up system your email described is termed the “Martingale System.” In essence, Rob, you double your previous bet after a loss erroneously believing in some statistical certainty that the system is somehow foolproof because you have to win eventually. I have three concerns about your using the Martingale System. They are 1) I’m figuring you don’t have an inexhaustible bankroll against the casino, including your trips to the ATM. 2) The casino has a vault full of cash and the authority to set the rules, including such things as table limits. Based on your opening volley of $5, this establishes low roller play. Hence, you could be up against a table maximum, like, for instance, $5-$1,000. 3) Your hourly wage, which you claim is $50, will go negative on a grand scale once you suffer a few catastrophic losses.

Let’s, Rob, do the math together. Here you are, betting your initial $5, and you lose. Then $10 to recoup your loss, and once again, you lose. Then $20, $40, $80, $160, $320, $640, and subsequently $1,280. Wait a minute. The table max states $1,000, making you $280 light to keep the jig going. Oh, and it only gets worse. You just invested $2,275 to get your meager five bucks back. Who does that?

A string of eight losses and the casino has itself fully protected against the Martingale system while you, Rob, are wiped out in mere minutes. Furthermore, I dealt roulette long enough to have seen many, many, losing streaks far worse than eight spins going south on someone. It is simply a matter of not IF, but WHEN and how OFTEN it is going to happen to you.

The Martingale system has always reminded me of the children’s song; There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I would hum it aloud when dealing any of the table games to a player who would employ this money management scheme. The song tells the story of an old woman who would progressively swallow a larger animal, each to catch the previously swallowed one. It begins “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly,” and tragically ends with “There was an old lady who swallowed a horse -
She's dead, of course.”

Plenty of players, Rob, believe they possess a sure-fire system for beating the game of roulette. The truth is, there is no money management, or playing system that escapes roulette’s 5.26% house edge.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “There is no such thing as a "good" roulette player. Being a good roulette player is like being a good smoker.” – Peter Griffin


Luck or Skill?

Dear Mark: Enjoy your column a lot, even though I don't regularly gamble. I am writing with a related question. My lady friend and I have been playing gin rummy for nearly a year. Games are to 200 points, and the statistics so far after 93 games are:

Wins 47-46

Points 16,391-16,379

This strikes me as extremely close (e.g. 12 points difference after 93 games). Is this close score a mere function of luck, such as the odds in coin tossing? Or, does strategy play a greater role in gin rummy success? John R.


Thanks, John, for the question and statistics, although your gambling timeline, that is, exposure to the game is still relatively short. That is not to say that you and your Lady Friend are not like-minded. Possibly, the “next step” might be to validate your relationship’s synchronicity. Get back to me on that.

As card games go, Gin Rummy is a game of luck at the beginning of the game when the cards dealt at the opening are randomly shuffled.

From that moment forward, Gin Rummy becomes skill based because the game now requires you to make decisions. Unlike some other card games which are centered purely on luck which cannot be controlled, in Gin Rummy you can tilt the game in your favor by exercising your skills.

Take Casino War for example. Here you and the dealer each receive one card and the high card wins. There is no advantage here for you or the casino. If there is a tie, you must double your initial bet, and two more cards are dealt. Once again, the high card wins. Still, no edge. But the casino isn’t in the business to play even-steven against anyone. So, when you win, they only give you back your original wager. This is how the casino “taps” into your wallet. The house advantage from this one rule change jumps to 7.14%. Add a proposition bet like the Tie wager, and the house has you for another 18.65%. No skills needed for this whipping.

In order to win at Gin Rummy, I believe it is necessary to have three specific skills: A great memory, concentration, and some form of strategy. Although I only play Gin Rummy socially, I still find memory to be the most important skill to possess. An essential skill in any card game is memorizing which cards have appeared, and which cards are held by your opponents or remain in the deck.

This ability to remember which cards have been picked up and discarded will help you decipher exactly what your opponent is trying to formulate in his or her hand, so that you can make good drawing and discard choices to form melds.

Finally, John, there is some legal precedence as to Gin Rummy being a game of skill.

In 1964, there was a Gin Rummy tournament in Las Vegas that was marketed by mailing flyers to interested players. The USPS objected to the mailing because it was illegal to promote any “game of chance” through the postal service. Yep, it ended up in court.

Appropriately, based on testimony from experts, statisticians, and numerous notable players, the US District Court of Las Vegas ruled that Gin Rummy was, in fact, a game of skill.


Gambling Wisdom of the Week: “Luck cannot be shared, and to try to do so means risking its vanishing altogether.” – Jack Richardson, Memoir of a Gambler (1979)