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Double Or Nothing

 

What’s the fastest way to double your bankroll, when you’re willing to risk losing it all?

 

If you or I really wanted to go about this risky business, what would we play? To start with, you’d want to avoid any multi-part bets. We’re looking for a game that allows us to put all of our money out there at once, and has a high frequency of winning hands.

By John Grochowski

Warning: What you are about to read is not for the faint of heart, or the short of bankroll. It’s not even for the smart or the sane.

A reader asked me, “If I wanted to double my bankroll on a single play—and was willing to risk losing it all—what would be my best bet?”

First, let me state for the record that attempting to go “double or nothing” is a fool’s errand, since you are more likely to end up with the latter result. This reader was asking out of academic interest, not out of financial desperation. (If he’d been searching for a way to avoid his house being foreclosed on, I would have advised him to steer clear of the casinos altogether.)

Bankroll

Answering the question required me to make some assumptions. The player involved would be your average Joe or Jane, not an advantage player such as a card counter in blackjack, a dice controller in craps, or a poker sharp. For players with an edge over the casino, the best way to double is with slow, steady play, using their advantage over the house to build their stake in the same way the house uses its mathematical edge over most players to pad its bottom line.

Against most players, the house edge slowly takes its toll, eroding bankrolls. The house doesn’t take 5.26 percent of your double-zero roulette wagers on every spin of the wheel, or 1.41 percent of your craps pass-line wagers on every toss of the dice. You’ll win some, and even have some lengthy winning streaks and big, profitable sessions. But the more you play, the more certain it is that the expected percentage will wind up in casino coffers.

What that means is that your best chance of doubling your stake during a casino visit is to bet it all on one play.

Let’s make up an example. Say you’ve chosen a game in which the player wins 49 percent of the time. You bring $100, and want to walk away with $200. Bet the whole shebang at once, and there is a 49 percent chance that you’ll double up to $200. The other 51 percent of the time, you’ll walk away with nothing.

What if you divide your stake in half, betting $50 and saving $50 to try again if the first hand is a loser? Then to double up, you’ll have to win at least two hands in a row. If you win $50 on the first hand, you still need to win $50 more on the second to get to $200. Win the first and lose the second, and you’re back to needing two wins to get to reach that double-up goal. And the chances of winning two hands in a row isn’t 49 percent—it’s only 24 percent.

Divide your bankroll into smaller chunks, and you’ll need either longer winning streaks, or a series of small streaks such as two wins, one loss; or two wins, one loss, two wins. The more plays that are required, the more chances the house edge has to work against you, and the tougher it is for you to double up.

So one bet it is. Obviously, we’re not talking about a full day of casino entertainment here. This isn’t a day out with your significant other, enjoying the games, taking the wins as they come, keeping the losses to an affordable level while you break up your gambling with a trip to the buffet, coffee shop or steak house. This is a minute in the casino, boom or bust, and out the door.

This is an exercise that’s more about dollars than sense. But to persist, if you or I really wanted to go about this risky business, what would we play? To start with, you’d want to avoid any multi-part bets. The frequency of winning hands is just too low in Three Card Poker, Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride or other poker-based games. We’re looking for a game that allows us to put all of our money out there at once, and has a high frequency of winning hands.

Here are a few possibilities…

Blackjack: This is the first game to come to mind because it has a low house edge if you know your basic strategy. However, blackjack has a built-in problem. The house edge of half a percent or so (a few tenths more or less, depending on the number of decks and other house rules) is lower than the other possibilities I’m about the mention. But that low house edge is partly because of 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks, and also because of player options to split pairs and double down. The blackjack payoffs don’t increase the frequency of winning hands, and you can’t double down or split pairs if you have your entire stake on the table at once.

What you’re left with is a game in which a basic strategy player wins a tad less than 48 percent of decisions, and average players will win a little less often than that. Somewhere between 52 and 53 percent of the time, the double-up player will walk away with nothing.

Roulette: If you stick to the even money payoffs—such as red or black, odd or even, or first 18 or last 18—double-zero roulette isn’t much worse than blackjack, and single-zero roulette is even better. On a double-zero wheel, you’ll win those even-money payoffs 47.37 percent of the time, and on a single-zero wheel, it’s 48.65 percent.

What about other roulette bets that offer bigger payoffs? Forget it, at least in this context. Bigger payoffs are made possible by smaller win frequencies, and attempting to double your money in one shot should only be done on a bet that has a high frequency of wins.

Craps: There are dozens of wagers available at the craps table, but we can narrow it down to the few that win most often: pass or come, and don’t pass or don’t come. Pass and come are really the same bet, just made at different times, as are don’t pass or don’t come. If the next roll is a comeout when you arrive at the table, bet pass or don’t pass. If not, make it come or don’t come.

On pass or come, you’ll win 49.29 percent of decisions. That’s a double-up number that beats blackjack. On don’t pass or don’t come, you’ll win 49.30 percent of decisions—even better.

Other bets are not as strong. Even a place bet on 6, one of the better bets around with a house edge of 1.52 percent, wins only 45.45 percent of the time.

Baccarat: There is one bet in the casino that actually wins more often than it loses. Once ties are excluded, the baccarat bet on banker wins 50.7 percent of decisions. So is this the smartest double or nothing play?

Well, it depends on whether you’re willing to settle for 195 percent of your bankroll instead of the full double-up. The casino gets its edge by charging a commission, usually 5 percent, on winning banker bets. When you win, you win 95 percent of your bet. When you lose, you lose the whole thing.

What about the player bet? Actually, that one’s not bad, either. That’s a winner 49.3 percent of the time, which should tell you why baccarat is so popular among the high-roller set. There’s no strategy to learn, a high win frequency and a low house edge of 1.06 percent on banker and 1.24 percent on player. Just avoid the tie bet, with its 14.4 percent advantage to the house.

The bottom line is, if you’re willing to almost double up—to leave with 195 percent of your stake instead of 200—your best chance is to bet it all on the banker bet in baccarat. For the full 200 percent, the baccarat player bet gives you your best shot, followed closely by don’t pass/don’t come and pass/come in craps.

Do I recommend this strategy? Heck no. We go to the casinos to sample different games, or to enjoy an extended session at the game we love. We’re also there to savor a good meal, take in some entertainment, and enjoy the wins when they come. So, you now know the best way to double your money in a hurry—but the problem with “going for broke” is that all too often, that’s exactly how you’ll wind up.

Double Or Nothing Bankroll.

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