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Beware of Betting Systems

No matter how good it may look, no betting system will beat the math of the game

By Jerry “Stickman” Stich


They are everywhere. System sellers, those snake oil salesmen of the gambling world, bombard you with emails. Recently I have received some emails from fairly novice players asking questions about one form of betting system or another. I always answer in the same way.

First, however, a little background.

When I first started coming to Las Vegas about 30 years ago I signed up for a Las Vegas newsletter of some sort. In it was a “sure fired” way to win at video poker. The method said to start by betting just one credit for each hand. If you did not win anything in four or five hands (I cannot remember which), bump your bet to two credits and play for four or five more hands or until you win something. This process kept repeating until you were betting the maximum of five credits for four or five hands. If you did not win anything after playing four or five hands at five credits, you were to start over at one credit.

It did not take very long to figure out that this method simply did not work. Most of the wins at the lower levels of play were simple one-for-one pays—you got your bet back. Sure, every now and then you would get a nice win. It never happened to me while playing this system (I did not play it for very long), but just imagine the disappointment of getting a royal flush with only one credit bet—a return of just 250 credits.

Granted, this was a fairly simple (and free) system so my expectations were not all that high, but even the lowered expectations were far from met with this system.

There are many such systems being offered. Some of them are free with a subscription of some type. Others cost a nominal amount— maybe $10 to $25. All of these systems rely on one of two things. The first is to look for a “trend.” Watch the flow of the cards and when the time is right bet more into the high-paying portion of the flow. The most common type of system, however, involves increasing your bet. Some say increase your bet as you win, but most say to increase your bet as you lose.

In one of the more elaborate systems you not only increase your bets as you lose, but also migrate to increasingly higher variance games as you increase your bet in order to cash in on high-paying hands that these high-variance games offer that will hit more often than a royal flush and still give you a nice win.

All of these systems tout the fact that eventually you will hit something big. By increasing your bet (and sometimes variance) you will win enough at the higher betting level to more than make up for your losses up to that point.

This may work some of the time. Maybe this will even work most of the time. You will win back enough to cover your losses with maybe a bit of profit. But think about what happens when you complete the cycle of bet and variance increases without catching that win. The amount of loss will be staggering.

Let’s say your comfort level for video poker play is at the quarter level. You are comfortable betting $1.25 per hand and you have the bankroll to handle that level of betting on a low to moderate variance game.

By following the advice offered in these systems, your betting level will increase to $2.50 a hand, then $5 per hand, then $10 per hand and so on.

Even if you also switch games to those high-variance varieties with more high-paying hands that occur more often than a royal flush, there is no guarantee you will hit a win large enough to make up for your losses up to that point. As you move to higher denomination games with a higher variance, if you do not hit one of the high-paying hands (a very distinct possibility), you will be losing at a much higher rate. With Jacks or Better, where there is only about two and a half per cent of the total return from the royal flush and straight flush, you will lose at a rate about two and a half percent more than the total return of the game if you do not hit a royal flush. If, instead, you play Triple Double Bonus where almost 28 percent of the return is from hands paying 50-for-1 or more, you will lose at a rate of about 28 percent in between those high-paying hands. Keep in mind that for Triple Double Bonus the most frequently occurring hand occurs only once every 630 hands on average. It could take four, five, even 10 times that many hands or more before you hit any of them. In the meantime you are losing 28 percent faster at multiple times your normal bet size. Not only that, but the playing strategy for Triple Double Bonus is different from Jacks or Better. It is different from the other increasingly volatile games you are requested to play while working your way up to Triple Double Bonus as well. Can you play all those different strategies properly?

While the system may work most of the time, the results when it does not work (and there will definitely be times it does not work) will be catastrophic. To be totally fair, many of these systems realize the dangerous territory in which they operate so they set loss limits. If you faithfully follow these systems it is true that you will only lose the loss limit amount per session, but that does not mean you can win with any betting system in the long run. As you play more and more your losses will come closer and closer to what the math of the game says you will lose. The only way to win in the long run is to play nothing but video poker games that return more than 100 percent to the player—and play them with perfect strategy.

A house edge is built into almost all video poker games. Over time you will lose if you only play those games with a house edge. You may be able to dodge the bullet several times playing a betting system, but eventually you will get killed.

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