Casino games are all based on random chance. Even the players at a poker table don’t know which cards will be played next and many a poker strategy entails folding before you get too deep into betting if you have a weak hand. That’s a great lesson to keep in mind when you think about any type of gambling strategy because the element of the unknown sooner or later renders all strategies moot.
Nonetheless most experienced players fall into comfort zones where they feel like they have some control over the outcomes of their games of chance. This tendency to trust in the zone is just another form of the Gambler’s Fallacy. If you really want to gamble then why not try a few strategies that fall outside of your comfort zone? There are some pretty interesting things you can do without sacrificing the statistical position you want to maintain in facing down the house edge.
In fact, there are even acknowledged ways of reducing the house advantage but they are few and far between. Gambling would be very boring and monotonous if everyone played the same games the same ways. So in the spirit of “no risk, no reward” here are a few strategies that will keep the pundits arguing for weeks and the players scratching their heads over what you are doing. You don’t have to give up anything other than a habitual style of play.
If you like these strategies enough to add them to your comfort zone you’ll find you can change things up when other players fall into a rut. Even if that doesn’t give you an advantage over the house you’ll at least be less likely to get bored.
1. Never Play Blackjack Again
Blackjack has earned a lot of respect among gamblers because, unlike most other casino games, you can bring some skill to the table. The pundits are most likely to tell you that the house edge in blackjack is pretty good, too. But there is one problem with standard blackjack: it’s not the most generous version of this game that you can play.
Although most people have learned to avoid single deck blackjack games that pay only 6:5 odds the majority of players are most comfortable in playing standard blackjack with 6 to 8 decks in the shoe because they like those 3:2 odds. But there is another way to enjoy this game with a slight advantage over the usual blackjack player.
If your casino offers Spanish 21 you should try it out. Although there are several rule differences between regular blackjack and Spanish 21 the most distinctive difference is that the Spanish 21 game is played without any 10 point cards. In other words, a Spanish 21 deck has 48 cards (all the face cards are left in) instead of 52 cards. By removing those 10 point cards the game reduces the chances of either player or dealer drawing a natural 21.
The downside to playing Spanish 21 is that the theoretical house edge is about 3% versus the 1% in standard blackjack. But cheer up! There are some unusual rewards in Spanish 21. Foremost among those player advantages is the fact that players always win 21 to 21. Even when the dealer has a blackjack you win if you also have a blackjack. Better yet, the house pays 3:2 on player blackjack instead of a push.
You can also split Aces a second time in Spanish 21. Okay, you may not be very likely to be dealt three or four Aces but in the rare event when this happens you can split again.
Why play Spanish 21 if the house edge is worse than in standard blackjack? There is really too much discussion of “the house edge” among gambling pundits. Technically the edge is only realized across a large number of bets, which means the house sometimes does better than you expect and sometimes worse. That volatility is a good thing because it means that sometimes players can win a lot of money.
Instead of comparing house edge statistics look at the flexibility and greater rewards you get when you play Spanish 21. It will break you out of your comfort zone but you’ll be happily surprised when you are paid better odds for some combinations that don’t pay well in regular blackjack.
You just may never want to play blackjack again.
2. Only Play in Tournaments
This strategy is fairly well known. Almost every basic strategy pundit tells you to only play in tournaments at some point in time. That is because if you just pay a flat fee up front but win the tournament the value of the prize could be substantially more than your buy in fee. Even slot game tournaments can be rewarding for the first, second, and third place players.
What makes tournament play really interesting is that you can plan ahead for the buy in. This almost reduces your gambling to a predictable wager. Of course, you may want to gamble more than the tournaments allow so limiting yourself to only playing tournaments may not be practical.
Joining tournaments allows you to gamble on two levels, and that additional risk may make the tournament experience more satisfying for you.
3. Play One on One with the Dealer Whenever Possible
Casinos don’t like it when you are the only player at the blackjack table. Part of the casino’s advantage is derived from the dealer playing against several customers at the same time. Whether you count cards or not, you will see less volatility in the distribution of the cards if you are the only player facing the dealer.
The pit boss may close other tables or send over some house players to fill up your table if you get a lucky break and can play the dealer by yourself. Don’t get upset when this happens.
Why does it matter how many players are at the table? Because your chances of getting those high value cards decline as more people draw from the shoe. When it’s just you and the dealer you have an even chance of drawing the cards you need. As more people join the table your chances drop radically.
The dealer doesn’t need to draw high value cards as often as the individual players do. That is because the dealer wins every time a player busts. Hence, if you play a conservative game in a one on one situation with a dealer you have a pretty good setup. But the house advantage will never fully vanish. Sometimes all you are going to get for a third card is a bust card and there is nothing you can do about that.
4. Play Two of Three Outside Bets at Once in Roulette
Gaming pundits like to pick on roulette and there are surely many good reasons to dissuade you from playing a game that is cleverly designed to emphasize high risk bets. Most of the betting options on the table are the single numbers and players tend to think in terms of betting only on single numbers when playing the inside.
Savvy players may play the lines in roulette but even when you bet on six numbers the house has a huge advantage over you, and the odds are terrible, too.
Your best chances of winning in conventional roulette strategy guides are to play the “safe” outside bets: black or red, odd or even. Pundits reluctantly agree you can also place bets in the 1/3 categories: 1st twelve, 2nd twelve, and 3rd twelve numbers. These 1/3 groups each pay 2 to 1 odds.
You can improve your chances of winning by playing 2 groups. You reduce the odds to even payoff when you do this but you get a better coverage with this kind of bet (24 numbers) versus the standard safe bets (18 numbers), which also pay even money.
So which way would you like to bet: win even money for betting on 18 numbers or win even money for betting on 24 numbers? Do the math. You may never bet black or even again.
5. Only Play Max Lines in Slot Games
The so-called “penny” slot games have been evolving since they first appeared. The game manufacturers have added more and more pay lines to these games and now they even add more screens to handle more pay lines. Early versions of these games allowed you to choose how many pay lines are active during spins. While this may have seemed like a generous gesture to the players who felt uncomfortable placing bets on 15, 20, or 25 pay lines the reality was that the theoretical return to player was brutally reduced to very low levels.
If you only play 1 out of 25 active pay lines you will almost never win. It’s not the same as playing a single pay line slot game. Players who try to conserve their money by playing fewer pay lines are in fact throwing it away. That is because the games are designed to pay the best percentage when all the pay lines are active.
The multi pay line games often provide better theoretical return to player percentages than the older single pay lines, too. If the pay table shows you an RTP better than 96% your game is approaching Spanish 21, roulette, and blackjack territory.
Slot games may not be your gambling game of choice but most people play them eventually. If you choose more recent slot games that have fixed pay lines (you cannot deactivate them) you can enjoy some quiet time spinning the reels without taking much more risk than if you were playing cards.
6. Play Keno Instead of Other Games
If you know anything about which casino games are recommended then you know keno is at the very bottom of the list along with all other lottery style games. So how can playing keno be a good strategy to recommend in place of other games? Well, as a regular gambling activity it’s still not recommended but most people when calculating just how bad keno is usually go after the large pick options and don’t look at the probabilities on the lower pick options. But there is another component to this “insane” strategy.
First, let’s take a look at the worst and best case scenarios. In a typical keno game you can usually select 2 numbers to 10 numbers. The rule of thumb is that the more numbers you pick the worse your chances of winning become, although the payoff odds improve. Who would not want to pick 10 numbers that are drawn in keno? Of course, that is the appeal behind keno and most players seem to go for the big win rather than the more achievable wins.
If you are going to play keno you had better do some number crunching and look at which pick options offer the best chances for winning. Now the probabilities can vary from casino to casino because there are a few variations on the game. For example, in one version of the game you may be able win something for getting two of the three numbers in a Pick 3 whereas in another version of the game you may not be able to get something for two out of three. The casino publishes a win table that explains the odds for you.
The best versions of the game pay at least a little bit for getting some of your numbers. The fewer numbers you are required to choose in order to get at least 2 winning combinations the better. Say, for example, you can play a Pick 5 and win for 5 numbers, 4 numbers, and 3 numbers. That’s a pretty good payback spread. It’s not great, most modern slot machine games offer better theoretical returns to player, but you’re in the realm of 70% to 75% RTP with this kind of option. If you can play a Pick 4 you might feel that’s a little less risky. In fact, in some versions of the game Pick 4 offers the second best theoretical return to player if it allows for three catches that pay prizes (4 numbers, 3 numbers, and 2 numbers).
So having selected your preferred Pick, why on Earth would you choose to play keno if the best theoretical return you can hope for is about 70% to 75%? That’s quite simple, really. You are going to stop gambling for a while. Take a break. Go eat something, or take in a show. One great thing about keno is that it is a slow round game. You only see a few drawings per hour at most and this is a way to gamble while you are not gambling. Keno is completely passive, even more so than playing a slot machine.
Among the numerous money management schemes that gaming pundits recommend to players is to slow down your rate of play. That’s impossible to do at a card table because the dealer has to keep the action going for the other players (and the pit boss is watching). And it’s not possible at the other table games for the same reason. It’s theoretically possible for you to slow down your slot play but that Spin button is sitting there right in front of you and frankly you will sit too long if you just play the slots all night.
So get up, walk around, lay down $10 on a few keno cards with Pick 4 or Pick 5 numbers, and then go relax. Get something to eat. Take care of business. You’re still gambling but not risking much and you have almost as good a chance of breaking even or winning a small amount of cash as if you played a few rounds of the slots. This is all for fun anyway, right?
7. Don’t Pass in Craps and Lay Odds
Craps is the most complicated game in the universe and it’s also considered one of the most player unfriendly table games if you try to use all the fancy bets. Just about every introduction to craps tells you that the best bets are the Pass and Don’t Pass line and that you should always Take The Odds if you bet Pass or Lay The Odds if you Don’t Pass.
These plays are simple, you almost don’t have to think about them, and everyone recommends them. But most players choose to bet Pass because they want to support the guy throwing the dice. Opinions vary on all this but in comparing the two options the biggest drawback to betting Don’t Pass is that you may lose on the Come Out roll.
Now you might be looking at how players win with Pass and Don’t Pass on the Come Out roll and thinking, “You win with 2 numbers either way. Why is Pass the better bet?” It’s because to win on the Come Out roll with a Pass bet you need a 7 or 11. There are eight ways the dice can fall to get one of those two numbers. To win with a Don’t Pass bet you need a 2 or 3 and there are only three ways to get one of those two numbers, so the shooter has a better chance of rolling 7 or 11 (and that is why in movies people are usually yelling, “Come on seven!”).
However, after you get past the Come Out roll Don’t Pass starts to look pretty sweet compared to the Pass bet. That is because after the shooter establishes his Point the Don’t Pass bettor wins about 2/3 of the time whereas the Pass bettor wins about 1/3 of the time. So you can make up the lost opportunity on the Come Out roll with Don’t Pass on the Point.
The Pass bettor Takes the Odds by placing additional chips on his first bet. The Don’t Pass bettor Lays the Odds by placing chips next to his first bet. This is not the same as playing the odds where you place another bet on the colorful dice representations in the Odds box. This is one of the reasons why craps confuses some players.
Taking Odds on a Pass bet pays better than Laying Odds on a Don’t Pass bet, but you’re more likely to win on the Don’t Pass bet. In fact, that advantage is exactly why the casino pays less money for Don’t Pass bets.