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Progressions, "Perfect" Blackjack and Other Ramblings on Gambling


I have a question. In answer to a non-counting Blackjack player's question, in a recent advisor, you said, "since all the casinos will have a long term edge over you, there is no advantage in varying your bets."

I use a 50% progression---flat betting for two wins, then increase subsequent bets by 50% and back to the table minimum when I lose a bet. I know in the long run that I will lose. However, in a particular session, say I get really lucky and win twenty hands in a row at my normal $5 mimimum bet table. If I were flat betting I'd win $100. With the progression betting I'd win $6,453. Looking at the game from a session standpoint, rather than the long run, wouldn't the basic strategy player be better off with some type of progession betting instead of the flat bet?

I've never really written a complete article about why progressions don't work and maybe I should. But let's look at them from a practical point of view before I get into all the mathematical mumbo-jumbo. If progressions worked, there wouldn't be any Blackjack games anywhere. Let's face it, progressions are easy to use and anyone can do it, so lots of people are and yet the casinos are still making a profit at Blackjack, so on a 'grand' level, they cannot be working. The corollary to this is the casinos paying 2 for 1 for a Blackjack. Why don't they? It would be easier for the dealers in that they wouldn't have to fuss with those half-dollar chips, etc. But if they did that, the average player would have nearly a 2% edge over the casino. So, you don't see any BJ games out there that pay 2 for 1 on a Blackjack. See my thinking here? If it's good for the casino, it will continue but if it's bad for the casino, it disappears. You can use a progression in any casino and it's because they don't work.

Now, to your specific question, what you say is true: If we consider them only from a short-term point of view, progressions can work. But what is "short-term"? If you mean playing 50 hands where there is a 20-hand winning streak, then I have to agree. But that's not how it works for most people. Few play 50 hands, win and then give up the game forever. On a more practical level, let's say we all play 200,000 hands in our lives. Since we both agree that the amount bet has no effect on whether or not we win or lose the hand, I think it's safe to say that the casino will end up with about a 1% edge over us. That basically means that we'll win 99,000 hands and lose 101,00 hands for a net loss of 2000 hands. The flat-bet player will lose 2000 of his bets. The progression player will also lose 2000 hands, and we don't know if some are minimum bets or top bets or something in between (remember that all progressions end with the loss of a large bet unless it's time to shuffle), but we do know that the average bet will be bigger than the minimum. So, the progression player will bet more and, even though s/he may capitalize on "streaks" like you describe, in the end it just comes out to them losing the same number of hands, but losing more $$$ in the process.

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