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Streaks End. But When?

Author: Mark Pilarski

Dear Mark: I am a regular reader and occasional writer who continues to view the breadth of your knowledge about all things casino with awe. However, I do at times take issue with some of your comments. The most recent case in point is your observation that streaks are simply hindsight of past performance. That even casino management does not know when a streak starts, or when it will end.

That statement was in reference to slot machine play, but as a blackjack player I must disagree. Streaks are real observable events. When a player wins three, four, five in a row, or more, the "run" (my prefered word for streak) can be seen, and thus acted upon in real time.

Though we can't tell exactly when a run starts, I assume when I have won three hands in a row that I am having one. Based on that, I begin to press my bets aggressively. I see it as a geometric progression (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and so on), and it has served me very well.

Alternatively, at the top of the list of stupid plays is flat-betting through a run. Finally, I'd like to note that we do know when a run ends: When you finally lose a bet. R. W.

You can call me crazy; many have, but if you flip a coin ten times and it comes up heads every time, the odds of getting heads on that 11th flip is still 50-50. Yet, I know a streak when I see one. Once I was on a losing one that was so bad that if I had been around in the year 1775, I would have bet on the British and given points.

Yes, “Streaks are real observable events.” Everyone can see streaks: the good ones, the bad ones, and the ones that go back-and-forth. The problem is that, when dealing with the randomness inherent in casino games, it is impossible to predict the next outcome. All we can know for sure is what has happened in the past, and, that we will all experience streaks at some time.

I see winning streaks simply as a welcome, to the winning side, that is, but temporary blip in one’s endless gambling time-line, which will eventually be balanced by one or more of those less welcome types of runs.

With all that said, yes, future streaks are coming your way. But, you can't predict when they will arrive. Often gamblers are inclined to be overconfident and read too much into a hot or cold streak.

As to my belief about streaks in reference to slot play, and you as a blackjack player, disagreeing, I do see some merit in your thinking. Not so much in your hot-hand theory, but in your use of progressive betting.

I have often recommended progressive betting in this column while winning consecutive bets. In one of my early columns 20 years ago, I wrote about one time when I dealt a young lady 32 winning hands of blackjack in a row. I begged her to wager progressively, but she took her winnings of $64 (32X$2) when the run ended and walked away, gambling story in hand.

My progressive betting method is different from yours, in that I use a predetermined percentage increase for each winning wager. For example, I will increase my winning bet by 50% after the second winning hand: $5, $5, $7, $10, $15, $22, and so on. When the streak ends I continuously flat bet (table minimum) until the next time.

Also, there is no harm in progressive betting when you are making only safe bets that have a low house edge. Slots can have a 20% hold whereas blackjack can be under .05% for the skilled player.

Finally, let us agree to disagree in your belief in the predictability of streaks. The one thing I know we can agree on, is there is no better feeling than when you are on a winning streak.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: When a man gets a streak of luck…he don't get tired. The luck gives in first. Luck is a mighty queer thing. All you know about it for certain is that it's bound to change. And it's finding out when it's going to change that makes you. – Bret Harte, The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1870)