What is a ‘bad beat’?

In poker, specifically Texas Hold’em poker, a ‘bad beat’ occurs when the player who is the overwhelming favourite, statistically, to win a hand, loses to an opponent who, initially, holds an inferior hand but, more by luck than judgement, draws one or more cards required to snatch victory.

One example of a bad beat would be a player who holds a pair of tens, or ‘pocket tens’, going ‘all in’ against, and losing to, an opponent who holds a pair of fives, or ‘pocket fives’; mathematically, the player holding pocket tens should win four out of five, or 80%, of such hands. Another example is the so-called ‘runner runner’ bad beat, whereby a player who is, statistically, unlikely to win a hand after the flop draws the right card on both the turn and river cards to complete a winning hand. A frequent example of this type occurs when a player draws running cards to complete an inside, or gutshot, straight; a gutshot draw on the flop offers an 8.5% of making a straight on the turn card and a 16.5% chance of making a straight on the river card.

A bad beat may be a damaging experience, financially and psychologically, but worse still is an extraordinary and, thankfully, rare bad beat known as a ‘cooler’. A cooler occurs when an extraordinarily strong hand, such as four of a kind, or ‘quads’, played correctly, loses to an even stronger hand, such as a straight flush. Bad beats, including coolers, are a painful, but nonetheless unavoidable, part of poker. From the point of view of the person suffering a bad beat, an unexpected loss, or a series of such losses, may cause a loss of confidence, but should really be treated as a temporary downswing, rather than a reflection of the ability, or strategy, of the player.

Who’s the most successful casino gambler ever?

Arguably, the most successful casino gambler ever is Anargyros Nicholas Karabourniotis, otherwise known as Archie Karas, or simply ‘The Greek’, who, in December, 1992, embarked on an unprecedented winning streak, known in gambling circles as ‘The Run’.

Reputedly arriving in Las Vegas with just $50, Karas borrowed $10,000 from a fellow poker player, which he quickly turned into $30,000 playing a form of stud poker known as ‘Razz’. Turning his attention to nine-ball pool, Karas played an unidentified individual for progressively higher stakes, up to $40,000 a game, eventually winning $1.2 million. Karas subsequently relieved the same individual of a further $3 million playing poker at Binion’s Horseshoe and, in the coming months, built his bankroll to $7 million.

Karas continued to play poker, for eye-wateringly high stakes, against some of the best players in the world, including the likes of Stuart ‘Stu’ Ungar and David ‘Chip’ Reese. At the end of a six-month period, Karas had won over $17 million. At that point, Karas began shooting craps at Binion’s Horseshoe, for $100,000 a roll, and kept on winning, eventually amassing over $40 million.

After two-and-a-half years, Karas’ luck ran out; in 1995, he lost approximately $42 million, predominantly on craps and baccarat. Between 1988 and 2013, Karas was arrested five times for cheating at blackjack in Nevada and, as a result of ‘numerous transgressions’, was subsequently included on the Gaming Control Board (GCB) Excluded Person List maintained by the Nevada Gaming Commission.

What is basic blackjack strategy?

Every casino game, including blackjack, has an integral mathematical edge, usually referred to as the ‘house edge’, over a player in the long term. In blackjack, the house edge for the standard, six-deck version is 0.64% but, by applying basic blackjack strategy, a player can reduce the house edge to the point where it is almost negligible. Regardless of some minor – albeit often strategically important – rule variations, blackjack is essentially a mathematical game, with a fixed set of rules, a fixed number of cards in the deck(s) and, hence, only a finite number of possible card combinations. Nevertheless, every playing decision has a direct influence on the outcome of a hand.

Basic blackjack strategy is a set of rules, determined mathematically, which allow a player to make correct playing decisions, thereby maximising winnings and minimising losses. Of course, the only information available to a blackjack player is the cards in his/her hand and the card that the dealer is showing, known as the ‘upcard’. However, by reference to a blackjack strategy chart, or matrix, which shows all possible card combinations, a player can take the action that gives him/her the best chance, mathematically, of winning any hand. To allow for rule variations, such as the option to ‘double down’ – that is, to double your original bet in exchange for a single card – after splitting two cards of the same value, some of the actions in basic blackjack strategy are dependent upon house rules.

What is the gambler’s fallacy?

The so-called gambler’s fallacy is a commonly-held, but mistaken, belief that in a game of chance, such as roulette, sequences of one binary outcome, such as the appearance of a red number, will be balanced by the opposite outcome, such as the appearance of a black number. Worse still, the longer the sequence, the stronger the belief becomes.

Of course, in reality, each spin of a roulette wheel is an independent, random event, which cannot be influenced, in any way, by past events. Indeed, the longest recorded sequence of one colour is 32, but even shorter sequences of one colour or the other can lead to a form of distorted thinking – technically known as ‘negative recency’ – that makes gamblers believe they have a higher-than-average chance of winning.

Notwithstanding the inherent house edge which, even in the European, single-zero version of roulette, stands at 2.7%, the probability of a red or a black number appearing on a single spin of the wheel is always approximately 50:50, regardless of previous results. The appearance of the green zero renders all ‘outside’ bets, including those on red or black, losers, so the actual probability of winning on red or black is 47.37%; the point is that that probability never changes, regardless of how counter-intuitive that may seem to the gambler. Of course, the gambler’s fallacy applies not just to roulette, but also to other games of chance, including blackjack, poker and slots, which operate on the same hard-and-fast laws of mathematical probability.

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