Are winning streaks real?
QUESTION: This regular reader and occasional correspondent continues to view in awe the breadth of your knowledge about all casino operations, but occasionally I take issue with your comments.
The newest case in point is your observation: "Streaks, Jeremy, are nothing more than hindsight of past performance. You, me, even casino management know not when a streak starts, let alone ends." That was offered in reference to slot machine play, but this blackjack player dissents. Streaks are real, actual events that can be observed.
When a player wins three in a row, or four or five in a row, the run (my preferred word) can be seen and acted upon in real time. No, we don't know, at the time, exactly when a run starts, but I make that assumption when I win three consecutive hands and begin pressing my bet quite aggressively at that time. It's a geometric progression (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc.), and it has served me very well.
Alternatively, near the top of every dealer's list of stupid player tricks is flat-betting through a run. Finally, we do know when a run ends: When you finally lose a bet. – Robert W.
ANSWER:Call me wacky, Robert; many have. But if you flip a coin 10 times and it is streaking heads, the chance of getting heads on the 11th flip remains 50-50. Yet, I can recognize a streak. Once I was on such a losing one that had I been around in 1775, I would have taken the British and given points.
I believe your comment that "streaks are real, actual events that can be observed." We all can see streaks: the good, the bad and the back-and-forth ones. The problem with streaks when dealing with the randomness inherent in casino games is that it is impossible to predict what comes next. All we know for sure is what has happened in the past and that we will all experience streaks in the future.
I see streaks as nothing more than a welcome (to the winning side, that is) momentary blip in someone's endless gambling timeline, which eventually is balanced by one or more unwelcome runs.
That said, Robert, future streaks are coming your way. Unfortunately, you cannot predict when they will arrive. Far too many gamblers are inclined to be overconfident and read too much into hot or cold streaks.
As for my streak belief in reference to slot machine play, and your dissention as a blackjack player, I see some merit in your thinking. Not in your hot-hand theory, but in your use of progressive betting.
I have advocated many times in this column progressive betting while winning consecutive bets. In one of my first columns 20 years ago, I wrote how I once dealt a young lady 32 straight winning hands of blackjack. I beseeched her to progressively wager more, but she took her $64 (32 x $2) after the run ended and walked, gambling story in hand.
Although different from yours, the winning progressive method I employ uses a predetermined percentage increase for each winning wager. For example, I increase my winning bets by 50 percent after the second win: $5, $5, $7, $10, $15, $22, etc. I continuously flat bet (table minimum) once the streak stops.
Likewise, there is no harm, no foul with progressive betting when making safe bets that have a low house edge. Slots can have a 20 percent hold whereas it can be under .05 percent for the skilled blackjack player.
Robert, let us agree to disagree on your belief of streak predictability. One thing I am sure that we can agree on: When you are on a winning streak, there is no better feeling.
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).