February 12, 2016

Hand of blackjack

A hand of blackjack. Credit: Images Money / Flickr Creative Commons

Everyone knows not to bet against the house. But Adam Kucharski is looking to change that, one game at a time. 

According to Kucharski, author of “The Perfect Bet,” many of the games we think depend on luck, like roulette, are actually skill-based. 

You can beat roulette in two ways. The first is to check to see if the table has a bias. Are certain parts worn down? Is it tilted in one direction? If so, you can bet that certain outcomes are more likely to occur. 

Of course, casinos monitor their facilities pretty aggressively; their tables are virtually perfect. But even perfection can come at a cost. A group of physicists eventually figured out how to beat the house at their own game. 

A perfect roulette table is like the planets: an object orbits a circle. Armed with this knowledge, a team of students smuggled a wearable computer into a casino, tracked the patterns of roulette tables, and calculated an algorithm that gave them a 20% edge over the house. 

Those physicists are just one part of a long line of scientist-gamblers. “Many areas of science owe a debt to people trying to beat games 200 years ago and creating ideas that we use in many different industries today,” says Kucharski. 

But if anyone with science and math skills can figure out how to place the perfect bet, why aren’t more casinos worried about it? 

First of all, very few people actually make a lot of money betting. Most games require a lot of data-gathering, and someone standing by a blackjack table for hours scribbling notes will probably draw some attention. 

And once you become known for winning, it’s hard to keep winning. “It’s quite a small world,” says Kucharski. Instead, great gamblers often leave traditional gambling and latch onto horse racing or investing – fields where their casino-honed skills translate nicely. 

“For many people, games like blackjack and roulette have been training grounds…. The search for the perfect bet isn’t just about making money; it’s about developing ideas that can be important in other walks of life.” 

And what about us? Should we be worried about stock market manipulation and the competition that creates? 

Well, Kucharski believes that although many people are able to make strategic bets, most of them don’t. “There are a lot of people out there who have the right mind for these problems, but haven’t tackled them yet.”

Sci and Tech, Adam Kucharski, The Perfect Bet, gambling

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