When you gaze across a crowded casino floor and observe the guests playing card games, craps and roulette in the table games pit, and the folks engaged one-on-one with the slot and video poker machines, have you ever pondered what mindset they bring to the activity of gambling?
It’s reasonable to assume that the vast majority of the people are unaware of the math and probability that governs the games – and, for that matter, couldn’t care less. They are playing in the hope that Dame Fortune will be on their side and they’ll walk away with a stack of black chips from the blackjack table or a jackpot from the slots.
Then there’s the minority of players who have made it a point to know exactly what they’re up against. They are the ones who probably avoid the slots in favor of video poker, where they have made it a point to stick to the best games, study the pay tables, know the percentages, and understand what to do with every hand they are dealt.
They are also the table games players who are aware of the odds against them at the roulette wheel, know the best bets to make and the ones to avoid at the craps table, and they are the students of the game of blackjack who bring varying degrees of expertise to the table based upon just how much study they have put into the fluctuating odds as cards come out of the shoe.
Nestled in between the category of guests who are merely dancing with Lady Luck and the guests who bring a variation of the scientific method to the table are those who practice what is known as empirical knowledge.
Empirical knowledge cannot be derived from a book or detailed scientific experimentation. Rather, it is knowledge that is acquired through personal experience in real-world situations. It cannot be proven. You don’t know why, but based upon direct experience and powers of observation, it just seems to work.
The senses, observation, repetition, and trial and error are the means by which the information is processed, which we then convert into knowledge.
We know, empirically, for example, that it is possible to get a royal flush on the deal playing video poker. However, you have to study the math and know what the probability really is to get a royal flush on the deal to acquire scientific knowledge.
Most casino-goers, it has been established, look upon gaming as a recreational activity rather than a science or perhaps even an art.
Mathematical probability is the constant that governs the strategies behind whatever decision making there is in gambling, which indeed makes it a science.
Knowing the math is essential to understanding the concept of gambling, but it isn’t essential to playing and being successful.
Luck, interpretation, and of course good old empirical knowledge have prominent enough profiles on the casino floor to categorize gambling as an art.
The search for knowledge conducted by observation and experience makes it possible during the abbreviated windows of opportunity that people play the games for the math factor to become the abstract and the luck factor reality.
In essence, mathematical probability has, does and always will rule supreme over the games themselves, rather than the physical act of playing the games.
If luck is perceived as “blips” on the radar screen of gambling during any given segment of playing time, then it’s possible to understand how reaching the long-range target of a specific percentage as dictated by the math loses its impact on individual players during select periods of time.
The bottom line is this: There really is no way to prove that empirical knowledge plays any role whatsoever in gambling. The unwavering laws of mathematical probability debunk the application of empiricism to games of chance.
The true beauty of the conclusion is that’s what makes it empirical knowledge.
Consider blackjack. It’s a fact that playing at the same table with someone who is clueless on basic strategy, or when the player at third base takes the dealer’s bust card, or when the lady at first base hits 17, has no bearing on the math of the game
Or how about when someone sits down at the table and joins the game in the middle of a hot shoe? Contrary to popular belief, that math says the disruption of the flow of cards will have no impact on winning or losing.
Yet, frequently enough, when a situation as those described above develops, the game will take a negative turn. There really is no logical reason for this to happen. Empirical knowledge? Perhaps.
Then there’s the craps table, where superstitions run rampant and very often conflict with empirical knowledge.
Reason tells you there is no such thing as a hot table or a cold table, or a good shooter or a bad shooter, because the math and probabilities are constant. But observation and experience playing the game tells you something else.
The dice have no memory; each roll is completely independent of the preceding one. Yet every seasoned craps player is aware of the empirical aspects of the game.
Then there are the occasions when a die bounces off the table and onto the floor. How many times does the shooter request the same dice? How many players do you see instruct the box man that all their bets are “off” on the next roll? And how many times do you see a seven on the very next roll? Empirical knowledge? Maybe.
What about the player who’s loudly rooting for a seven? What about the guest who squeezes their way in to a crowded table when the dice are hot, reaches down onto the layout with their money, and the next roll of the dice hits their hand?
All recipes for disaster, correct? Or is it just the times when a seven appeared that we recall rather than all the other occasions when it didn’t? If empirical knowledge acquired playing the game tells you differently, then maybe, just maybe, there is something to it.
This columnist was friends with a craps dealer who once told me it was his observation during thousands of games and thousands of rolls that when the dice tumble and bounce, it seems to scare away the dreaded seven out. The “flat” rolls and “lazy” dice are what seems to create an appearance by “big red”.
It’s a fact that over the course of tens of thousands of rolls of the dice by tens of thousands of players as a collective group, mathematical probability rules with precision.
As for individual players during abbreviated periods of time, variables occur which can result in fortuitous wins or inexplicable losses.
Approaching the games strictly from a standpoint of mathematics and probability may be the most logical means of attack, but a little empirical knowledge can go a long way.