Games: Beating the Dealer

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The Small Martingale. Professional gamblers generally take Mathematician Thorp and his computerized charts with a sneer and a leer; system players, they say, are always ultimate losers because they play on and on, giving the house odds a chance to operate. The only successful system, known as the Small Martingale, is to double the bet after each losing play, a maneuver the casinos effectively counter by establishing a bet limit. With a limit of $500, a doubler starting at $1 would have to bet an illegal $512 after only nine consecutive losses.

Thorp claims, however, that in Reno and Las Vegas the casino operators took him very seriously indeed after the system began to click. The dealer's most effective stratagem is to shuffle between each hand. This destroys Thorp's carefully arrived at calculations, but the operators use it only as a last resort because it slows down the play at the table and hence the overall profit.

* Aces should always be split because there is a good chance of a winning hand with either of the new hands; eights should be split if the dealer has a seven or higher showing simply because 16 is such a bad total to hold; splitting five is unfavorable because it replaces a good total to draw to; splitting tens throws away an excellent hand (20) for two that are only a little better than average.

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