How Mathematics Can Make You a Better Gambler

  • If you’d stuck in at school there’s a good chance you’d be even better and making wagers
  • It’s not too late to improve your grasp of mathematics

They never tell you, back in school, that sticking in at maths will make you a better gambler when you’re older.

A knowledge of math is key for anyone looking to get the edge in gambling.
A knowledge of math is key for anyone looking to get the edge in gambling.

That’s understandable, since teachers aren’t meant to promote such vices to the young and impressionable. Still, you’d have thought your careers advisor might have had a word in your ear and given you the courtesy of a heads up: “Pssst, do your stats homework and you’ll make a mint when you’re older. Can’t say why – you’ll see.”

Instead, we’re left to reach adulthood before realising, belatedly, that we’d be one helluva poker shark if only we’d taken higher maths instead of philosophy. Still, at least you’re now able to be philosophical about your loss.

Besides, it’s not too late to make amends. In an era of lifelong learning, all the resources you need are just an internet search away. But beyond understanding poker probabilities, why is it beneficial to have a basic grasp of maths?

It all adds up extending your gameplay

Probabilities aren’t the only mathematical area it pays to be fluent in, but they’re a good place to start. Beginning with the basics, and being able to interpret a game’s RTP or the dealer’s odds will enable you to calculate your chances of walking away in profit. If a slot has a return to player of 96.5%, what will your bankroll look like, on average, after 50 spins?

Having a good head for numbers doesn’t call for being a mathematical genius; simply being able to recall certain figures is in itself useful. Did you know, for example, that the house edge in baccarat is 1.06% on the banker bet, 1.24% on the player’s bet and 14.36% on the tie?

And that is why you never bet on a tie in baccarat unless you’re feeling brave or foolhardy.

Don’t be mugged

Two very quick advantages you can get with a basic grasp of maths comes from roulette and blackjack.

Choosing a European roulette table will decrease the house edge from 5.26% to 2.7%. How? The European roulette just has one ‘zero’ tile, compared to the stingy American version with two.

And in blackjack, you should pick a table that pays 3 to 2, and never 6 to 5. Sounds a bit complicated? Let’s run the numbers.

If you are dealt a natural blackjack, a $10 wager will see you paid $15 in 3 to 2 blackjack.

But in 6 to 5 blackjack, you will be paid a miserly $12 for your £10 wager. That can skew the edge in favor of the house by 1% to 1.5%, which over a number of hands begins to look pretty huge.

Blackjack is a game where you can card count to get an edge on the house. But you need to be good at it, and somehow stay within house rules.
Now, repeat after me: “I will only play blackjack that pays 3 to 2”. Picture: Thinkstock..

Patterns and probabilities are two very different things

If a coin has landed on heads ten times in a row, what are the chances of the next coin toss being heads?

That’s right, 50%. And yet, when you’re faced with a specific pattern, such as a particular card being drawn an unusually high number of times, your instinct is to assume that it is less likely to be drawn on the next hand.

But probabilities don’t care for what’s gone before: each shuffle of the cards or spin of the wheel has no connection to past results.

Think the ball can't land on red or black many times in a row? Think again.
Think just because it has landed on red ten times, the next spin of the roulette wheel has a great chance of landing on black? It doesn’t.

Belief that it does is known as the gambler’s fallacy. It can affect games like roulette particularly, where landing several blacks in a row might indicate the next result will be red. The reality is, is that the likelihood of landing black again will be the same as on the first spin.

Where maths meets gambling

Understanding basic maths won’t confer an advantage in luck-based games such as slots, but it will at least give you a better understanding of how far your bankroll can be expected to go and what level of stake you’re best setting – bear in mind that some slots unlock additional features only when you apply the max bet.

The gambling spheres where maths truly comes into its own are sports betting and poker.

Understanding the probability of each possible poker hand triumphing is something which comes with practice, regardless of whether you can state the actual percentage.

Math buffs may prefer to learn these figures outright however, right down to the last percentage point. In sports betting, meanwhile, understanding odds – and the many ways in which they’re stated – will enable you to pinpoint underpriced games and to avail yourselves of these opportunities.

The job of a 'courtsiders' is to give tennis bettors the edge against the sportsbook.
Having at least a grasp of odds and returns is essential for successful sports betting.

Not only that, but a grasp of odds will give you a better understanding of whether the price offered by a bookmaker is a good one or not, especially relative to other odds offered in a market.

It’s possible to struggle with 2+2 and still profit at gambling. Nevertheless, if you’ve got a good grasp for mathematics, you’ll be able to put more into your favourite games – and hopefully get more out.

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