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Expert Team

How to Make Better Gambling Decisions (Rationally and Instinctually)

Man Playing Slot Machine with Question Mark
Gambling is all about making the right decisions. The better choices you make, the more money you stand to win.

But it’s not always easy to make correct gambling decisions, because luck also plays a role, and it’s easy to get annoyed and make irrational choices when luck isn’t in your favor.

This leads to what poker players refer to as “tilt,” where you make poor decisions based on emotions.

It definitely pays to keep a clear head in casino games, and I’m going to discuss how you can make the best decisions possible from both a rational and instinctual standpoint.

Specifically, I’ll cover why gambling on hunches is so bad, how knowing odds clears up misconceptions, the importance of basic strategy, and how you can develop good instincts.

Don’t Gamble Based on Hunches or Patterns

One of the biggest mistakes that gamblers make involves basing their decisions on hunches.

Some players place a big bet because they “have a feeling” that it’s going to win. Or they gamble past their means while assuming luck will eventually help them win back losses.

In either case, these aren’t rational gambling decisions, since there’s no basis for the idea that your hunch will come through or you’ll suddenly get lucky.

Another scenario involves tracking patterns and betting against trends. Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing roulette and making even-money bets.
  • You notice that black in the red/black bet has won 5 times in a row.
  • You place a big bet on red under the assumption that it’s “due” for a win.

This seems like a wise decision, because red has roughly a 50/50 shot of winning. And since it hasn’t won for a while, it only feels natural to believe that red is due to win.

But this falls in line with the gambler’s fallacy, where players use past results to determine future outcomes. The odds on a roulette bet or any other house-banked wager don’t change just because of previous results.

You still have a 48.64% chance of winning an even-money bet in European roulette. And this remains the same no matter if the other outcome is on a winning streak.

Learn the Odds Behind Casino Games

The best way to avoid relying on gambling hunches is to know the odds behind casino games. This helps tremendously, because you’ll no longer be in the dark regarding your chances of winning.

A good place to start is by learning the house edge for different games. The house edge refers to the casino’s built-in advantage on any given game.

Here’s an example of how the house advantage works:

  • You’re playing a blackjack game with a 1% house edge.
  • You bet $1,000 during your session.
  • $1,000 x 0.01 = $10 theoretical loss.

The key word in this example is “theoretical” because the hope is that you win money, but it’s important to be aware that the house has an advantage in almost every game.

Another key to avoid relying on luck involves understanding the odds of winning various bets. Knowing the odds is crucial to busting the myth that you can improve your chances by tracking patterns.

Here’s a look at the odds on a few different casino gambling bets:

  • Even-money bet in European roulette = 48.64% chances of winning
  • Winning a blackjack hand = 42.22% (account for ties).
  • Banker hand winning in baccarat = 45.85% (accounting for ties)
  • Craps pass line bet = 49.29%
  • Winning a slots spin = 10% to 15% on average
  • Winning a video poker jackpot = 0.000025%

Basic Strategy Leads to Rational Decisions

Another way that you can make rational gambling decisions on a regular basis is by learning strategy for your favorite games.

Executing basic strategy doesn’t leave room for hunches and other luck-based thinking. If you follow strategy guidelines, then you won’t gamble based on feeling.

More importantly, using the correct strategy ensures that you have the best possible chance to win with the game you’re playing.

Some players avoid studying strategy out of fear that it will be too complicated. The truth is that it’s not difficult to learn basic strategy for most games.

Below you can see a quick explanation on how to use strategy for popular casino games.

Baccarat

Baccarat strategy is really easy, because all you have to do is bet on the banker hand every time. This results in a 1.06% house edge, which is better than both the player hand bet (1.24% house edge) and tie wager (14.36%).

If you’re in Las Vegas, you can also look for a game called EZ baccarat. This variation offers a 1.02% house edge on banker hand bets.

Blackjack

The first thing that you want to do with blackjack is understand how the rules affect the house edge.

The size of natural blackjack payouts is the most important rule. You want to choose tables that have 3:2 payouts, rather than 6:5 payouts, because this lowers the house edge by 1.40%.

Whether the dealer hits or stands on a soft 17 is also crucial. Ideally, the dealer will stand, since this reduces the house advantage by 0.20%.

You should pay attention to double down rules as well. Being able to double down on any total, as opposed to restrictions (e.g., 9 through 11), lowers the house edge by 0.25%.

Another rule to look for is whether you can double down after splitting (DAS). The house advantage drops by 0.17% when this is available.

One more crucial aspect is how many decks are in the shoe. The house edge discrepancy between single deck and 8 deck blackjack is 0.57%.

Once you know how to find a good game, the next step is to google a blackjack strategy chart. Strategy charts show what moves to make in each situation based on your score and the dealer’s upcard.

Here’s an example:

  • You have 16.
  • The dealer’s upcard is 7.
  • The strategy card shows to hit in this situation.

Remember to look for strategy charts that match specific sets of rules, including Atlantic City rules, pontoon, Spanish 21, and Vegas Strip.

Craps

Good craps strategy begins with making either a pass line or don’t pass line bet. Pass line features a 1.41% house edge, while don’t pass line has a 1.36% house advantage.

Don’t pass line gives you a slightly better chance to win, but many land-based craps players make pass line bets since this involves wagering with the shooter rather than against them.

The next step is to back your pass line or don’t pass line with odds. An odds bet doesn’t have a house edge because it pays true odds.

You can “take odds,” which involves putting your odds bet behind pass line. Or you can “lay odds,” where you put your odds behind don’t pass line.

Taking just 2x odds will reduce the combined house edge on your pass line bet to 0.61%. Likewise, laying 2x odds reduces the combine house advantage on your don’t pass line bet to 0.46%.

Roulette

Roulette strategy is all about choosing the right game.

French roulette is the best variation because it has a 1.35% house. This game is played on a European wheel, which has 37 total numbers including a single zero.

French roulette also features the la partage rule, which pays half back on losing even-money bets. This is why the French version offers such a low house edge.

Standard European roulette is also played on the European wheel, but it has a 2.70% house edge because it doesn’t feature la partage.

American roulette is played on an American wheel, which has 38 numbers including a single zero and double zero pocket. This is the worst roulette game, since it has a 5.26% house advantage.

Video Poker

The best place to start with video poker strategy is by looking for the top games and pay tables.

9/6 Jacks or Better (JoB) is commonly the best video poker variation that you’ll find. This game delivers 99.54% payback and is easier to pick up than most video poker games.

If you can’t find 9/6 JoB, then 8/5 Bonus Poker is usually available. This variation offers 99.17% payback and is also a simple game to pick up.

As for online video poker, Microgaming’s All Aces is a good game, because it has 99.92% payback.

Aside from looking for high paying video poker variations, you also need to know how to read pay tables. The reason why is because all games have different pay tables, and you want to find the top table to get the best payback.

Here’s an example of the differences you need to look for:

  • 9/6 JoB pays 9 coins for a full house and 6 for a flush.
  • This version offers 99.54% payback.
  • 9/5 JoB pays 9 coins for a full house and 5 for a flush.
  • This version offers 98.44% payback.

After finding a good video poker game, the next step is to learn strategy for the specific variation you’re dealing with. For example, 9/6 JoB has different strategy than All Aces.

The two best video poker learning tools include training programs and strategy charts.

A strategy chart lists hands in order of what you want to keep first. You simply scan down the chart until finding your specific hand.

The one drawback to video poker strategy charts is that they’re only available for a handful of games.

A training program points out incorrect strategy decisions while you play video poker. This is helpful because you can gradually eliminate your mistakes through repetition.

The downside to video poker trainers is that the free online versions don’t cover most games. This means that you might have to buy a trainer for $35 or more.

Develop the Right Instincts Through Experience

You don’t really need to use instincts in most casino games. This is especially the case with baccarat, craps, and roulette, where the strategy is clearly laid out.

But instincts play a major role in skill-based games like daily fantasy sports (DFS), poker, and sports betting. These are all forms of gambling where each decision leads to a variety of possibilities.

Of course, the problem is that most beginners don’t have good instincts when they start playing these games. DFS, poker, and sports betting have such a high degree of skill that only the best players win on a consistent basis.

But the good news is that you can develop better instincts by gaining experience. Here’s an example:

  • You’re playing Texas hold’em.
  • You’re sitting in early position.
  • You make a pre-flop raise with pocket jacks.
  • Another player re-raises you from the button.
  • Previous experience and studying your opponent will help you decide whether to call, fold, or re-raise.

I can come up with many different examples on how experience will help you against the competition, but the point is that playing skill-based games on a regular basis helps you make good decisions.

This is the reason why an online poker pro can play multiple tables (a.k.a. multi-tabling) and still win profits. It’s also why a successful sports bettor knows what factors to look for in every contest to place an informed wager.

But you should also study strategy while developing experience so that you have the necessary skills to win.

For example, most great DFS players read strategy articles and use software to increase their edge. Those who put lots of time into the matter will have a strong chance to win.

Conclusion

Learning about the odds and strategy for casino games is a great way to make better gambling decisions.

Knowing the odds gives you a good sense on your chances of winning, and studying strategy will help you make the best play every time.

Another good thing about learning gambling odds and strategy is that you’ll avoid the same mistakes that other players make. This includes wishing for luck and letting irrational logic dictate your decisions.

The end result of making solid gambling choices is that you can improve your profits and get more enjoyment out of casino games.