Introduction to Gambling Strategies

It’s no secret that human beings have been gambling for thousands of years, and it’s also not really a secret that we’ll gamble on just about anything. For as long as there has been gambling, there have been people trying to figure out the best ways to get the best odds of winning, and this created the birth of gambling strategy.

Without some baseline level of strategy in your corner, you’re essentially throwing away money when you play any type of casino game.

There’s a large variety of games available, and there are various degrees of casino strategy available for each of them. While not all games will have some type of complicated tricks and tips available that will help you to drastically cut down the house advantage, many of them do, and knowing which games allow for these kinds of strategies can be just as important as knowing the strategies themselves.

The Basics of Casino Strategy

Before we get into the specifics of different games and types of strategies, we want to first look at the basic concepts that underline what players are really trying to achieve. We’ll also look at the basic terminology to help readers to establish a base of understanding that can be used as a foundation for building more complicated and robust strategies and approaches to specific games.

Payout Rate and House Advantage

We need to start with a few simple definitions and pieces of information that all players need to know before they get involved with gambling strategy on any serious or recreational level:

  • The house advantage, sometimes called the house edge, is the percentage of money that the house takes out of each bet, on average, in exchange for running the games.
  • The payout percentage (often called return to player or RTP percentage for slots) is how much players get back, on average, of each bet they make.
  • The house advantage added to the payout percentage must always equal 100 percent.

For a simple example, a particular game may have a house advantage of 5 percent. As a result, the payout percentage would be 95 percent because the house edge and payout percentage rate have to combine to give 100.

This leads us to what we can think of as our fundamental idea that everything else is based on here:

The object of all strategy in gambling is to try to increase the payout percentage while decreasing the house advantage.

Anything we can do within the rules to achieve this aim falls under the topic of casino game strategy. What you’ll find in the following is that there are a lot of ways to go about this, and combining different ideas and methods will be what gets you the best overall results.

The Concept of Strategic Options

There’s a term from a branch of mathematics called game theory that we’re going to borrow here that’s called a strategic option. A strategic option is any choice we have that changes the house edge and the payout rate of a given game.

Some games like blackjack or video poker have a lot of strategic options. Other games like online scratch cards or online slots don’t have many strategic options at all.

When a game doesn’t have many strategic options, we say that game is primarily luck-based. If a game does have a lot of strategic options, we can say that it’s more of a skill-based game.

Keep in mind that just because a game is skill-based doesn’t mean that you can get an advantage over the house, which is achieved by getting a negative house edge or a payout rate of over 100 percent.

Regardless, we want players to know which games offer a lot of strategic options and which games do not so that they know where they should put their time when it comes to learning the different casino strategies that can help them to get better payout rates with their favorite titles.

If you can identify what is and what is not a strategic option, then you can also more easily identify the differences between the legitimate and illegitimate gambling strategies that you find online.

Common Bad Gambling Strategies

We’re going to dive right into some of the most common mistaken strategies that players have used for decades (or in some cases, centuries). Sometimes these concepts might feel right intuitively but are completely unsound because of the way they play out mathematically. Other times, they are pure conjecture that has no basis in reality at all.

The reason we’re showing you these illegitimate strategies first is twofold. First, we want you to be on the lookout for them so that you can prevent them from entering your repertoire under what we call them here or under some other name. Second, we want players to be able to spot how none of these options correctly handle the idea of strategic options that we described above.

Gambler’s Fallacy: Being Due and Following Streaks

One of the most common strategies that you’ll see people try to undertake is actually an example of something called “Gambler’s Fallacy.”

Gambler’s Fallacy is based on the idea that things even out in the short run or the long run in one way or another OR that hot streaks of one particular number or wager winning will continue past what has already happened.

Long story short, the idea behind this very flawed gambling strategy is that you’ll be able to tell future results from what’s happened in the recent past.

This is a flawed strategy because each new instance of a roll of the dice, deal of the cards or spin of the wheel is completely independent of what’s happened before almost always. One way to put it is that the cards, the dice and the wheel do not have some kind of memory where they can keep up with which numbers or results are supposed to come next. Each one is random independently.

Here are a few examples of Gambler’s Fallacy in action:

  • Players betting on red after red came up on a roulette wheel several spins in a row to take advantage of a hot streak
  • Players betting on black after red came up on a roulette wheel several spins in a row to take advantage of black being “due” soon
  • Players betting on the player hand in Baccarat after the player hand has won several turns in a row to take advantage of a hot streak
  • Players betting on the banker hand in Baccarat after the player hand has won several turns in a row to take advantage of the banker hand being “due” soon

You can see from these examples that the Gambler’s Fallacy can be used to try to justify virtually any betting option, which makes it completely useless.

The Martingale System

The Martingale System is entirely based on the size of the bets being placed. In short, the idea is that you continue doubling the size of your bets over and over when you’re on a losing streak with the idea that you’ll eventually win and make a profit. An important point to note is that the basic Martingale system only works when you double up on a win – i.e., the payout for a win is 1 to 1 (if you bet €5 you get a €10 payout).

Consider how this could turn out in an example of betting on black on a roulette wheel with a €1 initial bet:

  • If you win on the first bet, then you get €1 profit.
  • If you lose on the first bet for €1 but win on the second bet after doubling to €2, then you win €1 profit.
  • If you lose the first bet for €1 and the second bet for €2 before winning on the third bet for €4 (after doubling for a second time), then you lost €3 and won €4 for a profit of €1.
  • Likewise, if you lose the first three bets of €1, €2 and €4 but then win on the fourth bet of €8, you’ll profit €1 again.

When you see it expressed in this way, then it seems like a pretty solid system, but there’s a major flaw with it: Eventually, you’ll lose several hands in a row to the point that you either need to make a wager with money you don’t have because your bankroll isn’t large enough, or you’ll need to make a bet that’s so large that it’s not covered under the bet sizes that the house allows.

It may take a while for this case to happen, but when it does, you’re going to be out of quite a bit of money because you won’t be able to wager high enough to try to recover your losses.

Martingale Bet Progression
Bet # Bet Size/Win Amount Total Prior Loss Total Profit on Win
1 1 0 1
2 2 1 1
3 4 1 + 2 = 3 1
4 8 1 + 2 + 4 = 7 1
5 16 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 = 15 1
6 32 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 = 31 1
7 64 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 = 63 1
8 128 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 = 127 1
9 256 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 = 255 1
10 512 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 = 511 1
11 1,024 1 + 2 + 4 + 8 + 16 + 32 + 64 + 128 + 256 + 512 = 1023 1

The Fibonacci System

A mathematician from the late 1100s and early 1200s named Leonardo Fibonacci discovered a series of numbers that’s now called the Fibonacci Sequence. This is a series of numbers that starts with 1 and 1, and you generate the next value in the sequence by adding the two previous numbers.

This leads to the following series of numbers: 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…

The Fibonacci System for betting is based on this series of numbers when used in the context of an even money bet. A great example of this in action would be the black, red, odd and even wagers from a game of roulette. However, you can use other wagers like the player bet in Baccarat or the pass line bet in craps as well.

The way this works is that you start off by betting the first amount, and you increase your wager on losing streaks until you win. When you win, you move back two spots in the sequence and begin your wager at that value. This continues until you make it all the way back to the beginning of the sequence. Note that if you can’t go back any further in the sequence, then you simply start at the beginning as well.

Here’s an example of how this could work. We’ll use a wager of €1 on any of the above example games. Our profit for the session will be included in parentheses at the end of each line:

  • We start off by wagering €1 and losing twice in a row. (-€2)
  • Next, we’ll wager €2, and we’ll suppose that we lose there. (-€4)
  • Our next wager is for €3, and it wins. We go backwards two spots on the list. (-€1)
  • The following wagers are for €1, €2 and €3. We’ll suppose that we lose all three of those. (-€7)
  • We pick up a win on our wager of €5 on the following bet. (-€2)
  • From there, we win two bets in a row, which are worth €2 and €1. (+€1)

In this example we lost six bets and won four, but we still ended up winning €1 worth of profit with this system. You won’t always come up as a winner after any given session, but you can see how the system tries to reward winning streaks more than it rewards losing streaks.

The Labouchere Betting Strategy

A man named Henry Labouchere invented the Labouchere Betting Strategy in the mid-late 1800s, and it’s another system that’s really designed to work primarily on even money wagers. While this can be used in a variety of games like craps, Baccarat and roulette, you have to choose wagers that pay out 1:1 or close to it in order for this system to work.

There is one thing you do ahead of time to set up the system. First, decide how much money you aim to win total in your session. It’s best for this system that you choose a number on the small size, but you can pick whatever you want with all things considered. Next, write out a series of numbers that add up to that total amount.

For example, if you wanted to win €15, you could write out 2-1-2-3-2-1-3-1.

Once you have your list prepared, then you’re ready to start playing your game. What this system does is that it creates your bet sizes for you by adding up the first and last values on your list. In our example above, you would add up €2 from the beginning of the list and €1 from the end of the list to get your bet size of €3.

What you do next depends on whether you win your bet or not. If you win, then you simply cross out the first and last numbers on the list. However, if you lose, then you add the amount that you lost to the end of the list. In either event, you start the process over again by adding up the first and last numbers of your new list and choosing that as your new bet size.

With our example, there are two cases of what our new list would look like:

  • In the case that we win, we’d cross out the first and last numbers on the list to be left with 1-2-3-2-1-3 and a new bet size of €4 on our next wager.
  • In the case that we lose, we’d add €3 to the end of the list to get our new list of 2-1-2-3-2-1-3-1-3, which gives us a new wager size of €5.

As you can see, this system is a little more interactive than most. If you end up with only one number left in the center, then you make your wager the amount of that number. If you run out of numbers, then you have achieved the winnings goal that you started out with. If your list gets too long, or if time limitations come up, then you cut the session short and start over some other time.

Playing the “House Way”

In some games, the dealer has to make some kind of strategic decision about how to play a hand. This is common in certain styles of casino poker or even in blackjack. The set of rules that the dealer uses to play their own hands is referred to as the “house way.”

It can be tempting for some players to try to just play the “house way” themselves with the idea that you’ll just tie with the dealer in the long run. However, that’s never really the case. In many casino poker games, for example, things are set up so that there’s some small difference that will give the house an edge. In blackjack, the house way simply isn’t mathematically correct and will result in a pretty large advantage for the house as well.

While this is misguided, it’s actually closer to how things should be handled than following the Gambler’s Fallacy or the Martingale System because it actually starts to address the strategic options in and around the game. As you’ll see in what follows, this is what gets real, legitimate results.

Legitimate Types of Gambling Strategy That Work

Now we’re going to look at a handful of different strategies that can actually make a difference in various types of casino games, particularly in the online setting. While some of these options don’t involve decisions made inside of the games themselves, they are nevertheless strategic in nature because they follow our golden rule of trying to decrease the effective house advantage while increasing the effective player payout rates.

Your best bet is always going to be to use an appropriate combination of these generalized strategies with the correct game-playing strategies for the specific games themselves. Not all of these options will apply to each game each time you play, but most of them will apply for most players most of the time.

Game Selection

Casino strategy is often seen as some big, complicated thing that’s inaccessible for most people for whatever reason. Unfortunately for many players, there’s a harsh truth that the single most accessible type of strategy that actually works is one that’s completely overlooked:

Game selection by itself can be the difference between having winning sessions and losing sessions, and most players don’t realize it.

A simple but effective example of this is the difference between European roulette and American roulette. The two games look almost identical and have almost identical betting options available, but there’s a key difference: The house edge for the American version is about 5.3 percent on most bets, and it’s just 2.7 percent on every single bet available for the European style of the game.

In this example, you can cut the house advantage virtually in half just by exercising intelligent game selection. Remember that the goal of strategy in these games is to lower the house edge as much as possible, and it’s clear that game selection can do that in a serious way.

Exploiting Bonuses and Promotions

Tons of online casino promotions are available all the time for most games, and if you take advantage of them in a strategic way, then they can give you extra winnings for playing the games that you would have been playing anyway. This effectively drives the house edge down and the payout rate up based on your bottom line once you’re done playing.

However, not just any online casino bonus offers work for this strategy. You have to follow a simple process to see if it’s going to work for you or against you to take advantage of a bonus offer:

  1. Start off by figuring out exactly how much money you’ll need to wager to clear the play-through requirements for an offer.
  2. Apply the average house advantage of the game you’ll be playing to the number found in Step 1 to figure out how much you’ll lose on average during that period of time.
  3. Compare your average loss found in Step 2 to how much money you’ll be getting from the bonus itself. If the bonus is larger, then the promotion will probably work to drive up your payout rate. If the loss is larger, then it’s actually better to not take the bonus in a lot of cases.

There are a lot of casino strategies out there for taking advantage of bonuses, but all of them are based on the simple formula outlined in the three steps above. There’s no need to make it more complicated than that.

Progressive Jackpot Tracking

This strategy is a fun one for players who like chasing progressive jackpots on slots, video poker, blackjack or any other type of game. The basic idea is that you figure out the average amount for the jackpot itself and only play when the value is above that average.

This sounds really simple, and it is, but it’s a great way to increase the average return to player percentage (or RTP for short) of your slot sessions and to increase the overall average expected payout rate for other types of games with progressive jackpots. Just about every major software provider out there has some type of non-slot progressive available (Microgaming and Playtech with blackjack, video poker and casino poker are good examples), and this strategy works there also.

Gambling strategies like this one are based on a simple idea: Players want to maximize the size of the jackpot on the off chance that they win it.

This is a version of the game selection strategy we mentioned above that works well with a spreadsheet. You can make a simple sheet of the top five or ten progressive games you like to play along with the average jackpot amounts for each of them just to use as a reference when you start your games. This can save you a lot of time and get you in on the games you want to play quicker while staying informed.

Counting Cards

Blackjack is the game most commonly known for card counting strategies, but Baccarat and some other card-based games can have strong options for it as well.

The basic premise for something like this to be possible is that cards have to be dealt from a hand or shoe without being added back to the hand or shoe between bets.

Because of this, many blackjack games online cannot be taken advantage of with any type of card counting strategy unless they’re in a live dealer format with no shuffling between hands. However, if you do find a game that meets this requirement, you can usually get a pretty significant edge against the house, so it’s worth knowing how to do.

Skill-based Advantages

When a game has a lot of different strategic options available, or when the core of the gameplay is about using those strategic options, then you get into the realm of skill-based games. Getting good at these games leads to having a skill-based advantage that can drastically drop the house edge down in many cases.

For an example, Microgaming, Playtech and Realtime Gaming all have blackjack and video poker games that allow you to get the house edge to less than 1 percent (for a 99+ percent payout rate) with correct skill-based play.

The smaller the edge that the house has, the better your payout rate, and the less you need to get lucky to have a winning session. It also puts you in a better position to eventually get a real advantage over the house by using outside strategies like taking advantage of bonuses and promotions.

In what follows down below, we’re going to look at what goes into the skill-based advantages in a variety of games and see which types of games have these types of gambling strategies available and which do not.

Strategy for Individual Casino Game Genres

There are different amounts of luck and skill found in the various genres of online casinos games. In the chart below, we show what you can expect in the general sense out of the most popular genres:

Skill and Luck in Casino Games
Game Genre Level of Skill Level of Luck
Slots Low High
Blackjack High Low
Video Poker High Low
Roulette Low High
Craps Medium High
Baccarat Medium Medium
Casino Poker High Medium

Along these lines, however, all games will have some degree of luck, but not all games will have some degree of skill. This is because a bad streak can keep you from winning in virtually any game out there, but not every game has strategic options, in the game theory sense, that actually dictate what playing “better” or playing “worse” actually looks like.

Here we’re going to look at each of the major genres of games and see what kind of casino strategies are available for each. While we aren’t going to get very in-depth here, we will give you a basic idea of what to look for if you want to learn a particular type of game on a deeper level.

Non-progressive Online Slot Strategies

The first group of titles we’ll look at include online slots that do not have progressive jackpots available. Considering the following points to remember:

  • Game selection is important because a difference of several percentage points can be had in your payout rate just from which title you choose.
  • Some of these games will give a lower return to player percentage if you don’t activate all paylines.
  • There are usually not any other strategic options available, so simply making sure that you’re playing for the highest RTP available is all you need to know.

There’s not a lot of skill involved in these games because once you hit the spin button, luck pretty much takes over. However, there are some ways that you can really drop your payout percentage down along the lines of what we’ve stated in the above points.

Despite the fact that this is generally seen as the most popular genre overall in terms of the number of games available and the number of bets placed, there’s not much that goes into them in terms of casino strategy.

Progressive Online Slot Strategies

For online slots with progressive jackpots, you get some more options that you don’t have with the more vanilla ones. In addition to the notes about game selection and making sure that you have the right betting options added, you also need to make sure that the jackpot itself is activated, and sometimes that requires a minimum bet size.

If you don’t want to play with a bet large enough to activate the progressive, then you should choose another game because of the enormous hit that will be done to your payout rate.

Aside from that, you can look at making sure that you play when the jackpot is higher than average, which we covered in an above section, but that’s about it as far as strategies are involved for these games.

Blackjack Strategy

Large books have been written about blackjack strategy, but it mostly comes down to just a few elements that you can explore in a lot of depth individually:

  1. The ability to card count in the games
  2. Knowing when to use each of the available options when facing different dealer cards (referred to as “basic strategy” in blackjack parlance)
  3. Learning how to change up your strategies based on which individual variation of the game you’re playing

Blackjack is one of the most strategically deep genres of casino games out there, and countless books and movies have been made about it for this reason. While it requires a lot of studying and practice to master, a skilled player can often achieve average payout rates of more than 99.5 percent, which is absolutely tremendous compared to what you see in most other games.

Video Poker Strategy

Blackjack is the only type of game found in online casinos that has more strategy than video poker in the general sense. However, some particularly complicated styles of video poker will have more strategy to learn than the more simple versions of blackjack.

Strategy in video poker comes down to a basic set of ideas:

  • You have 32 ways to play your discards in a five-card hand of poker.
  • Each one of those ways to play will give you an average payout of some given amount based on the chances of receiving the remaining cards in the virtual deck.
  • Your job is to try to consistently pick out the way to play your discards that gives you the highest average payout possible.

The particulars of the strategies for the wild card games and the non-wild card games are a bit different, but there is plenty of general video poker strategy that overlaps both of these sub-genres.

Roulette Strategy

Virtually all roulette strategy comes down to game selection. You’ll always want to pick French roulette or European roulette over the American style or the mini style simply because the payouts are better for a style of play that’s virtually the same.

However, within those confines, you can learn how to manipulate the volatility of your wagers on each spin with a little bit of math and understanding the different odds and payouts on the variety of inside and outside bets that are available. This isn’t really strategic in the general sense because it doesn’t affect the payout rate overall or the house advantage, but it’s worth knowing for fans of the game.

Craps Strategy

Generally considered the most complicated casino table game of all time, craps has an interesting reputation. Many players are too intimidated to learn how to play it because they’re afraid of laying their money down on a sucker bet, whether virtually or in a brick and mortar casino. What’s worse is that they’re right:

Almost every bit of craps strategy comes down to one idea: learning which bets have huge levels of house advantage and which bets do not.

Some pretty simple strategies can actually be learned by players in just a few minutes for this game, and while they limit the number of bets that you’ll stick to, you can actually achieve some relatively high payout rates with those wagers.

It’s a game that doesn’t have to be complicated in terms of strategy, but the resulting top strategies are a bit dry and boring for many players despite the fact that stepping outside of them can be a disaster because of the large number of “trap bets” with low payout rates in this game.

Casino Poker Strategy

Gambling strategy hits an interesting crossroads when it comes to the casino poker genre. This is because the genre itself includes games with such a variety of rule types and styles of play that you can either have a whole lot of strategy or hardly any at all.

There are a few points where you can have strategic options in these games, and they usually come down to the decision to fold and lose all chances to win the hand or to place an additional bet before showing down with the dealer to see who wins.

In others like Pai Gow Poker, you have a fairly unique style of play that has to be learned on its own in terms of strategy and how the flow of the game itself works because there’s nothing else quite like it.

How to Properly Learn Gambling Strategy

If you want to learn to play a game that involves a lot of strategy, then there are some ways to go about it that are better than others. In a sense, this is the strategy of learning strategy, and it goes as follows:

  1. Take note of which style of the game you will be playing so that you have your game selection set in stone before you start studying.
  2. Figure out what the strategic options are in your game of choice.
  3. Study the relevant material on those strategic options so that you learn which factors you need to pay attention to and what information you need to make a decision between the different available choices.
  4. Practice this in a free play environment or on your own with flash cards or other learning aides until you are confident.
  5. Play practice sessions with real money starting at low stakes while recording your results and keeping notes on any situations that came up that you weren’t sure about.
  6. Research those tricky situations on your own after your sessions are over so that you get better and better over time.
  7. Eventually move up to whatever level of stakes you’re comfortable with, and start to incorporate promotions and bonuses into your overall, big picture strategy for playing.

If you follow these points, then you’ll be well on your way to having a great time learning any of the types of games that we have dealt with above.

Overview

The bottom line is that strategy is a critical part of a lot of casino games. No matter which type of game you prefer, however, there will be some element of strategy at a minimum, even if you like a game with a “low” amount of skill involved in the chart that we listed up above.

What’s great is that there are options for all different kinds of players that are available at virtually all online casinos. If you prefer a lot of skill and strategy, you have options like blackjack and video poker available. If you want as little strategy as possible, then slots and roulette will be your best friend.