The late Captain of Craps, the legendary Atlantic City player I have written about in many of my books, once explained to me his theory on how much a person should bet at whatever game he wishes to play in order to experience a high degree of thrill with a low chance of having a heart attack and an even lower chance of being totally bored.
Casino gambling for the recreational player should be a “manageable thrill.” The Captain stated that a typical casino blackjack player playing for matchsticks or pennies would get bored rather quickly, since no hand really meant that much to him – losing had no sting; winning had no adrenaline jolt. But, if he bet $500 a hand, he might find himself sweating profusely as he saw his rent money or food money going out the window on a sustained series of losses. He might, quite literally, drop dead from anxiety. In the case of the $500 better, the emotions would range from dread at losing to relief at not losing. Where’s the fun in that?
The Captain’s theory of a “manageable thrill” came down to a simple formula: The bets you make have to be large enough to make it worth wanting to win, but small enough to make losing them not cause you to think of all the things you could have bought had you not lost. That was your “thrill zone” – the range of betting that had meaning, win or lose, but was not really hurtful to your emotional or economic life.
Often players will bet a certain amount when they first start a game, but gradually increase their bets until they hit the “sweat zone” as the Captain called it. The sweat zone is the place where the bet becomes uncomfortable to think about. Many craps players hit the sweat zone after several presses of their bets. Worse, a controlled shooter who is having a good roll will sometimes start to think more about the money at risk than about shooting the dice in a relaxed and careful manner. This makes shooting the dice no longer a thrilling exercise for the player but an agony. What if I roll a seven? What if I lose? Look at all that money!
There’s no doubt the average casino player is a thrill seeker. Going up against Lady Luck is a roller coaster ride where your money and your emotions go up and down, up and down. For many people, going on roller coasters is a delight – but it isn’t a delight if you’ve had a big meal and become sick to your stomach. Betting too much at a casino game is the equivalent of going on a roller coaster with a full gurgling belly. It could become a sickening experience for you and for others watching you. Then again, going on the kiddie boats that go around and around, with those little kids ringing the bells, might not be thrilling enough for you.
Interestingly enough, I have also noticed similar phenomena among some card counters. They may start their betting at $25 but when the count calls for it, they have to move that bet up, sometimes by a lot. At a certain point, and even with that edge over the casino to boot, these card counters will begin to sweat their action.
The escalation of their bets has gotten their hearts pounding and they are now entering the sweat zone. Losing such large amounts, amounts actually measured in emotions and not cash, has made what up to that point had been a pleasant pastime into an emotionally wrenching moment.
Gaming writers love to talk about strategies, house edges, and bankroll requirements but rarely do we discuss the emotional bankroll that a person must have to bet at this or that level. A red chip player might wish he could play at the green level, might even be able to objectively afford to, but he just can’t bring himself to do it. His hands start to tremble as he pushes out the chips. If this happens to you at a certain betting level, don’t make the bet! If you know this fact then be content to bet within your thrill zone and don’t attempt to push the envelope. It isn’t worth the consternation, second-guessing, and self-flagellation such an action would cause you.
The Captain had, from years of experience, learned that some bets just aren’t worth making, even bets where you might have an edge, if the fear of loss becomes so overwhelming that the act of making the bet becomes an act of anguish.
Some philosophers have speculated that man is composed of three parts: mind, body and spirit. To enjoy casino gambling, all three of those components should be utilized. Your mind should tell you which are the best bets to make; your spirit should enjoy the contest; and your body will let you know when you’ve gone overboard because it will start sweating!
All the best in and out of the casinos!
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