It’s a common myth that all casino games are down to pure luck so that all players have an equal shot at making some money.
While every game has a luck element, some involve skills that require a good grasp of arithmetic to master. It means that people who are good at numbers (hello, maths students!), have a better chance than others to walk away from the game in profit.
This article looks at the purely luck-based games and then reveals the casino games where a grasp of mathematics – working out odds and probability – will make a significant difference.
All luck and no skill
It just so happens that the casino games that are the most fun are those where the player has to do no or little thinking. There is certainly no strategy.
Chief among these are the thousands of slot games that you can play in a brick-and-mortar casino or one of the dozens of licensed and regulated online casinos like STS Bet.
Slots have no skill, and every spin of the reels is generated purely by random number generator technology. The only mathematical skill you need is to understand the return to player percentage, which is around 96-97% for most slots. This figure represents the average amount a player is expected to win back. So, for each £10 wagered, you should get back around £9.60.
Another game of chance is roulette. If you have heard of this traditional game, you will know you can place bets on numbers or groups of numbers, and a ball is then spun in a roulette wheel to see if it lands on your selection.
The spin of the wheel is totally random, and the only arithmetic skill that helps here is knowing that some bets, like backing red or black, are more likely to come in than picking a single number – 50/50 rather than 36/1.
Get an edge with blackjack and poker
So, what are the games where a maths student would have a better chance than the rest of us?
The first suggestion is blackjack. This is because the usual house edge is 2.6% – but anyone applying a basic strategy can bring this down to a wafer-thin 0.5%.
The idea is that blackjack is a game of incomplete information. Based on the mathematical skill of probability, you have to make assumptions about what might happen on the next turn of the card. The next card is random, of course, but you can make better assumptions once you factor in the fact that all picture cards are worth ten and that you can see some cards face-up on the table, thereby eliminating them from your calculations.
Using this knowledge, you can make more informed decisions about whether to take another card and risk going over 21 or standing on your current total because you have worked out that it is highly likely that the dealer will bust. Lovers of the movie The Hangover will recognise these talents in the character, Alan.
But perhaps the casino game with the biggest mathematical skillset requirement is poker.
On the face of it, Texas Hold’em, the game upon which most casino poker games are based, is quite simple. But like golf, while it’s easy to learn, it is very hard to master. You will find that most of the world’s top poker players are excellent at maths.
In poker, everything is down to probability. You might have a “made hand” but you are likely hoping to land the right cards to complete a hand further down the line. In which case, you must understand the probabilities of doing so.
There is a second key mathematical requirement: working out the size of the pot (how much money players have already bet on a hand) and how much you need to pay to continue in the hand. You do this by working out the probability that you could win the hand, weighed up against the price you must pay to stay in.
Poker players also make many calculations off the top of their heads about the type of cards an opponent is playing, based on the information they have seen in previous hands or games. Using this information, a good analytical player will make moves with a better certainty of victory – and have a better shot at winning the World Series of Poker.
Playing responsibly is key
It doesn’t matter if you are a maths student wizard or someone just out for fun on the slot games; you must always remember to play responsibly at a live or online casino. Never play with more than you can afford – and never chase your losses.
Casino gaming is meant to be a form of entertainment. While maths students will be better at games like blackjack and poker, it is no guarantee that they will win!