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'Wizard of Odds' Uses Math To Beat the Casinos  December 23, 2015 – 02:01 pm
Michael Shackleford, also known as the Wizard of Odds, uses math to improve his gambling.
Credit: Michael Shackleford

Michael Shackleford is better known as the Wizard of Odds. Shackleford, a trained actuary (a business professional who assesses risk and its financial impact), now makes his living analyzing casino games. He is also an adjunct professor of casino math at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Q: What is it about casino games that interests you?

A: I just enjoy the challenge of trying to calculate the odds of every casino game, and I enjoy math in general, and I enjoy gambling, so it's a good way to combine two interests of mine.

A: Yes, absolutely. I've been gambling as long as I can remember.

Q: Even before age 21?

A: Even before age 11.

Q: So can most casino games really be beaten with math, or are the odds too stacked against you?

A: In most games, the odds are stacked against you to begin with, and there's nothing you can do about it. However, in games of skill there usually is some kind of an angle you can use to beat the game.

Q: What are some games in which math can be most helpful?

A: Well, blackjack, as most people know, can be beaten by card counting.

Q: Is that legal?

A: Oh, that's absolutely legal. And another good example is video poker, which can often be beaten over the long run.

Q: What is the best casino game to play?

A: I kind of don't like the question, because it ranges depending upon the specific casino that you're in, and what your specific strengths and weaknesses are, and what game you particularly find interesting. And that's why you get some advantage players playing poker, and some play blackjack, and some play video poker and some are sports bettors, and others do other things. So, you know, it's like asking a businessman what's the best business to get into to make money. It really depends on the individual.

Q: Do you think people apply some of these mathematical strategies intuitively, or are most people just missing the boat entirely?

A: Well, the vast majority of gamblers are what I would call "recreational gamblers" that are playing hopefully for entertainment reasons, and the odds are stacked against them, and most of them probably realize that and play anyway because it's a form of entertainment to them.

Q: What game do you think is the worst waste of money?

A: The worst form of gambling is lottery tickets.

Q: How do those odds compare with roulette?

A: Oh, they're much worse. You can expect to lose 50 percent of everything that you bet on a lottery ticket, and with roulette, you can expect to only lose 5.4 percent.

Q: What are your pet peeves about misperceptions of gambling?

A: There are so many, and most of them would fall under the realm of superstition. I think a really annoying one is players who falsely believe that it's the last player to act in blackjack [who] has an effect over the whole table. And that player will get complained at if he acts in a certain way, and causes the whole table to lose. It's absolutely a myth that the last player to act will cause everyone to lose if he doesn't play his cards the right way.


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  • avatar which casino games have the best chance of winning? | Yahoo Answers
    • Aside from some of the slots, poker is statistically the worst game in the casino for the average player. The rake will eat you alive, along with any sharks at the table. Poker is ONLY a good game if you are an above average player, which you are no if you are asking this question.
      The pass line and don't pass line with odds are the best bet in the casino. It's really not even close.
      Next is blackjack if and only if you play perfect basic strategy. A couple of wrong plays and the house edge can jump from below 1% to 3-5%.

  • avatar What is statistically the best way to play and win in a casino game? - Quora
    • The quick easy answer is that there isn't.  Poker skill is a very complicated subject, so I won't touch that one.
      Disclaimer: I in no advocate that anyone should try any of the following strategies, but they're worth mentioning in an educational/academic setting.
      One obscure answer is that some video-poker terminals have an expected value payout that is slightly higher than 100%.  These terminals aren't very common, and the correct "optimal strategy" to play them is counter-intuitive so the vast majority of casual players will absolutely have a negative expected value.
      From what I've read,…

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