Travel Fanboy

Don’t Fall for Clustering Illusions

Consider this a preview to the next podcast episode on superstitions.

When in gambling Vegas, there’s a lot we have to be mindful of. Let me add one more to that list: clustering illusions. Experienced gamblers know to ignore this tendency, but novices and the superstitious tend to play into it. So, what is a clustering illusion? Basically, it’s the propensity to see patterns in nonrandom events. There are two games in which this usually manifests: roulette and baccarat.

At many roulette tables you’ll find a digital sign displaying the recent roll history. It’s tempting to analyze, potentially gauging the likelihood of the next roll. 5 black rolls in a row, red is due, right? No. Nothing is due, but the temptation is certainly there. 5 black rolls in a row is not a pattern, it’s simply a set of sequential random events. However, no matter your reason for wanting to bet on red or black, it really doesn’t matter. You see, your payback percentage does not change based on your choice, as both red and black have equal odds of hitting. So, falling victim to clustering illusions doesn’t actually have much of a deleterious effect on the player in roulette.

That’s not necessarily the case in baccarat, though. Baccarat, similar to roulette, has scoreboards. I’ll let the venerable Wizard of Odds explain:

Baccarat is a game steeped in superstition. The vast majority of players keep careful track of the shoe history, either on paper or with the aid of screens that show every hand since the shoe began. There are various ways of recording this information. The companies that market the screens that display the shoe history present it in various ways, according to the most popular methods of trying to define patterns.

I’m not going to get into the rules of the game, they seem more complicated than they really are. What you need to know is that there are three main bets to make and the player has no control over the outcome after placing said bet. You can bet on the banker, the player, or a tie. The house edge on these is 1.06%, 1.24%, and 14.36% respectively. And this is where we see the problem with the scoreboards. As with roulette, each hand dealt is random and these odds remain the same every single hand. However, some players think they see patterns in these random hands. What this may cause them to do is change their betting behavior. Say they think the player bet is “hot” or “due”, they may modify their wager accordingly. Baccarat is an easy game in that in order to maximize your odds, you should simply bet on the banker every hand. This superstitious lot who are baccarat players tend to disregard this and fall victim to an all too common gambling fallacy.

What about you? Ever fall victim to superstition? Ever ask for “new dice” at the craps table, knowing it doesn’t matter?

To learn more about baccarat, which is a great game with a low house edge, head to Wizard of Odds – Baccarat. He’ll tell you all you need to know!

Feature photo: “29 Nero” by Carmelo Speltino via CC BY-SA 2.0


Host of the Vegas Fanboy podcast. A reluctant Millennial. An amateur human.