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How to win the lottery and cards

Published: 19th May, 2010 at 14:00
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Want to make a pile from poker or beat those lottery balls? Robert Matthews has the solid science and mathematical methods to help you make money.


The National Lottery is dismissed by many professional gamblers as a joke – not surprisingly, as the chances of guessing the winning numbers are just 1 in 13,983,816. Worse still, with only 45 per cent of the money taken being handed back in prizes, players can expect on average to lose 55p of every £1 they gamble.


But all this ignores the fun people get from playing, and the fact that buying just one ticket obviously increases the chances of winning by an infinite amount. While the chances are remote, you can do one thing to boost your fortune if you do win: avoid numbers chosen by lots of people. Many players use ‘lucky numbers’ like seven, and thus risk sharing their win. Research shows that consecutive numbers over 40 tend to be avoided, so pick those.


All gambling involves an element of luck, but few games offer more scope for skill than poker. While no-one can expect to win every hand, in the long run professionals can expect to do much better than amateurs. The problem is that getting to a decent standard requires a mastery of psychology and maths.

The maths is probability theory, which dictates the ‘hands’ that beat each other. Four-of-a-kind beats two pairs in five-card poker, for example, because the former is 200 times rarer than the latter. But the psychology comes in when you start to bet. That’s because sometimes the maths says you’ve little chance of winning, but you might still want to bluff, and scare your opponents into quitting with much better hands.

Learning all the tricks takes years, but some can help beginners. For example, mathematical analysis shows you should raise (put more money in) if you feel your chances of winning exceed one divided by the number of players. So if there are four players, and you feel you’ve got a 30 per cent chance of winning the pot, that’s more than 1 divided by 4, so raise.

As for bluffing, the trick is to bluff only occasionally, but try to get caught doing it, to make clear to the other players you are not to be trusted.

If you fancy a real mental challenge, you could try blackjack, the only casino card game where the house edge can be eliminated by skilful play. The aim is to bet on being dealt cards that get closer to 21 than those of the dealer. In 1960, the American mathematician Edward Thorp devised a system of memorising cards as they’re dealt and spotting when to bet heavily. Such ‘card-counting’ requires huge concentration – and an ability to sprint if the casino heavies spot you at it.

Gambling carries financial risk and can be addictive.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, contact or call 0845 6000 133.


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Robert is a science writer and visiting professor of science at Aston University.


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