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Great Gambler Series (2/4) – Steadiness

Great Gambler Series (2/4) – Steadiness


Slow and steady wins the race – that’s a classic idiom taken from Aesop’s fable ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’, in which the quicker hare is cantering to victory in a race against his sluggish rival before deciding to have a nap under a tree.

The tortoise went on to take the chequered flag, with the writer pressing home the idea that it’s not how you start the race but how you finish – a handy metaphor for life, and gambling for that matter!

There are different elements of the personality of a ‘great gambler’ that we will discuss in this series: attentiveness, consistency, experience and, the subject of this piece, steadiness.

But what does being steady at the blackjack table or the roulette wheel actually mean?

Here is what we don’t mean: betting small stakes with every round. 

That would be a gross misconception, because even steady players recognise that there are times when a handsome stake is the smart play and the right play.

That said, with steadiness comes a certain aversion to risk, and we actually consider steady players to be those who play the percentages in the vast majority of cases.

Certain people and certain personality types are better suited to the ‘steady Eddie’ approach than others, but there are plenty of positives to be said for adopting this style.

Indeed, there is a whole library of scholarly texts on ‘grinding’ in poker, and this tells its own story!

Grinding it out

What are the factors that can derail your bid for success when playing online blackjack or poker? Here are a few ideas:

·       Poor hands

·       Bad luck

·       Emotional instability

·       Lack of focus

·       Overt risk-taking

Pack a few of those common mistakes together and you have a recipe for disaster.

Of course, there is little we can do about being dealt consistently poor hands, and bad luck is by its very nature unavoidable.

However, we can mitigate our losses by ensuring that we don’t fall into the trap of the bottom three of those bullet points identified above.

To do that, the concept of ‘grinding’ is one that we must live and die by on the felt.

There are some common characteristics shared by the steady grinder.

Comfortable playing at volume

By their very nature, steady grinders aren’t players who are going to stake big or take out big chip stacks by going toe to toe with a high roller.

Grinders have to play high volume, which means having a high number of games going on at the same time. The idea is to chip away by folding or sticking to low stakes, and then taking advantage of positive expectancy plays when they come along.

This requires discipline, consistency and strong focus, because any mistake, no matter how big or small, will eat into that already bread-line ROI.

It’s low-risk, conservative blackjack, poker or even roulette, and it really is a hard way to make an easy living.

Happy to take advantage

A characteristic that grinders share is picking their games wisely. They know that their tactics aren’t going to yield too many results against pros and highly competent players, and so they stick to games where they know they will be among the most experienced.

Think of it like the classes in horse racing, where a horse will sometimes be made to take a step down a level by their owner. They tend to come up with the goods against a lower class of opposition.

Against players of lower experience and those who lack for patience, the steady grinders really tend to thrive. 

Concentration for hours

Anyone who plays in lengthy sessions, be it blackjack, poker or even low-edge roulette, knows that there are times when things won’t come their way.

Blackjack tends to be a bit more rapid fire, but in poker, grinders can go for hours without picking up a hand they like.

Steadiness here comes in the form of being able and willing to fold for hand after hand to preserve your edge!

Rise like a Griffin

If you need any further persuasion of why steadiness is a key attribute in poker particularly, take a look at the career of Gavin Griffin.

The American started out as something of a dasher, favouring high-stakes poker and winning some big old events along the way, including a European Poker Tour tournament in 2007 and the Borgata Winter Open in 2008.

However, soon afterwards, Griffin completely lost his way, and underwent a period of drought in which he failed to win much at all.

To reinvent himself, Griffin became a grinder.

He started turning down high-risk games in favour of low-edge contests that were around the $10 buy-in mark.

Something else that symptomised his new-found love of the grind is that Griffin would transcribe every single hand that he played in the day, analysing what he did well, what he didn’t, and how he could build from there.

From once being an emotion-led and spontaneous player, Griffin has become studious, clinical and precise, and he has managed to reinvent himself as a money-making gamer with a genuine edge.

Oscar’s Grind

There are strategies and theories used by gamers of all types, and one of the most rewarding for steady players is the so-called ‘Oscar’s Grind’ philosophy.

This is based upon the notion of betting on all outcomes in a two or even three-way wager to ensure that some kind of return is guaranteed. A common use of Oscar’s Grind would be to back both red and black at the roulette wheel, though it can also be utilised for non-50/50 wagers such as ‘streets’ in roulette and when doubling down in blackjack.

On the face of it, that sounds counter-intuitive, but this is what many pundits would describe as a positive progression strategy.

The idea is that bets are sized so that losing streaks can be managed, and that winning streaks can be maximised with caution applied.

Here are the basic calculations:

·       Each session contains a number of wagers

·       A session is a sequence of bets made until 1 unit of profit is returned

·       Each session begins with a bet of 1 unit

·       The session continues until 1 unit is made

·       Subsequent bet sizes are decreased until 1 unit is won

·       Then, the sequence begins again

Some people are more visual learners, so here’s a graphical representation of Oscar’s Grind:

Size of bet



Next bet




Same size




Same size




Same size




Same size




Same size




Increase by 1




Same size




Increase by 1




Decrease for profit




Session end

 We label Oscar’s Grind as a strategy suitable for players looking to increase the steadiness in their game because of the discipline that it brings to staking.

The progressive aspect, similar in style to the Martingale and Labouchère systems, dictates that if we play for long enough, we will presumably turn a profit unless our losing streak lasts from now until the end of time!

Like those other progressive strategies, there is, of course, a chance that your bankroll could be severely diminished if you do embark on a lengthy sequence of losses.

But look at what happens with each win – there is a way to claw back your losses with diminishing stakes, so it is a more managed strategy than Martingale and the like.

In the example above, six losses in the session were quickly wiped out by just our winning wagers.

As we know, there is no mathematical logic to the idea of ‘streaks’, and so they can be put down to variance – ultimately, luck will even itself out.

However, for players who are looking to improve their steadiness, discipline and reliability, Oscar’s Grind does have its plus points.

No emotion

What else can help us to adopt a slow and steady approach in our gaming?

Certainly, taking the emotion out of your play is one way that you can improve your discipline and consistency.

That is easier said than done, of course, but if it is something that you can master, then the rewards are obvious.

There was a study compiled by Michael Laakasuo, Jussi Palomäki and Mikko Salmela in Finland entitled Cyberpsychology, Behaviour and Social Networking. Within the research, the trio wanted to examine how psychology affects people in a wide range of different scenarios.

One such situation that they investigated was online poker, and how individuals could cope better or worse than others with the emotional rigours of the game. They asked their 478 surveyed poker players to fill in a questionnaire that was based upon the principles of the ‘HEXACO’ model, namely:







The results were clear: lower scores recorded on the emotionality section typically manifested themselves as stability and a higher level of poker experience.

The researchers concluded that such emotional stability was key to being a successful poker player, with an ability to remain cool under pressure cited as being one of the key determining factors between success and otherwise.

We can understand why too. We know that there are moments to test us on the tables no matter which game we prefer. Bad beats are an occupational hazard, and remaining ‘steady’ even when we are being tested in such a way is key to protecting your bankroll from impetuous decision-making.

If you commit to the grind, you have to let good hands and bad hands exist in the past and concentrate on the next.

The illusion of control

The greatest threat to your steadiness when gambling are those cognitive biases that we can all be guilty of from time to time.

One of these is known as illusory control, which in simple terms is that the individual believes they can control outcomes that, in reality, they cannot.

Clearly, our casino gaming falls under this banner, and those who suffer more extreme versions of illusory control really can struggle to modify their actions on the felt.

The psychologist Ellen Langer originally coined the phrase for use in a variety of contexts, and linked to the notion of optimism bias, there will be gamers reading this who are nodding in recognition at falling foul of the illusion of control.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one!

There was the incredible story at the Winter Olympics of 2002, when the USA and Canada locked horns in the final of the ice hockey finals of both the men’s and women’s competitions.

Canada won both games, and rather than attributing their success to their qualities on the ice, they instead gave credit to a ‘lucky’ coin that they had embedded under the ice before the games. The coin was put in the Hockey Hall of Fame in the country, and fans make pilgrimages just to touch it!

It’s an amazing story, because clearly the coin had no impact upon the game – and yet it inspired confidence in the players, and gave them an ‘illusion of control’.

It is these illusory powers that give poker players and blackjack fans the false impression that they can turn losing streaks around, or that their ‘hot hand’ will continue for a while longer yet.

It is also apparent that some gamblers believe that they have an edge even when they don’t – again, an illusion that they have control over proceedings. This is also the case when we suffer a catalogue of near wins, with the brain fooling us into thinking that we have control over the outcome, and that it’s just ‘not our day’.

Why do lottery players pick the same numbers every week, even though there is no statistical reason to do so? Often, it’s because they feel that their ‘lucky’ numbers give them a greater chance of winning – an absolute myth, of course.

In conclusion, we can agree that steady players, free of emotional bias, make for better gamblers – that’s a point backed up by the science. If you consider yourself a steady player, feel free to put your skills to the test at Bitcasino, where we have a comprehensive range of games awaiting new players. If your skills require some work, remember that you can play our games for free in demo mode.  

Words: Sean McNulty

Images: PA


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Great Gambler Series (2/4) – Steadiness
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