Turning the Tables - Section IV: Feelin' Froggy


French Roulette (or "Single-Zero Roulette") tends to be the wager of choice among true roulette connoisseurs. This is because, with one less pocket (and, consequently, one less zero), its total house advantage is half that of American Roulette, 2.7 percent. Moreover, most French Roulette tables offer “En Prison,” a rule similar to Surrender. It shrinks the casino’s advantage even further to a mere 1.35 percent by giving any player who loses an even-money bet due to the ball landing in the zero pocket the option of either giving up half his bet or having the whole bet held over for the next spin; if he wins the next spin, the full bet is returned to him with no additional winnings, and if he loses, the full bet is lost.

That being said, the French Roulette wheel does have its tricky points. For one thing, its designers, the Blancs, were a million times the mathematicians the American wheel’s inventors were, and as a result, the standard French wheel has no contiguous number spans covered by a handful of choice propositions. In fact, the whole French number sequence is enough to baffle anyone who wants to memorize the wheel:

French r layout

As you can see from the graphics above, the French layout looks very different from its American cousin, with several outside propositions on both sides of the mat and every nook and cranny packed with French terminology. We don’t expect you to parlez-vous, but if you could, you’d discover that every one of French Roulette’s regular betting options is exactly the same as those on an American table. The only exceptions are that American Roulette has the two special street bets we mentioned before, and French Roulette occasionally allows for a split dozens bet:

Where French Roulette really differs from American Roulette is in the bets that don’t exist on the layout. There are actually several of these known as “call bets,” which can only be made if a player sets the appropriate amount of chips on the table and asks the croupier to place the bets for him. They essentially make up for the loss of those contiguous inside bets we’ve been talking about. But unlike the contiguous bets on an American layout they require you to bet on each individual number in the sequence. Naturally, this is better for the house because the player’s “exposure” (or the amount wagered in proportion to the number of pockets covered) is at its maximum, resulting in a lower real payoff.

Often, the call-bet layout is close to the croupier, either on the wheel or near it. Sometimes, though, there is no special layout and the croupier simply places a player’s call bets on the regular layout. Below is a chart explaining what all this call-bet mumbo-jumbo means, as well as a typical example of how the layout looks if it does appear on the table:

The main thing about these bets is the real payoff. We mentioned calculating this in “What’re the Odds,” but now we’re going to go through it step-by-step just to make sure you’re on the same page. Basically, all you do is subtract the number of units lost from the number of units won, keeping the units you bet on the winning proposition on the right side of the dash. So looking at the simplest of these, Voisins du Zero, you have to bet one unit on each of the five “neighbors,” including the middle number. Now let’s say the middle number wins. You lose the units you bet on the other neighbors (four units total) and win 35 units on the middle number. Because you’re sustaining a loss, you’re actually only winning 31 units for every one unit you bet. So the real payoff for this bet is 31:1. This is much better than a “quad” or “carre” bet in which, if you placed five units on it, would only pay 8-1 with real odds of 33:4. But it doesn’t come close to the American contiguous; whose real odds are 11:8 for a coverage area of two uninterrupted sequences of eight pockets.

If you really want to work it out, the question of which contiguous is better becomes much more involved. But, contrary to what you might think, determining this is more a matter of exposure than probability. Most people mistakenly believe you can find out how far ahead you’ll get by treating an outcome’s probability as a portion of 100 bets. They reason that if they have a 50-percent chance of winning on a coin toss and there are 100 tosses they should win 50 times. However, the probability that any set of 100 tosses would have exactly 50 heads and exactly 50 tails is only 8 percent. Why? Because, when we’re talking percentages for an occurrence, we’re only looking at the likelihood that it will happen on one trial. The other trials—assuming they’re all made with the same equally balanced coin and that coin doesn’t incur any physical wear from being flipped—are totally separate events and are unrelated to the first event.

Over time, it’s true, the number of times an outcome occurs will eventually average out to something close to its percentage probability. But that “over time” is actually a long, long time—perhaps billions and billions of flips (or spins). The best route with any game of chance, then, is to always play a single bet with the greatest coverage. This will give you a greater probability of winning on each spin, which in the end, is the best you can hope for.

Really, whichever type of contiguous bet you choose, you'll still be in the hole because of that infernal vig. Over time, if you play either of them by themselves and don’t change the amount you bet, you will incrementally lose a small about of your bankroll on each bet. You can test this yourself by using a short mathematical formula for determining the “expected value” of a wager. All you do is multiply the amount of you’d lose on a bet by your probability of losing and add the real payoff times the probability of winning. For the French neighbors bet, this would look something like this:

(-$5 x 32/37) + ($31 x 5/38)=?
-$4.32 + $4.07=?

$4.07 - $4.32= -$.25

And for the American contiguous:

(-$4 x 26/38) + (-$1 x 33/38) + ($4 x 12/38) + ($2 x 5/38)=?
(-$2.74) + (-$.87) + ($1.26) + ($.26)=?
$1.26 + $.26 - $2.74 - $.87=?
$1.52 - $3.61= -$2.09

This may not make much sense when you’re up, but that’s because you’re not counting how many spins you’ve played. If you did—and had more money than God to test it—you’d find that, over hours and hours of play, your average loss would be about equal to the answer to the expected value problem. This isn’t to say, however, that playing these bets—and especially the American contiguous—is pointless. They can, in fact, be very helpful when combined with the right system, as we’ll see in Section VI. For now, though, we’re satisfied that we’ve expanded your horizons, and we’re going to finish off this section with another small list of details that, while they aren’t terribly important for system play, are worth knowing if you ever decide to play French Roulette:

  • Check Yourself: Unlike American tables, checks don’t exist in French Roulette. Instead, players bet with the same casino chips they’d use at the poker and Craps tables. This might seem to make things simpler, but in fact, it can actually cause a great deal of confusion, especially when two players bet the same chip denominations on the same proposition and it wins.
  • Team Players: American Roulette tables will generally have two casino attendants, the dealer who spins the wheel, collects the bets and handles buy-ins and cash-outs, and the “mucker” or “chipracker,” who keeps the “bank” (the casino’s side of the table) straightened, stacks the checks and helps the dealer count out payoffs. In French Roulette, the division of labor goes one step further, with three casino personnel at each wheel: A croupier, who oversees the operation, a “stick man” who clears the layout with a stick resembling a miniature shuffleboard paddle, and the “tourneur” who operates the wheel. This might seem a little excessive, but it makes a heck of a lot of sense when you consider that French Roulette dealers need to keep track of whose chips are whose.
  • Double Trouble: French Roulette tables often have two wheels and one layout or two layouts and one wheel, with a team of attendants for each piece. No doubt, this is useful for speeding up play because roulette tends to draw a crowd in Europe. But it also makes some play strategies literally impossible. One of these is the “visual-tracking/past-posting” system, in which one player watches the wheel to determine the general area the ball will land in (visual tracking), then signals his teammate who bets on that area of the wheel after the dealer has called all bets final (past posting). Casino attendants will boot a player out the door if they catch him using the latter technique, and naturally, with five or six table operators, the chances of that happening go up big-time.
Where 'da Wheels At
Casino Single-Zero wheels don't just show up in Europe. In fact, tons of U.S. casinos have them too. Here's a list of where you can find that sweet 2.7 percent edge if you ever find yourself over the Pond.
1. The Showboat Atlantic City (In the baccarat room)*
2. The Trump Marina Atlantic City
3. Trump Plaza Atlantic City
4. The Trump Taj Mahal Atlantic City (In the baccarat room)
5. Treasure Bay Biloxi, Mississippi (French layout)
6. The Bellagio Las Vegas (In the high-limit area)
7. Binions Horse Shoe Las Vegas
8. The Hilton Las Vegas (In the baccarat room)
9. The MGM Grand Las Vegas
10. The Mirage Las Vegas
11. The Montecarlo Las Vegas
12. Paris Las Vegas (French layout)
13. The Reserve Las Vegas
14. The Stratosphere Las Vegas
15. Club Cal-Neva Reno
16. The Peppermill Reno
17. Caesar's Tahoe Lake Tahoe (In the baccarat room)
* Note: Most U.S. casinos with Single-Zero wheels have "hybrid wheels" (a form of roulette with a French wheelhead and an English-language layout). Unless otherwise noted, the above wheels are all hybrids. Also, Atlantic City casinos do NOT offer Surrender on Single-Zero wheels.

Besides those listed, most other U.S. casinos also have Single-Zero wheels. However, these are strictly reserved for V.I.P.s and high rollers.

Read Section V: Your Grandpappy's System

- Phill Provance