Sizing Up Your Bankroll
How much cash should a video poker player bring to the casino?
By Jerry “Stickman” Stich
Winning is obviously the best way to have fun on a video poker machine, but as we know, most sessions will not be winners. In fact, even if you’re a pretty good player, losing sessions will probably outnumber winning sessions two to one.
A video poker player can be very careful and select the game with the highest return in the casino. It may even be over 100 percent, meaning he has an edge over the casino. The player can put in hours of time learning and practicing the correct strategy to maximize his return on the game. But unless the video poker player has enough money with him (or her), their lofty ambitions may not be realized.
Having too small a bankroll is the reason players have to quit early—sometimes days early. Let’s be clear about what I mean when I say bankroll. I mean money that is set aside speciﬁcally to be used for casino play. I don’t mean dipping into a common bank account that is accessed from an ATM with a bank debit card or (even worse) a credit card. The money cannot come from a bank account that is used for paying everyday bills like groceries, gas, mortgage, heart surgery and so forth. It must be money that is kept totally separate—money to be used strictly for casino gambling.
Ideally, the player will bring this money with them, rather than accessing a separate gambling bank account with a debit card. It’s far too easy to lose track of your withdrawals, or to start chasing losses, if you use a piece of plastic to obtain (or worse, replenish) your gambling stake.
Okay, enough about how you should set up a bankroll. How much should the bankroll contain? That’s the real question.
Let’s assume you have a totally separate bankroll for your casino video poker play. How much is enough? The short answer is, it depends.
First, make sure you choose an appropriate denomination of machine to play. If you only have a couple of hundred dollars, a dollar machine is not for you. A quarter machine might work if it has a high return and low variance and you will not be playing for too long. If you don’t size the game to your bankroll, you’re asking for trouble. Losing streaks—even on low variance games—are common. I once had a streak of 38 losing hands in a row, and this was on a low variance machine! Playing a quarter machine for 38 hands at $1.25 a hand amounts to nearly $50 lost in less than ﬁve minutes.
When ﬁguring out your required bankroll, a standard rule of thumb is that you’ll need three to four times the amount of what a royal pays on that machine. So if you’re playing a 25-cent game where a 5-credit royal ﬂush pays 4,000 credits or $1,000, your bankroll should be around $3,000–$4,000.
Do you absolutely need to bring this amount with you? Very likely, the answer is no, you don’t. The three to four times a royal ﬂush is a long-term bankroll requirement; it’s normally enough to tide you through until you hit your next royal ﬂush.
Playing three to four hours a day for three or four days is not really “long term”—although if you’re losing, it can certainly feel like forever. If you’re only at the casino for a few hours and will only be playing two hours, your bankroll requirements are much less than if you’re staying three days and playing four hours every day.
Let’s take the example of playing for a couple of hours. Once a strategy is learned, the rate of play can be anywhere from 200 to 1,200 hands per hour, depending on the player’s skill, the type of video poker game, the complexity of the strategy, and the speed of the machine.
For the sake of this discussion I’ll use 500 hands per hour as the rate of play. Two hours of play means 1,000 hands played. If the game played is the same 25-cent game with a 99.54 percent return and a 19.5 variance, $300 is a more than adequate bankroll to make sure the player doesn’t go broke.
What bankroll is required for a trip where you play four hours each day for three days? This trip has 500 hands per hour, four hours per day for three days. The calculation for total hands is 500 hands times four hours per day times three days = 6,000 hands. This is six times the number of hands as the previous two-hour session. Will a bankroll of $1,800 (6 times the $300 for two hours) be required? Thankfully, the answer is no. It works out that $900 is suﬃcient to last for the fourhour- per-day, three-day trip.
Keep in mind that the return and variance used in the above example is for one of the best all- around video poker games—9/6 full-pay Jacks or Better.
What would happen to bankroll requirements if a higher variance game was played? Let’s look at 9/6 Double Double Bonus Poker—the most popular version of a very popular video poker game. The key numbers here are the 98.98 percent return and the variance of 42.0. Let’s use the same playing parameters as above.
First, let’s see what the bankroll requirement will be for a two-hour session of 1,000 hands. The same bankroll of $300 will be totally wiped out one time in 20 sessions, or ﬁve percent of the time. In order to make sure your entire bankroll is not lost it needs to be at least $450—fully 50 percent more than for full-pay Jacks or Better.
If the same bankroll of $900 for the four hour-per-day, three-day trip playing 9/6 Jacks or Better was used for playing the Double Double Bonus game instead, the player would get wiped out one time in 11 visits, or nine percent of the time. The bankroll required to make sure it wasn’t entirely lost would be $1,650.
The bankroll requirements for 12 hours of Jacks or Better play is triple the original amount required ($900 versus $300), but the bankroll requirement for 12 hours of Double Double Bonus is three and two-thirds what is required for two hours ($1,650 versus $450).
Variance does make a diﬀerence, but in the case of Double Double Bonus Poker, the return is also lower than Jacks or Better.
Let’s try one more example of a very high variance game. 9/7 Triple Double Bonus has a return of 99.58 (just about the same as the 99.54 percent return of 9/6 Jacks or Better). The variance is 98.3 (roughly ﬁve times the 19.5 variance of Jacks or Better). To play two hours of Triple Double Bonus requires a bankroll of $600 to make sure the entire amount is not lost. Even though this game has nearly the same very good return, the variance doubles the bankroll requirements for two hours of play versus Jacks or Better. The Triple Double Bonus player will need one-third more bankroll for two hours of play than what is needed for Double Double Bonus, even though Triple Double Bonus has a better return.
For a three-day, four-hour-per-day trip, $2,100 is required to make sure the player doesn’t go bust. This is one-third more than for Double Double Bonus and two and one-half times what is required for Jacks or Better.
If you’re planning a three-day trip to the casino to play video poker, would you rather play 12 hours for $900 or less, or would you rather play 12 hours for $2,100 or less? I know my answer.
Variance matters. Don’t take it lightly. Return is only one factor. Variance is perhaps an even more important factor in protecting your bankroll.