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When to play and when to walk away

Jerry Stich

Almost everyone who plays video poker has some sort of money management techniques. By this I mean that they have some idea before they play about when they are going to stop playing based on where their bankroll stands.

One of the most basic (and unfortunately also the most prevalent, it seems) might be called the “play until I can’t any more” money management technique. With this technique, the player simply plays until they get too tired, run out of time, or run out of money. It does not matter whether they have a terrible run of luck or hit a royal flush. Those who practice this technique simply do not care about how much they are up or down. They simply want to play until they can no longer do so. Many of this type of money management player, when faced with a depleted bankroll, might go to an ATM to get more money should they run out before they are too tired or out of time. While this is, indeed, a money management technique; it is not a good one. It is more accurately an “I don’t care about the money” management technique. At least it is during the time they are in a casino.

Others set a certain amount of time for a playing session. They will play until the time is up or they are out of money. This might be called a “session time limit” money management technique. These players may also hit the ATM if they run out of money in order to have the stake to finish the time allocated to the playing session. While it is better than the “play until I can’t any more” money management technique because there is initially some limit to play, this technique can still cause the player to lose more than he or she can afford.

Others may use a technique where they have a certain bankroll amount allocated for each playing session. When the amount is gone, they are done. This might be called a “play until I am out of my session bankroll” money management technique. These players will also most likely continue to play until they are either out of the allocated money, or they are too tired, or out of time even when they win large jackpots. This technique is much better than the “play until I can’t any more” or the “session time limit” techniques because the amount of loss is limited to the amount the player can (seemingly) afford. The amount is set before the player hits the casino so the bankroll is not impacted by the thrill of casino play.

Another technique, especially when the casino is not very crowded, is to allocate a certain amount of bankroll to play on each machine. For example, it might be $100 per machine if playing at the one dollar level. When that money is gone, it is on to the next machine and a fresh $100 bill. The process of moving from machine to machine continues until the player is tired, out of this session’s bankroll, or out of time.

All of the above techniques for money management have a stop loss—although at times that loss may be a moving target. Many players, especially those who are not such adrenaline junkies to gambling, find they also like some sort of stop win to limit their play. It is nice to have a winning session periodically. One common type of stop win is to continue to play until a major jackpot is hit. What defines a major jackpot is open to interpretation. The type of game certainly also has a bearing on it. Jacks or Better has really only one jackpot— the royal flush. Games such as Double- Double Bonus Poker have the royal flush, as well as the high-paying hands of four aces (with or without a kicker) and four 2s, 3s or 4s (also with or without a kicker). Many of the players who use this type of stop win will play the credits left after collecting the jackpot until a nice round number is left before cashing those credits out.

Another stop win technique is to stop playing when a certain dollar amount is achieved. This works for the players who like to sit at one machine the entire session as well as for those who like to hop from machine to machine. The only difference between the two types of player might be the actual dollar stop limit. The limit for stationary players might be a bit higher than for a machine hopper because the stationary player is using this limit to trigger the end of an entire playing session where the machine hopper is using this amount to trigger a switch to another machine. The stationary player may use 1,000 credits as a stop win, where a machine hopper may use 500 credits.

I happen to be a machine hopper. I realize that switching machines will in no way alter the overall average win or loss. It will be exactly what the math says it will be. No, I simply get bored playing the same machine and like to do things to break up my playing sessions.

I will put $100 in a machine and play until I lose the $100 or until it reaches a certain upper limit. If I lose the $100, I move on to the next machine. When I hit the stop win limit, I cash out, put the pay ticket in my pocket and insert another $100 in the same machine and repeat the entire process. I play until I go past the win limit and then lose enough to hit the limit on the way down. I use a sliding win limit. Once I go past the initial win limit, I will quit playing either when I lose back to that limit or hit the next higher $100 multiple. If my initial win limit is $500, after I exceed $500 my next win limit is either $600 or the initial $500. Once I hit $600, the win limits (high and low) are bumped by another $100 and so on. But how do I determine the initial win limit? I have used two different initial win limits—$500 and $200. By cashing out when I hit $500 and inserting another $100 I am guaranteed at least a $300 win for this machine (the $500 cashed out minus my original $100 and the follow up $100 inserted after cashing out). With $200 as a win limit, I am guaranteed to do no worse break even on the machine.

How do these different win limits affect the game? Obviously it is far easier to hit the $200 target than it is to hit $500. However, there is a guaranteed profit from the machine by waiting until $500 is hit.

I play dollar video poker which means each hand is a five dollar bet. In order to determine the average number of times I will lose my $100 versus hit the stop win amount, I used Dunbar’s Risk Analyzer Version 2.0. I first selected the game I play. Then I set my bankroll to $100. Next I set the stop win to $200 for one run and to $500 for the next run.

With the stop win set to $500, I will lose my $100 92 percent of the time. I will only reach $500 about once every twelve attempts.

If, however, my stop win is $200, I will only lose my $100 77 percent of the time. I will hit the $200 stop win once in approximately every four attempts.

Once again, either way I will end up winning or losing the same total amount depending on what the math of the game says. The only difference is the degree of bankroll fluctuation experienced during play. If there is a stop win of $500, the bankroll will jump every time the goal is reached. However, in between those nice wins, is one $100 loss after another. By reducing the stop win to $200, not much is won, but the stop win will happen a lot more often so the bankroll drawdowns will be much less drastic.

Using a stop win adds another factor in determining when you stop play. It does not alter the end result. The math of the game determines that. It will only change the ride you take on your journey to that ultimate end amount. If you like excitement and wild swings, set your stop win to a high amount. If you would rather keep on a more even keel, keep your stop win fairly low. You do have a say in your gambling experience.


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