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A frustrated video poker player looks for help

By Henry Tamburin


bankrollI received the following email from a frustrated video poker player (Mary, but not her real name). I decided to make it the topic of my column this month. This is what Mary wrote.

“I followed your advice and practicing my playing strategy for 8/5 Bonus Poker on my computer (this is the best video poker game offered at my local casino). My playing accuracy was consistently over 99%, and I even brought a strategy card with me when I played. I’m a dollar player and I play for 7 hours. In my first two sessions, I lost my entire bankroll ($1500 each trip). I never expected to lose $3000 playing accurately at a game with a 99.1% return. Help!”

I subsequently spoke to Mary and found out the following:

■ She found out that 8/5 BP was the best video poker game (i.e., highest Expected Return or ER) at her local casino by using the database on

■ She purchased a video poker software trainer (Video Poker for Winners) and diligently practiced on her laptop until her playing accuracy was consistently 99% or higher. (She practiced for an hour or so nearly every day for about two weeks.)

■ She also purchased an 8/5 Bonus Poker strategy card that she brought with her when she played. (She used the card several times in both sessions when she “wasn’t 100% sure” which cards to hold for a particular hand.)

Everything Mary did was exactly what you should do to play video poker skillfully. Unfortunately, what she didn’t do was to determine what her risk of going broke would be playing 8/5 BP at a dollar denomination for 7 hours with a $1500 bankroll.

I’ll give you an example of how Mary could have determined beforehand what the chances were of losing $1500. In the December issue of Strictly Slots, I interviewed Dunbar (a professional gambler with a strong mathematical background), who developed his acclaimed software Dunbar’s Risk Analyzer for Video Poker. I used his software (recently released v2) to analyze the game Mary was playing.

I input the following information into the software to determine Mary’s chance of going broke:

The specific game (in our case it’s 8/5BP).

Trip Bankroll: $1500

Number of Hours: 7


Hands per Hour: 700 (based on Mary telling me she played “fast”)

Number of Trials: 10,000 (This is the number of times the program will “play” the specified number of hands)

Here is what the software calculated:

■ 2012 out of 10,000 trials, Mary can expect to lose her $1500 bankroll, resulting in a rather high 20% Risk of Ruin (i.e., RoR).

A 20% RoR means that for every 100 trips that Mary takes to play 8/5 BP for 7 hours at 700 hands per hour with a $1500 bankroll, she can expect to go broke on 20 of those trips. Unfortunately, you can’t predict which trips are the ones that she will lose her bankroll. (In Mary’s case, it was a worst case scenario of losing her bankroll on her first two trips.)

When I play video poker, I bring enough bankroll so my RoR is a more comfortable 5%. If Mary wants to lower her RoR to 5% with the way she is playing (8/5 BP, 7 hours, 700 hand per hour), she would need to bring more bankroll (she would need a $2000 bankroll for 5% RoR. This means she would have to increase her bankroll by $500 to reduce her risk of going broke to 5%. But what If Mary didn’t want to bring that much money on each trip (or couldn’t afford the additional $500 bankroll), are there other options for her to lower the RoR? The answer is yes, and by using Dunbar’s Risk Analyzer for Video Poker, I arrived at the following options:

By slowing down her pace of play from 700 to 600 hands per hour, Mary would reduce her RoR to 14%. (That slower pace of play can easily be achieved by taking an occasional break.) Furthermore, by shortening her playing session from 7 to 6 hours, Mary would further decrease the RoR to 9%.

2.By increasing her bankroll by $100 (to $1600) and playing 600 hands per hour for 6 hours, her RoR would drop to 6%.

I discussed these options with Mary, and then she brought up another point: she was led to believe by casino personnel at her local casino that they will be installing 9/6 Bonus Poker Deluxe games in the near future. She wanted to know if she switched to this game, which has a higher ER (99.6%) than 8/5 BP (99.1%), would it lower the RoR? The short answer is NO, because even though 9/6 Bonus Poker Deluxe has a higher ER, it also has wilder bankroll swings which would negatively impact the RoR . If Mary were to play this game instead of 8/5 BP, for 7 hours at 700 hands per hour, the RoR would zoom to 39% with a $1500 bankroll.

Mary said she learned a lot from our discussions about RoR and now understands how it was possible for her to lose $1500 in each of her two sessions, playing a 99.1% ER game. She decided going forward to increase her session bankroll to $1600 (which she could afford), take more breaks while playing, and only play 6 (instead of 7) hour sessions to lower the RoR (to 6%). (She also decided to purchase the software … smart move on her part.)

Henry Tamburin is a blackjack and video poker expert. He is the host of the website and the editor of the Blackjack Insider newsletter (for a free three-month subscription, visit For a free copy of his Casino Gambling Catalog, which contains books, strategy cards, and software for casino players, call toll free 1-888-353-3234, or visit the web store at


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