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One of the questions I’m often asked is how do you know when to stop playing. This is not an easy question to answer. It is a good idea to go in with a plan. But, it is tough to give a one-size-fits-all answer.

Some people have in mind an amount of time they want to gamble. Others say they’ll only lose a certain amount. Both of these are part of the reason why they can build multi-billion dollar casinos.

It is a good idea to have a limit as to how much you are willing to lose in any given session. But, you should focus on the other side of the equation, too. How much do you need to be up before you decide to take a walk?

You may have started by saying you’re going to quit at 11 p.m., but what if at 10 p.m. you’re up a couple hundred dollars? You’re playing a game with a house advantage (as virtually all games have one). The longer you play, the less likely you walk away a winner.

The long term Expert Strategy is there to make sure we lose as little as possible when playing negative games. Only when we find the occasional positive game can we expect to win over the long haul. So, how much do you have to be up in order to walk away?

Obviously, the answer to this is dependent on a lot of things. First, how much you’re playing for. Realistically a $5 blackjack player should have a very different goal than a $25 person. Second, which game you are playing?

A blackjack player can’t have the same goal as a video poker player. Blackjack is a grind, a game that pays mostly even money with a near 50% chance of winning any hand. In video poker, you’re playing a game in which only a small fraction of hands are actual winners, as many paying hands are just pushes (High Pairs).

Also, hit a Royal and you’ve got a big win in one hand. You can’t really do that in blackjack, unless you’re playing a sidebet. So, if you hit a Royal in your first 10 hands are you ready to call it a night at that point?

For any given game, I could simulate a reasonable session and plot the ups and downs. In a simple version, it would entail 100 hands of blackjack. Let’s be real, if you’re betting $5 a hand, you’re not going to be up $500 after 100 hands. What about $100 though? Even that would be unlikely, but not impossible.

I haven’t actually run the simulation, so I can’t give you an exact number. But in reviewing the results, I would be able to say there is a certain probability you will get to X profit, and this might be a reasonable goal at which to press your luck would likely be foolish.

Now, past experience does not affect future results. We’ve all heard that expression, and where gambling is concerned it is most certainly true. But, it would also be foolish to ignore the feeling of walking away a winner. We’ve all been in the situation where we were up a certain amount and pressed a little further, only to lose our winnings and some or all of our bankroll. It is not a good feeling.

If you take gambling as a form of entertainment, usually it is more enjoyable when you walk away a winner. Sometimes, you have fun while losing, too, and that is simply the price of the entertainment. But, I’ve rarely found anyone who had no fun while winning.

There is one other point I’d like to bring up about when to call it quits. I sort of hit this one today while playing video poker. I had been playing for about an hour and half to two hours. It wasn’t going so well. It was a slow and steady decline of my bankroll.

Then I hit Four Aces and I had my bankroll back plus a little extra. I was about ready to leave, but I decided to play for a few more minutes to the nearest round dollar amount and minimum coin in. It was amazing how after nearly two hours of playing a slow and steady decline, the game decided to go flatline. I neither hit my upper or lower goal and it was not a wide range.

After about 20 minutes of this, I hit Four Aces again, this time with a kicker, but of course with only one unit in. A nice windfall again. Again, I played the little game with my bankroll within a more narrow range. Again, this went on for another 15 minutes.

At this point, I began to realize I was mentally fatigued and making mistakes. Nothing major, but I’d miss having a Low Pair and would instead hold Two High Cards. In one case, I accidentally held one High Card instead of two. I probably made 3 or 4 mistakes over 100 hands or so. For me, that is a lot. That’s when I realized my little game with my bankroll wasn’t worth it. It was time to go.

So, when you are mentally tired, it is time to call it quits no matter where you are in your bankroll. Winning when playing perfectly can be hard enough. Start making mistakes 2-3% of the hands and the probability can plummet. As far as I know, I didn’t do anything totally egregious, but I’m sure I potentially cost myself some units. If I had kept going, it could’ve cost me even more.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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