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My father’s first full-length book came out 20 years ago, in 1992.  It was titled America’s National Game of Chance: Video Poker. It is a 200 plus page compilation of about 75 of his best articles on video poker. He chose to self publish it, risking the considerable sum of money it took to print up 1000 copies of it.

I’m not totally sure how many printings the book actually underwent over the next several years, but in the end, he sold thousands of copies.

A few years later when he wrote Winning Strategies for Video Poker, sales of his first book dropped off considerably. The irony is that Winning Strategies is hardly an update to America’s National Game of Chance. Winning Strategies is just 60+ strategy tables for the most popular video poker games in America at the time.

I believe thanks in part to my father, many of the poor paying pay tables from the 1990’s no longer exist, so some of the strategy tables provide little benefit. America’s National Game of Chance, on the other hand, is as useful today as it was the day it first came home from the printer.

If you like to learn video poker from anecdotal stories that can teach a lesson, then this is the book for you!

This week’s column is based on one of the columns in that first book. It deals with coming to the casino with the proper sized bankroll. Per Wikipedia, a common meaning of Gambler’s ruin is that a gambler with finite wealth, playing a fair game (that is, each bet has expected value zero to both sides) will eventually go broke against an opponent with infinite wealth.

In the real world, this means that you, the player, will eventually go broke against the casino even if you are playing a 100% game! So, imagine what happens if you are playing even a 99% game. To flip this around a bit, you can at least improve your odds of not going broke if you show up with an appropriate sized bankroll for the game you are playing.

To help illustrate this point, my father put together a little simulation of a simple 100% game. The player makes a $1 wager and is paid based on the value of a numbered ping pong ball chosen at random. The balls are numbered 1 to 100 and each has the same probability of being drawn.

If the number 1 comes up, he is paid 50. If the number 2 comes up, he is paid 25. If the number 3 comes up, his paid 10 and if the numbers 4 thru 18 comes up, he is paid 1 unit.

If 100 play this game and start with $10 each, we find that 64 will go bust by the time the game is played 20 times. An additional 10 will go bust by the time it is played 40 times.  Only 10 will still be playing after 500 hands.

If we repeat this exercise but start with $20, we find that only 48 players go bust by 40 plays, 13 additional by 80 plays and that nine will still be playing after 1,000 games.

If the players start with $40, only 34 will go bust by 80 plays. There will be 16 additional players that bust by 160 plays and 14 still playing at 2,000 games.

If a player were to start with $500, he could likely play for a lifetime without going bust. Remember that this game was set up to play at 100%. If we add up the outcomes of all players, it will still show that the total amount paid equals the total amount wagered.

For the 34, 48 and 64 players that went bust before playing 20, 40 and 80 hands respectively, there was no coming back to the average.

Even though the math dictates that in the long run players should break even, they will have walked away from the table before ever getting the opportunity to come back. All because they showed up with bankrolls too small for the game they chose to play.

There are many factors that decide the likelihood of having a winning session. Knowing the right strategy is certainly at the top of the list and yes, a little bit of luck never hurt. Being able to play long enough to allow the strategy to outweigh the luck is super critical. To do this, you need to show up with enough bankroll.

For video poker, it is suggested that your bankroll be equal to about 80 wagers. So, if you’re playing max-coin quarters, this means $100.

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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