Under penalty of ... winning?

Jul 30, 2007 5:22 AM

This past week, I received a letter from a reader who told me a little story about a correspondence he had had with my father, Lenny Frome. My dad had written an article about the importance of stopping while you were ahead. The reader wrote to him and asked "but what if I’m in Las Vegas for three days, and I’m winning big by 10 a.m. of the first day?" My dad’s response was that this was the "penalty for winning."

If you’re playing negative games (games with a payback of less than 100%), which means most of the games in a casino, the more you play, the more likely you will lose and the more likely you will lose more.

Unless, of course, you have the ability to defy gravity. If the basic laws of science and math don’t apply to you, then perhaps you can play negative games until the end of time and somehow wind up a winner. Not even by stopping when you’re a winner will you accomplish this feat.

This is not to say that if you’re playing positive games that you’re guaranteed to walk away a winner. Most positive games are just barely positive, and a great deal of the payback sits in the very rare hands. You can play right on track for everything but the royals, which may go cold on you, and you’re still going to lose. Once you’ve lost your bankroll, you don’t have the opportunity to win it back on the turnaround, unless you increase the size of your bankroll, which is not necessarily a good idea.

There does seem to be conflicting messages here. On the one hand, if the longer you play the game, the more likely you are to reach the theoretical payback, then what is the point of stopping any particular session when you’re a winner? From a purely mathematical perspective, there is no point. By taking your money off the table, going home and taking a nap and then coming back, you don’t alter your chances of winning or losing any more or less than someone who keeps on playing — assuming that in the end, you each play the same number of hands.

If I play for 10 hours and you play for 5 hours, then our results are expected to be vastly different. If I play from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and you play from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., go up to your room to take a nap and then play again from 11 a.m. until noon, our expected results are 100% identical.

It doesn’t matter if you walked away when you were up or down. The expected results after 2 hours of play will be the same whether it is a continuous 2 hours or broken down into two sessions or 100 sessions. The same is true if you’re talking about 500 hours.

It doesn’t matter if I play 10 hours a day for 50 days or 1 hour a day for 500 days. In the end, I would’ve played 500 hours and assuming the same game with the same paytables, the results are expected to be the same.

So, if there is no mathematical reason, then what is the reason for leaving a winner? There are two key reasons and they are both psychological reasons. The first is that gambling is still a form of entertainment for most players. While we all accept a certain amount of losing, no one wants to lose all the time.

So, if you find yourself significantly up, it is probably worth it to walk away. The math tells us that what comes up is very likely to come back down (even with positive games). So, walk away not only a winner money-wise, but psychologically.

The second reason is related to the firstt reason and even wanders its way over to the math-side of things. The third leg of Expert Strategy is knowing what to expect. You should EXPECT to walk away a winner a fair amount of times. By actually doing it, it affirms that the methodology that you are using to play (i.e. the STRATEGY) is the right one and keeps you from straying.

If you keep on losing, you’re likely to give up on the strategy, assuming, of course, it must be the strategy that is flawed and not your use of it. Once you choose THIS course, all is lost. Before you know it, you’ll start believing that by going up to your room between sessions makes an actual mathematical difference in your expected payback.

It is always a good idea to take a break anyway, to stretch your legs or to clear your head. Why not do it while you’re carrying the casino’s money? It really isn’t such a penalty, after all.