Is ‘Risk of Ruin’ a factor in your video poker play?

April 30, 2002 3:38 AM
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Playing video poker requires a basic understanding of what it means to gamble with a deck of cards. It also requires some cash on hand. The question is, just how much money do players need in order to stay in the game and win something ”” which is every gambler’s wish whenever they walk into a casino?

Well, here’s where it becomes challenging to even the most knowledgeable of players. But there’s no need for it to be that way. If you’ve ever become entangled in this web of confusion, it’s only because you’ve entered into the realm of what the mathematicians call Risk of Ruin (RoR), which is based on a series of calculations that have little if any meaning to anyone who plays video poker at any level.

If there were any plausible reason for the RoR tables that appear on any number of gambling-related sites, I’d expect it would be to appease the probability theory appetites of those who become excited with information overload and statistical analysis. But I won’t print any of the many charts in this article because it would chase away 98 percent of the readers within seconds. But what real value do these tables have to those who actually gamble rather than to those who get turned on by running through the numbers? Let’s take a look ”” through the eyes of a simplified categorization of the various types of players.

RoR identifies what amount of bankroll is required to have a theoretical chance of going broke before winning something when playing a certain game computer-perfect at a certain denomination. For instance, if you play 25-cent Full-Pay Deuces Wild video poker, it may take $9,000 in order to have a 2 percent chance of losing it all, or it might be that a $5,000 bankroll may have a 10 percent chance of going bust. These numbers aren’t accurate ”” since I don’t have an interest in keeping up with them ”” but they’re close enough to get the idea.

How do such calculations affect anyone who plays? I know a lot of people who travel to Las Vegas three to four times a year for a short vacation and as much video poker play as they can stay awake for. Are they going to look at these charts (every game is analyzed to the nth degree) before coming to town, and grab a quick $5,000 because of them? Of course not! Do they keep a special stash of money for these trips, and only come when they have the mathematically correct bankroll according to what they read?

What kind of nonsense would that be? What they do is come when they can get away from work, and they come with whatever spare cash they have.

Kicking it up one more notch, what about those who can be in town at least two or three times a month to play, or even those who live there and play recreationally? They may read the RoR charts as I used to, but in the end, frequent visitors gamble with whatever they have, and locals pop in to play whenever they have the time for however long they can afford. Are they concerned at all with what probability curves and computer models say about what their starting bankroll should be? They’re infinitely more consumed with what they go home with!

Going up another level, to what degree do the local professionals worry about RoR charts? Well, here’s the real rub. You’d expect they’d strictly adhere to the rules of the game because they quote the rules, but most of them play far outside the margin of safety. I have a difficult time following their many contradictory statements, but I believe it’s that way for a reason. I’ve tried asking two of them to clearly explain how on the one hand it’s this, and on the other, it’s that in articles they’ve written. But they won’t talk to me. Either way, it’s not a good example to follow and it’s not important, because most players don’t play that often or for those stakes.

Finally, for my particular case as an out-of-town professional player who travels to Nevada almost weekly to play a session, what does RoR say to me? It may be odd, but I’m one of the very few players who actually has a very specific bankroll set aside for my play. Yet I don’t buy into any of the baloney of the charts or the rhetoric that goes with them. Again it all boils down to some people making a math class out of a game of chance. One of the problems with RoR is that it’s a constantly moving target. Unless it’s a push, after the results from each hand are known, your RoR changes. And most people don’t care about it anyway. They go in to play and hopefully win with whatever funds are available at the time. They don’t plan their visits around what someone else says. After all, their goal is to win or lose only what they brought to play ”” not to go home in ruin.