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Plan for winning session

May 17, 2004 11:04 PM

What does it take to have a winning session when playing video poker? Luck can always play a part, but there are ways to minimize the impact of luck. If you start with a large enough bankroll relative to the denomination you are playing, and you set a reasonable goal, you can increase your chances of a winning session dramatically.

So, if it’s so easy, why doesn’t everyone do it? Part of the problem is that the goal is not to have a winning ”˜session’ but to win in the long run. If you have 10 winning sessions of $100, and one losing session of $1,000, what have you accomplished? Only the ability to brag about having won more sessions than you’ve lost.

Let’s use a simple example to illustrate this point. You and a friend each start with $100 and a silver dollar. You start flipping the coin. If it’s ”˜heads’ you owe your friend $1. If it’s ”˜tails’ your friend gives you $1. After many flips of the coin, one of you will have $200. If you do this enough times, you’ll begin to notice that the number of winning sessions is the same as the number of losing sessions. After a few million flips of the coins, you’ll be surprised to find yourself within a few dollars of even.

Suppose you start with $200 and your friend with $100? A session ends when one of you is out of money. Perhaps, not surprisingly, you will win two sessions to every one your friend wins. Great, huh? The only problem is that when YOU lose, you lose $200 and when you win, you win $100. After the same million flips of the coin, you’re in the same place as when you each started with $100.

What happens if you start with $1,000 and your friend with $100. Nothing surprising happens. You’ll win 10 sessions to every one you lose. You’ll win $100 each time you win, but lose $1,000 every time you lose. After the millions of flips, you’re still close to even.

So, how does this all help you in the casino? It really depends on what your goal is, how much you are willing to risk and just how much video poker you plan on playing.

First of all, it must be realized that no casino game is as simple as the flip of a coin. Even video poker machines that pay 100% have a much higher degree of volatility than flipping a coin. This means that the expected swings in your bankroll are much greater than the coin-toss game. If you start with $20 playing max-coin quarters and plan on stopping when you win $20, you’re going to find it tough to handle the normal swings in bankroll. You need to make sure your bankroll gives you a fighting chance. Having a bankroll of 200-300 times your wager is a good rule of thumb. For a max-coin quarter player, this means $250-$375 dollars.

So, let’s say you start with $300 and you set a goal of stopping if you double your money. If the Video poker machine you are playing pays EXACTLY 100%, would you have as many winning sessions as losing sessions? Sorry, the answer is no. Here is where the volatility of the game comes into play. Because of the nature of video poker, and specifically the high end payouts (royal flushes, straight flushes and quads), there will be sessions when you win significantly more than $300. Since you’re starting with a bankroll of exactly $300, you can never lose more than this (assuming you’re disciplined enough to stay away from the ATM!).

What happens if I set a more meager goal of stopping when I’m up ONLY $100. The math begins to get complex so I will not bother with the detailed numbers. Suffice it to say that your odds of achieving this goal will go up. The problem is, just like in our coin toss problem, you may win 3 out of 4 sessions, winning a total of $300, but you’ll lose one session. You’re total net profit will be ZERO!

What if we take this to an extreme? Let’s say I walk into the casino with $10,000, sit down at quarter video poker, and will stop when I’m up $100. Roughly speaking, this will occur 99 times out of 100. Again, the problem is that 100th time when I will lose my entire bankroll of $10,000. In the end, my net profit will be ZERO. Of course, this assumes that I will be having numerous sessions in a casino. What if I’ll be in a casino, once and only once? Or maybe just a couple of times. It sounds like it makes sense to go in with a huge bankroll relative to how much I want to win. Certainly your chances are very good of making your goal. In the case of the $10,000 bankroll, you have (roughly) a 99% chance of making your $100 target. Even if you have two sessions, you’ll have a (roughly) 98% chance of winning both sessions. Again, the problem is IF you get really unlucky and wind up with the 1% chance of losing it all.

What does this all boil down to? A leopard can’t change its spots, and a video poker machine can’t play at a different overall payback (assuming expert play) no matter what your starting bankroll is or what point you tell yourself you’re going to stop. The more hands you play the more likely you will approach the theoretical payback. NOTHING can change this.

Can reaching the long term take a lifetime? If you live in Las Vegas and play regularly, not likely. If you live on the East Coast and frequent the casinos there for a day or two a month, it might take several years. If you go to Las Vegas once a year for a day, you’ll never make it. Even still, there is just one way to play the game — using Expert Strategy and playing the best paying machines you can find.

Does this mean that there is no point in starting with an appropriate bankroll and setting limits and goals? No. But these limits and goals are mostly psychological. If you are a regular player and going to come back tomorrow (or the next day) anyway, in the long run, they will not alter your overall winnings (or losses) to a great degree. One should not dismiss the effect of psychology on the player as getting ”˜psyched out’ can cause an alteration in the play strategy, which WILL impact the overall winnings and losses.