Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Blackjack mythology

Hang around blackjack tables long enough, and you'll pick up all kinds of "wisdom" from other players and from the dealers. Of course, a lot of what you hear isn't really all that wise, and a good part of blackjack wisdom comes from knowing when to disregard the things people say about the games people play.

A deuce is a dealer's Ace.

Let's be clear here. An ACE is a dealer's Ace. The most flexible of cards since it can be counted as either 1 or 11, Aces are almost as good for the dealer as they are for the player --- they're more important to players because you must have an Ace to get a blackjack, and blackjacks pay 3-2 to players and not to dealers.

And deuces are more important to dealers than to players. That's because dealers must always hit hands of 16 and under. Players stand on some of those hands, so dealers are in more situations where a small card like a 2 will help their hands.

Still, I usually hear this remark when the dealer has a 2 face up, and in that situation there's no comparison between a deuce and an Ace. With a deuce up, the dealer busts about 35 percent of the time. With an Ace up, the dealer busts only between 11 and 12 percent of the time. You would MUCH rather see the dealer start with a 2 than an Ace.

The object of blackjack is to win every hand. Taking even money is a sure win. Always take even money.

Even money is a form of insurance, offered when the player has a blackjack and the dealer has an Ace face up. You can accept an even-money payoff on your blackjack, and not risk the dealer also having a blackjack. Decline, and you'll get no payoff at all if the dealer has a 10-value card face down.

Countless dealers have told me even money is "the only sure thing in the house." The other piece of wisdom, that the object is to win every hand, is something I've heard from a few players. Let's dispense with that part first. The object of blackjack is not to win every hand, or even the majority of hands. If that's what you're trying to do, you're doomed to fail. Even the best card counters lose more hands than they win.

But even though the pros lose more hands than they win, they win more money than they lose. Why? Because the real object is to maximize winnings while minimizing losses. And one of the ways to maximize winnings is to go for the full 3-2 payoffs on blackjacks. Even money becomes a break-even proposition when a third of the remaining cards are 10-values. Of all cards in the deck, only 30.8 percent are 10-values.

Decline the even-money offer. You won't win as many hands, but you'll win more money.

Surrender is for people who don't like to gamble.

This sage advice isn't always expressed in those terms. I've found it more often in terms of the odd snide remark when I surrender. "I guess I came to gamble," or "Did you come to play or not?"

At the Tropicana in Las Vegas one time, I surrendered a 16 when the dealer showed a 10. A woman next to me said, "Oh, I didn't know you could surrender here. How does that work?" And the gentleman sitting at third base snarled, "I guess it depends on whether you came to gamble."

Now, playing blackjack well includes both maximizing winnings and minimizing losses. (Where have I heard that before?) Surrender comes under the heading of minimizing losses.

The majority of casinos don't offer surrender at all. Those that do offer "late surrender" --- "late" because you have to wait until the dealer checks for blackjack. If the dealer has a blackjack, you can't surrender.

When you surrender, you give up half your bet in exchange for not having the play out the hand and risk losing the full amount. It's a good deal, if you know how to use it. In a multiple-deck game in which the dealer stands on all 17s, surrender with hard 16 if the dealer's face-up card is a 9, 10-value or Ace, and surrender with hard 15 if the dealer's up card is a 10-value. In casinos where the dealer hits soft 17, we add one hand --- in addition to the others listed, surrender on hard 15 when the dealer shows an Ace.

Surrender is a guaranteed loss that we don't accept lightly. All we're trying to do is mitigate the damage when we're at a big disadvantage. I've seen players go the total opposite ways of the anti-surrender sages, players who surrender 14s and even 13s anytime the dealer has a 10 or Ace, and sometimes even 9s or 8s. That's overboard. We're not in that much of a hurry to give our money away.

Limit the surrendering those few situations listed above. That's the wise way, and it leaves plenty of hands to gamble.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Blackjack: Team sport or not?

I'd met Al before. He'd come to at least one of my seminars, and we once found ourselves at the final table in a blackjack tournament. Neither of us won.

So when he called out my name from a blackjack table, I waved and walked over to say hello. He colored up his chips and said he had something he wanted to talk about way from the table.

"These MIT guys. They played as a team right?" he asked.

Yes, I told him the story of the MIT card counting team is well chronicled in Ben Mizrich's best seller, Bringing Down the House, and you can learn more about them and their methods at

"OK, I thought so. Do they or teams like them send out scouts to look for players? While I'm playing, is someone from a team likely to be checking me out?"

Unsolicited? Without you knowing them or having approached the team first?

"Yeah. Just them looking for new players."

No, I told him. It's extremely unlikely that a team would be recruiting people they don't know on such a hit-and-miss basis. A blackjack team is a business that requires a lot of trust. Members won't be in a hurry to recruit someone unknown to them.

"That makes sense. I'm just trying to figure out something someone said at the table the other day."

What's that?

"I'd just doubled down, and a guy at the other end of the table said, 'You're not a team player.' And the woman next to him said, 'If you're going to make plays like that, we don't want to play with you.' And they picked up their chips and left."

Were you sitting at third base, the last position to take a card before the dealer?

"Yeah, that's right. I like to see all the other cards before I play."

Do you remember the details of the hand? What were you doubling on, and what did the dealer have face up?

"I had an Ace and a 7. The dealer showed a 6. By the book, that's a double down hand, right?"

Yes, it is. Doubling was the right play.

"So why were they so upset? And what's this about a team"

Easy, I told him. Al had encountered a couple with a peculiar mindset that is not uncommon at the blackjack table. They believe that third base is a team position at a blackjack table, and that by sitting at third base, the player agrees to avoid taking the dealer's bust card. They thought he should have been satisfied to stand on his soft 18 against a 6 instead of doubling down and taking another card --- the card they thought could be the one to bust the dealer's hand.

"Oh, I should have known," he said, the look of comprehension spreading across his face. "They wanted me to make bad plays because they thought it would help the rest of the table. Well, that's dumb."

Sure it's dumb. For one thing, when the dealer has a 6 up, there's no guarantee he or she has a high enough card face down that it can be busted with a one-card draw. And even if the dealer does have a high card face down, there's no guarantee that the next card will be the bust card. A player who takes a hit at third base --- or, in Al's case, doubles down --- could just as easily be taking a low card that would make the dealer's hand.

The problem is that players remember the times a third baseman's hit takes a high card that would have busted the dealer, but don't remember the times that the hit takes a low card. They certainly don't remember the times that going a card deeper into the deck because of the hit actually causes the dealer to bust. It is just as likely that the third baseman helps the table rather than hurting it by taking a hit.

But enough players have a bad case of selective memory that they blame the third baseman when things don't go their way.

"So what they're saying is nonsense. Third base is not a team position."

Of course not, unless the others are willing to subsidize your losses when you make a play you don't want to. I've never yet had other players offer to make up the difference if I stand on soft 18 instead of doubling down, or stand on 12 instead of hitting against 2 or 3, or any of the other odd things they think the third baseman should be willing to do.

"Somehow I didn't think the MIT guys were looking for people to make bad plays. I take it that's not the kind of team play they're looking for."

Not at all. Team play for them involves a card counter letting a big player know when the situation is right to come in and make large bets. It does not involve the silliness of avoiding taking a dealer's bust card.

"I should have known," Al said before returning to the table. "Anyone smart enough to figure all that out wouldn't expect such dumb plays."

Friday, May 17, 2013

My roulette system? Play for fun

Over the years, I've debunked a fair number of roulette systems.

There's the Martingale, where you double your bet after each loss. Hazardous to your bankroll. Bets get very large, very fast. Even if you can afford the action, you'll will bump up against table maximums often enough to sink the system.

There's the cancellation, where you start by writing three numbers, the sum equaling your win goal for the sequence. In a three-number cancellation with a win goal of three units, you'd write 1, 1, 1. Your first bet is the sum of the end numbers, so you start with a two-unit bet. A win cancels the end number --- that's the cancellation part --- so your next wager ins the remaining bet. Win that, cancel out the number, and you've won your goal.

What if you lose? You then write your wager in units at the end of your number sequence. Start with 1, 1, 1, wager two units and lose, and you're left with 1, 1, 1, 2. Your next wager is three units --- the sum of the two end numbers.

The problem? You're still increasing wagers as you lose. It's not as dangerous a system as the Martingale, but a few losses in a row stretches out the sequence, and it's not unusual for your row of numbers to get so long it'd take an unusual hot streak to get you back to even.

One close friend likes to extend play at roulette by betting on black plus an equal amount on the third column. Eight of the numbers in the third column are red, so my friend covers 26 of the 38 numbers --- all 18 black numbers plus eight red. If a black in the first two columns shows up, he breaks even, winning on black but losing the column bet. If one of his eight reds turns up, he makes a one-unit profit, winning a 2-1 payoff on the column while losing on black. But if the ball lands on one of the four third-column blacks, he wins triple --- even money on black, plus 2-1 column.

Of course, there's the pesky matter of the 10 red numbers he doesn't cover, plus 0 and 00. Any of those dozen numbers bring a double loss.

Undermining all roulette systems is that the house edge never rests. Whether you're betting red or black, dozens or columns, single numbers or three-number streets, that 5.26 percent house edge is always working against you. The exception is if your system includes the five-number bet on 0, 00, 1, 2 and 3. Then a little higher house edge is working against you, since the house has a 7.89 percent advantage on that bet.

Still, few players just throw their chips out willy-nilly when they play roulette. Nearly everyone uses a system of some sort, whether it's in how they choose their numbers, or in how they raise or lower their bets.

My friend who likes the black-plus-third-column system pressed me for my system. "Come on," he said.

"Everybody has a system. What do you do?"

And I do have a system. A really easy one. I play family birthdays. So does my wife. When we play together, we're usually on different numbers. I play her birthday, and she plays mine.

Given a balanced wheel, no number is any more likely than any other to come up, so why not have some fun? It might even produce a memorable moment.

It did for me one day in Las Vegas, playing at a wheel with a $1 minimum bet, and with 25-cent chips available. It was my birthday, so I was betting on myself. I put a chip on No. 29, and surrounded it with a chip on each of the corners and splits surrounding it.

I had a nice streak. No 29s, but the two-number splits, paying 17-1, and four-number corners, paying 8-1, were hitting regularly. My stack was growing, and I increased to two chips on each bet.

I heard the ball drop, and the dealer said, "Uh-oh. Here we go."

It was No. 29.

The four corner bets each brought me 16 chips in winnings. The four splits each brought 34. The single number bet brought 70. Suddenly I had 270 extra chips in front of me, and my nine two-chip bets were still on the table.

The next number: 29. I raked in another 270 chips.

That was the end of the streak. The second 29 was followed by an 11. I exchanged my roulette chips for casino chips, tipped the dealer and left with a profit of more than $125.

When I told my systems-playing friend that story, he said, "Don't you wish you were playing with dollar chips? Too bad it was only quarters."

I told him I had no such wishes. I play roulette for relaxation, and I play only at low-limit tables. I was thrilled to walk away with such a profit.

Besides, I told him, I know what the house edge is on that system, and I don't care to bet too much money against that kind of an edge.

In roulette, the magic number for the house is almost always 5.26.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Paradise Fishing at Four Winds Casino

I'm back at my desk after a few days away, celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary with my loving wife Marcy. It was just a short getaway, overlooking the water at the Harbor Grand resort in New Buffalo, Mich.

We went for a drive, just to get an overview of New Buffalo and surrounding towns, and Marcy spotted a sign for the Four Winds casino. It was just a short detour, so we went and spent an hour scouting out penny slots. That's what we do when we play together, finding adjacent machines and stopping to watch each other's bonus events. When I'm on my own, I head for blackjack, video poker, craps ... and wager a little more than pennies.

After about a half hour, Marcy spotted a bank of Aruze Gaming's Paradise Fishing machines. She'd never seen them before, but I'd tested them at Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas and written about them in several publications. There's a community fishing contest, in which all active players at the bank of machines drop in their lines and try to hook fish as they swim by on the giant plasma screens overhead.

What's really cool about Paradise Fishing is the "Reel Feel" technology on the joystick-like game controller. It's designed to look and feel like the handle on a fishing rod, and you use it to raise and lower your animated worm on a hook. When you get a nibble, you can feel the tugs and pulls as the virtual fish tries to get away. Bigger fish bring bigger bonus credits, but they also bring more of a struggle to land the fish --- and sometimes they get away.

It's all illusion of skill stuff. You have the feel of affecting the outcome as you raise and lower your worm to try to attract the fish and then work to bring them in, but the ones you land, the ones that get away and the ones that don't even give your worm a look are determined by a random number generator.

During the community event, everyone earns bonus credits for the fish they land, and at the end of the round the top three scorers get an extra prize, topping out at 500 credits times your line bet for first prize.

About 10 minutes into our stay at Paradise, the community event launched. There was no watching each other's bonuses now. Marcy and I had to focus on our own angling. I quickly landed a moderate-sized fish for 500 credits, then short time later a little fellow for another 50. For most of the rest of the round, the fish just swam right past me. As I scanned down the row, I saw I was in first place,. with Marcy only at about 300, a woman farther to the left in second place at 450 and another at 400. All were within striking distance.

Overhead, the screen went into countdown mode .... 10 seconds left in the round ... 9 ...

And then it happened. A whopper hit my bait. I felt a nudge, a tug, a long pull. Could I reel him in before the countdown ended? Would he get away?

Just before the final tone, I made it. The whopper was in my boat. THREE THOUSAND credits were on my screen.

Marcy hadn't seen anything happening, and when she looked over, she was shocked. "How did you get up to $56?"

I explained that last fish was worth $30, I got $5.50 for the earlier two fish and $5 for my first-place bonus. That'll push the credit meter up from $16 and change to $56 and more change in a hurry.

We left shortly afterward. There were places to go, things to see, shops to sample. (I HIGHLY recommend the bacon jam from The Local in New Buffalo.) I was ahead by $40, she was down $30, and we both had fun. I'll take that deal any time.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Craps on a short bankroll

As introductions go, "Craps. Short bankroll. Whaddya do?" wasn't the smoothest I'd ever heard, but at least it was straight to the point. The gentleman in the buffet line wanted to talk about craps.
I asked how he liked to play.

"If I could afford to play the way I like to play, I wouldn't have a problem," he said brusquely. "I like to start on the pass line, then follow it with two come bets until I have three numbers working, with maximum odds on all of them."

That's one of the best ways to attack the game. Free odds, offered in addition to pass and come bets, are paid at true odds and carry no house edge. Backing the pass and come bets with free odds drops the house edge below 1 percent, down to 0.8 percent with single odds, 0.6 percent with double odds, all the way down to 0.02 percent at casinos that offer 100x odds --- if you can afford it.

"Afford it is the problem," he said, adding that he'd just walked away from a table that offered 10x odds, which drop the house edge to 0.2 percent. "With the 10 times odds here, if I have a $10 pass bet and two $10 come bets working, I could back each with $100 in free odds. Or I could if I had more than 200 bucks in my pocket."

That could be a problem. Even with a much larger bankroll, putting $330 on the table all at once, all of which could be wiped out by a single 7, can be a wallet buster. If you're going to take advantage of 10x odds, you'd better be working with a bankroll in the thousands, not the hundreds.

"Yep. I'm no fool. I don't bet the center-table propositions, or the field, or the hardways, the stuff with the really high advantages for the house. I don't place the 4 or 10, or the 5 or 9. I want the best deal I can get.

But I can't get it without betting more."

If you're really smart, I told him, you know that betting more isn't the answer if you can't afford it. The money to gamble has to come from an entertainment budget, not from money you really need for the rent, groceries, kids' schooling or other necessities of life.

"I know that. I've resigned myself to the fact I can't afford the best deal at craps. The problem is, when I break it down, even taking single odds is too rich for my blood. There are no $5 minimum tables in this casino, and when I go to other casinos that do have 'em, they're always packed to the gills. So I play at the $10 tables.

"If I have a $10 pass bet and two $10 come bets, and back them each with single odds, I still have $60 out there at once. Let's face it. That's too much that can go down the drain at one time, when I'm only starting with $200."

I asked him what he'd considered doing to stay within his budget.

"The first thing I thought of was just to make a pass line bet, skip the come bets, and back the pass bet with as much odds as I thought I could afford. Even if I backed a pass bet with double odds, I'd have only half as much money at risk as if I bet pass with two comes, and single odds."

That's probably as good as you can do when it comes to narrowing the house edge, I told him. You're down to 0.6 percent with pass backed by double odds.

"Yeah, well, I tried it --- and it's boring. I can't stand having only one number at a time. So I figure my real choice here is to either bet pass followed by two come bets and no odds, or a pass bet followed by place bets on 6 and 8 instead of the comes."

On a percentage basis, the pass with two comes is the better bet. The house edge on pass, without free odds, is 1.41 percent. Come bets also face a house edge of 1.41 percent. The house edge is a little higher on the place bets on 6 and 8, at 1.52 percent.

"I know that, but given that I can't get the free odds, the difference between come and the place bets is negligible. Especially when it means that I always have the 6 and 8 going."

There is some comfort in having 6 and 8, the most frequently rolled numbers other than 7, working for you. But besides having a slightly lower house edge, there is another advantage for come bets over the place numbers. On the average, it takes more rolls to settle a come bet than to settle a place bet. That gives the house edge fewer opportunities per hour to work against you.

My new-found friend sighed heavily.

"So that's what it comes down to. Fewer bets per hour to lower risk."

That may not be the best deal at craps. But it's as good a deal as the short-bankrolled player can afford.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Time, money and the house edge

If you've been my casinos columns for very long, you've seen the numbers a hundred times: The house has a 5.26 percent edge on American double-zero roulette, a 1.41 percent edge on the pass line at craps, a 2 to 2.5 percent edge against the average blackjack player, but only a half-percent or so edge against a basic strategy player.

Chances are you use those numbers as a rough comparison of games. Which give you the better shot to win? Which are nothing more than "house" games? And that's fine. You do have a much better shot to win if you're betting the pass line at craps than if you're playing roulette.

But those numbers are also statistical averages. They don't mean that every time you bet $100 on the pass line, you're going to lose $1.41, or even that every 100 times you bet $100 on pass, you'll lose $141.

If the losses were that regular, and that certain in the short term, no one would play. Even on the casino games with the highest house edges, results are volatile enough that players will win sometimes.

Given enough trials, though, the house edge will hold up, and the more trials there are, the closer the results will be to giving the casino its expected profit.

One of the more colorful descriptions of how this all works came from the late Peter Griffin, author of the classic The Theory of Blackjack. I'd been invited to spend a week as a student at the Harrah's Institute for Casino Entertainment in Las Vegas, a crash course in casino operations designed to give gaming basics to non-gaming employees Harrah's had marked as up-and-comers. Griffin was a guest instructor.

Imagine a situation, he told us, in which a busload of roulette players have finished for the day and are in the waiting room, waiting to board for the trip home. They decide they have time for one last spin of the wheel if each of the 100 players gives $100 to a casino manager with instructions to place the bets. (This takes place in a jurisdiction with a particularly lenient gaming board, I might add.)

The manager puts all the money --- $10,000 worth --- in a big box, and climbs a staircase to a balcony overlooking the waiting room. He then takes out $526 --- more or less --- and dumps the rest of the money back over the railing to the waiting bus group.

Players scramble for the money. Some get back their $100. Most get back less. Some get more --- a few get considerably more.

There are winners. There are losers. And the house has its 5.26 percent.

Slot machines work the same way. When we say quarter slots at a given casino return an average of 93 percent to players, that's just another way of saying the house edge on those machines is 7 percent. If you play $100 through a quarter slot at that casino, are you likely to wind up with precisely $93? No, most of the time you'll wind up with less. Much of a slot machine's long-term return is tied up in larger jackpots, so sometimes you'll win hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for that $100 in play. You may win big, or more often lose fast, but on balance over hundreds of thousands of plays, the house will get its 7 percent.

If you go to the casino and play a couple of hours on a three-reel quarter slot, you might spin the reels 1,000 times --- 500 plays per hour is a busy, but not hectic, pace. With a three-coin maximum bet, you're risking $750. If the machines in that casino return 93 percent, your expected average loss is $52.50, but you won't land precisely on that figure very often. Most of the time, you'll lose somewhat more than that. Less often, you'll get a big hit or a few medium-sized wins and walk away a winner. In one short trip to the casino, there's no telling what your results will be.

But let's take a page out of Griffin's book and say you're on a bus trip with 100 players all spending a couple of hours on those 93-percent, quarter slots, all betting 75 cents a spin for a total of 1,000 spins each. Now your group is setting the reels spinning a total of 100,000 times, and the casino can almost count on getting something close to its 7 percent take.

There almost certainly will be a winner, or several winners, in your group. There also almost certainly will be those who lose fast and wind up dropping a couple of hundred dollars. The majority will lose some of their money. All told, your group is likely to leave behind a total very close to $5,250 on its $75,000 worth of wagers.

There are winners. There are losers. And the house has its 7 percent.

That's the way it is when you look around any busy casino. A few are winning. Most are paying for their day's entertainment. It's the hope that this time we'll be one of the winners that keeps us going.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Chicago readers, please note

For Chicago area readers who have been asking, I'm currently without a newspaper outlet in the area for my casinos column. I continue to write nationally for newspapers including the Press of Atlantic City and "The Deal" produced by the Denver Post, for websites including Casino City Times, and for magazines including Strictly Slots, Casino Player, Midwest Gaming and Travel, Southern Gaming and Destinations, Gaming South, Blackjack Insider, Casino Journal, Inside Asian Gaming and Slot Manager. I link to much of that off my Facebook fan page,

At least for the time being, I'm going to post Chicago area casino news along with my usual mix here. If you're a Chicago area reader who has been looking for me, please tell your casino-going friends that they can find me here.

Horseshoe Casino in Hammond just emailed this morning to tell of their new Ride the Rails promotion, themed on Chicago's El lines. It runs May 5-June 30, with each week linked to one color of an El line, with eight stops on each line. Total Rewards members receive one free entry each day by swiping their cards at promotional kiosks, and earn additional entries with each 25 Tier credits earned with your play. "Riding" and completing a rail brings eligibility for prizes such as gift cards, free play on the slots, free table bets, food outlet coupons and Reward credits. .

If you compete all eight stops on a line in one promotional day, you earn a random bonus prize,

Earning 150 Tier credits during any one promotional week brings a Chicago-themed gift, starting with a quart tin of Garrett's popcorn for the week ending May 9. Weekly prizes to follow include an "Untouchables" and "Goodfellas" DVD set; IPASS gift card; Chicago umbrella; Cubs or White Sox throw blanket; two-pack glass sports mug set; Cubs or Sox cooler; hot dog toaster, and pizza maker.

At the Ride the Rails finale on June 30, the top prize is $50,000 plus season tickets to either Cubs or Sox games.  Forty instant winners will be drawn for other prizes.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Should you quit whenever you're ahead?

Q. I had a typical day at the casino. I won a little money at the blackjack table, then I piddled it away a little at a time -- 20 bucks on a slot machine, another 20 at video poker, then I went back to blackjack and lost a little more. The bottom line is that instead of winning a little, I wound up losing about $50 for the day.

My friend and I got to talking about this, and he said that every time you play, there's a time that you're ahead of the game, and if you could just discipline yourself to quit then, you'd win. That seems right to me, but I never seem to be able to walk out ahead.
A. First off, I don't buy the notion that there's a time we're ahead every time we play. Haven't you ever had a day when you've lost your first five or six hands at blackjack, and never recovered? Or blown through a couple of $20 bills at video poker before ever seeing a hand better than two pair? I sure have.

The house edge is working us from the very beginning of our day at the casino, and there are times that we're on the downside of the ledger from the outset and never climb back to even.

On days we do get ahead, how quick do we want to be to end our day? If we win our first hand at blackjack to go ahead $5 on the day, are we going to take our profit and go home? Not likely. Even stopping after big wins will rob us of some of our biggest, most memorable days. On one overnight stay at a casino, I hit a royal flush on a quarter video poker machine for $1,000 in the morning, won a few hundred dollars at blackjack in the afternoon and wrapped it up with an $8,000 royal on a $2 machine in the evening. Should I have stopped after the morning royal and gone sight-seeing or to the movies?

Now then, on days when we get ahead by a fair amount, most of us should take steps to make sure we bring at least some of it home. This doesn't necessarily apply to pros such as blackjack card counters or video poker experts who have a mathematical edge on their games. But average, recreational players need to protect their winnings.

Putting away half of any large win is a good place to start. When I won my $1,000 royal at the start of a big day, I put away $500 to bring home right off the bat. That gave me some extra money to play with, but made sure I'd have some profit, too. How much you put away, and at what level you start your put-asides, depends on your own bankroll and goals.