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.

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