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Should I Quit While I'm Ahead?

14 August 2005

Question. I had a typical day at the casino not long ago. 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.

Answer. 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 left, too. How much you put away, and at what level you start your put-asides, depends on your own bankroll and goals.

Question. My wife and I go to a casino that has two kinds of quarter Double Double Bonus Poker. One is just the regular 9-5 game, while the other is an 8-5 game that has a royal flush progressive and a 50,000-coin jackpot on a sequential royal. Which is the better game?

Answer. Let's take this in steps. Without considering the progressive jackpot or the sequential royal payoff, 9-5 Double Double Bonus Poker, in which full houses pay 9-for-1 and flushes 5-for-1, returns 97.9 percent in the long run with expert play, while 8-5 Double Double Bonus returns 96.8 percent.

Adding a sequential royal gives a very small boost to the 8-5 game, making its overall payback 97.02 percent. The reason such a large jackpot gives has such a small effect on the payback percentage is the rarity of the hand. One the average, one royal per 120 comes in sequence. There are five positions for cards on the screen. Multiply 5 times 4 times 3 times 2 times 1, and you'll get the number of ways the cards can be ordered.

In 8-5 Double Double Bonus, we'll draw a royal flush in sequence about once per 3.7 million hands. If we're playing 500 hands per hour, that's about 7,400 hours worth of play --- look at it as a small miracle if you hit one. Some sources put the frequency at one sequential royal per 77,980,800 hands, but that assumes five-card stud poker, with no draws. Double Double Bonus, like the vast majority of video poker games, is five-card draw poker.

The progressive jackpot on non-sequential royals makes more difference to the overall payback percentage. Figure on adding a bit more than about 1 percent to the overall payback percentage for every 2,000 coins above the base of 4,000 paid for a royal, given a five-coin wager. At 5,800 coins --- $1,450 on a quarter machine --- 8-5 Double Double Bonus with a sequential royal jackpot is a 98.0 percent game, just edging past the 97.9 on 9-5 Double Double Bonus.

The non-progressive game's 9-for-1 return on full houses will give you a somewhat better chance at extended play. The sequential/progressive game will be a wilder ride, with more of its return tied up in rarer hands.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Beat the Odds" tips Saturdays at 6:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 7:41 p.m. and Sundays at 8:20 a.m., 2:50 p.m. and 10:42 p.m. on WBBM-AM, News Radio 780 in Chicago.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski