Time for a Break

           Does anyone know why there are 4 quarters in football or basketball?  I can understand a some reasons for a halftime, but what is the point of the roughly 2 minute break that splits each half into its own half?  If they played just one 30 minute half in football, or 24 minute half in basketball would it really change the outcome of any game?  Maybe the athletes need the 10-15 minute break in the middle of the game to catch their breaths or to have the coach have a better chance of analyzing what they are doing wrong or right, but I can’t help but feel that the majority of the reason for these breaks is to raise money by selling commercials.  My argument is only strengthened by the fact that basketball has even instituted the ‘TV timeout’ requiring the game to stop at certain intervals if one of the team’s has not called a timeout.

But, the purpose of this week’s column is not to complain about the amount of commercials in our sporting events, but to question the notion that taking some sort of break after a relatively short period of play serves no real purpose in terms of the outcome of the game.  The same is frequently true of video poker.  I certainly don’t advocate playing for hour after hour after hour without taking a break.  Video poker can be mentally exhausting given how challenging the strategy can sometimes be.  At the same time, believing that setting up artificial ‘breaks’ will somehow change the mathematical outcome (i.e. how much money you will win or lose) makes more sense in the NBA than it does in LV. 

Time outs in video poker can serve essentially two purposes.  The first is that it can refresh you if you are tired.  Playing video poker properly takes more energy than many other casino games.  It is one of the reasons it is not for everyone, because not everyone wants to think while they are being entertained.  If you find that you are making mistakes or simply not enjoying yourself, taking a break can be a good thing.  How long of a break?  I can’t answer that one.  If stretching your legs and coming back in 5 minutes clears your head, than that is long enough.  For others, they may want to catch a bite to eat.  For yet others, once they reach this point, it is time to go home, whether that be for the evening or for a month.  The length of the break exists only so that you can come back ready to play, mentally.  The actual length of the break (or even the existence of a break) makes no difference whatsoever from a mathematical perspective, unless you are making mistakes in your play.

The second reason for a break is a psychological one, which itself is broken into two possibilities.  The first is that you’ve lost a significant portion of your bankroll relatively quickly, and it might be a good time to stretch your legs.  I’m not buying into the notion that the machine needs to cycle or by moving to another machine you’ll somehow increase your chances of hitting the big hand.  Rather, repeatedly losing takes a toll on your mind.  You’ll get frustrated and either make mistakes accidentally, or decide to take chances you’d be better off not taking in some hope of getting all of your money back quickly.  This just leads to larger losses. 

The other side of the coins is that it is not a bad idea to take a break when you are winning also.  Most casino games are ‘negative’.  That is, you’re going to lose in the long run.  Video poker, when played expertly, should allow a Player to walk away a winner about 40% of the time for a reasonable length session (3 hours).  If you choose to make it a 6 hour session, the likelihood of winning over that time will decrease.  It’s nice to walk away a winner once in a while.

Again, I can’t give you a specific answer as to when to take break based on how much you’ve won or lost.  This is a personal decision based on your own psychological makeup.  Professional players can stay very focused even during a very poor session because they are playing hundreds of hours per year.  The recreational Player is not as likely to be able to do this.  You’re on vacation and you hope to win back the cost of the trip playing video poker.  You start off down, you get frustrated and you start taking more chances (i.e. not playing according to the strategy).  At this point, it is a good time to remember you are on vacation.  Go hit the pool and come back later or tomorrow when you’re in the right mindset to play and have fun.

One last point, I’d like to make for this week.  Earlier I stated that in a 3-hour session you’re likely to win about 40% of the time.  I’ve covered this topic before.  It is very easy to manipulate your sessions and your bankroll so that you win 90% of your sessions.  You’ll be able to boast to all your friends how you ‘beat the casinos’ most of the time.  Unfortunately, this may give you bragging rights, but doesn’t do anything for your bank account.  Your losing sessions will simply be that much larger than your winning sessions.  In the end, the amount of money you win will be based on the cards you are dealt and the way you play them – PERIOD.  It does not matter if you take no breaks or a hundred breaks.  If you play each hand the same way, you’ll have the same results whether it takes 100 seconds or 100 days to play those hands.  But, for those who want bragging rights, I'll soon review how to ‘beat the casino 90% of the time’.