Knowing When to Walk Away

            A couple of years ago there was a story going around about a blackjack Player who took the Tropicana in Atlantic City for a lot of money.  While he never admitted it, it was fairly obvious that he was a card counter.  He came in under the radar and by the time it was known what he was doing, it was too late for the casino.  He supposedly won several million, but in interviews he stated that those were his winning trips and that he had some losers in between, so he had not won that much overall.  He stated that his greatest gift at gambling was discipline.  I have to agree that I think this is the most important skill of them all.


            Now, it didn't hurt that he owned a company that did horserace handicapping so that he was able to go into the casino with a plan on how to count and how to bet.  It also helped that he had the ability to count accurately (presumably).  But, you have to understand how counting works.  It does not guarantee a victory.  It simply says that at some particular point in time, the payback of the game is now positive, that is over 100%.  The basic idea of counting is that you wager very little when the game is negative and wager a lot when it is positive.  The more positive, the more you wager.  More sophisticated counting methods will also have the Player potentially making tweaks to the strategy to reflect the current composition of the remainder of the shoe.


            But, all of this fails if the Player doesn't stick to his plan.  He may lose many hands in a row while the game is positive.  If you start going off plan, there really is only one direction for you to go and that's further down.  The strategy devised is a sound one and over time, it will pay dividends.  You will lose hands with smaller wagers and win hands with bigger wagers.  I'm not advocating that you count as it is a good way to get banned from casinos.  I'm just focusing on the key ingredient here - discipline.


            Discipline is important in deciding which games to play.  If you decide to play the first available machine, you may find yourself playing a machine with a short-pay paytable.  Or, you may find yourself playing a game whose strategy is foreign to you.  Without discipline, you may decide to start playing hunches after playing the right strategy seems to backfire in a small sample. 


            Then there is the most critical decision of all - when to walk away.  This may take the most discipline of them all.  There is some math that can guide you in this task, but it cannot (realistically) rule your actions the way it should with game strategy.  This past week, I went to Red Rock to play some video poker.  On my very first hand (literally), I wound up with four of a kind.  I was dealt two 6's and on the draw got 2 more.  I had 2 nickels in a double double bonus poker machine.  I was just 'warming up' so I hadn't gone to max-coin yet.  I won $5.  Was I supposed to walk away?  Probably not for $5.  But what if I had max-coin in.  Would I have walked away for $12.50?  What if it were one of the higher paying quads?  What if I had been dealt four deuces with a kicker and won $40.  This is not a lot of money, but given I was playing nickels, could I really expect to win much more over an hour or two?  Probably not.  But, I came to play for an hour or two.  Would I really walk away after literally one hand?


            Well, since I won $5, I didn't even consider it.  The machine was absolutely cold after that and it take long for me to lose the 100 coins back.  I moved to another machine, which was only mildly better and after about 20 minutes, I had lost my $10.


            At this point, I decided to head over to the multi-play multi-strike machines.  These are not for the feint at heart.  I played for about 10-15 minutes holding my own.  Again, I hit four of a kind within the first couple of hands but it was on the first line so it wasn't much of a payout.  Then the machine started going cold.  Before I knew it, I was down another $30 or so and it was approaching the time for me to leave.  I didn't have a fixed time, but I had some other things I needed to take care of.  Then I was dealt what could be the best (or at very least 2nd best) hand I have ever been dealt.  On the top line, with 2 hands still going, I was dealt FOUR DEUCES with a Four.  I had to do a double take.  Not only was I dealt Quads, but I was dealt a Bonus Quad WITH A kicker.  I was playing max-coin at this point.  Each one of these hands was worth $64 for a total win of $128. 


            For those not familiar with Multi-Play Multi-Strike, it might help to explain.  In Multi-Strike, there are 4 'rows' of hands.  In order to go to the next row, you have to have some sort of winning hand on the previous hand (Jacks or Better).  Each successive row pays a multiple of the paytable - the 1st row 1x, the 2nd row 2x, the 3rd row 4x and the 4th row 8x.  Throw in the Multi-Play and each row consists of five hands.  So, on each row, you are dealt an initial hand and then the result is played up to five times.  If one hand loses, that hand is out for all the rest of the rows.  To begin play, you have to wager the same amount on each of the potential 20 hands even though many of them many never play at all.  So, while I was playing max-coin PENNIES, I was wagering $1 per hand.  This is not quite playing $5 coins - but it is nearly equivalent to max-coin quarters - and the game is FAR more volatile than a basic quarter game.


            So, I had 5 cents wagered on these two hands and each one paid 800 coins multiplied by 8 or 6400 for a total of 12,800 pennies.  I played 2 more hands and then hit the 'cash out' button.  I never leave a big paying hand up on the screen.  I was always told it was 'rude' - although I don't think there is any official etiquette for this.  I have to wonder if I had started playing Multi-Play Multi-Strike and on my very first hand I was dealt these Four Deuces, would I have hit the cash out button the same 2 hands later?  Yes, past performance is irrelevant on future performance.  The fact that I won $128 does not change what hands will occur next.  But there is a psychological aspect of the game that makes it important to leave a winner from time to time.  In this case, staying disciplined wasn't all that hard as I knew I had to leave 'soon'.  But there are many people who would used their new found winnings to try and 'break the bank' and perhaps push up the denomination to 2 cents or a nickel and hope for another big hand.  The video poker equivalent of playing on 'tilt'.  A disciplined gambler knows this is a foolish pursuit and knows that the universe is telling you it is time to walk away.


            If anyone wants to see a picture of this hand, it is on the main page next to this blog!