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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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After a Loss, Recoup in Reasonable Steps

12 June 1995

serious but common gambling mistake is "trying to get it all back at once" after a loss. Whether it's climbing out of a deep hole during a single game, or recovering from an earlier setback, the effect is the same.

Hall of Fame rebounds are possible. But, far more often than not, they involve impractically high goals and solid citizens backslide before "getting over the hump."

As usual, no rigid rules tell how much of a comeback to consider acceptable. Two key concepts, though, can help you manage your money under these adverse conditions.

1) Threshold of pain. Every player has a crossover between merely annoying and truly anguishing losses. The threshold depends on various factors including what the person can afford, how often the individual plays, and the amount it's easy to win in a good but not necessarily great session.

2) Expected upswings. Particular gambling styles and wagering levels, combined with the inherent volatility of different games, determine the upswings a player can reasonably expect. So many factors are involved that experience is the only reliable guide.

Use threshold of pain criteria if you've been in a deep hole and cross back into your comfort zone after a long session. You're still down, but should now reconsider your quitting strategy. Options abound and your decision is highly personal. You might elect to take a break then and there. Or, perhaps, you play until you have to make the one more bet whose loss could take you back across that threshold. You might even raise your bet to the level where a loss would bring you right back to the crossover at which point you'll quit before risking a further drop while a win will escalate you toward or even above break-even.

Expected upswing criteria apply both to single and multiple games. Suppose you're shooting craps. You bet $10 on the line, take $50 odds, and place two $10 or $12 boxes. You usually raise the number and amount of your place bets during a long roll. Upswings of $800 or $900 are realistic; $1000 or more are possible, but rare.

Say you've been down $1500 or more playing this way. After a few good shooters, you've won back $850, still $650 behind in the painful zone. It may be the time to stop. You could recover further. Even turn a profit. But, you know this would be iffy.

Similarly, say you dropped $1250 playing this style of craps in the morning. Rather than throw more good money after bad, you break for brunch. Returning to the casino floor, you start again. Within an hour, you're $1100 ahead on the game. Then two shooters leave you hanging, cutting your profit to $1000. You could play on, hoping to recoup all of your earlier $1250 loss. But you know that the $1000 you've earned in this game is a bigger upswing than you normally encounter. Take the money and run!

Last Sunday, I was at a blackjack table with one other player. For two shoes in a row, the dealer just would not "break." My table-mate and I fared poorly. The third shoe brought manna from heaven. I bet conservatively and got back to break-even. The other player "pressed" aggressively, and got about as far ahead as she had previously been behind. I quit. She stayed, saying, "I lost so much yesterday, I've got to win more back, now that the table's hot." It might have been a good decision. When I saw her later, she groaned, "I should have quit with you. I gave back the profit from that one good shoe, and have been losing ever since."

How did I know the table wouldn't stay hot? I didn't. Nobody can foresee the future. But anybody can learn from the past. The upswings we each encountered with our individual modes of play were well above normal. And experience has taught me to hope for a bonanza, but not plan on it. As Sumner A Ingmark, author of awesome odes about odds, audaciously augured:

The evidence empirical,
Says "don't expect a miracle."
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.