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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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How to Avoid Second Guess Syndrome at the Casinos

15 June 1998

When folks leave casinos unhappy, winning as well as losing, it's often because they didn't define their goals beforehand. Solid citizens who neglect this minor precaution are highly susceptible to melancholia brought on by acute chronic second guess syndrome.

Here are typical symptoms: Sally starts with $20 and doesn't cash out when she's $200 ahead; she goes home sorrowfully second guessing why she gave back her winnings plus the $20 stake. Barney begins with $100 and walks with $500; he leaves town gloomily second guessing why he didn't "use their money" to try for a big bonanza. Greta and Griswold grab great returns in a few minutes, quit, and use their 2-for-1 coupon at the Belly-Buster Buffet; they ride into the sunset sadly second guessing why they didn't put in enough playing time to get "comped" to dine on ersatz-gourmet in the elegantly hushed Ruidoso Room.

Myself, I always have a clear objective. Earn a small profit now, maybe come back later. For instance, I might look for $50 at $10 blackjack with $500 buy-in. Less or more at lower- or higher-limit tables or games like baccarat or craps with smaller or larger swings. If I make a day's pay after only a few minutes, I'll wait for a breakpoint such as the end of a shoe and quit assuming I'm still ahead. If it takes longer - perhaps an hour - to reach the target, I get out as soon as I score. And after a marathon session in the hole, I drop back and punt, quitting at ground zero or at a natural breakpoint if I'm close to even-up.

Modest profit is only one of many possible goals. It's right for me... for my temperament and sense of fulfillment. It may or may not be right for someone else. Only you can decide why you visit a casino - to double your money? go for broke? maximize your gaming time? earn points on your slot club card? mooch free drinks? If you're mindful of your purpose at the getgo, and know how chance of achievement offsets ambition, you may not succeed but you won't torment yourself second guessing what you did.

I was reminded of all this recently when I met Bill and Paula coming out of their hotel room. As we got on the elevator, Bill began griping that they set aside $100 a month for the slots, but always lose it all. Paula said, "I know you're gonna preach some platitude like quitting when we make $200, or after a payout that pulls us out of the hole. We say we will, then never do it."

"Not really," I answered. "I'm gonna guess what's in your head. You're thinking: 'We can find $100 a month for gambling pretty easily, more on special occasions. Winning what we can already get is no big deal. We're willing to spend that much shooting for money we can't just dig up. Enough to change our lives.'"

Bill looked at Paula and said, "You know something? He's right."

"This is why you don't stop at $100 or $500," I explained. "If you did, you'd win more often. But you'd be wondering whether you missed your big chance."

"Casinos must make it from people like us, who get greedy and go for broke, not players looking for small wins," Bill stated.

"Wrong," I said. "Casinos don't care whether they pay an occasional bell ringer or a lot of small winners. And it's the same money, whether they earn it from a whale dropping a wad or a swarm of fleas each losing a modest amount."

"So, you're advising us to hope for a fortune but be satisfied with chicken feed," Paula smirked.

"Not at all. I'm saying to focus on what will make you happy," I replied. "If it's a small profit, fine - hit and run. If you'll only be content with a bundle, OK - recycle intermediate winnings as extra ammo in shooting for it. Just decide in advance, then you won't cry because you should'a would'a could'a." The elevator reached the lobby. I couldn't resist quoting a couplet by Sumner A Ingmark, pundit nonpareil for parting poetry:


Casinos are where misgivings are freed,
They have what you want and not what you need.

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.