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Best of Alan Krigman
Judgement and Discipline, Not Rules, Tell You When to Quit22 August 1994
Leaving a gambling machine or table is easy under three conditions. And oh so difficult under all others.
You already know when quitting's a snap.
Your spouse, friend, bus, or other ride home is pulling out and you have no alternate transportation.
Your bankroll went bye-bye, leaving no more bucks to bet.
Good fortune has smiled, for instance with a super slot jackpot or a hall-of-fame streak at a table, and a casino bigwig arrives to escort you to your complimentary limo.
The rest, the vast majority, of the time, quitting's the hairiest decision you'll make in a casino. It's tough when you're ahead; you could win more. It's tougher when you're behind; you could catch up. Anyone who thinks otherwise hasn't tried.
Casinos proficient players aplenty. They know the rules, the bets that coax statistical advantage from the house, and the benefits of probabilities over hunches. But, many such players are net losers. Not because the house edge erodes their equity. Not because they lack the lucre to last through normal downswings. But because they show poor judgement and discipline about quitting.
The gambling literature is replete with ravings about when to retreat. On the downside, the sages sanctimoniously certify schemes like stopping at set loss limits. On the upside, typical advice involves walking away after you've slid, say, 22.5 percent from some high point. The rules, though written as if wrought on the rock of ages or located among the lost letters of Albert Einstein, represent oversimplified solutions to complex problems.
This being the case, I certainly won't foist different phony formulas on you. But I will suggest some points to ponder, before and during your play, to help you make your own best decision.
Certain elements to consider are personal:
What are your gambling goals? Will you be happy with a modest win? Or are you willing to sacrifice small profits for more of a shot at a big hit?
Do you gamble frequently, so incremental gains can accumulate and losses one day can be covered by wins the next? Or are you on a once-a-year casino visit?
How long can you play? Are your friends bugging you to quit so everyone can go to the buffet? Have you been on one spot so long you've made a dent in the rug? Do you have the time and patience to keep going if the game is cold for a while?
Can you afford to invest more money in trying to recover if you lose your initial buy-in?
If you're losing and find your attitude's soured, would you play better if you took a break and started afresh later?
Other items depend on what you're playing:
Every game has natural quitting points. For instance, in craps it's when a hot shooter sevens out, or after you've parlayed $1 to nearly $1000 by letting your money ride and hitting 12 twice running. Similarly, in blackjack it's at the shuffle, or when you've just won after splitting and doubling so you've grabbed three or four times your normal bet. Are you ahead, or have you risen above your threshold of pain into the comfortable loss region at such a point?
If you often play the same game at the same level, you should have a sense for what represents a substantial upswing. If you've been in the hole and have just climbed up by this much, whether you're now ahead or still somewhat behind, is it reasonable to expect a further gain?
Are your bets longshots, as at the slots or on single roulette numbers? If so, recognize the steepness of the odds against a hit on your next ten, hundred, or thousand tries.
Consider these factors before and while you play. Exercise discipline. Enjoy your win, big or small, without letting fantasy infringe on reason. Or take it on the chin while you still have the self-respect to go home and look the dog in the eye. As Sumner A Ingmark, the players' poet, veraciously versified:
Best of Alan Krigman