Getting Back to Bankroll

A lot of us are very good at influencing the dice, but very bad when it comes to getting a profit off the table. For many of us the problem comes down to the basics of heads-up casino play. And it all begins with bankroll.

A while back I was playing very late at night in a casino with two tables open. I was playing alone on one table. The other had five or six die-hard drunks and a few rail birds watching the dice. The pit had already announced that after my hand they were going to shut the table down because there weren’t enough players to merit keeping two games open. Then something both funny and sad happened. One of the boys from the hood stepped up to my table, dropped a Wal-Mart bag on the layout and said “Change only.”

Over the next couple of minutes the boxman counted out just under $10,000 in ten dollar bills. Yeah, it took awhile. And all the while I was thinking “that’s a lot of dime rocks.” Of course, the TGS was thinking “No way am I closing this table now. Not until that $10,000 is deep in the casino’s coffers. And so, the game continued.

This scenario says a lot about just how the casino’s think of you. Sure, you may be acquainted with the pit people and be on a first name basis with the dealers. You may even have dated one of the box gals at one time. But when you’re standing at the table these people don’t really care about you. All they care about are the chips in your rack. They can tell you at a glance how much you have in your rack – and often know to the penny how many chips you have salted away in your pocket. To the casino you ARE your bankroll. And that’s the only thing about you that matters because it’s your bankroll that pays the bills.

There are plenty of losers out there who are not content until they’ve given the casino every dollar they brought to the table with them and then some. They lose all of their cash then make endless trips to the ATM until they max out their cards. Hopefully we are better than that lot – but it’s handy to know that they’re out there.

There are also a lot of fine people out there who are essentially recreational players. They play for fun. They win some and they lose some. They enjoy comped rooms and meals and as long as they don’t lose too much they chalk their losses up as entertainment expense and go on down the road. Their bankrolls tend to be session focused. Recreational players might go to the casino with $500 to play with. When it’s gone – it’s gone. They have a loss limit of sorts – everything they brought with them. But generally speaking they don’t get stupid and head to the ATM to recharge their bankroll so they don’t end up being big losers.

A step up from the pure recreational player is what I call the serious recreational player. This is where I categorized myself for years. I had a dedicated bankroll, played a smart game, worked the comp system for all it was worth and focused on making a small profit every session. That small profit – plus whatever comps I earned – represented my total “win.” The fact that I had a good time getting there was a bonus. As a serious recreational player I tended to focus on trip bankroll. If, for example, I took a three night casino trip where I expected to play a total of seven sessions then I would pack a trip bankroll between $2100 and $4200. That would allow me to play seven sessions with buy-ins between $300 and $600 per session. Of course, by sticking with strict loss limits I could get by with as little as $1000 in trip bankroll with another $1000 or so in reserve, but that required very tight play. Then again – that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The next step up the ladder is the advantage player. AP’s tend to stick to the absolute lowest vig bets unless they are using weaker bets for cover. Many of them look at comps as wins. Most are simply looking at comps as a way to cut down on expenses and increase their expected return on investment. They bet most of their money when they have a positive expectation. At other times they stick pretty close to table minimums. AP’s also tend to take a long run look at bankroll. For example, an AP who is willing to risk $12,000 a year over the next ten years has a theoretical bankroll of $120,000. That’s the amount of money he’s willing to lose – at least in theory. And often that is the number they use to calculate their correct bet size using the Kelly Criteria.

Whether you are a recreational player or an advantage player, bankroll and bet size are inseparably linked. We’ll get into that in more depth in another article, but suffice to say you can’t walk up to a table, buy in for $50, then play $48 inside with any realistic expectation of a win. So how much is a proper buy in? Opinions vary greatly. Most gaming “experts” go with the “ten times your initial bet” theory. The Dice Doctor, Sam Grafstein, agreed. He even went so far as to design a betting and money management strategy that divided a players bankroll into stacks of betting chips. On a $300 buy in he laid out ten stacks of six $5 chips to wager on each of the next ten shooters. Those chips went in the front rack and his change and any winnings went into the back rack. After the dice went around the table one time he would count how much he had in the back rack, divide by ten, then set up his ten stacks of chips to wager on the next the shooters. It sounds very elementary – but it works very well.

My preference has always been to buy in for twelve times my average bet and to pack sufficient bankroll to cover all of my pre-planned sessions assuming worst case scenario. In other words, if I plan to play 10 sessions with a $600 buy in per session then I pack $3000 and have another $3000 in reserve in the form of casino credit I can access if I have to.

I mentioned average bet in that last paragraph, and it is worth pointing out that when calculating how much bankroll I need I use average bet instead of initial bet. Why? Because I usually toss out a larger than average initial bet in order to position myself for an early steep regression. Once I’ve made that regression I’ll take a couple of hits, then begin a pre-planned press progression that will boost my average bet somewhat. For example, I might start with $85 inside on a point of five or nine. One his would pay $35. After one hit I regress to $34 inside and lock up $1 profit. The next hit pays $15 and I have $15 profit for the hand. From that point on I would press every other hit until reaching somewhere around the $170 inside mark. Then I’d regress by 50% and continue to press up and out. Since those long hands with big pressure are rare, my average bet when playing this way will run around $50. That puts me at a $600 session buy in using the twelve-times calculation. That’s also a very convenient amount to buy in for since you can drop $600 on the layout and get a stack of green and a stack of red. It speeds the whole buy-in process and keeps the game flowing.

A table games manager in Vegas once told me the minimum a player should buy in for is 100X the table minimum bet. In a $5 game you’d buy in for $500. A $10 game would require $1000. Frankly, that’s not a bad number. On the other side of the coin, go to any in-casino free craps lesson and the guy teaching the class will talk in terms of buying in for $100 or so. And with only $100 to play with you’re going to have a very difficult time winning. Then again, that’s what the casino wants.

How much bankroll is enough for you? Fact it, there is no such thing as too much bankroll – unless, of course, you lose it all.  On the other hand, if you manage your bankroll properly you can get by on less than you might think.