Coping with Losing at Video Poker

By Jean Scott
Let's face it: Losing is never as much fun as winning. This is no doubt true in any area of life you might discuss: the Super Bowl, Academy Awards, Dow Jones Industrial Average, Miss America Pageant, U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the office paycheck lottery, even an argument with your spouse. And video poker is no exception; a winning session is a LOT more fun than a losing one.
However, LOSING AT VP IS UNAVOIDABLE. I'm not talking about the long run here. If you've read even a few of my writings, you know that I believe in (and personally practice) smart video poker play, which gives you a very good chance to be a winner in the long term. I'm also not talking about unknowledgeable players. If you choose plays where you don't have the mathematical advantage over the casino or you don't learn proper strategy, you should expect to lose.
I'm talking about knowledgeable players who choose only the best games and go at them with accurate strategies. Losing sessions and losing streaks in the short-term are unavoidable. Bob Dancer, who plays a lot of video poker and plays it at the expert level, says he loses on average two out of three sessions, even though he's been an overall winner every year he's played. Brad's and my play over many years has seen similar results.
Actually, this problem of losing streaks does not diminish the longer you play; in fact, you should expect the opposite. Although it's true that the longer you play the nearer you'll come to the expected return -- a winning figure if you're playing positive games -- it's also a fact that you'll experience many more different lengths of streaks, including those at the tail end of the losing side of the bell curve. Players who have a year or two with medium-length streaks around the middle of the curve -- and especially if they have had some really great winning streaks at the tail end of the winning side -- can be devastated by an extremely long losing streak. You have to remember that any good streak you've had, no matter how glorious, has a dark counterpart on the other side that can pop up at any time and last for what feels like an eternity.
So if you're doing all the right things in your video poker play -- good games and good strategy, coupled with the best slot club benefits and promotions you can find -- and you can't avoid losing sessions or even long losing streaks, how can you cope better with this inevitability?
Here are some ideas that have worked for me and many players I know.
EXPECT TO LOSE - I frequently read gambling advice that tells you always to enter a casino with an optimistic attitude; some writers even say you'll win more that way. Personally, I've always been an optimist and I'm not dissing positive thinking. Norman Vincent Peale is right: There IS power in positive thinking in many areas of life.
However, perhaps it's better to enter a casino to play video poker with a more realistic attitude, based on what you know about math. I find it helps me to cope better if I sit down at a video poker machine and say to myself, "The odds are stronger that I'll lose today than I'll win. So I'm going to expect to lose -- and if I do, I won't be so disappointed. And if I win -- I'll be pleasantly surprised."
The hardest time to say this to myself and really believe it is in the middle of a long losing streak. Rogue thoughts keep popping up in my mind: "I'm DUE to win since I've been losing so long," or "I just HAVE to hit a royal today; it's been so long since I've had one." I have to remind myself that this machine does not know what my results have been in the past and that there's no such thing as a "due" factor.
ACCEPT BEING HUMAN - Some players are bothered by the fact that they get "down" psychologically when they lose, especially if they've had a long streak of losing sessions. I've had them come to me and say, "I know the math and that in the long run I'll be okay, but I just can't help being discouraged when I lose."
Hey, I haven't talked to Bob Dancer personally about this -- you ask him the next time you take one of his classes! -- but I bet that, even though he says today's score doesn't matter, he'd be the first to admit that it's more fun when the score is positive. There's no question that his wife Shirley thinks so!
Now, I believe that some people shouldn't play video poker, even the long-term-winning kind. Their temperaments are just not suited for losing money anytime, even if they'll win in the long term. Their heads may be right, but their guts can't take even short-term losses. They literally become ill. However, most of us who know and believe in the math don't enjoy losing, but we can learn to accept it, albeit with some very human complaining along the way. After all, we're not robots.
MAKE MONEY ADJUSTMENTS - The following has been pounded into our heads by every gambling writer, social-behavior expert, financial advisor, and well-meaning friend and family member, not to mention our own consciences: No one should gamble with money that they can't afford to lose.
There can never be real peace of mind when you're gambling with money that should be used for the necessities of life. Losing this money, even if you're playing skilled video poker, will always be psychologically difficult. I can't help you make this easier to cope with. No one can. The only answer is to quit until you have the money to spare.
However, you can make certain adjustments if your gambling bankroll consists of entirely discretionary income -- in other words, you could lose it all without negatively impacting your lifestyle and relationships. Many charts have been developed that show the required bankroll for various games and denominations in order not to go broke and have to quit playing. One of the best ways for some people to cope with the inevitable losing in the short run is to play well below their bankroll. This can be a temporary measure until a long losing spell is over; or, for many people, especially those who take losing very hard, it can be a permanent tactic.
This illustrates the difference between a financial bankroll and a psychological one. You may be able to "afford" bigger session losses or longer losing streaks, but it's too much of a stress on your mental health. After you've had some severe losses at the $1 denomination, dropping back down to quarters can be downright relaxing.
MAKE TIME ADJUSTMENTS - Sometimes the best thing you can do when you're in a losing streak -- and it's getting you down -- is to take a break. This break can be short, just an hour or two during a long day's session while you're on a casino vacation. You stop playing to take a walk, go shopping, see a show, or enjoy a long leisurely meal -- anything that rests your tired eyes and stiff muscles, anything that gets your mind off losing. For someone like a local Las Vegan, who plays almost every day, the break may need to be longer, for example several days of non-gambling activities to refresh the spirit. If someone is suffering from severe video poker "burnout," he may need to take a break for several weeks and cultivate new interests, like volunteer work or a non-casino hobby.
KEEPING THE FAITH - Although losing in the short term cannot be avoided, there's one comforting truth for the properly bankrolled video poker player who's doing all the right things: No losing streak lasts forever. Keep the faith, baby!

Jean Scott is one of the country’s most renowned and successful gamblers and has appeared on many TV shows, including 48 Hours, where Dan Rather gave her the nickname of Queen of Comps. Her first book, The Frugal Gambler, has been a best-seller for nine years. She also wrote a sequel, More Frugal Gambling, and a tax guide for gamblers. She provides a complete resource package for video poker players, from beginners to the experienced: the Frugal VP software program which goes with her new book, Frugal Video Poker, and the must-have Frugal Video Poker Scouting Guide. Her Web site is www.queenofcomps.com