Sometimes I like to write posts that are more like thought experiments based on a cool title I’ve come up with.
This is one of those posts.
What I’d like you to imagine is this:
You have a $100 gambling bankroll, and it MUST last you the rest of your life.
You’re allowed to put money that you’ve won into your bankroll, but you CANNOT ever again put money from a paycheck into your bankroll.
What do you do?
You Could Just Gamble Like You Normally Do
You have lots of options in this situation. One of those is to keep gambling the way you gamble now. If you’re like a lot of my readers, you’re probably a recreational casino gambler.
How does recreational casino gambling work in the long run?
Since every casino game has a mathematical house edge, if you play any of these games long enough, you’ll lose all your money.
You might be up some of the time, down some of the time, and look like you’re breaking even some of the time.
But the overall graph will eventually trend toward 0.
That’s just how casino games work.
Unless you’re playing the smallest of microstakes casino games, your $100 bankroll just won’t last long.
And then, per the rules of this thought experiment, you must stop gambling for the rest of your life.
That wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world, but you have other options, too.
You Could Become an Advantage Gambler
Not all gamblers take the worst of it on every bet. Some gamblers only gamble when they have the best of it. These special souls are called “advantage players” or “advantage gamblers.” In sports betting, they’re often called “sharps.”
How do you get a mathematical edge when you gamble?
With some games, you can’t.
The problem with that is this:
Even though you might have a positive expectation on a progressive jackpot, your probability of hitting that jackpot is so close to 0% that it might as well be a negative expectation game.
I’ll assume that almost all gambling activities have a negative expectation that you can’t alter, but here are some games where you can get an edge:
- Sports betting
- Video poker
You could find other examples, but those are the prominent ones that I want to discuss in this post.
Now Let’s Consider a Concept Called “Risk of Ruin”
Even when you have a mathematical edge over the casino, the other player, or the sportsbook, you can still go broke.
Here’s an example:
In the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump was a huge underdog. Hilary Clinton seemed like a sure thing, but she was only a 70/30 favorite.
If you’d bet your entire bankroll on Clinton to win, you’d be broke and wouldn’t be able to gamble anymore. Ever.
The risk of ruin in that bet was simple – you had a 30% probability of losing your entire bankroll.
If you’d bet a smaller amount of your bankroll, you’d have a lower risk of ruin, because you’d have to lose more than that one bet to go broke. It would take longer, too, because you’re going to win some of your bets some of the time.
That’s just how it works.
It works in reverse, too. If you bet too large a percentage of your bankroll on a wager where you have a mathematical edge, you still risk going broke.
Here’s an example:
You’re a Texas holdem player, and you sit down at a no limit table where the buy-in is $100. Since you might need to bet your entire stack at any time, your risk of ruin is high. You could mitigate this somewhat by refusing to go all-in unless you have the stone cold nuts, but you can’t get a mathematical edge if you’re not willing to make the mathematically correct plays on every hand.
And sometimes the mathematically correct play is to go all in.
Balance the Size of Your Bet Versus the Size of Your Bankroll
Casino bankroll requirements vary based on what gambling activity you’re engaging in, but they always have one thing in common:
You must bet a small percentage of your bankroll to avoid the risk of ruin.
Since gambling is random, you could have a losing streak. Your mathematical expectation is a long-term phenomenon, but you can’t get into the long run unless you stay in the game and avoid going broke.
If you have a $100 bankroll to start with, this means you divide your $100 into that number of betting units.
If you’re okay with having a 40% probability of going broke and never gambling again, you can play for 50 cents per hand.
If you’re okay with having a 20% probability of going broke and never gambling again, you can play for 25 cents per hand.
And, if you want to minimize your risk of ruin to 1%, you can play for 10 cents per hand.
Of course, you can’t find a casino – not a brick and mortar casino, anyway – that offers blackjack for such low stakes.
And you can’t count cards at online casinos, even if you could find one with such low betting limits.
So, blackjack might not be the game for someone with a $100 bankroll who wants to stay in the game for the rest of his life.
What About Poker? Can’t You Play Poker for Really Low Stakes?
A few years ago, Chris Ferguson set out on a challenge to win $10,000 with a starting bankroll of $0. If Chris Ferguson can turn nothing into $10,000, surely you can stay in the game with your $100 bankroll.
What does that take, though?
Poker also has a risk of ruin, so you must keep the size of your buy-ins and the sizes of your bets low in comparison to your bankroll.
This means playing in low stakes – even microstakes games – until you’ve won enough money to move up in stakes.
Ferguson is a world-class real money poker player, and here’s how he managed his poker bankroll during this challenge:
To start with, he only played in freerolls. These are poker tournaments with no buy-in, but they still offer cash prizes. You could theoretically make your $100 bankroll last forever if you stuck with freerolls, by the way.
He was aggressive once he built up a bankroll, though – he would allow himself to spend up to 5% of his bankroll to buy into cash games or sit and go (single table) tournaments.
With your $100 bankroll, you could sit down at a table where the buy-in is just $5. You could also play in a sit-n-go tournament with a $5 buy-in.
You can’t games at such low stakes in brick and mortar casinos. In fact, you won’t find games with stakes this low in most home games, either.
You’ll need to find a poker site that offers microstakes games.
But when you do, if you play a disciplined, positive expectation game of poker, you can watch your bankroll grow over time.
And it will snowball, too. It might take you 6 months to turn $100 into $1000, but you might be able to turn that $1000 into $10,000 in another 3 months.
This Only Works If You Have the Edge
All this analysis is meaningless if you don’t have a mathematical edge, though. If you’re lousy at blackjack card counting, you’ll go broke no matter what if you play long enough. That’s true in poker, too – if you’re not an elite player (top 5%), you’ll go broke.
And if you play other negative expectation games – craps, roulette, slot machines, etc. – the entire discussion is moot.
So, here’s the $100 bankroll challenge:
If you want to be a responsible gambler for the rest of your life, set aside $100 today for your gambling bankroll.
Resolve to never again make another bet unless you have a mathematical edge.
Then never bet a large amount of your bankroll at one time. Limit yourself to betting between 1% and 5% of your bankroll, no matter what gambling activity you decide to specialize in.
If you go broke, never gamble again.
After all, there ARE better ways to spend your money.