PATRICK TIMOTHY MULLIKIN [NEOKCC]

I came close to hitting to a royal flush on a Jacks or Better video poker machine a few days ago. Pretty sure of it.

That particular machine was paying off every other hand. In the 16 hands I played, I hit several threes of a kind, a full house and a 10-A straight, dealt on the initial five cards.

I doubled my investment in roughly 20 minutes, and was certain that had I continued with round two of my customary three-round set, a royal flush was lurking just around the corner.

Welcome to the danger zone.

What’s worse? Losing consistently—I call this the Sassy Sue’s Saloon Syndrome, in honor of the time I lost 16 consecutive video poker hands in the aforementioned bar located at the Pioneer Hotel & Casino in Laughlin, Nev.—or being on a winning streak and not knowing how or when to stop and run out with winnings in hand?

“There are two W’s that you follow whenever you are gambling,” says Chip Foltz (his gambling alias). “First there’s the “W”inning piece. That’s never a problem,” he says with a hearty laugh.

The second W is harder, he says.

“That’s “W”alking after you win, because you think you’ll continue to win.

Slot players call it “bell” fever. Video poker players must have an equivalent fever, though the name escapes me.

In the May/June issue of Casino Connection we outlined the basics of video poker, the only video game that offers a player a fighting chance at winning consistently.

But a player must have a basic understanding of poker and the hierarchy of suits to compete against the machine.

It’s essentially five-card draw played against a formidable, unforgiving dealer.

How one manages his bankroll is as important as knowing how to play the game. Good money management applies to all games of chance.

The adage “Play only what you can afford to lose” is sound advice for video poker players.

“The money I walk in with is the money I plan on losing,” Foltz says. “I play where I feel my best odds are for the time that have to play. And I leave after that.”

Foltz says his luck is better than other players. (Don’t forget: gamblers who win, no matter how savvy they may be, always have some degree of luck on their side.)

“Walk in with a set amount, and (if you lose it all) don’t dig for more. No, no, no, no. That’s the cardinal sin: Don’t throw more money after what you’ve lost.”

My own system for money management — translation: trying not to lose it — is tied to what I call the Isosceles System.

It consists of playing three rounds of 16 hands. It works best if you keep a score pad. I circle hands that pay out, and check off hands as I approach the 16th.

Added bonus: other video poker players check you out from the corner of their eyes, curiously and suspiciously. I’ve tried to explain the system and scorepad to fellow players, bartenders and pit bosses who lose interest and patience quickly.

Twenty dollars is my minimum buy-in. On a quarter machine, $20 translates to 16 $1.25 hands. A 4,000-credit royal flush pays $1,250 with a $1.25 bet. Players with thicker blood and stronger spines can buy in with a higher amount, bet higher amounts, and win bigger payouts.

At the end of round one, I cash out. If I have more than my initial $20, I pocket the winnings.

The $20 is reinvested for round two and another 16 hands. (If, however, the results of round one are less than $20, then that amount is played. Ten dollars, for example means eight $1.25 rounds. If either round one or two ends with a zero balance (very unlikely with video poker) the game Isosceles System ends.

If round two ends with credits, then it’s to round 3, the final side of the Isolceles triangle.

This may seem like a complicated, convoluted way to play. But it makes you keep track of your funds and percentage of winning hands. And it extends your playing time. I can play for an hour with my initial investment, provided I don’t have 16 consecutive losses.

I always set the screen speed to the slowest setting and take my time checking and rechecking the screen to make sure I’ve held the right cards. As I wrote in the May/June issue, a pair of lowly 2’s (the only cards of value) could get lost amongst a crowd of impressive but disjointed face cards.

So does my system work?

The answer is yes, when it works.

Do other systems work?

Again, yes, when they work.

But like any game of chance there are times when the house is on a unstoppable winning streak. My $20 buy-in vaporized in less than 10 minutes at Sassy Sue’s Saloon, and my Isosceles System collapsed. It was on this same trip, however, that I found $100 outside the door leading to Sassy Sue’s Saloon

Go figure.

While video poker offers players a better chance of winning, it, like all other games, is fickle.

“You have to look at it (gambling) as if its something you enjoy versus something you are trying to make a living at,” says Foltz.

“You will never make a living at it. It’s something to do for fun, and you’ve got to keep it in perspective,” he says.

“As soon as you lose that perspective, that’s when you lose control.”

Patrick Timothy Mullikin is managing editor of The Miami News-Record. Contact him at patrick.mullikin@miaminewsrecord.com with your questions, comments and gambling tips.