The average casual video poker player is probably unaware of any of the title’s four elements other than in the most general sense. Seasoned video poker players are well aware of return when it comes to this casino game. It is almost certainly the main criteria they use to identify their chosen game. They may have a general feeling about the other three elements. 

Few video poker players understand fully the meaning and interconnection between these four elements related to video poker play. This article will explore these four elements and how each interacts with the others.


  1. The four elements defined
  2. How return affects bankroll size and risk of ruin
  3. How variance affects bankroll size and risk of ruin 
  4. How bankroll size affects risk of ruin
  5. Summary

The four elements defined

Before explaining how these four elements are interrelated, it is good to define each of them.


Return is simply the amount of money from the casino that is returned to the player on average. It is expressed as a percentage. For example, a return of 95% means that on average for every $100 played through the game, $95 is returned to the player as winnings. The casino enjoys a 5% profit on this machine.

Again, this is the average return after hundreds of thousands of dollars in play. The short-term return can vary wildly. The player could hit a royal flush, skyrocketing the player’s return.

The player could also go long periods of time without hitting any wins of consequence, plummeting the player’s return. After a long periods of play, however, the return should approach the mathematically calculated percentage.


According to, “The simple definition of the term ‘variance’ is the spread between numbers in a data set. Variance is a statistical measurement used to determine how far each number is from the mean and from every other number in the set. You can calculate the variance by taking the difference between each point and the mean.”

Put into gaming parlance, it is a measurement of how far player’s wins and losses vary. Low variance games have winning hands occurring fairly regularly and paying roughly the same amount meaning wins and losses tend to balance each other out in a short period of time.

High variance games have most of the winnings in high-paying and infrequently occurring hands meaning there are long periods of losing and very large but short streaks of winning. 


According to Merriam-Webster, “The meaning of bankroll is supply of money : funds.” When it comes to gambling, bankroll is the amount of money that is available to the player with which to gamble. It could be cash in the pocket, room, or casino safe. Or it could be the casino line of credit available to player.

Risk of ruin:

According to Wikipedia, “Risk of ruin is a concept in gambling, insurance, and finance relating to the likelihood of losing all one's investment capital or extinguishing one's bankroll below the minimum for further play.”

When referring to casino gaming, it commonly means the likelihood of losing the entire bankroll allocated to play. Risk of ruin is represented as a percentage. 

On a personal level, risk of ruin describes the player’s appetite for risk. Is the player a risk taker? If so, his risk of ruin tolerance might be 20% – meaning the player is willing to lose the entire bankroll 20% (one in five) of the times he plays. A risk-averse player might be comfortable with only a !% (one in 100). Note that it can never be zero, since anything can happen.

There are two classifications of risk of ruin: session and lifetime. Session refers to a limited amount of play, whether a single session or multiple sessions that make up a day, or trip. Lifetime risk of ruin means unlimited play.

Video Poker

How return affects bankroll size and risk of ruin

Return can have a huge affect on bankroll size and risk of ruin in video poker. If return is close to 100%, bankroll size requirements are lower. The chance of losing larger amounts is less, since the return is high. Session risk of ruin is also low based on low loss expectations

As return to the player goes down, bankroll requirements naturally increase. The player loses more over the long run so the bankroll size needs to be higher to overcome the higher losses. The session risk of ruin also increases due the higher expectation of losses.

If return to the player is more than 100%, bankroll requirements can be minimal since the long-term outlook is positive. Session risk of ruin is also minimized due the positive expectation of winning.

Also, for returns of less than 100%, the lifetime risk of ruin is always 100%. It is only a matter of time before a finite bankroll will be exhausted. Only when the game has a positive return is the lifetime risk of ruin something less than 100%. 

Risk of ruin can be calculated if the proper elements of the game are known. More on this later.

How variance affects bankroll size and risk of ruin

Low variance causes a reduction on the bankroll size due to smaller changes in the bankroll (both up and down) while playing a low-variance game.

High variance games, on the other hand, require an increased bankroll size to handle the larger amounts of loss and win defined by these games.

Risk of ruin is also impacted by variance. Because of deeper levels of loss than low variance games, high variance games have a higher risk of ruin when all other elements are the same.

How bankroll size affects risk of ruin

Bankroll size has the greatest impact on session risk of ruin. Larger bankrolls have greater reserves to finance losing streaks, improving the players chance of success – and thereby reducing their risk of ruin.

In order for a lifetime risk of ruin to be less than total (100%), return is the most important factor. Unless the return is greater than 100%, lifetime risk of ruin is 100%. Ultimately, the player will be bankrupt since the player loses more as he plays more. If he plays infinitely long, he will certainly be bankrupted.

The elements required to determine session or lifetime risk of ruin are, unsurprisingly the other three elements described in this article – bankroll size, return, and variance. There are several risk of ruin calculators available online. If return is over 100%, lifetime risk of ruin can be calculated, otherwise only session risk of ruin calculations are possible.

Most calculators allow the calculation of risk of ruin by inputting bankroll size, return, and variance. They also allow bankroll size to be calculated by inputting return, variance, and risk of ruin percentage that is acceptable to the player.

For more tips, check out 888casino's Video Poker Strategy Guide.


Comparing risk of ruin to bankroll size is a great way for payers to understand what is likely to transpire in the casino. They can mentally prepare themselves before beginning play. This mental preparation goes a long way to maintain the player’s control while playing their favorite came.

  • The four elements (bankroll size, return, variance, and risk of ruin) are all interrelated. Changing any one of the elements changes bankroll size and/or risk of ruin. 
  • Session risk of ruin can be calculated for any value of bankroll size, return, and variance. Small bankroll size means short sessions.
  • Lifetime risk of ruin is only meaningful if return is over 100%. Lifetime risk of ruin is 100 percent when return is less than 100%.

Jerry “Stickman” has been involved in casino gambling for nearly 30 years. He is an expert in blackjack, craps, video poker and advantage slot machine play. He started playing blackjack in the late ‘80s, learned several card counting systems and used these skills to become an advantage blackjack player and overall winner of this game. He also acquired the skills necessary to become an overall winner in the game of craps, accomplishing this by a combination of throwing skill and proper betting techniques. Stich is also an overall winner playing video poker.