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What are your chances of winning at video poker?

June 07, 2011 3:02 AM by Elliot Frome

They say there is no such thing as a stupid question. I guess that’s true. But there is such a thing as an incomplete and thus impossible to clearly answer question.

One such question I get asked is, "So, what are your chances of winning?" Many people tend to have a preconceived notion you’re going to lose when you gamble. The problem with both the question and this notion is they are incomplete.

The chances of winning are not only dependent upon the game you are playing but also over what period of time (i.e. how many hands) you are talking about.

Ironically, payback can be a relatively small portion of the answer, especially over short periods of time. Let’s look at the most simplistic situation – a single hand. If you’re playing blackjack, a game with a 99.5% payback, you will win about 44% of the time, lose about 48% and push the remaining 8%.

If we look at a single hand of video poker, also 99.5% payback, we find you’ll lose about 54% of the time, push about 21% and win only 25%. Of course, in video poker many of these wins will be for multiple units, which for the most part you don’t do in blackjack (except doubling and splitting).

So, to answer the question we first have to narrow our focus to a single game. As the son of the "godfather of video poker," I’ll stick with video poker for the moment. To keep things simple I’ll also stick with a full-pay jacks or better machine.

I’ve already described the potential outcomes after a single hand, but who plays a single hand of video poker? To really answer the question, we also need to assign some time frame as well. What are the chances of winning after an hour?

If we assume an hour is 600 hands, then we’ll find our probability of losing increases to about 62%. Ironically, our probability of winning increases even more to 37%. Of course, that leaves pushing, which becomes rather rare at a mere less than 1%. But, what are the chances of winning after three hours?

The numbers change a bit, but perhaps not as dramatically as one would expect. After three hours of play, the probability of winning is 32%, of losing 67% and pushing is a mere 0.5%. It should be noted these numbers assume playing using expert strategy and with a sufficient bankroll so going bust is not a possibility. Playing improper strategy or with a short bankroll can only result in a higher loss rate.

So, now that we’ve determined the player should walk away a winner about one-third of the time when playing three hours of video poker, how can we expect him to do over a week’s worth of sessions? What are the chances of winning if you head to Las Vegas for a week and play three hours a day? Again, we’ll assume that at no time does the player go bust.

At the end of the week, our player will have a 72% chance of losing and 28% of winning. Pushing occurs only 0.25% of the time. These aren’t great numbers, but then again, it hardly means "you’re going to lose."

Of course, the longer you play a game with a house advantage, the more likely you will wind up losing. However, after 21 hours of play it’s only about 72% of the time. This also leaves a pretty good chance to walk away a winner.

Of course, when we start talking about the long run, the payback starts to become rather important, too. If we look at a similar situation but our player chooses to play a 6-5 short-pay jacks or better, his chance of winning over a week drops to a staggering 10%.

It’s not as easy to figure out exactly what the impact of improper play will have on our numbers as there is an infinite way to play poorly – and of course only one way to play expert strategy.

So, what did we learn today? With proper play, losing is not a given – even after a week in Las Vegas – as long as you know which machines to play, what strategy to use and what to expect. In other words, if you want to have the best chance of winning – try the expert strategy way.

Where video poker is concerned, there’s no better way to get started than with expert strategy for Las Vegas. Also, check out my blog at gambatria.blogspot.com!

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