Blackjack, video poker players need discipline
February 23, 2016 3:00 AM
by Elliot Frome
A couple of years ago there was a story going around about a blackjack player who took the Tropicana in Atlantic City for a lot of money. While he never admitted it, it was fairly obvious he was a card counter.
By the time it was known what he was doing, it was too late for the casino. He supposedly won several million, but in interviews he stated that those were his winning trips and he had some losers in between, so he had not won that much overall. He stated that his greatest gift at gambling was discipline. I have to agree, I think this is the most important skill of them all.
Now, it didn’t hurt that he owned a company that did horserace handicapping so he was able to go into the casino with a plan on how to count and how to bet. It also helped that he had the ability to count accurately (presumably). But, you have to understand how counting works.
It simply says that at some particular point in time, the payback of the game is now positive, that is over 100%. You wager very little when the game is negative and a lot when it is positive. The more positive, the more you wager. More sophisticated counting methods will also have the player potentially making tweaks to the strategy to reflect the current composition of the remainder of the shoe.
But, all of this fails if the player doesn’t stick to his plan. If you start going off plan, there really is only one direction for you to go, and that’s further down. The strategy over time will pay dividends. You will lose hands with smaller wagers and win hands with bigger wagers. I’m just focusing on the key ingredient here – discipline.
If you decide to play the first available machine, you may find yourself playing on one with a short-pay paytable. Or, you may find yourself playing a game whose strategy is foreign to you. Without discipline, you may decide to start playing hunches after playing the right strategy seems to backfire in a small sample.
Then there is the most critical decision of all – when to walk away. This may take the most discipline of them all. This past week, I went to Red Rock to play some video poker. On my very first hand (literally), I wound up with four of a kind. I was dealt two 6’s and on the draw got two more. I had two nickels in a double double bonus poker machine.
I was just “warming up” so I hadn’t gone to max-coin yet. I won $5. Was I supposed to walk away? Probably not for $5. But what if I had max-coin in. Would I have walked away for $12.50? What if it were one of the higher paying quads? What if I had been dealt four deuces with a kicker and won $40? This is not a lot of money, but given I was playing nickels, could I really expect to win much more over an hour or two? Probably not. But, I came to play for an hour or two. Would I really walk away after literally one hand?
Well, since I won $5, I didn’t even consider it. The machine was absolutely cold after that and it didn’t take long for me to lose the 100 coins back. I moved to another machine, which was only mildly better and after about 20 minutes I had lost my $10.
At this point, I decided to head over to the multi-play multi-strike machines. These are not for the feint at heart. I played for about 10-15 minutes holding my own. Again, I hit four of a kind within the first couple of hands but it was on the first line so it wasn’t much of a payout. Then the machine started going cold.
Before I knew it, I was down another $30 or so and it was approaching the time for me to leave. I didn’t have a fixed time, but I had some other things I needed to take care of. Then I was dealt what could be the best hand ever. On the top line, with two hands still going, I was dealt four deuces with a Four. I had to do a double take. Not only was I dealt Quads, but I was dealt a Bonus Quad with a kicker. I was playing max-coin at this point. Each one of these hands was worth $64 for a total win of $128.
In Multi-Strike, there are four “rows” of hands. In order to go to the next row, you have to have some sort of winning hand on the previous hand (Jacks or Better). Each successive row pays a multiple of the paytable – the first row 1x, the second 2x, the third 4x and the fourth 8x. Throw in the Multi-Play and each row consists of five hands.
So, on each row you are dealt an initial hand and then the result is played up to five times. If one hand loses, that hand is out for all the rest of the rows. To begin play, you have to wager the same amount on each of the potential 20 hands even though many of them never play at all.
So, while I was playing max-coin pennies, I was wagering $1 per hand. This is not quite playing $5 coins – but it is nearly equivalent to max-coin quarters – and the game is far more volatile than a basic quarter game.
So, I had 5 cents wagered on these two hands and each one paid 800 coins multiplied by 8 or 6,400 for a total of 12,800 pennies. I played two more hands and then hit the “cash out” button. I never leave a big paying hand up on the screen. I was always told it was “rude” – although I don’t think there is any official etiquette for this.
The past performance is irrelevant on future performance. The fact that I won $128 does not change what hands will occur next. But there is a psychological aspect of the game that makes it important to leave a winner from time to time. A disciplined gambler knows the universe is telling you it is time to walk away.
If anyone wants to see a picture of this hand, it is on Gambatria’s Facebook page. Go take a look!
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Elliot Frome is a second generation gaming analyst and author. His math credits include Ultimate Texas Hold’em, Mississippi Stud, House Money and many other games. His website is www.gambatria.com. Email: ElliotFrome@GamingToday.com.