Reviewing some video poker basics

Oct 15, 2013 3:00 AM

It was just over 10 years ago that I started writing for GamingToday. I have to be honest, that really blows me away.

That means I’ve written roughly 500 columns when I take into account off weeks and the fact that for the first six or nine months, my column was bi-weekly.

I remember when I wrote my first few columns I would wax poetic about how my father (Lenny Frome) had written nearly 1,000 columns for a variety of different publications. I remember when I hit column number 100 and remarked how far behind I was.

Now, my total count is probably about 600-700 columns and I can almost see myself someday surpassing my dad’s total. That said, I definitely don’t plan on taking steroids or PEDs to get me there.

Part of what is so amazing about having written 500-plus articles is I have somehow managed to come up with that many things to write about. I’m not really sure there are 500 unique subjects.

I have to remember that if I borrow a subject from 2005 there is a strong likelihood if someone reads it today, they didn’t read that article from eight years ago. So, in that spirit, I’m going to start back at the beginning today and discuss some basics about video poker.

Video poker is truly a unique game in the casino. Far too often it is lumped together with slots, but there is little in common except for the technology. I don’t think of a video blackjack machine as a slot machine and the same is true for video poker.

As the world starts turning more to online gambling, the separation will no longer be about the technology. Instead, it should be about the essence of the game.

Video poker is a game that is based more on skill than almost any other game in the casino. This doesn’t mean luck doesn’t play a part, especially in the short run. But, if I were to challenge a random player to a slot competition, there would be no way to gain an advantage.

If I were to challenge a random player to a video poker competition, I’d like to believe I would have a distinct advantage. The longer the competition runs, the more strategy and skill will rule the day and the less luck will impact the results.

How is video poker a game of skill? Because the player must make a decision that will clearly impact his results. This decision is frequently NOT of the “no-brainer” variety.

Technically, in the game of Casino War, the player must make a decision whether or not to go to War when the player and dealer tie. But, the proper decision is the same all the time – to go to War. So, while technically, there is “strategy,” I doubt very many people get this one wrong.

In Three Card Poker, there is one strategy decision – to Play or Fold. The decision is also relatively simple. If the player has Q-6-4 or better, he should play. As simple as this sounds, many players don’t follow this rule (and I don’t mean they go with Q-6 or Q or better), and as a result they give up a larger portion of their bankroll to the casino than they need to.

Video poker strategy is far more complex than this. First of all, the decision is not one of Fold or Play, but rather which cards to Discard. There are 32 ways a player can make each of these decisions, ranging from keeping them all to discarding them all.

 Granted, many of these possibilities will fall into the brainless category. If you are dealt Three of a Kind and two off-suit kickers, which cards to discard is pretty obvious. If you are dealt a Straight, then you don’t have to discard at all. Oh wait, what if it is also a 4-card Straight Flush or a 4-card Royal? What is the proper play?

If you are dealt the following: 4-diamonds, 4-spades, 5-spades, 6-spades, 7-clubs, the decisions get a bit more complex. You might keep the Pair of 4’s, or the 4-card Straight or maybe the 3-card Straight Flush.

These are 3 of the 32 ways the hand can be played. The other 29 are quickly discarded, so there isn’t a need to go through 32 possible decisions for each hand. Obviously, in this case, you’re not going to keep the off-suit 4-7.

Unlike table poker, which involves even a higher level of skill, the strategy in video poker is based strictly on math. You don’t play hunches and you’re not trying to beat another player. You don’t have to worry that you might pull your Straight and he might come up with a Flush.

All that matters is the likelihood (aka probability) of each final hand and how much that hand pays. But, I’ll leave that for next week. For now, I’ll be happy if I’ve convinced you just a little bit that video poker is not slots.

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. Contact Elliot at [email protected].

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