Video Poker Machines Don't Get Hot or Cold
April 25, 2017 3:00 AM
by Elliot Frome
About a month ago I wrote about a conversation I had about the game called Zappit Blackjack, a relatively new 21 variant. The gentleman argued with me about the right strategy despite the fact that I developed the math for the game and was in the room when the game was essentially invented!
This past week, when we met, we covered a variety of video poker fallacies. The first was that video poker machines always seem to start hot and then they get very cold. It is as if they are programmed to sucker you in. Well, this one is half fallacy. They are not specifically programmed to sucker you in, but by the very nature of video poker, it might work out this way. Let’s face it, how many choices are there really?
You can start cold and lose your money quickly. You can start lukewarm and kind of muddle around for a while. Or, you can win some money early and then it can go cold. No, I’m not saying it never works out that you slowly lose for a while and then hit a big hand and go home a winner. This definitely can happen. But this only happens if you walk out when you hit that big hand (and something short of the Royal!).
The problem is we all think the hot streak will keep going and the cold streak will end any second. This is the real fallacy. Hot and cold streaks will happen. How long they have lasted has absolutely no impact on the next hand!
I listened to this man tell me that if he loses several hands in a row, he will increase his wager because the machine is “due.” No, it isn’t. It is no more due on the next hand than it was on the prior 10, 100 or next 1,000. The next hand has the same likelihood of being a winner as any other.
In the case of video poker, there is about a 45% chance of being a non-losing hand. I say non-losing because the overwhelming number of winning hands in video poker are actually pushes (Jacks or Better). Lost in what this gentleman told me is that by increasing his wager that means most of the time he is playing less than max-coin. Generally speaking that is a mistake.
You’re better off playing five pennies vs. one nickel and five nickels vs. one quarter. The difference between 250- and 800-for-one for that Royal is about 1.4% in payback. You’re 99.5% machine just became a 98% machine! If you are bankrolled properly, you want to play max-coin.
The next fallacy dealt with the way the random number generator worked. My friend told me he feels that after playing for a while the hands repeat and he can use this to his advantage as he thinks the random numbers are being “used up” and repeating. I’ve written many columns about computer generated random number generators.
Technically, it is a really long list of numbers that, if you play long enough, will repeat. But, based on my experience running simulations, I’d say you’d have to play a few million hands to get them to repeat. At 800 hands per hour it would take 1,250 hours of play to play just one million hands. No one plays that many hands in a row and no one could notice when the hands repeat.
Further, video poker machines don’t use the simple random number generator found in a computer as far as I know. In order to run my very long simulations, I created my own version anyway.
The worst of all this is not that this person believes these things. It’s that even after I try to explain to him he is wrong and why, I can tell by the look on his face he simply doesn’t fully believe me. I then realize this man is, quite frankly, the average video poker player out there.
If you’re reading this column, you’re already likely an above average player. You’re trying to learn more and, hopefully, you are taking what I have to say fairly seriously. I’ve been doing this a long time and I know how these machines work. But, when you go to the casino next time, spend a few minutes just watching a few people play.
You’ll see them playing less than max-coin. You’ll see many who are holding cards that you know are wrong. And then you can silently thank them.
It is because of all these average video poker players that the casinos will offer you a 99.5% payback machine so readily.
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