A special Sept. 6 aka National Video Poker Day

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You almost assuredly will not see National Video Poker Day on any calendar. I made it up.

Apparently, there is no special commission that decides when National Anything Day is. All you have to do is declare a particular day to be something and then hope it catches on. A bit more than six months ago, I found out a small group of people had declared March 2 to be National Blackjack Day. They picked that day because of 3 to 2 payouts on blackjacks.

I picked Sept. 6 for National Video Poker Day because 9/6 are the payouts for Full House and Flush for a full-pay Jacks or Better machine. I’ve spent the summer doing the best I could in my weekly column to give you the basics about video poker and push the idea that video poker is America’s National Game of Chance.

Video poker is a unique game in the casino. It looks like a slot machine, but doesn’t play anything like one. It is a game that blends skill with luck. It essentially was the first electronic skill-based game. It does not require any form of physical skill or speed.

Video poker strategies are based on sound math principles and probabilities. Unlike the slot machines, in video poker what you see is what you get. You are playing with a standard 52-card deck (unless you are playing a Joker’s Wild machine!). Each card is as likely to be dealt to you as any other card. Given this, we can determine the exact probability of each of the 2,598,960 possible initial deals. Further, we can then determine the exact probability of any final hand given which cards you choose to discard/hold.

If we know the probability of each final hand given your discard/hold decision, we can determine precisely the expected value of your decision. Thus, we can determine which discard/hold decision is the best one in the long run by maximizing the expected value. We don’t play on hunches trying to “guess” which cards will be drawn. We know the probabilities and make our decisions accordingly.

We don’t hold a Pair of Aces instead of a 4-Card Flush because we “hope” we will be dealt more Aces. We know the probability of being dealt a Flush is precisely 9 in 47 (nine remaining cards of that suit out of the 47 cards remaining in the deck). We know there are two remaining Aces out of that 47 along with a variety of ways to get to Two Pair or a Full House.

When we multiply the payout of each final winning hand by the probability of achieving that hand and sum these values we get our expected value. The expected value of a Pair of Aces is greater than that of our 4-Card Flush so we play a Pair of Aces.

Similarly, if this were a Pair of 9’s instead, we would hold the 4-Card Flush instead as its expected value is greater than that of a Low Pair. Continuing this pattern, if that 4-Card Flush were instead a 4-Card Straight, we would hold the Low Pair over the 4-Card Straight because the Low Pair has the higher expected value.

Like blackjack, we can know the exact payback of a video poker machine by looking at the paytable. If you see two machines with identical paytables, then they have identical paybacks. This is not the case with slot machines.

We offer readers our three top selling video poker books for just $7 each! You can order Expert Video Poker for Las Vegas, Winning Strategies for Video Poker or Video Poker: America’s National Game of Chance – or order all three for $21. This includes first class shipping and handling. If you’d like to order, send a check or money order to Gambatria, P.O. Box 36474, Las Vegas, NV 89133 or shoot me an e-mail at [email protected] if you’d like to use a credit card.

About the Author

Elliot Frome

Elliot Frome’s roots run deep into gaming theory and analysis. His father, Lenny, was a pioneer in developing video poker strategy in the 1980s and is credited with raising its popularity to dizzying heights. Elliot is a second generation gaming author and analyst with nearly 20 years of programming experience.

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