Advantage play

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A classic trivia question is what was the first video every played on MTV. The answer is “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.

The follow-up question is have writers like me killed off ‘advantage play’ (playing games over 100%) video poker. This was essentially the position one particular person took on a video poker chat board. However, he didn’t just suggest the idea – he was rather angry that people who have both told people how to play video poker at over 100% and those who publicize the opportunities to do so have ‘ruined’ it for the advantage players.

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I’m not sure how my fellow writers feel about this, but for the most part I agree with this person’s premise. I have little doubt that the people who have taught the world how to play video poker properly have helped to greatly reduce the number of 100+% games in the marketplace. At the same time, I’m not sure video poker would even exist today if not for early pioneers who told people how to play. My father, Lenny Frome, was to the best of my knowledge, the first person who analyzed video poker and did his best to tell the world what he found. So, is our friend on the chat board suggesting that people like Lenny Frome should have done what he did, but everyone else should have just stayed on the sidelines?

This is a rather silly notion for a variety of reasons. First, only in hindsight could someone determine that the work an analyst is doing has potentially done more harm than good for an advantage player. If my father never does his work, video poker perhaps dies a miserable death and no advantage play ever exists. Only as video poker grows in popularity do new games get generated and it was many of these games that had the 100+% paybacks. The only thing that stopped my father from continuing his writing was his passing 12 years ago this month. The writers that followed were merely trying to do the same thing – educate the player about how to play. No one ever complained about all the blackjack books.

The second reason is that I simply don’t know how you can complain that someone else should stop analyzing games and educating the public on how to play them. Even if the person on the chat board could convince a writer that he should stop because he’s ruining all these wonderful opportunities for these players, what stops someone else from just taking that analyst’s place? In other words, if not me, then someone else is going to do what I’m doing.

The third reason is why is this guy more important than the thousands of other players who play better because of learning how to play. Everyone else should suffer so a handful of people can play games at over 100%? Not to mention, did this person really analyze and learn how to play video poker on his own? Or did he first find out about it from the very people he is now lamenting about?

The bottom line is that games that pay over 100% were almost assuredly mistakes in the first place. Video-based games can help limit the damage to casinos by having relatively low wagers. A high-speed video poker player can only shove about $1,250 into a quarter machine every hour. If a sidebet to blackjack was found to be paying 102%, it would be relatively easy to play $5,000-$10,000 per hour on it. I’m still surprised to find 100% games in any casino. When I analyze table games and look at ways to card count or the like, the key question is not whether or not the player can reduce the house advantage, but whether or not he can turn the tables. The casinos don’t care if 1 in 100,000 people will shave the advantage from 1% to 0.1%, but if they can so much as turn it into a 0.1% advantage for the player – then panic sets in.

On second thought, maybe it isn’t the fault of the writers that advantage play has almost disappeared. Maybe it is just part of the evolution – as sure as video killing the radio star.

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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