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This past week, I ventured over to a locals casino and had what was possibly the worst video poker session I have had in years. I was playing Double Double Bonus on a Multi-Strike machine and I just had no luck from beginning to end.

To win at Double Double, you have to get the Bonus Quads. To win at Multi-Strike, you need your Four of a Kinds to appear at the higher levels. Well, I certainly didn’t get many of the Bonus Four of a Kinds and what little I got in Quads were at the bottom two levels for the most part.

To add to my misery, it seemed like I was getting an over abundance of 4-Card Straights and 4-Card Flushes and couldn’t turn many of them into paying hands. I seemed to get not enough High Pairs also. In Multi-Strike, where you need to have a winning hand to move up the ladder, those High Pairs are key to moving up.

There is no doubt winning in a session adds to one’s entertainment value. But, I have had mild losing sessions where I found I got my money’s worth in fun. I’ve also had winning sessions where I didn’t have much fun, but hit some big hand at the end. This day was the worst of both worlds. It wasn’t a lot of fun and I got crushed.

Now, I wasn’t tracking the count of hands specifically. So when I say I seemed to get too few of this and too many of that, I’m really talking a gut feel. I’ll take my end result to indicate I was probably right. I bring this all up because while this was going on, I was so tempted to deviate from proper strategy.

Where I had a Low Pair plus a 4-Card Flush, I was tempted to just stick with the Low Pair given how infrequently I was pulling a Flush (or so it seemed). If I had a High Card or Two with a 4-Card Flush or Straight, I was tempted to keep the High Cards. I know these are the wrong plays. But, when you do the right thing and get the wrong response, you almost feel like you want to “trick the machine” and play some other strategy.

Now, if someone like me gets tempted to do this, what is going to happen to the average player who might have some idea of the right strategy, but might be lacking in full knowledge of why the strategy is what it is.

I am the son of the man who essentially created the first strategies for video poker. I know the strategies and why the strategy is what it is. I know the machines are random, even if they go through brutally cold streaks. I know in the long run the game will demonstrate completely random results in line with what is expected out of it mathematically.

I know all this and still I hesitate when things get this bad. I know at any point in time, each card is as likely to turn up as any other card. When I’m looking at a Low Pair and a 4-Card Flush, I know there are a set number of possible Draws for each that will result in average payout that we call expected value.

We play each hand according to the way that gives us the highest expected value. In the long run, this will create the best chance to preserve my bankroll for as long as possible.

Ironically, I stayed the course and got killed. Had I deviated from normal strategy would I have done any better? There is no way of knowing for sure. In my little session, it is possible that I would have.

Perhaps holding that Low Pair instead of the 4-Card Flush would’ve yielded a Bonus Quads to me. In a two-hour session of several hundred hands, anything is possible. But, if I deviate from strategy and hit a couple of those big hands, will this cause me to deviate from strategy the next time I play?

When do you decide to deviate? Only when the machine is “cold”? But the past hand or the past 100 hands or the past 1,000 hands have no impact on the next hand, the next 100 hands or the next 1,000 hands.

The only thing I’m sure of is if I deviate from strategy, the math says, in the long run, there is only one possibility – I will lose more money.

The bottom line is I had a bad/cold session. It happens. The math tells us it will. I’ve been on fire for the past month. I just gave my winnings all back. I’m playing a game paying under 100%. I’d be foolish to believe I can win over the long run. My goal is to have some fun and play as close as possible to the theoretical payback over time. Along the way, get some cashback, some comps, some free buffets, etc. It’s why I analyze games for a living and play video poker for fun.

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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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