Expert strategy has three parts

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My first column of the new year often deals with a resolution to give up the slot habit and become a video poker player. This year, I’m tweaking that a bit.

I’m simply going to suggest you resolve to become an Expert Player. Pick whatever game you want. Of course, part of Expert Strategy deals with picking the right game. So, I’ll let you come up with your own conclusions.

Expert strategy consists of three concepts. The first is know the right games to play. Essentially this means play the ones with the highest paybacks. The funny thing about the word highest is that essentially this means the one (and only one) with the highest payback.

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This is not really realistic. I’m not 100% sure which game this would be, but it would likely be a video poker game. While they are tougher to find, you can still find games with paybacks over 100%. No other game on the casino floor will come close.

So, does this mean everyone should seek out this one type of video poker and play on that game? From a purely financial perspective, yes. From a reality perspective, not very realistic.

First of all, you may not like playing this version of video poker (most likely a Deuces Wild game). Second, it is hard to imagine all 42 million visitors that came to Las Vegas in 2014 all seeking out the possibly few dozen machines with this payback.

So, in the real world, what does play the right games really mean? It still means seek out games with the highest paybacks. But, it means they have to be games you like playing, and to shop around a bit.

Don’t just walk up to a blackjack table and start playing. Maybe you seek out a game with less decks (better Player advantage) or one with more liberal rules. Don’t sit down at the first video poker machine you see. Check the pay table.

Most casinos will offer identical games with different pay tables and thus different paybacks. Why play 5/7 video poker if the same casino offers 6/9 just a few yards away?

The second rule of expert strategy is to learn the right strategy for the game you are playing. There is no doubt about this one. If you sit down and play blackjack without knowing the strategy, the theoretical payback goes out the window.

Someone might have told you blackjack gives the best odds to win in a casino (not altogether untrue), but this implies you know how to play the game. Blackjack with reasonable rules can have a payback of 99.5%. I can easily play at this level.

If you don’t know when to double on a soft 16, you’re not going to get to 99.5%. This doesn’t mean you can’t win in the short run, but over time, you’re going to get the payback that matches the strategy you are playing.

I cannot stress this loud enough. Only the right strategy can achieve a payback higher than the one you can get. In other words, there is only one direction to go in if you play a different strategy and it is down.

Also, if you do learn basic blackjack strategy, you can’t take this strategy over to Free Bet, Switch or Spanish 21. Each game has its own strategy and you must take the time to learn it for each game. The same is true of video poker. If you master Jacks or Better, don’t take this strategy over to Joker’s Wild and hope to achieve the theoretical payback.

The last rule of expert strategy is to know what to expect. There are no bounds to this last one. Learning the strategy is a finite process. What to expect can go on and on depending on how much detail you’d like to know.

This rule is important because it is the glue that holds the other two together. Very few people have a good understanding of probabilities and what they really mean. I can teach you in an instant the strategy for Three Card Poker (Q-6-4 or better – Play).

You can go into the casino armed with this. After losing 3 or 4 hands in a row with a Queen High hand, you may decide this is a poor strategy. What you need to know is you will win a Queen High hand only 30%-40% of the time (depending on the rank of the other two cards).

Further, it is not all unusual that if you only win the hand 40% of the time you might go 4 in a row without winning one (roughly 13%).

Knowing these things by themselves won’t help you win anymore. What they will do is make you realize everything that happens is happening within normal expectations and, thus, you should stick to the strategy.

The strategy was created knowing all of the probabilities. It will provide you with the highest possible payback. Knowing what to expect is what keeps you on the right path.

Play whatever game you like. I’ll only tell you about expert strategy; it is up to you to resolve to learn it and follow it. It’s easier than dieting and/or exercising. Your bankroll will thank you if you stick to this resolution.

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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].

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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