Fewer unknowns involved in video poker

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This past week, George Epstein asked me to take a peek at his column about how he prefers real Poker to Video Poker.

As I read his column, there was little we didn’t agree on except his conclusion about which one he prefers. That led us to have a little showdown here at Gaming Today. So, while George will explain why he prefers real Poker, I’ll explain why I prefer Video Poker.

Video Poker is certainly NOT real Poker. Not only do I agree on this point, but I’ve stated it dozens of times over my 15 years of writing for GT. Video Poker is a paytable game played only against, well no one, really. You make an initial wager and you’re done betting. You get five cards. You review the five cards. You decide which ones to keep and which to discard. You get your replacement cards. If your final hand is Jacks or better (for most versions), you get paid. The stronger your hand, the more you get paid.

It’s all about the math. There is no human element besides you. There is no bluffing, no tells, no psychology. It is 100 percent pure math. Unlike even blackjack, there is no opportunity for counting. Each hand starts with a fresh deck. You might be playing on a computer, but the results are the same as if you were playing with a real deck of cards at your dining room table. Each card has the same probability of showing up as any other card. This is true for the deal and the draw.

As a result, there are literally no unknowns. Given the paytable, the payback of the game can be calculated with absolute precision. In similar fashion, the strategy for how to play every possible deal is also known. There is no guessing. If you are dealt a Low Pair that is also a 4-Card Straight, you don’t have to read the other players to get a sense of what they might have, how they are wagering and/or what do they tend to go for in similar situation.

There is math involved in both games. When you play real Poker you have to keep track of the “outs” – the cards that will improve your hand and make you a much more likely or certain winner.

I remember watching the movie Rounders many years ago. In it, one of the characters claims that he could beat most anybody without even looking at his cards. He would just read the opponents tells. I don’t know if that is truly possible and if it is, I’m going to assume it is only the world-class players who could even potentially pull it off. Further, perhaps if you really know the other players you might have an idea of what they have. But I don’t know how you would sit down at table in a poker room against several strangers and be able to read them that quickly.

I’m not saying it is impossible, I’m saying that it takes time for the vast majority of players.

All of that is gone in Video Poker. What is left is a game of pure math. A game of probabilities and expected values.

Yes, you lose the social element that real Poker affords. But, in a casino setting, I think it is worthwhile to give up the risk of playing against so many unknowns (the other players) and being able to focus on just the cards.

What George perhaps considers to be the greatest strength of real Poker, I consider to be its greatest risk point. Leave the real Poker to a Saturday night game against your buddies.

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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