Because of who I am, what I do and the amount of time I spend
reading or talking to people who are essentially video poker experts, I
sometimes forget just how many people there are who still play by the seat of
their pants, meaning they decide what to draw by what feels right.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk to one such
player. He’s your average vacation/recreational player, going to the casinos a
few times a year. When I told him that I write about video poker and that I
analyze the games, he asked the natural first question: “Can you win at
When I explained to him that in most casinos you can find
“full-pay” Jacks or better games paying 99.6% that give the player a
pretty good chance for a winning, he seemed genuinely surprised. When I told him
that in some locales you can even find some of the games that pay more than
100%, he looked at me in disbelief. He couldn’t quite understand how the
casinos can get away with doing it.
I explained that it wasn’t much different than the way
blackjack has been for decades. Depending on the exact rules, most blackjack
tables have the ability to offer the player a pretty solid 99% return. Do some
light card counting and you can push that even higher. One percent is a pretty
slim margin for a casino.
The good news for them, as we all know, is that only a small
number of players use expert blackjack strategy. Fewer yet, use any sort of
counting scheme. So, it’s okay if a few players play 99%, even 99.5% so long
as there are enough players splitting 10’s, too scared to hit a 16 looking
into a 9 or who just don’t understand the concept of doubling down. It’s
these players that ensure that the house holds 10% and more, like they do in
Nevada, according to official statistics.
Well, video poker isn’t much different. The next time you’re
in the casino, spend 15 minutes turning it into a spectator sport. Watch four or
five different players play a few hands. Oh sure, most know to keep the high
pair, or go for a four-card straight. How many know what to do when they are
dealt a three-card straight or flush with no high cards. How many go for it? How
many don’t realize at what point you throw away those five cards and mutter
“another Razgu” but realize it’s a better play than trying anything
you were dealt?
Obviously, it depends on exactly what common sense
strategy the player is using, but there’s a good chance those who do, are
giving up at least 5% of their payback because of their strategy. I’m not
talking about the guy who holds three high cards instead of playing the two-card
royal. Sure, this person is giving up a little, but not like the guy who doesn’t
realize that two-card royals aren’t that bad, or doesn’t realize that
three-card straights are that bad!
We should all be thankful for these players. If not for them,
we wouldn’t have the opportunities to play 99.5% machines virtually anywhere
or the 100%+ paybacks that are out there if you look more closely. While the
casinos aren’t too happy to see the same person consistently win, because even
with a 100+% Deuces Wild machine, the player shouldn’t win all the time, for
the most part, they are looking at the big picture. For every expert video poker
player, there are probably five playing some form of near expert strategy, 10
playing by intuition and another playing rather poorly. In reality, the video
poker machines are probably providing the house with a 5-7% edge. In other
words, they could be holding 93-95% of the handle.
This is where games such as video poker give the player a
marked advantage over slot machines. Slot machines have no real strategy. The
only decisions you get to make are how many coins to play, how many lines to
play and whether to press the button or pull the handle. Many of the new slot
machines don’t even have handles anymore! Then there is video poker. Relative
to most casino games, video poker has complex strategy. Thus, the casinos can
affor’ to give players an opportunity to achieve higher paybacks because there
is a sufficient number of people playing without expert strategy to keep the
overall vig well within the casino’s comfort range.
So, you need to ask yourself what type of game you really
want to play. Assuming you come to the realization of the advantages of video
poker over sots, you next need to ask yourself what type of player you want to
be. Of course, my advice would be to strive to be an expert player. Learn which
games are the right ones to play. Learn the right strategy for those games. Even
if you make a few mistakes here and there, you’ll still find your gaming
experience to be more satisfying and most likely more financially rewarding.
Even when you finally achieve expert payer status, you may
not want to walk up behind one of these common sense players, tap them on the
shoulder and say thank you, but you’ll be glad that you’re not one of the
players that someone else is thanking!