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I hope everyone had a fantastic National Video Poker Day. Maybe next year, someone other than me will promote it!

Now it is time to get back into table games. The the physical platform is very different, but the concepts are still the same. The math still dictates what we should do.

That may not sound like a lot of fun, but losing money isn’t a lot of fun either. I’m also not saying luck doesn’t play a part. But luck runs both hot and cold and anyone who has played in a casino long enough knows this, even if they don’t want to admit it.

We’ve all sat at a blackjack table and watched the dealer hit 21 after 21, even starting with bust cards. We’ve also sat there while a dealer has busted multiple times in a row starting with a face card. These events will happen and over the long haul, we can predict with great precision how often each will happen. The question becomes will you maximize your wins when you’re hot and minimize your losses when you’re not?

This is not to imply I’m suggesting you increase your wager when you’re hot and decrease when you’re cold. While hot and cold streaks do happen, what happened on the last five hands does not tell you what will happen on the next one. If you are counting in blackjack, then you do have a better idea of what may occur, but that is not what I am taking about.

I am asking if you use the proper strategy to take full advantage of the hot and cold streaks, because the math dictates you should do certain things and this is all taken into account.

For example, for most variations of blackjack you should not double into an Ace if you have anything other than 11 (and you shouldn’t always double in those cases). If you start doubling because the dealer has been cold, you might get lucky, but you’re not really playing to the math and in the long run this strategy will backfire.

Similarly, there are many cases where the player should double down that the average player misses – specifically lots of soft hands vs. dealer bust cards. It may be painful to watch your soft 18 turn into a 15 even against a 6. But the likelihood of the dealer busting is high enough to take this risk. Blackjack affords a 99.5% payback but this only happens if you’re playing the right strategy.

When designing a new table game, the complexity of strategy must be taken into account. I’m amazed at how many inventors seemingly ignore this. Ultimate Texas Hold’em has what is likely the highest payback of any table game. If you could play it computer perfect, it probably comes in at 99.7%.

But computer perfect strategy is completely impossible for a human playing in a casino. That is why UTH has one of the highest holds in the casino. There are some games in which you can play “almost” computer perfect strategy and only give up 0.01 or 0.02% of payback.

A game like Four Card Poker is an example of this where there are a few exceptions to a relatively easy rule set that gets you very close to perfect. Then there are games like Three Card Poker that have super easy strategies in which there really is no reason not to follow absolutely. Blackjack has a relatively complex strategy, but it is still quite possible to memorize it completely.

You’ll note the paybacks of these games reflect their complexity. Three Card Poker plays to 98% while blackjack plays to 99.5%. Casinos are counting on human error and are less concerned with theoretical payback and more concerned with real world play. They look at the average player. You don’t have to be average. You can play well above average and happily take advantage of these very high paybacks.

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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