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The other day I was sitting at a video poker machine which was part of a bank of three machines.

The two guys who were sitting to my right must have known each other because they kept commenting about their hands. The one most directly to my right repeatedly talked about how tough the game was and how sometimes you just had to guess at what to do.

As they were not talking to me, I didn’t engage them at all. But this one guy must have remarked about guessing at what to do at least half a dozen times.

After a while, I realized he didn’t mean he didn’t know how to play certain hands. He meant that he was ‘guessing’ as to what the draw cards would be.

No one can do this. You can’t look at any single hand and outguess what cards the machine is going to give you on the draw. All you can do is play according to the math.

It doesn’t matter whether you are playing video poker, Blackjack or Ultimate Texas Hold’em. You can have pocket Aces Ultimate and it doesn’t mean you’re a guaranteed winner. This won’t happen even if you’re in the Poker room.

In the Poker room, you might be able to argue that you’re trying to outsmart the other players which might involve some educated guesses. But, you don’t know whether the Flop is going to put an Ace out there or a suited 7-8-9 which will go wonderfully with another player’s suited 10-Jack.

It was clear from the way this guy was talking that he was playing his cards using the guesswork method. It’s not a matter of he kept a low pair over a 4-Card Flush each time. He would look at the screen and try to “guess” which cards would be dealt next.

I guess one could say that it’s better that he’s only sometimes playing the low pair over that 4-card Flush as opposed to doing it all the time. If only this was as egregious as it got.

After a little while, a third friend came over. He had been playing on a different bank of machines. He was bragging about how he had hit a Royal. He had to throw away a two pair to get it, but sometimes you just have to do that.

I’m not sure how I stopped myself from banging my head against my machine. A two pair has an expected value of 2.6. The best 2-card Royal is 0.6. If I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, maybe it was a 3-card Royal. Then it would have an expected value of 1.4.

This is a huge difference. In the best-case example that I can think of, he was playing a Double-Double machine. In this case, the two pair has an expected value of 1.7 while the 3-card Royal is at 1.5.

He did this, I presume, because he just thought guessing was the best chance he had. I honestly believe that this guy would ditch a Full House too if he just felt that a Royal was ready to be dealt.

This is all the Blackjack equivalent of a guy sitting there thinking hard about whether to hit a 16 looking into a 6 because he just thinks the next card is a 5.

In Blackjack, there is a least a chance that the guy is counting cards and knows that there are more little cards than big ones remaining in the shoe.

This is not possible in video poker. The only cards you know are the ones that were dealt to you. The calculation of the expected value and the creation of the strategy is based on these dealt cards.

When you hold a two pair, you have four chances to complete the Full House and the remaining 43 will stay as a two pair. When you hold a 2-card Royal, you have 1 shot in 16,215 of hitting the Royal.

Along the way you’ll get all sorts of other hands. But the fact that you tossed away one of each of the cards you are holding means that Four of a Kinds are out of the question and the probability of Trips and Full Houses are all greatly reduced. This actually reduces the expected values I cited earlier for these hands.

Through the years, I’ve written columns about how a player can greatly increase his likelihood of hitting a Royal. But, you will definitely not increase your chances of winning overall.

I have no way of knowing how this particular player did on the day in question. But, I’m all but certain that this guy has contributed more to the casinos then he has taken from them — by far! 

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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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