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This column is mostly about video poker. Ironically, I haven’t taken a definitive count, but I’d guess I write about video poker about 2/3 of the time.

My father’s first full-length book was titled “America’s National Game of Chance: Video Poker.” He used to occasionally write about how video poker should be made America’s official game of chance. I don’t think he really expected Congress to take it up. It was more about the popular notion of just how perfect of a game video poker is.

Video poker may look a lot like slots – or at least it did 20 years ago when the first video slot machines came out. Back then, they each played on what appeared to be simplistic computer screens. Nowadays, many slots play on gigantic flat screen monitors, while I think most video poker machines still use the old-style computer monitors.

Very little is hi-tech in terms of what you see. For as much as they used to look like one another, the similarity ended there. Slot machines are 100% luck. You can’t argue this. This might be exactly what you want and thus it is perfect for you.

My problem has never been that there is no skill factor. It is that you have zero knowledge about the game. Two slot machines sitting side by side with identical paytables might have two totally different paybacks and you’ll never know. It is just the way they are programmed. A week later, the two machines and their respective paybacks could’ve been swapped or changed to be completely different – and you’ll never know.

This is not possible with video poker. In most of the United States, video poker machines must play as randomly as if you took a deck of cards and used them instead. There can be no manipulation of the frequencies of winning hands.

The frequencies are determined by the nature of the deck and the paytable, which drives player strategy. Since these are both completely known, the payback of a video poker table can be calculated down to the most exact figure. The only way it can be changed is if the deck is changed (i.e. add a Joker or make something wild) or the paytable is changed. Both of these types of changes would be immediately known to the player and again allow for an exact calculation of the payback. You can’t change the payback of a video poker machine without the player knowing about it.

The result is video poker plays far more like a table game than a slot machine. Table games generally have some form of strategy, too. Most use a deck (or shoe) of cards, with the composition known to the player. Payouts and betting rules are all spelled out. As a result, every table game has a known payback, too, that cannot be changed without changing the paytable.

Video poker shares with slots the medium in which it is played (video machine) and speed of play. You’re not getting hundreds of hands of a table game dealt in an hour no matter how fast everyone is playing!

The fact that video poker plays more like a table game is what makes it so fascinating. Now we throw one additional layer on top of our argument to make it America’s National Game of Chance. The number of different combinations of games is nearly endless.

Blackjack has several rules that can be done as either X or Y. When you look at all the possible combinations, there might be, in theory, a couple of hundred ways it can be played (many of these combinations don’t exist in the real world).

Also, some of these rules don’t impact the game much or at all. Whether you can split to two hands, three hands or four hands simply doesn’t change much in our strategy. Yes, it impacts the payback (very slightly), but that is all.

For most other table games, you’re only going to find a handful of possible paytables out there across the country. Ultimate Texas Hold’em has only so many blind and sidebet paytables. None of them impact the strategy we use to play the game. So, again, they change the payback, but they don’t really change the game.

Video poker on the other hand has a seemingly endless variety of games. Changing the paytable slightly might make slight changes to our strategy without changing the nature of the game much. But, if you start ramping up the payouts for Quads and push them higher by adding in the kicker value, you not only change the strategy, you change the entire feel of the game.

If you are a regular player, you know all too well how different bonus poker is from double double. Reducing the payout on the Two Pair from 2 to 1 and increasing greatly the payouts on the Quads turns a relatively slow game into a high volatility one. You don’t win at double double unless you get your four of a kinds. In fact, you still may have a tough time winning unless you can pick up some of the bonus four of a kinds.

The bottom line is video poker offers something for every type of player while staying true to a game based on a combination of chance and skill. There is the relatively low volatility of jacks or better to the far greater thrill of double double bonus.

There are one-play machines all the way up to 100-play. You can play with Deuces Wild, Joker Wild or both! They might all be video poker, but these might as well all be different games.

Nothing else in the casino compares to video poker and what it can offer the player.

Buy his book now!


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 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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