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I consider myself to be a very competitive person. Anybody who has ever played against me in a board game or on a sports field is pretty aware of this.

I play fair and hard. I’ll never cheat and don’t throw tantrums. But I really hate to lose. So, you can only imagine what I feel like when I’m having one of those nights while playing video poker.

Gambling isn’t exactly the type of thing one does if they hate to lose. Even if you’re playing video poker or blackjack, games that are near 100%, you’re still going to lose more than 50% of the time over short sessions. Not a bad record if you’re the Marlins, but I prefer to win, well, closer to 100% of the time.

When I’m on the sports field, I have a significant amount of control in the outcome. If I’m playing tennis, well, it is just about all on me. If I’m playing softball, I can do my best to get on base when I’m at bat and make all the plays that come to me. I can’t help my right fielder catch the ball, however.

In this regard, gambling is more of a team sport than a single player sport. I’m an expert at just about any game in the casino that I will sit down to play. So, I can make sure I’ll play each hand the way I should to maximize my overall payback.

Unfortunately, luck still plays a significant role in casino gambling (kind of like my right fielder catching the flyball?). I can’t control which hands I’m dealt. In the long run, I know I will get my fair share of each type of hand.

In a given night, the difference between winning and losing is about getting your fair share of key hands. You’re not going to make money off of 4-card Straights, so you don’t usually keep track of how many you got.

When we look at the final paying hands of video poker, it should be no surprise that most of the payback comes from the bottom three hands.

Jacks or Better gives us about 21-22% of our payback. Two Pair gives us 26%, and Three of a Kind gives us another 20-21%. This is almost 70% of a total of 99.5% payback.

Straights give us over 4%, Flushes over 6% and and Full Houses around 10%. That brings us to 90%. Four of a Kinds give us about 6%, Straight Flushes a mere 0.5% and Royal Flushes the remaining 2%.

The more common a hand is, the more likely – no matter how weird your session is going – at the end of it, you’re going to have very close to the number of those hands you are supposed to.

So, if you play 3,000 hands and the average shows you should have about 650 High Pairs, you’re not going to find out you only had 500 of them. Maybe you have 630 on a bad night and 670 on a good night, but you’ll get very close to the 21-22% payback you are supposed to.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Royal Flush. If you play 3,000 hands, you’re well below the roughly 40,000 hands it takes to catch a Royal. If you play a session and miss the Royal, you’re inherently playing at 97.5%. If you hit one then, well, you’re assuredly playing well over 100%.

As a result, there really isn’t a lot to discuss where the Royal is concerned. It is literally hit or miss. Straight Flushes simply don’t add enough to the mix and are also so rare you can’t really look to them for a good or bad night.

The critical hand is Four of a Kind. Earlier I said they make up 6% of the payback. That is on a Jacks or Better game. Move to Bonus or Double Bonus or Double Double Bonus and this number goes way up. You win or lose in these games based on two key factors. Do you get your fair share of Quads and which Quads do you get (when playing the bonus games)?

If you play 3,000 hands, you can “expect” to hit about seven Four of a Kinds. It would not be uncommon to play this many hands and get only two or three. If you have one of these nights, you’re not likely to walk out a winner. Quite frankly, you may not walk out with any of your bankroll left. Fortunately, it is just as common to get 10 or 11 of them.

In these cases, you are very likely to walk out a winner. If you’re playing Double Double, you’ll also want to hit some of the bonus Quads and/or the “double” bonus quad with one of the kickers.

Playing the right strategy is, of course, a critical component of getting your fair share of Four of a Kinds. But, the right strategy does only so much to make the fifth card in Quad 3’s also be a 2, 4 or Ace.

Sometimes it just takes luck to have that good night. Sometimes my right fielder actually catches the ball. All I can do is hope.

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].

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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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