Pigskin poker?

Jan 31, 2005 7:13 AM

Over the years, I’ve seen and heard of different players who like to compare the game of video poker with various types of mathematical experiences, a myriad of sports, and even to friendships.

Of course, the ONLY analogies that truly make any sense are those that lead the player into the victory circle, and until today, you’ve not yet seen the actual truth behind it all. Oh, you’ve seen clever renditions all right, but not sensible comparisons.

First off, I want to make it very clear that, being a sometimes maniacal sports fan originally from New England (especially these days!) I’ve been known to compare sports to my mashed potatoes. You have to be a die-hard Red Sox fan to understand that. But where can one draw the line between video poker and any of the pro sports? Once again, it’s not all that difficult if you’ve been where I’ve been.

Video poker is prevalent and continuously growing in popularity all over the country. A big reason is Indian gaming, and I’ve always had a very loud opinion on that subject. To me, just because they carry the same name brand machines as Nevada does (i.e., machines must LEAVE the manufacturer in random format), it’s not nearly enough reason to simply trust the games in such venues just so one can justify satisfying their craving for the game whenever they happen to drive by such a place or get invited in for whatever reason.

In the National Football League for instance, you can be certain that the game will be fair, competitively played, and you’ll always get your money’s worth. There’s more than adequate regulation we’re all privy to that supports this. But what about the many, many local football games played by groups all around the country at the local park down the street? Would you bet on such a game not knowing very much about anything other than the fact that many in the game have aspirations of being an NFL player, and that the organizers of the event are also the sole regulators accountable to no one?

Enough said, and it’s all simple common sense. Some people can’t travel anywhere around this great country without the gambling bug controlling their vacationing and constantly affecting their thinking, and you’ll see them attempt to justify casino stopovers and video poker machines virtually anywhere just to "satisfy the habit." And that’s precisely why tribal casinos are where they are today. Towns have them. Cities have them. Highways have them everywhere.

When you do play the game — and we’ll stick with Nevada because it’s the only place I’ll ever play for profit — and whenever you find yourself in "the red zone" are you content going for a field goal or for the touchdown? What do I mean? Well, the goals sought after in a football game played by a consistently successful team are very similar to those that intelligent, winning players shoot for in video poker.

Let’s look at it this way. Many times I’ve read where an athlete must study his game to know all the angles, he must prepare himself for the competition by knowing where and whom he’ll be playing, and he must draw upon his finely-honed skills in order to be the best he can possibly be. Then, curiously, I read on and find how the advantage-playing, expert video poker player must approach his game in typical fashion if he wants to be a winning player.

Now to those who are too lazy to think for themselves and are always looking for the easy way out, this may make some sense. Certainly, the "book" says to look for every advantage on the field and against the opponent that the player can muster, but isn’t it odd that the optimal-play video poker player also claims a hold on that system, too? Again, on paper, there appears to be no flaws in this type of thinking, and the rationale can be applied to several mathematical formulas with seemingly irrevocable logic.

But there’s one huge and glaring problem. Football games are not won by seeking out every pre-game advantage and then following that strategy play after play, expecting to prevail simply because the game plan was right, the numbers were right, and the odds favored the mathematically prepared mind in the long run. They are won almost invariably by the team whose players are fully prepared for the obvious, they understand mistakes are made that few will notice, and they recognize and are fully prepared to take complete advantage of as many unforeseen opportunities as possible during the game.

The coach of the New England Patriots is considered to be one of the top mentors ever and there’s a key reason for that distinction. He constantly shuffles his team’s look on the field, and since the opponent is almost always mathematically locked-in to a certain scheme they believe they’ll be facing, he wins far more often than he loses.

In video poker, when you go up against a mathematically perfect computer and expect it to give in to you just because you know the mathematics as well as how the machine operates within those parameters, certainly it creates a feel-good position before starting — but in the end you will always lose without overwhelmingly good fortune. On paper, you’re a downright genius. Even your computer program will tell you that, and you’re probably the type of person who likes to look into the mirror and say it out loud several times a day. Even so, at the machines inside casinos it’s another story altogether. The frustration of distractions, fatigue, and the many unknown mistakes made sets in”¦.as does the reality that the make-believe world of the long-term might not be a part of your play today.

My Play Strategies that have been so successful for the past eight years approach the game just as most winning football teams would. Many hands are basic obvious plays. However, whenever a hand gets dealt that has the possibility of giving a huge jackpot but where the safer mathematically correct play is to go for the insignificant winner -- AND that small win will not attain a specific goal -- how much sense does it make not to go for that big win? You do it enough times, and by the time you get to a higher denomination (the 4th quarter, perhaps) it may be just what you need to pull out the victory.

Yes, play the game safe and just as the casino manager expects you to and you will not be successful. Take advantage of all the opportunities presented, and you will win far more than you will lose. No team wins without taking risks, and no one wins without taking risks. Grind-it-out and by-the-book teams are admired by their peers for their on-paper consistency, but they’re perennial losers. I don’t know about you, but I want to be in the playoffs year after year. I care not what the others think of how I did it. Eventually, as with the coach of the Patriots, people will begin to see who the real genius is.