Playing the short game

Aug 8, 2005 3:11 AM


So much has been said lately about my play strategy’s "special plays that deviate from expert strategy," that I thought it might be helpful to offer a bit of insight into some of them. It’s always easy to criticize when few facts are known, and it’s even more common among losing players.

First, for those who feel I’ve "rewritten the math books" or "tossed math theory to the wind," they are wrong. My five winning play strategies all have a solid basis in math, and those plays that deviate from optimal play have all been very carefully studied and calculated to increase the game’s expected value in the short term.

If you try to apply long-term probability models to short-term play and expect to come out a winner, it will be an exercise in futility.

If you’ve followed this column or heard about what’s been going on over the past three months, you’d have seen where I’ve offered anyone — especially those math geeks who think they know gambling — to sit with me for whatever amount of time it takes until they understand everything about every play I make.

When I developed my original single-play strategy, it was for a reason —I was nothing but a big loser who played the way the experts said to play.

So how are my special plays that deviate from optimal strategy different?

First, long-term strategists expect to lose around 70% of their sessions, and they make believe the other 30% will catch them up or put them over the top. Is that the kind of video poker existence you’re looking for?

But by using my special plays designed for the short-term player — which, by the way, everyone who plays the game is — and you will not only win at least 85% of your sessions, you’ll understand the excitement of actually going home with the money you’ve won for a change.

Unlike long-term math model theory, these plays are never seen the thousands of times the experts claim they are.

First, people who play short-term strategy don’t go to casinos nearly as often or play nearly as much as do the lifers. Then, when the time is right to make one of these short-term mathematically correct plays, if the jackpot winner is hit, you usually go home with a ton of cash.

The long-term player thinks in terms of staying on and playing through any and every winner. That is just not an option in short-term strategy and in fact, when play resumes, it is almost always in a new session at a much lower denomination.

I am questioned (and those asking are more puzzled than anything) on many of the plays I make, but the most criticized continues to be from a session I was playing two years ago on a $25 Bonus Poker (BP) machine. I was well into the loss column on this particular trip — somewhere around $6,000 — when I had to go to the $25 game (when my win goal is at least $2,500).

Other than one 55-credit cash-out, nothing much was happening, and near then end of my 100 credits of BP I was dealt Ah-Kh-Qh-Qd-Qs. The mathematical strategy is to hold the three Queens. After all, four-of-a-kind is a magical hand in video poker, not to mention the $3,125 it pays on the $25 machine! And who doesn’t ever think they’ll get that fourth one when three are dealt anyway?

But my game is all about attaining goals, and I have a number of them to reach as I play a session trying to get to the ultimate win goal so I can go home. Because I was playing a BP game where four Queens paid only 125 credits, that kind of hit would not have allowed me to reach any of my goals.

Of course, I would have gone for it had it not been for the existence of three royal cards in the deal, but my strategy requires I go for the winner that would first attain my goal of going back to $10 BP, then attain the goal of going back to $5 BP, $2 BP, $1 BP, and ultimately for the goal of winning enough credits to go home. The royal flush always makes that happen, and I had that opportunity with this deal.

Of course, I hit the royal, won a bundle of money and I immediately went home. The critics cry foul and say, via their probability theories, that if I were to make that play a thousand times I’d be giving up tens of thousands of dollars — and so in their estimation it was a very stupid play.

Stupid? Maybe if I stayed at the dollar machine without progressing and hit it, I’d have been stupid. Maybe if I stayed on and kept playing like they would, it would be stupid. Or maybe if I tried for the quad and ended up with the very real Jh-10h-Q-Q-Q I’d have felt VERY stupid!

Why are the geniuses wrong? Because that hand simply does not come up very often. But when it does you have to go for it.

I agree that many times the hand will fail to produce the royal. But the short-term player recognizes opportunity when presented, and within a strictly structured play system that has been mathematically calculated, it is a vast improvement over simple optimal play.